The Walloon company Ion Beam Applications (IBA) saw its shares lose 20% of their value yesterday after a government advisory body spoke out against its main technology, known as proton beam therapy. IBA is based in Louvain-la-Neuve, and is a spin-off of the UCL university there. It also has an office in Charleroi. Its principal technology is proton beam therapy, which essentially fires proton beams at aggressive and intractable cancers using a more directed beam than can be achieved using conventional radiotherapy. In addition, proton beams are less likely to cause damage to surrounding tissues than X-rays.
However the technology is expensive. At present there is no treatment facility operating in Belgium, although one is being planned at Leuven university (KUL) and another in Charleroi, both furnished by IBA. The United Kingdom recently opened one centre in Manchester, while Germany operates six treatment centres which receive patients from across Europe.
IBA’s problems came with the release of a report by the Federal Centre of Expertise in Health Care, commissioned by the national health insurance institute INAMI, which called into question the efficacy of the technology, based on a review of the international scientific literature. There is no convincing proof, the Centre wrote, that proton beam therapy is superior to conventional radiotherapy.
Shares in IBA plummeted by 20% at the start of trading, when it became clear that the Centre’s report would likely persuade the INAMI not to begin reimbursing proton beam therapy in Belgium. Patients who travel abroad for the therapy do already have their costs reimbursed, but only the very worst cases. The Centre’s damning report essentially put an end to the hopes for centres in Belgium, and for an extension of the range of cases where the technique could be applied.
The share price did rally in the course of the day, to close down 4.8% at 10.9 euro.