South Florida Proton Center Announces Plans for Two Sites Including the University of Miami Medical Campus   

FRIDAY JULY 25, 2008

UM, northern Palm Beach slated to get proton centers.

South Florida Business Journal
By Brian Bandell

South Florida Proton Center is neotiating for two Varian Medical Systems machines.

A medical arms race is under way, with proton beams as the latest weapon against cancer.

A company led by an oncology veteran plans to build two proton therapy centers in South Florida including one on the University of Miami's medial campus.

That move could lead to South Florida having four of the incredibly expensive - but precisely accurate - cancer-blasting machines. Right now, there are only five proton therapy centers int he U.S., although a medical trade publications indicates at least 10 more are being planned.

The South Florida Proton Center plans to build proton therapy centers at a cost between $85 million and $100 million apiece -- at UM and in northern Palm Beach County, where it is looking for a site, said Dr. James Schwade, its exectuve directory. Each center would employ 40 to 50 people.

Schwade also heads the CyberKnife Center of Miami, which launched the first center for that cancer treatment device in South Florida and operates another in Palm Beach Gardens. He is the former chairman of the National Association for Proton Therapy.

"A lot of patients receiving proton therapy will be able to be treated with higher doses more effectively because there will be less of a dose delivered to healthy tissue than in conventional radiation therapy," Schwade said.

In many cases, proton therapy is safer than using the standard linear accelerator because the proton beam can be aimed more accurately - stopping inside the tumor, instead of passing through the body. It leaves little residual radiation. Schwade said it is best for cancers of the brain, spine, head, neck, bone and soft tissue. Some proton therapy centers use it for prostate cancer, but Schwade isn't convinced the treatment is better than conventional therapy in those cases.

Schwade hopes to find more uses for proton therapy by making the Proton Center's machines available to qualified community physicians, as well as UM clinical staff and researchers. His company signed a letter of intent with UM to lease space for its proton therapy center in the life science park the university has planned for its medical campus. Schwade said he would need at least 60,000 square feet.

The agreement would make UM one of a select number of educational institutions with a proton therapy center in its arsenal of cancer treatments. The university's physics team would help run the device, which would belong to and be funded by the Proton Center.

"This will serve our patients and also potentially help with our discovery mission and lab work," said Dr. Bart Chernow, VP for special programs and resource strategy at UM's Miller School of Medicine. "UM physicians would have the opportunity to work there and help to provide medical leadership."

The timeline for development in Miami depends on when UM can build its life science park, which is planned to be 2 million square feet. The university is working with its legal team to find the right development application process to proceed with, Chernow said.

Meanwhile, the Proton Center is scouting sites in northern Palm Beach County for its other facility, which it wants to open in 2011. Schwade said he wants a site of at least two acres near a major highway.

This facility also would be available to qualified community physicians. Schwade says it could help researchers at Scripps Florida and the Max Planck Society in Jupiter.

"Proton therapy really isn't accessible to large numbers of doctors, and a lot of patients who needed radiosurgery aren't getting them," Schwade said. "By making these facilities available to the maximum number of physicians, more patients can access the technology."

The Proton Center is negotiating an order for the devices from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Varian Medical Systems. Following a model similar to what Schwade did with his CyberKnife Center, the company is finalizing financing and investments to raise the money.

It could have some competition, though.

Bloomington, Ind.-based ProCure Treatment Centers is looking for a site in Boca Raton or northern Broward County to build a 58,000-square-foot proton therapy center that would cost more than $130 million. Having contracted with a Boca Raton-based group of radiation oncologists to run the center, it would also order the machine from Varian Medical.

Broward Health's plans for a proton therapy center are less expensive and more experimental. The public hospital system placed a $13.5 million order with Littleton, Mass.-based Still River Systems for its smaller, more-efficient version of the machine. Because it's a new model, that company must secure FDA approval. Broward Health plans to receive its proton therapy machine at Broward General Medical Center in late 2010 and partner with a local radiation oncology group to operate it.

Schwade said his proton therapy centers would be more open to outside physicians than his competitors', and Still River Systems' device isn't a sure thing. He said he's not worried about the competition.

"It's a niche procedure that's used for very specialized situations," Schwade said. "It's not practical for every hospital to have one of these."

THE DETAILS: How it works

The first patient was treated with proton therapy in 1961 at the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory at Harvard University, but the limited technology at the time made pinpointing the tumor and aiming the beam difficult. Using advanced computers and powerful diagnostic equipment brought it to the clinical setting in 1990.

The protons are produced in a 220-ton cyclotron, which separates the protons from hydrogen gas. An electric field alternating voltage between negative and positive directs the positively charged protons through the device. This allows them to build up tremendous energy.

The protons are then steered down a beam line inside a metal tube guiding them with electromagnets. When they reach the treatment rooms, the proton beam is aimed through a three-story-tall gantry. They release their energy as they discharge inside the tumor, killing their cancerous cells. Radiation is not released to nearby cells that were not caught in the focused beam. SOUTH FLORIDA PROTON CENTER Executive Director: Dr. James Schwade Web site: Phone: (305) 670-2256 | (954) 949-7515


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