The proton therapy center at Penn Medicine.
Mevion Medical Systems debuted its S250 Proton Therapy System at Ackerman Cancer Care Center in Jacksonville, Florida more than two years ago, and since then, it has set a record: The system has treated 526 patients, the highest number ever treated with proton therapy in a two-year period in a single room.
According to Mevion, this patient volume exceeds that of many three-, four- and five-room systems.
Soon after it opened on April 30, 2015, the Mevion system at Ackerman Cancer Center achieved the fastest per-room patient ramp-up in the history of proton therapy. It now treats, on average, 40 proton therapy patients per day during a 12-hour shift. That's due largely to an efficient workflow and low maintenance requirements.
Based on the success of its first single-room unit, ACC is planning on adding a second one in the near future.
While proton therapy centers once cost between $120 and $200 million, new refinements in the existing technology are lowering costs at a time when more cancer patients are looking for this treatment option.
A conventional X-ray beam used in radiation therapy goes in one side of the body and comes out the other, doing damage to not just cancerous tissue but the healthy cells that surround it; proton beams, by contrast, can be stopped at a fixed point, and molded to the dimensions of the affected area. So not only is the healthy surrounding tissue largely unaffected, but tumors that were previously inoperable are now treatable. That includes tumors next to vital organs, or even at the base of one's spine.
Mevion has been attempting to make proton therapy less cost prohibitive for cancer treatment facilities, and it's been doing it largely by shrinking the accelerator technology needed to produce the protons themselves; in that way, it's following the model of smartphones, which shrunk computing power into something more affordable, portable and pocketable.
The newest proton accelerators are now of a similar size and nature to a conventional X-ray machine, such that a hospital can add a single-room proton center to their existing treatment facility for a cost of a little less than $30 million.
That also makes proton therapy more profitable, not only because of the lower initial capital cost, but the smaller staff sizes required to operate the system -- about eight people, all told. The smaller accelerators also draw significantly less power, with electrical costs slashed from as much as $1 million annually to about $80,000 in some cases.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recently updated its clinical practice guidelines to add proton therapy as an appropriate therapy in the management of several ailments, including esophageal carcinomas, head and neck, hepatobiliary and non-small-cell lung carcinomas.
Mevion said that all of its clinical sites have achieved 100 percent of their financial objectives within the first year.