State Health Department Willing to Bring Proton Beam Therapy to NY as a Demonstration Project

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 5, 2010) – The State Department of Health (DOH) is seeking applications from major hospitals and medical centers for a demonstration project to bring proton beam therapy into New York State. Proton beam therapy is a form of radiation treatment for cancer and related diseases that can maximize radiation doses to the target tumor, while sparing adjacent healthy tissue.

"We must assess the efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness of this emerging medical technology," State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said. "Through this project, we will determine the terms on which proton beam therapy should be available to New Yorkers."

Because they are heavier than ionized atomic particles, protons can be directed, or "beamed," in a manner that confines them more fully to the targeted tumor or other malady. This results in less damage to surrounding nerves and tissue than traditional photon radiation. Precise targeting of the radiation beam is especially important in the treatment of tumors in the skull, spinal column or near vital organs. It is perhaps most beneficial in treating head and neck cancers in children, where damage to surrounding tissue can have long-term adverse effects on growth and development.

Although proton beam therapy technology was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1988, it is currently indicated for only a small number of cancers and similar conditions, most of them rare. The high cost of proton beam therapy devices and the ethical issues surrounding randomized clinical trials that involve life-saving interventions have also inhibited rigorous scientific research on PBT. This makes the growth of the treatment controversial, with some experts contending that, except for a few rare diagnoses, proton beam therapy may be no more effective than conventional radiation therapy. Nevertheless, this medical technology continues to evolve, and the number of proton beam therapy centers in the United States, while relatively small, is growing.

"This demonstration will enable us to advance research on proton beam therapy while opening access to needed treatment for people afflicted with diseases for which the therapy has been shown to be effective," Commissioner Daines said. "It will also allow us to plan for the appropriate use of this promising new technology over the longer term, based on sound clinical findings and the contributions of our medical and scientific community."

Applicants seeking to operate proton beam therapy services under this demonstration must include at least one state-licensed academic medical center and commit to engage in research on the effectiveness of proton beam therapy compared to other treatments. They must also address how they will make the technology available to Medicaid clients and uninsured patients. To encourage the sharing of resources and expertise, DOH will give preferential treatment to applications that would involve active collaboration among multiple health care facilities in the operation of the proposed proton beam therapy service and in clinical research on proton beam therapy.

Applications will be due June 21, 2010, Forms and related materials are available at http://www.nyhealth.gov/facilities/cons/proton_beam_therapy_demonstration_project/