U.K. playing catch-up with proton-therapy devices

The U.K.'s National Health Service is close to building the nation's first proton-therapy system for cancer, all while private outfits plot to launch devices of their own.

As it stands, NHS spends millions sending patients to the U.S. for proton therapy, and the insurer will decide within weeks whether to put $380 million toward two centers of its own, Bloomberg reports. Meanwhile, at least three private companies are planning to set up costly proton-therapy systems in the country, even though NHS has said it doesn't plan to partner with outside firms.

The procedure, though costly, can generate up to $50 million a year for the U.S. hospitals that use it, Bloomberg notes. Once up and running, NHS' proton therapy would cost about $90,000 per patient, considerably cheaper than the $160,000 it spends to ship patients to the U.S., according to the news service.

Proton therapy is designed to treat cancer by administering a highly targeted blast at tumors and lesions while sparing nearby healthy tissues. But despite the excitement among hospitals around the globe, data on the treatment is still lacking. As University of Pennsylvania oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel told Bloomberg, the device has performed well in pediatric brain and spinal tumors, but there's little evidence for its use otherwise.

"Lots of places are building them where the case is low to non-existent," Emanuel said.

But, with hospitals around the globe angling to woo patients with the latest technology, the demand is unlikely to change. Massachusetts' Mevion Medical is among the success stories in proton therapy, with one system installed and 5 more under construction. Last month, the company raised $55 million to scale up commercialization for its FDA-cleared device.

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