U.K.'s NHS commits $380M to build two proton therapy devices

What does $380 million get you? The U.K.'s National Health Service plans to set that much money aside to build two proton-therapy systems for cancer, even as private companies explore similar ventures.

Bloomberg reports on the news, which represents a major step forward for the U.K.'s health system.

Proton therapy shoots a precisely targeted blast of radiation at hard-to-reach tumors. As the story notes, proton therapy seems to help pediatric brain and spinal tumors, but its benefits are otherwise a matter of debate and controversy. A driving force behind the funding, however, is to both improve care and reduce costs. Right now, the NHS sends 100 patients each year to the U.S. for treatment. For the patients the treatment helps, at least, investing in the two centers in the U.K. should help save money by creating a local treatment option and be kinder to family budgets and stress levels. Both centers should open by 2018 and serve 1,500 patients, the article notes.

But the treatment itself is not cheap. Even without the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to send patients to the U.S. for proton therapy, the NHS option will cost approximately $90,000 per patient, Bloomberg previously reported.

That's at least for patients who rely on NHS coverage. Alongside the NHS effort, the private sector is also investing in building proton-therapy centers in the U.K. As the story notes, Atlanta financier Feroz Agad is looking to build one facility. So is Advanced Proton Solutions, which has approval to construct one in London. APS's Project partner Advanced Oncotherapy, working with BMI Healthcare (a private hospital operator), also plans to develop three additional proton therapy centers across the commonwealth.

A number of companies are focused on proton-therapy centers, including Belgium's Ion Beam Applications and Japan's Hitachi. Mevion Medical Systems and Varian Medical Systems ($VAR) in the U.S. also operate in the space.

- read the Bloomberg story