KFMC is building the first Proton centre worth USD 300 million

Dr. Mushabbab Al Asiri, Executive Director of Medical Affairs of King Fahad Medical City talks about the first proton centre in the Middle East.

Dr. Mushabbab Al Asiri, Executive Director of Medical Affairs of King Fahad Medical City talks about the first proton centre in the Middle East.

Proton is a medical device which is very large. Proton is not a new technology that has been around for a while, but what makes it a little unpopular is the cost. It is a huge device; you need to install it in a space the size of a basketball stadium because it is so large. Because it is so large it is also costly due to all the materials it is made of.

Twenty years ago there were only 4 centres in the world with proton. One of them was for research and the others just treated a small number of patients. Over the last twenty years however, proton has become very useful in treating patients with cancer. In very sensitive areas, for example paediatric or children’s back or brain tumours. You can try to treat the tumour but with the available facilities in oncology while you treat the tumours you may affect the rest of the brain and the children may grow up with some handicap problems and some have sadly become mentally affected by the classic radiation.

KFMC with an investor came to an agreement that we will build the first proton facility in the Middle East and in Saudi Arabia. It is going to cost around USD 300 million. This agreement with the investor meant KFMC had the first unique project that was a public private partnership. This was new for the healthcare sector in Saudi Arabia where it is normally run completely by the government. We started building the facility and the architect completed the work in 2011 and next week they will start installing the device itself. So we are going to have this facility for the first time in Saudi Arabia, for the first time in the Gulf region and for the first time in the Middle East. We hope we shall help a lot of children with cancer. They will get a cure from cancer and they will get quality of life.

There are also new applications for using proton in other areas apart from paediatrics; it is starting to be used in lung cancer and renal cancer. These treatments should become available at KFMC. That will make cancer care comprehensive in Saudi Arabia; we shall have primary care with screening and also the facility for cancer treatment. We think that we are going to have patients from outside of the Middle East; an Italian group has already approached us. Who say they could send patients to Saudi Arabia and we may yet receive patients from other regional countries that don’t have the proton facility for treatment here.

By the way, proton is not yet available even in England. So we may one day receive patients from England to be treated with proton. It was a public-health issue in England I think 2 months ago. When a child with brain cancer had to travel outside of the country to be treated with proton. I think he was treated in Germany, so one day we may receive patients from the UK for proton treatment.

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