After Ashya – what’s next for Proton Beam Therapy treatment in UK

UK is finally to get high-tech


Image result for proton beam therapy machine
And it’s a private company
that will provide thisAfter promises at Parliamentary Conference

Seven years ago, delegates to the annual All-Party Parliamentary Conference on Cancer heard experts say UK was about to get 6 (or was it 8) of these machines.APPGLogo

Today, there is ONE low-energy machine in the country;  and that is only capable of treating a tiny percentage of tumours.

Yet the Christie Hospital says “more than 90,000 patients have received proton beam therapy worldwide at centres in North America, Asia and Europe”.

So why the delay in UK to install machinery?

NHS Choices says – wait for it – “While side effects of radiotherapy are common they normally pass once the course of treatment has finished”.

NHS Choices’ advice is often – er – not the best, and this takes the biscuit.  The first time I found suspect information on the NHS Website, I had to get the World Health Organisation to rap their knuckles, before they would post more accurate copy.

And it took Brett King, concerned father of Aysha, a 5-year old boy with a brain tumour, to bring to the British public’s attention the problems that can arise after conventional treatment.  Anyone who has suffered long term side effects after treatment will know what he must have gone through;  an intelligent man finding out what might be possible consequences, and yet medics won’t admit this to us.

Like the proverbial ostrich, the NHS buries its head in the sand when it comes to side effects of cancer Missing Ashya Kingtreatment.  After the King family went through a traumatic series of events, they finally managed to get Proton Beam Therapy treatment for Ashya in Prague, and one hopes this will be successful.

What’s planned

Advanced Oncotherapy, manufacturers of the next generation of proton beam machines, have agreed a £30m project with Howard De Walden Estates Ltd to install a new lower cost and compact facility in London’s Harley Street.  The company is newly-set up, and one hopes they will succeed.

If they do, perhaps we will see genuine co-operation between the private sector and the NHS, to the benefit of .patients.

The company estimates that the new state of the art centre will become fully operational by 2017 – at least a year earlier than the first NHS machines based on an older design.  It is planned to treat over 300 patients a year, a number that could be doubled if a second treatment room is added to the site.


Since 2008, the NHS has sent a total of 400 children abroad for proton beam therapy, treated at a cost of around £100,000 each.

It should be possible to cut this bill significantly if the NHS decides to refer patients – often children with rare, life-threatening cancers – to the planned Harley Street clinic.  However, the treatment is only suitable for about 1% of patients;  children, and those with rare cancers.

It seems sensible that it is a private company setting up this facility, and hopefully the NHS will be able to send patients for treatment – at an estimated £40,000 per patient,  against around £100,000 abroad.

Advanced Oncotherapy says its new Linac Image Guided Hadron Technology (LIGHT) proton technology allows for more rapid movement and energy variation of the proton beam than is currently available from existing technologies.  The technology allows it to build proton therapy facilities one-third smaller and one-fifth the cost of facilities based on the first-generation machines.

The NHS is spending £250 million on two of the first-generation proton beam machines which are due to be operational before the end of 2018.  One at UCL in London and the other at The Christie in  Manchester.

Proton beam therapy is especially effective in the treatment of brain, spine and prostate tumours and in the treatment of fast-growing childhood cancers.

Commenting, Dr Michael Sinclair, Executive Chairman of Advanced Oncotherapy plc, said:

“The arrival of the UK’s first proton therapy centre to treat a full range of cancer types will mark a major new addition to the arsenal of weapons with which to fight the war on cancer. Our cutting-edge proton beam therapy puts the UK at the forefront of cancer treatment.

“It is also a great success for British industry. As a UK company, we’ve shown that our country remains at the forefront of technological innovation and that we have the capacity to transform this innovation into commercial results. Our technology was first developed at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, famed for its discovery of the ‘God’ particle. The UK has been a key participant in the organisation, where Tim Berners-Lee worked when he invented the Internet.

Also commenting on the announcement, Nick Plowman, Senior Clinical Oncologist to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, said:

“Proton beam radiotherapy is the radiotherapy of the future. Collateral damage to adjacent normal body tissues is minimised by this form of radiation therapy. The next generation ‘LIGHT’ protons look to supplant current generation technology. It is great news for UK patients that London will spearhead this advance.”

Simon Baynham, Property Director at Howard de Walden Estates Limited, commented: “The Harley Street Medical Area is a unique concentration of medical excellence which is unrivalled on a global basis. The Estate has been investing significantly in the medical area over the last 10 years or so, to ensure that the facilities in and around Harley Street continue to provide suitable medical buildings.

“Over the last 9 months, we have been working collaboratively with Advanced Oncotherapy to find a suitable location within the Harley Street area, for a LIGHT Proton Beam Therapy unit. We are delighted that a location has been found, and subject to planning, our intention is to start work on providing this bespoke facility as soon as possible.

“Ideally, we would not ordinarily want to be the first, but to learn from others. However, the benefits of Proton Beam Therapy will undoubtedly save lives, and having visited the research facilities in CERN, we are in no doubt that this technology can be designed, built and installed in one of our standard period buildings”.  However, he warns  “the agreement and development of the scheme remains subject to planning permission.”

Currently, the only existing proton therapy facility in the UK is the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, which is used exclusively to treat ocular cancers.


History lesson

London’s Harley Street has become known for its medical expertise.  The land is owned by the large, and very wealthy, Howard de Walden family. Like most of the philanthropist ir counterparts, they are more concerned with the long-term future of their holdings.  Most Councils in London are only interested in selling off parks and Council-owned property, and that has led to the demise of interesting streets such as King’s Road, and the destruction of Chelsea’s villages.

But the de Walden Estate keeps a close eye on its tenants;  one of my Consultants (very eminent in his field) told me he had to show his certificates and diplomas to prove his medical expertise, before he was allowed to sign the lease for his Rooms. So having a presence in this area lends credibility – although be warned – there are properties that don’t belong to the estate.

They have even managed to keep the lovely village atmosphere of Marylebone High Street, and it is a delight to wander down past the boutiques and little shops that still trade here, for Retail Therapy after a medical consultation in Harley Street next door.


Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: