Proton therapy center to bring alternative cancer treatment to OKC

Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 7:00 am By: Bian Brus

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma is a market ready for an alternative to photon cancer treatments, ProCure Proton Therapy Center President Ed Bertels said.

The new center on West Memorial Road is the sixth in the United States focusing on proton therapies, and the first that's not directly associated with a school, he said. It is scheduled to open for cancer patients this summer.

"The decision to build a center like this was driven by our Radiation Medicine Associates physicians who asked, 'why not Oklahoma City?'" he said. "Because as large a metropolitan area it is, you have to compare it with Chicago or Detroit or some of the other big cities. But there was a lot of faith in the physicians and faith that they can support a center here. We expect to see a lot of patients from outside the state as well."

Indiana-based ProCure Treatment Centers Inc. has been developing a network of cancer treatment centers across the country to deliver FDA-approved proton radiotherapy. When the company reached Oklahoma, it partnered with Radiation Medicine Associates and Radiation Oncology Associates, two radiation oncology practices in Oklahoma City.

Proton treatment differs from photon radiation treatment in the ability to externally beam high levels of cancer-destroying energy with more precision and less effect on surrounding tissues. Protons are positively charged particles with much more mass than photons, found in the nuclei of atoms. By their very nature, protons interact with matter differently than X-rays and can be made to peak and deposit their energy at a specific spot, almost like a focal point.

Proton therapy is particularly appropriate for treating children's tumors, for example, where it's even more important to protect normal tissues such as the pituitary gland still important for growth, Bertels said. Pediatric patients can have markedly improved opportunities with proton treatments and significantly less risk of developing other malignancies, he said.

"Other radiation therapies are still very effective, so we can't replace them. But we can provide more opportunities for certain types of tumors," he said.

The center will hold an open house this week for members of the Oklahoma Venture Forum. The 55,000-square-foot complex, with eight exam rooms and four treatment rooms, can help about 1,500 patients annually, officials said. All of the centers will follow the same design.

Most of the financing for the Oklahoma City center was through Fortis Capital and private equity investors, Bertels said. Although the credit market is tight now, the company still has plans to open other centers in Florida and Michigan, so investment opportunities are available.

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