A key Neil Woodford biotech holding has successfully trialled a groundbreaking radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients.
Proton Partners International (PPL) is the UK's first high energy proton beam therapy provider. Proton beam therapy uses protons to target and kill cancer with little or no damage to surrounding tissue.
A patient received the treatment at Proton Partner's Rutherford Cancer Centre in Newport, South Wales.
Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer of PPL, said in a statement: 'This is a landmark moment in UK cancer care and it is a significant step in transforming the way patients are treated.
'Proton beam therapy has been available abroad for many years, so it is hugely important that the UK is now able to offer this type of cancer care. There is a debate around how many patients are suitable for proton beam therapy.
'We do know that proton beam therapy is effective in the treatment of children as it reduces damage to surrounding healthy tissue, and it is also proven to work in tackling hard-to-reach tumours.'
Woodford first invested in PPL in August 2015. The unquoted company is the six largest holding in his Woodford Patient Capital (WPCT) investment trust and is a 0.4% position in his flagship Woodford Equity Income fund.
A Woodford spokesperson said: 'When Proton Partners launched, it set a goal of having a network of its unique cancer centres within 90 minutes of three-quarters of the UK’s population by 2023.
'The announcement that it has started to treat its first patient with proton beam therapy in its Newport Centre just over three years later is a hugely significant milestone and step in reaching that goal – and is a testament to its management team and staff.'
The news will come as welcome boost to Woodford, who is currently experiencing one of his toughest spells as a fund manager.
While shares in his trust have rallied from a low of 72p last month to trade at 84.5p, they are still below the 100p level at which they launched three years ago.
In the 12 months to the end of February his Income fund has lost 9.2% versus an average return of 3.3% in the peer group.
According to PPL more than 150,000 cancer patients in the UK receive radiation therapy every year. It believes that around 10% of patients treated with radical radiotherapy could be better treated with proton therapy.
PPL chief executive Mike Moran underlined the significance of the launch. 'Today is an important day because from now patients no longer need to be sent abroad to receive proton beam therapy and we are delighted that Wales has shown the lead in helping make this advanced treatment available to patients,' he said.
'Until now, patients have to be sent to private clinics in the US or Switzerland to get this treatment at a cost of around £114,000. By making the treatment available in the UK, the cost is significantly reduced but so is the effect long-distance travelling can have on patients and their families.'
The Rutherford Cancer Centre treats health insurance and self-pay patients and is available to treat patients should they be referred by an NHS Trust.
PPL is currently building centres in Northumberland, Reading and Liverpool and plans to build eight locations in the UK, to provide a treatment centre within 90 minutes of a patient’s home.
The firm has also established a two-year collaborative research project with the University of Liverpool to develop a new measurement system to enhance proton beam therapy technology and has a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.