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Different attitudes toward proton therapy drive international growth

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | September 12, 2013
Proton therapy now has a foothold in most parts of the world. Altogether, the global market for proton therapy systems is expected to triple by 2018, and reach $2.5 billion by 2030, according to a new market research report by MEDraysintell.

Though the U.S. retains 28 percent of the world's proton therapy centers, and has 17 more currently in development or construction, the technology has also made inroads in various other corners of the world thanks to government financing and interest in more advanced technology.

In the UK, the state-run health care system announced in August that it would invest $380 million to build two proton-beam therapy centers. Japan is home to some of the first facilities to use carbon ion radiotherapy, the newest form of particle therapy, as well as 23 percent of the world's proton therapy centers. And at least four centers opened in Europe in 2012 and 2013.

Shifting attitudes toward proton therapy are contributing in part to the treatment's growth internationally, along with state-funded financing.

"The value of proton therapy is definitely a worldwide discussion, but there might be less challenge elsewhere in the world," said Jonathan Cohen, principal architect at TK&A Architects.

Less challenge means unique approaches that diverge from the way proton therapy is used in the U.S.

Asia invests in newest technology

Japan has long been at the forefront of proton therapy investment thanks to government support and access to technology. The country is now investing in carbon ion radiotherapy, a powerful but expensive treatment that drives heavy carbon ions to a tumor. Preliminary studies have found that it's most effective against rare and challenging cancers such as spinal tumors. Currently, four of the seven carbon ion therapy treatment facilities are in Japan.

"Japan is really taking the lead in that," Steve Courtney, partner at SCI X Science Studio, told DOTmed News. "It's encouraging when we go to the conferences because they make carbon ion sound doable, and [that] maybe it shouldn't be dismissed as it has been because of budgets."

Around 5,000 patients have been treated with carbon so far. Cohen predicts that it will be some time before carbon ions are seen in the U.S.

"Because the emphasis here is much more on private development, the financing mechanisms might be a huge hurdle," said Cohen. "The lack of a reimbursement policy for carbon would also be a problem."

Meanwhile, in China, private development is driving the creation of at least one new center. There is currently only one other center in China, located in Zibo.

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