Thomas Rockwell “Rock” Mackie, PhD
Co-Founder, TomoTherapy

Thomas Rockwell Mackie, PhD, co-founded TomoTherapy Inc. in 1997 and has served as chairman of the Board of Directors since 1999. TomoTherapy Inc. develops, manufactures and markets the TomoTherapy® radiation therapy treatment platform, in use by hospitals and cancer centers worldwide. Dr. Mackie served as president of TomoTherapy from 1997 until 1999. Since 1987, Dr. Mackie has been a professor in the departments of Medical Physics and Human Oncology at the University of Wisconsin, where he established the TomoTherapy research program. In 1992, Dr. Mackie also co-founded Geometrics Corporation (now part of Phillips Medical), which developed a highly successful radiotherapy treatment planning system.

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QHow did you come to think up the idea for TomoTherapy, a radiation company treating cancerous tumors?

A We were looking for a solution to a problem, how to avoid normal tissues while irradiating tumors with a uniform dose. Stuart Swerdloff, a nuclear medicine graduate student, helped me one summer to investigate how we could create these non-uniform beams of radiation.

QGot it. Your grad student helped.

A We came up with a number of ideas to produce non-uniform beam modulation and distribution with both high and low intensity. The second major idea, adding a CT scanner, came from another graduate student of mine, Tim Holmes, who thought up the name "tomotherapy." And then the third big idea was something called Spiral CT. When those three ideas came together, I realized this could actually work, so we started filing patents.

QThree big ideas that eventually led to an IPO and a billion-dollar valuation. But there's a leap at some point, because not every PhD can create a company, execute a highly engineered product, and then complete an IPO.

A Well, it's a progression. It doesn't happen overnight. We were just university people.

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