Yves Jongen a true pioneer in the domain of proton therapy was selected as one of the three nominees for the European Inventor lifetime achievement Award for his development of proton therapy to cure cancer. With his smaller and more affordable version of the proton-generating device known as “cyclotron”, Mr. Jongen has paved the way to making proton therapy available to a growing number of cancer patients worldwide.
In a short video Jongen expresses his 20 years of dedication to doing what he loves – developing proton therapy. Mentioning the hundreds of hours spent on his knees inside the machine, trying to get it to work a little better, and do something totally viable he proudly announces, “This machine is really my baby.”
The treatment, baptized proton therapy, targets tumors more precisely than conventional X-rays and was first introduced in clinical practice in research laboratories in Sweden and USA. Jongen and his team from The Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) located in Belgium were the first to make a proton therapy system, simple and small enough, to be produced industrially and installed in hospitals.
Later, in 1986, the entrepreneur and inventor founded the global company Ion Beam Applications (IBA) with the purpose of marketing his innovative cyclotron of protons and selling it to processing centers and hospitals worldwide. After years of development Jongen became the first ever to build a compact and financially affordable version of the “cyclotron” designed for clinical and therapeutic applications and was a major leap forward for proton therapy, allowing a significant number of cancer patients to benefit from this technique. Today this Belgian engineer and researcher has constructed proton therapy centers in many parts of the world and in return has made proton therapy available to the entire cancer community. It is for this remarkable achievement, Jongen has been nominated for the European Inventor Award for lifetime achievement.
With more than 13 million cases of cancer reported worldwide in 2012, and growing, it was clear that the need for effective and safer treatments was in greater demand. The proton-generating device, a much-improved method from radiotherapy, has continued to raise hopes for numerous patients affected by cancer by providing a gentler approach that considerably minimizes the damages caused by conventional radiotherapy.
Although radiotherapy remains one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against the cancer, with more than half of cancer patients having been treated with high doses of X-rays, anti-cancer radiotherapy has been associated with a risk of severe lesions and injury to healthy cells. Not only does proton therapy eradicate tumors more effectively than conventional X-rays, but it also exposes the patient to less harmful radiations. As a matter of fact, studies suggest that protons pose a lower risk (50-80%) of causing secondary, radiation-related cancers than X-rays, leading to an increased number of patients leaving therapy entirely cancer-free.
In terms of numbers, as a viable alternative to X-rays in clinical practice, of the roughly 100,000 patients that have been treated with proton therapy today, more than a quarter have been treated by cyclotrons developed by Mr. Jongen and the numbers are still growing. In addition to providing societal benefits, the economic benefits are equally extraordinary. In the early 1990’s, the cost of installation for proton therapy was approximately € 100 million per unit with the cost of treatment approaching € 100,000 per patient – twenty times more than the traditional radiotherapy. By 2007, the cost per unit was reduced by approximately €24 million thanks to Jongen’s innovative compact proton therapy system.
Indeed, a splendid achievement and a nomination well-deserved for Mr. Jongen and his proton therapy “baby”!
IBA Chief Research Officer
Tel.: 010 475 854