Pro­ton power can work in can­cer ther­apy

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Leigh Day­ton

ABIG push is on to put tiny par­ti­cles to work killing can­cer in what would be Aus­tralia’s first pro­ton ther­apy fa­cil­ity. Ad­vo­cates of pro­ton ther­apy — the next gen­er­a­tion of ra­dio­ther­apy — are rat­tling po­lit­i­cal cages and seek­ing gov­ern­ment ap­provals which would en­able them to at­tract the fund­ing needed to build the fa­cil­ity, es­ti­mated to cost $160 mil­lion.

This week the Syd­ney-based firm Pro­ton Ther­apy Aus­tralia (PTA) ap­plied to the Ther­a­peu­tic Goods Ad­min­is­tra­tion to have the pro­ce­dure ap­proved in Aus­tralia. The move fol­lows a pre­lim­i­nary meet­ing ear­lier this month be­tween PTA di­rec­tor Sue Bleasel and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Med­i­cal Ser­vices Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee (MSAC), the body that eval­u­ates ap­pli­ca­tions for new ther­a­pies to be funded un­der Medi­care.

A Medi­care item num­ber is es­sen­tial if Aus­tralia is to have a pro­ton ther­apy fa­cil­ity, claims Bleasel: We can’t get over­seas fund­ing un­til we have ap­proval from the MSAC.’’ That’s so, she says, be­cause if the Gov­ern­ment sup­ports the pro­ce­dure through the health­care sys­tem, the con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion of a private fa­cil­ity be­comes at­trac­tive to in­vestors.

Up­front con­struc­tion costs are high be­cause the tu­mour-bust­ing pro­tons must be stripped from hy­dro­gen atoms and con­verted into high-en­ergy beams in a par­ti­cle ac­cel­er­a­tor, sim­i­lar to Aus­tralia’s new cy­clotron in Melbourne. Sev­eral NSW hos­pi­tals have in­for­mally in­di­cated they would pro­vide land to house the ware­house-sized fa­cil­ity.

De­spite large and ex­pen­sive in­fra­struc­ture, pro­ton ther­apy is not a high-cost lux­ury, claims Bleasel. She says that al­though pro­ton ther­apy costs are higher than con­ven­tional ra­dio­ther­apy — roughly $25,000 per treat­ment, com­pared to $10,000 per course — over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence and an Aus­tralian fea­si­bil­ity study sug­gest pro­ton treat­ment is com­pet­i­tive be­cause there are fewer com­pli­ca­tions and fol­low-up pro­ce­dures.

Most im­por­tantly, in some cases it’s the only treat­ment that ex­tends the life of the pa­tient,’’ she says.

Af­ter fol­low­ing ad­vances in pro­ton ther­apy since the late 1980s, ra­di­a­tion on­col­o­gist and PTA sci­en­tific ad­viser Michael Jack­son, from Syd­ney’s Royal Prince Al­fred Hospi­tal, agrees: It’s time for Aus­tralia to em­brace this new tech­nol­ogy. Around the world the tech­nol­ogy is re­ally tak­ing off now.’’

Ac­cord­ing to Jack­son, pro­ton ther­apy is a sig­nif­i­cant ad­vance over con­ven­tional X-ray treat­ment be­cause pro­tons can be tar­geted far more pre­cisely: ‘‘ You can give more (ra­di­a­tion) to the tu­mour and much less to nor­mal tis­sues.’’ The re­sult, he says, is bet­ter ther­a­peu­tic out­come with fewer side ef­fects.

Lead­ing cen­tres such as Cal­i­for­nia’s Loma Linda Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter have suc­cess­fully treated a wide range of can­cers, from head, neck and spine, to lung, breast and prostate. The pro­ce­dure is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive with chil­dren, since tis­sue and ge­netic dam­age pro­duces long-term con­se­quences for their de­vel­op­ing bod­ies.

Pro­ton ther­apy has proven so suc­cess­ful that 49 pro­ton ther­apy fa­cil­i­ties are op­er­at­ing or un­der con­struc­tion world­wide — but cur­rently the near­est to Aus­tralia is in China.

‘‘ Ra­dio­ther­apy in Aus­tralia has tended to be be­hind gen­er­ally — the way we’re not in surgery and chemo­ther­apy,’’ says Jack­son.

That’s why Bleasel, a med­i­cal de­vices spe­cial­ist, has lob­bied hard to raise aware­ness about pro­ton ra­dio­ther­apy among politi­cians and pol­icy mak­ers since she es­tab­lished PTA in July 2006. Pre­vi­ously she worked for Hi­tachi Aus­tralia, which sought to build a pro­ton fa­cil­ity in NSW. But pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions and a suc­cess­ful bid to build a fa­cil­ity in the US saw Hi­tachi with­draw from the Aus­tralian project, Bleasel says.

Early this month Bleasel, Jack­son and Ana­toly Rozenfeld — di­rec­tor of Wol­lon­gong Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Med­i­cal Ra­di­a­tion Physics — met ad­vis­ers to science min­is­ter Julie Bishop, in­dus­try min­is­ter Ian Macfar­lane and health min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott. They also dis­cussed the tech­nol­ogy with the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice.

While de­ci­sions by the MSAC and TGA are not di­rected by min­is­ters, a spokes­woman for Tony Ab­bott said the min­is­ter was aware of pro­ton ther­apy and had re­ceived let­ters of sup­port for it from in­de­pen­dent ex­perts not work­ing with PTA.

She added that HealthPACT — a body that scans emerg­ing med­i­cal tech­nolo­gies world­wide on be­half of state, fed­eral and ter­ri­tory Gov­ern­ments — has rec­om­mend a ‘‘ watch­ing brief’’ on pro­ton ther­apy.

Lib­eral MP andWA­physi­cian Mal Washer is al­ready con­vinced. He’s been a ‘‘ great fan’’ of pro­ton ther­apy ever since a friend had suc­cess­ful treat­ment at Loma Linda for prostate can­cer. Washer’s so con­vinced of the ben­e­fits of the tech­nol­ogy he put in a good word with his cabi­net col­leagues this month.

‘‘ The feed­back I got, from a gut point of view, is that they are very, very en­thu­si­as­tic,’’ Washer says.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.