Thursday, October 9, 2008

University finds another partner for cancer center

University finds another partner for cancer center
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 10/09/2008

Touro University representatives have announced that Siemens has withdrawn its participation in a cancer research and treatment center planned for Mare Island, although they insist the project won't suffer.

After learning "some time ago" that the German-based medical technology supply firm was pulling out of the world market - including all its U.S. projects - Touro officials went shopping for a replacement, said university Vice President Dick Hassel.

The school has discovered a likely candidate "in our own back yard," one that's developing an even better version of the cancer treatment technology Siemens uses, he said.

"This is a windfall for us. It's a fantastic opportunity for us to stay on the cutting edge of this technology," Hassel said. "Siemens is an equipment provider, and there are others that can manufacture this technology."

That may be, said City Councilmember Erin Hannigan, who with her colleagues heard the news at Tuesday's council meeting, but Siemens is also an internationally known company. So while she hopes the project will still move forward even without Siemens, Hannigan said, she's "not holding (her) breath."

"I'm disappointed in the change, but hopeful that the project will still come to fruition," Hannigan said. "We've had a lot of disappointments (over the years with other projects), though, and anything can happen, especially in this economy."

Though Touro officials were "quite surprised when Siemens changed its business plan," Hassel said they learned about a new and better version of the technology because of that decision.

Touro is now negotiating with a Northern California firm Hassel's unwilling to name until the ink is dry on a deal. But he said he has no reason to expect an agreement won't be reached, since it seems to be a "win-win situation for everyone," he said.

"Because of our relationships in the academic and medical community, we were able to find someone whose developing the next generation of the same technology Siemens was going to use," Hassel said. "It was originally developed for the military and found to be useful for medical applications."

The technology treats cancer with accelerated heavy ion particles, Hassel said.

He also said the new firm has something even Siemens doesn't, which, assuming a deal is struck, would make Vallejo's cancer center the only one in the world offering it. "They're incorporating real time imaging during the treatment process, and no one else, anywhere, does that," he said.

Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis said "we'll have to wait and see" how the project plays out, while City Councilman Tom Bartee said the news sounds positive overall.

"I was a little surprised to hear from them in one breath that Siemens was gone and in the next that they'd found an equally auspicious replacement," Bartee said. "I can see the advantages to them being avant-garde on an international basis."

The change in plans will not slow the project's timeline, Hassel said.

"They'll actually be ready before Siemens would have been," he said. "We'll have our first proton machine by 2011 and our first carbon heavy ion machine by 2012."

Hassel said there's nothing to worry about. "Everything is on schedule and we're doing fine," he said. "Sometimes things happen for a reason."

• E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at or call 553-6824.