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Proton CEOs discuss treatment's rapid growth

por Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | March 30, 2015
Proton Therapy
From the March 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Moataz Karmalawy, vice president and general manager of Varian Medical Systems’ Particle Therapy Business, remembers when people weren’t sure what to do with proton beams. Back in 2007, “We talked about whether or not proton therapy had a place in the future,” he recalls. “At this point, I think that has been resolved.”

Clinical data accrues, candidacy qualifications improve, technology evolves, costs and size go down — that is the story so far for proton therapy. The innovative cancer treatment’s real-world medical value is becoming increasingly clear, and its stratospheric costs are slowly coming down to Earth. The exact number of proton facilities depends on the source for your data, but it’s not unreasonable to estimate that there are roughly as many centers under construction worldwide as there are in operation today. In the U.S. alone, The National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT) website says there are 13 active facilities and an additional 10 under construction.

This rapid growth underscores that proton therapy’s relevance in cancer treatment is no longer “if” but “how soon?” When is the cost justified to an insurance company? When are the benefits vastly superior to those of radiation therapy? When will patients who need the treatment have access to it?

HealthCare Business News spoke with the top executives from three of the biggest and most innovative proton beam manufacturers, to get their insight on proton therapy’s gradual transition from exotic to everyday. And also to find out what this growth means for them, and what makes them stand out from their competitors.

Proton therapy on Main Street
There are two industries that inevitably invite analogies to health care equipment conversations — automobiles and cellular phones. Where proton therapy is concerned, the latter is most applicable. In a few short years, proton systems have become smaller, more powerful, and — although still upwards of tens of millions of dollars — significantly less expensive.

Joe Jachinowski, CEO of Mevion Medical Systems, knows well the benefits of creating affordable single-room proton therapy systems. His company manufactures the MEVION S250, a system which has already been demonstrating its value at the S. Lee Kling Proton Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, for over a year.

“It’s been the fastest ramp-up of any proton center in the world, measured on a per-room basis,” says Jachinowski, who does not take that early clinical workflow for granted, “New technology can have a bumpy road and struggle in the first year or two of deployment, but we did not have that issue.”

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