UK medtech’s radiotherapy device part of $60m deal

Charles Wheeldon
June 15, 2022
Leo Cancer Care

What began as a loose prototype using an office swivel chair has evolved into a revolutionary approach to delivering radiotherapy to cancer patients. 

Founded by medical physicists, UK start-up Leo Cancer Care has developed a range of machines that deliver radiotherapy in a convenient and cost-effective way, with better clinical outcomes and greater patient comfort than conventional radiotherapy treatments.

The devices, which are around a quarter of the size of conventional proton beam radiotherapy machines, sit patients upright while they receive directed beams of radiation via proton beams or X-rays to destroy cancerous tissue.

Last month the company was part of a $60 million deal struck to provide the world’s first Leo Cancer Care upright proton beam therapy system to the US integrated healthcare system UW Health, based in Wisconsin. It will deploy it as part of a $438 million investment in the construction of a new 470,000 square foot medical centre, due to begin treating patients in 2024.

Currently, patients receiving radiotherapy lie down on a flat table while a heavy moving gantry rotates a radiation source around them to direct radiotherapy onto the affected part of the body. As a result, radiotherapy facilities require a lot of complex machinery and radiation screening, making them very large and costly to build.

The idea behind Leo’s product: move the patient, not the radiotherapy source. The device sits patients upright and slowly rotate them while they undergo CT scanning followed by beams of radiation delivered from a fixed source. The technology is currently available for proton beam therapy, and is also being developed for standard X-ray (photon) therapy.

By sitting up rather than lying down, gravity allows the internal organs to fall more naturally into place and there’s less movement when breathing, reducing the chances of damaging healthy tissue. This is particularly important when treating cancers in and around the lungs, prostate, head, neck and breast, where this precision approach could minimise side effects and improve clinical outcomes.

As well as being much smaller and less costly than conventional radiotherapy facilities, Leo’s seated device is far more comfortable for patients and helps them feel more in control during their treatment.

Leo Cancer Care’s chief executive Stephen Towe said: “If you need to change a lightbulb, you don’t hold the lightbulb and rotate the house. We’re applying that simple concept to modern radiation therapy. We’ve found this upright position allows for better cardiovascular function as well as more consistent breathing, among other benefits. But, beyond the clinical benefits, we think patients should be empowered to be upright looking eye-to-eye with their care provider, taking on cancer together.”

The company is currently working with Centre Léon Bérard, a French cancer hospital, where dozens of patients have experienced the upright patient positioning technology as part of an research agreement. Leo Cancer Care stated it is moving forward with regulatory approval, and the technology is currently being explored by the NHS.

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