The first proton therapy facility in New York state officially opens Thursday to provide radiation treatment to cancer patients.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Montefiore Health System and Mount Sinai Health System joined forces to establish the $300 million, 140,000-square-foot facility.
- The facility struck a deal with Varian Medical Systems in 2015 for 10 years of service with its ProBeam proton therapy system for around $115 million.
Until now, New York has been unable to offer patients proton therapy, a treatment designed to irradiate diseased tissue while sparing much healthy tissue. The nearest providers of the therapy are in Philadelphia, Boston or New Jersey; as patients must undergo repeat rounds of the radiation, travel can deter patients from getting the treatment.
The opening in New York has been a long time coming. Planning of the development began around a decade ago and construction started in 2015.
At that time, the facility was expected to open in the first half of 2018. The center installed the Varian ProBeam cyclotron in the second half of 2017 but was unable to meet the original opening target, being pushed back to February 2019 and then delayed again to July.
The question now is whether the level of patient demand will justify the time and money invested in the project. The track record of other U.S. proton therapy sites suggest that is far from guaranteed.
Last year, the New York Times reported that one-third of the 27 proton therapy centers then open in the U.S. are loss making, have defaulted on debt or been forced to revise their finances. The financial problems stem from supply exceeding demand in some regions, in part because commercial insurers are declining to reimburse the procedure in light of doubts about its value over other treatments.
New York Proton Center will need more patients than most sites to succeed. It said it expects to treat about 1,400 patients each year. The facility will employ 23 proton therapy-trained radiation oncologists. According to the New York center, most comparable facilities employ one or two trained specialists.
The center will soon begin a number of clinical trials evaluating the benefits of proton therapy compared to photon therapy for breast, head, neck and prostate cancers, according to a press release.
Varian has installed its proton therapy devices in 30 rooms at 10 sites around the world, giving it a source of recurring revenues. Yet, the performance of the proton business has been mixed. In 2018, Varian’s proton therapy unit generated sales of $149 million, down 18% on the previous year. Performance picked up over the first half of 2019, led by a 32% increase in sales in the first quarter.