* Compact systems opens up new market for smaller clinics
* Cost is key barrier to take-up of proton therapy
* IBA could revise up sales guidance after 2014
* Proton therapy's key advantage is fewer side-effects
By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS, Nov 21 Belgian radiology company IBA
sees 2014 as a year of major transition which could
lead to an acceleration of sales of its cancer-fighting proton
The global market leader has been selling its systems to
major hospitals and clinics for more than a decade, but has been
hampered by the scale of the investment required for each
facility and recently launched a more compact product, called
Protons are superior to the photons emitted in traditional
radiotherapy principally because they do far less damage to
healthy tissue surrounding tumours.
Due to their relatively large mass, protons scatter less and
so focus more on the cancerous cells, and can also deliver their
maximum energy at that point. They have been used particularly
in cancers of the brain, the eye and for children, whose bodies
are still growing.
IBA says the new compact offering should expand its
potential market beyond just the premier hospitals and clinics
in big cities that can afford a multi-room centre.
Its earlier Proteus PLUS system typically consisted of three
to four treatment rooms and required a total investment of $100
million or more. The cost for the new single-room units equipped
with Proteus ONE is around $25 million.
The Belgium-based company has an annual target of 8-12
proton therapy room orders, but Chief Executive Olivier Legrain
said developments next year could lead to an upward revision.
The company expects to secure approval from the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration for Proteus ONE in 2014 and for its
first such system, at the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center in
Shreveport, Louisiana, to start treating patients.
Legrain said in an interview late Wednesday that both events
should help pull in new orders to add to the three Proteus ONE
systems sold to date.
In August, the Netherlands approved the granting of up to
four licences to use proton therapy there and the UK government
offered 250 million pounds of funding to build two facilities in
Legrain said it was too early to revise its 8-12 room
guidance but said that, in 2014, IBA would have a better
understanding of where other countries stood on proton therapy,
along with more acceptance in the United States.
"Then I think it will be time for us, with all this new
information, potentially to give a new guidance."
FEWER SIDE EFFECTS
Currently, proton therapy treats about 1 percent of all
patients receiving radiotherapy, but independent studies believe
that could rise to 15 percent, with the overall radiotherapy
market rising by some 5-7 percent per year.
Legrain said a further trigger for market growth would be an
increase in publication of results from centres already using
IBA's proton therapy systems.
"When you treat a head and neck with photons, most of the
people are losing swallowing capacity because of the toxicity
sometimes for a few months, sometimes for ever," said Legrain.
"With proton therapy not only do you not lose the swallowing
capacity, but you keep your taste across the treatment."
Legrain said sales of the larger Proteus PLUS systems, which
can treat far more patients, should not be undermined by the
cheaper compact alternative and should hold fairly steady.
IBA says it currently has a narrow majority of the market in
proton systems and believes it can stay ahead of rivals
including Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric and
Varian Medical Systems.
IBA argues its systems are technologically superior and that
it has a shorter lead time on average of two years and highly
reliable systems that generate minimal downtime.
"Time is money. By delivering in 24 months we make it much
cheaper than our competitors. Every month, the value is
$500,000," Legrain said.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek
and Patrick Graham)