published Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

UT drops cancer treatment proposal

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee has given up on a proposed partnership with a proton therapy center in Knoxville that university officials had hoped would bring in millions for new academic and research programs.

Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses a beam of protons to irradiate tumors without harming surrounding tissue.

UT’s deal with the Provision Center for Proton Therapy depended on the Legislature’s allowing the university to guarantee up to $98 million of the project’s costs in exchange for a 30 percent interest in the company, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported. The money generated would be split equally between UT, UT Research Foundation and UT Health Science Center in Memphis.

But lawmakers questioned the financial risk to the university as well as the effectiveness of the treatment.

“There was a fear there was not enough patients,” Oak Ridge Republican Sen. Randy McNally said. “If proton therapy was such a good thing, you’d have one at Emory and Vandy, so they had a concern the business model wouldn’t work.”

McNally also pointed to the failure of Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville, which received $130 million in state and local incentives before announcing plans last month to lay off 300 of its 400 workers and shut down its facility.

Local businessman Terry Douglass, who has spearheaded development of the Provision Center for Proton Therapy, tried to reassure UT officials in an email obtained by the News Sentinel through an open records request that the project would have no problem generating enough cash to pay the $6 million per year in principal and interest payments.

“There is essentially no circumstance in which the UT guarantee will ever be at risk or in which UT will ever have to provide cash to PCPT,” Douglass wrote.

According to records, UT planned to use the money to establish a medical physics degree and a new engineering building; develop a research and development institute with UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory focused on radiological and imaging services; and develop new academic and research programs at UT and the UT Health Science Center.

In a May 27, 2011, letter to Douglass, Wayne Davis, dean of the UT College of Engineering, expressed early support for a joint research institute, saying it would be “a powerful boost to the college and campus initiatives to reach Top 25 status” by forging a strong relationship between the UT Health Science Center and College of Engineering with the Graduate School of Medicine.

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