Finance solutions for life-changing healthcare technology

How can you find a finance partner for a precision radiosurgery treatment device when you’re a new entrant in the market? That was the challenge facing healthcare entrepreneur Amethyst Radiotherapy Group (ARG) when they acquired two specialist radiosurgery clinics in the UK in March 2020.

The machine in question is Leksell Gamma Knife Icon™ manufactured by Elekta. It provides precision treatments for brain tumours, functional disorders and abnormal conditions of the blood vessels, also known as lesions. This highly sophisticated equipment directs beams of radiation precisely to the lesion in the patient’s brain, sparing surrounding healthy tissue. This eliminates the side effects normally associated with radiotherapy while improving the patient’s quality of life after treatment.

Daniel Baines is UK Sales Director at Elekta, the Swedish manufacturer. ‘What is unique about Gamma Knife Icon is that it can treat a wide range of brain lesions without the patient needing brain surgery. So not just secondary brain tumours, but also lesions caused by conditions like trigeminal neuralgia. The precision and speed of the technology also reduces the number of treatment sessions needed.’

Today, there are only seven Gamma Knife Icon systems in the UK. The two sites operated by ARG (The Queen Square Radiosurgery Centre in London and the Thornbury Radiosurgery Centre in Sheffield) are the only centres in the UK with NHS England accreditation to treat all four tiers of brain lesions.

Medical staff checking scanner results

Experts in the field
While this acquisition is ARG’s first venture into the UK market, it has a long track record in healthcare entrepreneurship. The company started out operating specialist radiotherapy centres on greenfield sites in Romania and Poland before making selective acquisitions in Italy, France, Germany and Austria. All the mainland Europe sites offer linear accelerator radiotherapy treatments for a range of cancers.

Stefan Dorozkowski is ARG’s UK Sales Manager. ‘Our strategy for the UK is to focus specifically on the treatment of brain lesions with Gamma Knife Icon technology. In acquiring Queen Square and Thornbury, we’ve tapped into two of the world’s leading centres of excellence in neurology and neurosurgery.’

Of course, high-tech medical equipment comes at a price. The fact that it needs to be housed in special radiation-shielded bunkers and that the cobalt radiation source must be refreshed every five years can bring the cost of a new installation into multi millions. Fortunately, Thornbury already had Elekta Gamma Knife Perfexion equipment in place, which ARG then upgraded to Gamma Knife Icon level.

Willingness to help
Elekta and DLL had a long partnership with the two centres acquired by ARG. And while ARG was aware of DLL’s reputation, they were just one of the funding parties invited to tender for the Thornbury upgrade.

The timing was far from ideal. Stefan Dorozkowski: ‘Many funders closed their doors to new business as the COVID-19 lockdown kicked in. DLL impressed us by listening intently. They showed an immense willingness to help and understand our business and to move quickly. Even though they were stretched, supporting existing customers in the crisis, they really went the extra mile to help us.’

Medical staff preparing patient for a scan

Extending life and quality of life
DLL Account Manager Paul Tweehuysen: ‘It was certainly a challenge at that time, getting to know ARG and fully understand their plans. Doing the customer due diligence and arranging the deal as the COVID crisis was unfolding. The motivation is what makes the life science sector so special. It’s not just understanding the business opportunity that’s out there. We’re helping to save lives as well.’

At full utilisation, a Gamma Knife Icon machine would treat around 800 patients with complex brain lesions annually. Stefan Dorozkowski estimates that most centres currently treat between 200 to 400 patients a year because these are such specialised cases. Half of the workload is secondary brain metastases, when primary tumours, mainly from breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma, have spread (or metastasised) to the brain. ‘Which is where the Gamma Knife Icon is extremely effective,’ says Stefan. ‘We can treat those brain lesions and with incredible results. So we’re extending life, and quality of life. There’s growing evidence that this is the most effective, patient-friendly and efficient form of treatment for these brain metastases.’

The final word on this partnership goes to Daniel Baines. ‘For ARG to be able to access a financial solution for this precision, high-end equipment, to start generating the benefit to the patients and then build the business has been key for us. As always, DLL were very flexible: willing to lend against buildings as well as equipment, and to make the deal happen.’

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