So you want to open a successful proton therapy center?


November 01, 2011
From the November 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
by Jay Peterson

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of DOTmed Business News

Although proton therapy has been around since the 1950s, it has only become commercialized within the last two decades.

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The slow adoption was in part due to the expense involved. With the cost of building a proton therapy center running from $100 to $300 million or more, it’s no surprise there are currently only nine such centers in the U.S. and about 25 globally.

But, you might be surprised to learn that Hampton University has an annual conference dedicated to investigating the economics of opening a center in your region.

The upcoming three-day conference, “Planning, Building and Operating Successful Proton Therapy Centers,” features a tour of the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, the largest freestanding proton therapy facility in the world, along with a slate of renowned proton therapy specialists.

Len Arzt, founder and executive director of the National Association for Proton Therapy is the driving force behind the event. Arzt was involved in the development of the very first U.S. proton therapy center in Loma Linda, Calif., and has become a passionate advocate for the technology worldwide.

One cyclotron serves many treatment rooms
The Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute has five treatment rooms. Four are served by one central cyclotron. “One proton source can serve several locations, because a proton beam can be bent in a magnetic field,” notes Dr. Cynthia Keppel, scientific and technical director of the Hampton facility. “What’s required are large, 90-ton rotational gantries.” A fifth room at HUPTI is a fixed-beam treatment room. The Institute also includes a separate research room, as part of its collaborations with national laboratories and other institutions.

According to Dr. Keppel, localized tumors are best treated with proton therapy. Because the proton beam can be precisely controlled, the therapist can “paint” the tumor. Proton therapy is also preferred for pediatric cases, as the therapy likely helps reduce radiation exposure to healthy tissue.

HUPTI is still ramping up its treatment capacity and sees about 50 patients a day. When fully operational, Dr. Keppel expects to treat 150 to 200 patients a day. In almost all cases, several treatments – called “fractions” – are required. Depending on the cancer, this typically runs from one to nine weeks.

Myth of the proton therapy center ‘threat’
One issue both Arzt and Dr. Keppel have tackled is the perceived ‘threat’ that a proton therapy center poses to other health care facilities in a given geographical region – in that it will suck up all the business. “While there is the perception that a PTC will hurt other medical professionals financially, Dr. Keppel observes, “Our experience is a PTC generates a great deal of ancillary business, such as additional imaging procedures, in the area in which it opens.”

Why is Hampton teaching people who could potentially one day become their competition? “Well right now, proton therapy currently comprises approximately 1 percent of the external beam treatments in the U.S., so there is a great deal of upside to the potential market,” notes Arzt, “and at this stage, the existing PTCs are like a fraternity, and all help and support each other. Also, in many states like Virginia – where HUPTI is – one must be granted a C.O.N. or Certificate of Need, before constructing a PTC. And the states evaluate these very carefully so as not to over-license such facilities.”

The 2nd Annual Building, Planning and Operating Successful Proton Therapy Centers Conference
The next three-day forum and Hampton University, which is organized by Active Communications International, Inc., is scheduled for February 22-24, 2012. If you would like more information, or to register for the next conference, please call Jay Peterson at 312.780.0700, Ext. 134

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