Proton-Beam Cancer Sites to Get $380 Million From U.K.

The U.K. government set aside 250 million pounds ($380 million) to build two proton-beam cancer therapy centers as it seeks to catch up with the U.S. and other countries in Europe that already offer the treatment.

The new centers will be located in London and Manchester and will serve about 1,500 patients beginning in 2018, Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said in a statement today.

The U.K.’s state-run health system has been sending about 100 patients a year to the U.S. for the radiotherapy, which is used to treat hard-to-reach cancers. The National Health Service estimates it can cut treatment costs in half by building its own centers.

“By investing in proton-beam therapy facilities, we will be able to treat more patients in the U.K. and reduce the stress placed on families who have had to travel to the United States to receive this innovative treatment,” Soubry said in the statement.

The device relies on huge particle accelerators, which use magnetic fields to increase the energy in protons. It then shoots a concentrated beam of protons at a tumor to damage the DNA in its cells so they can’t reproduce. Proton therapy spares more of the surrounding tissue and reduces side effects in patients, including later development of secondary cancers associated with existing radiation exposure, proponents say.

Reducing Risks

“Compared to standard radiotherapy options, proton-beam therapy offers the opportunity to reduce the risks of potential side effects such as growth deformity, loss of hearing and lowered IQ, which is a particular consideration when treating children and young people,” Adrian Crellin, the NHS clinical leader for proton therapy, said in the statement.

The U.S. has 11 high-energy proton beam therapy centers and Europe has 12, according to the website of the Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group, an industry body. The biggest builder of proton therapy centers is Ion Beam Applications SA of Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium. Its competitors include Mevion Medical Systems Inc. of Boston; Varian Medical Systems Inc. of Palo Alto, California; and Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. of Japan.

The NHS is facing financial pressure. After its annual budget more than doubled to about 100 billion pounds over a decade, the government decided that amount wouldn’t increase much beyond inflation before 2014-2015 and it would have to save as much as 20 billion pounds, NHS Chief Executive Officer David Nicholson has said.

Limited Evidence

Evidence for proton therapy’s benefit is limited, except in pediatric brain and spinal tumors, where research has shown it reduces damage such as cognitive decline and deafness. Much of the debate about proton therapy hinges on whether it is used in a few, rare forms of cancer such as those in the brain or spine for which there is better evidence, or more widely in commonly occurring cancers in the prostate or lung that some doctors consider inappropriate.

Three private companies are considering building proton-beam therapy centers in the U.K. and have said they would accept NHS patients if the government chose to partner with them.

Advanced Proton Solutions has planning permission to build a center in London’s financial district and has until September 2014 to break ground. Its publicly traded partner in the venture, Advanced Oncotherapy Plc, which owns about 29 percent of APS, has also agreed to develop proton-therapy centers in Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland with BMI Healthcare Ltd., a private-hospital operator owned by Apax Partners LLP and Netcare Ltd. Feroz Agad, an Atlanta-based financier who controls SAH Global, plans to build a center in the U.K.

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