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UC Health, Cincy Children’s finalizing proton therapy partnership

UC Health could be the first health system in Greater Cincinnati, Dayton or Columbus to offer proton therapy cancer treatment for adults.

The network is continuing to negotiate a partnership on the cancer-fighting technology with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and chief executive officer of UC Health.

Cincinnati Children’s is already building a new $118 million, 80,000-square-foot proton therapy and research center for pediatrics at its Liberty Campus in Butler County. Plans are on track to open the center in 2017.

Estimates are that only 15 proton centers — whether for children or adults — operate now in the United States, according to The National Association for Proton Therapy. University Hospitals in the Cleveland area expects to open a $30 million proton therapy center this year, according to the health system’s website.

And Cincinnati Children’s officials say it will be one of only a handful of hospital groups in the world to offer proton therapy treatment specially for children.

“It’s obviously an expensive therapy, and one of the things that’s clearly unique is that if you’re going to treat kids, proton beam is much better,” Lofgren said.

“Children’s Hospital, as a leading cancer institute, really had to in its role have this therapy available,” Lofgren said. “It really was a great opportunity for us and the community to actually bring adult proton beam as well.”

Talks between UC Health, which is affiliated with University of Cincinnati, and Cincinnati Children’s are productive and ongoing, but terms of the deal have yet to be finalized, according to Children’s spokesman Terry Loftus.

The proton therapy center is under construction at a booming interstate exit in Liberty Twp., at Ohio 129 and Interstate 75, conveniently located between Cincinnati and Dayton. The facility being built will house three clinical rooms: one for adult treatment, one for children and one for research, Loftus said.

Proton beam therapy is a radiation treatment delivering a greater, but more precise dosage to a tumor than traditional X-ray treatments. Advocates view key benefits of proton to be that it administers radiation with less damage to healthy tissues surround a tumor.

“We obviously think it’s a type of therapy that’s going to be increasingly embraced,” said Tyler Wilson, executive director of The National Association for Proton Therapy.

“We are working with the insurance community so the insurance coverage of the therapy can catch up,” Wilson said.

The biggest hurdle facing development of proton centers is the cost, experts say.

“It’s a new and expensive therapy, but one of the things that happens is that we really think we have a responsibility to use it appropriately,” Lofgren, of UC Health said. “There have been areas where people are suddenly scoping the indications of expensive therapies, so we recognize our responsibility to really be that sort of honest broker that this is the true indication for proton beam versus other forms of radiation.”

By Cincinnati Children’s building a proton therapy center north of downtown Cincinnati, the services are put in reach of the Dayton market.

Optivus Proton Therapy Inc. first announced in 2009 intentions to build a proton therapy center in Miami Twp. By 2011, Optivus officials said their plans for a Dayton-area proton center were on hold. California-based Optivus was previously in talks to partner on the project with Premier Health, Dayton Physicians Network and Wright State University.

In 2010, Kettering Health Network also announced plans to open a proton center and as of 2013, Kettering Health officials said the system was continuing to evaluate funding options for proton therapy. No new announcements have been made.

Cincinnati Children's opened a standalone hospital in Liberty Twp. in 2008. The Liberty Campus hospital is also the site of a concurrent construction project to add a new patient floor and more inpatient beds, with the total investment including proton therapy exceeding $160 million.

The UC Health group includes University of Cincinnati Medical Center, West Chester Hospital, and UC Physicians, a group of nearly 800 doctors, as well as other sites.