February 18, 2013
Barron Portfolio Company TechPrecision Featured in Local companies collaborate on cancer treatment
Local companies collaborate on cancer treatment
By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
LITTLETON -- At 100 tons, Mevion Medical Systems Inc.’s new proton beam cancer treatment system is actually quite small. It fits in a 30-by-30-foot room. Other similar systems take up the space of a football field. Mevion’s system costs hospitals about $30 million. Other proton systems cost a staggering $100 million to $200 million.
The smaller size – and lower price tag -- makes Mevion’s system more accessible to more hospitals that are looking for new ways to treat cancer. Mevion has sold 20 units so far. This year, the first patients will receive treatment from its proton therapy system, marking a milestone for a company that has been developing its technology for several years.
Mevion’s progress is also welcome news for another Central Massachusetts company. To build its treatment system, Littleton-based Mevion chose Ranor Inc., a manufacturer just 30 miles away in Westminster.
For Ranor, a division of Center Valley, Pa.-based TechPrecision Corp., the deal with Mevion amounts to $115 million in business over five years. Workers are scheduled to build eight units this year, and more each year for the remainder of the contract. Some parts will be made at a TechPrecision subsidiary in China.
“It’s one of the largest, if not the largest, contracts that Ranor has ever received,’’ said Robert Francis, Ranor’s president and general manager.
Engineers at Ranor and Mevion have been working together to design the system for six years.
Ranor makes big, specialized metal components, including parts for power plants and submarines. For Mevion, Ranor workers are shaping huge chunks of aluminum and steel to build the cancer treatment system. One system includes many parts, including a cylinder 6 feet in diameter.
“We needed someone who had experience machining large and high-precision assemblies,’’ said Joseph K. Jachinowski, Mevion’s chief executive officer. “(Ranor) had the capabilities to do that.’’
Mevion received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to commercialize its system last year. It is selling the system worldwide, with the first unit going to a hospital in St. Louis. Tufts Medical Center in Boston was the first hospital in Massachusetts to purchase the system.
Proton beam therapy is a type of radiation that can treat a range of cancers, from the head and neck to the breast to the prostate. Proton beams are more precise than conventional radiation, or X-rays, and they do less damage to the healthy tissue surrounding tumors. All radiation therapies treat cancer by targeting and damaging cancerous cells.
“The goal is to deliver as much to the tumor and as little as possible to the healthy tissue,’’ Mr. Jachinowski said. “You can ... sculpt the dose around the tumor so that you can avoid other organs.’’
Because most proton therapy systems are so big and cost so much, only 10 medical centers in the United States offered proton therapy as of last March, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Skeptics have questioned whether proton therapy is better than conventional radiation and whether it is worth the cost.
While proton therapy is more expensive than traditional radiation, Mr. Jachinowski said it costs about the same as surgery.
He added: “We are a good example of American innovation, trying to significantly reduce that cost.’’
Over time, Mevion expects up to one-third of patients treated with radiation to be treated with proton beams. The potential market, Mr. Jachinowski said, is $25 billion.
“There are many studies going on right now that we believe will definitely show protons are better in many, many cases,’’ he said.
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