Fifteen years ago, a neurosurgeon at Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey, convinced the school’s hospital to acquire a Gamma Knife, a machine that enlists a highly focused beam of radiation to treat acute brain lesions, among other neurological conditions. Today, Turkey is home to 12 Gamma-Knife systems — and other middle-income countries around the world are following suit.
These specialty devices, which cost in the range of US$4 million, have long been popular in medical centers in the U.S. and other countries with leading-edge medical systems. But they were harder to find elsewhere. That’s starting to change. According to a recent analysis by the San Diego Gamma Knife Center, the Gamma-Knife market is expected to grow by 10.5 percent annually in the Asia-Pacific region, compared to 7.7 percent in Europe. The rapid growth in Asia is due in large part to the rising rate of brain cancer diagnoses among the aging population there, according to a report by Persistence Market Research. Sales are also growing in some countries in the Middle East and Latin America, adds Ray Rau, a marketing manager at the Swedish radiation therapy company that pioneered the Gamma Knife technology, Elekta.
Gamma Knives can precisely treat a range of brain disorders, including tumors, trigeminal neuralgia, movement disorders and blood vessel abnormalities. The device can also reduce overall treatment costs via faster recovery times compared to invasive surgeries. Rau contends that the Gamma Knife is especially well-suited for developing markets. “It uses the same amount of power as two hairdryers,” he notes, “and you can continue with treatments for 20 minutes if the power goes out.”
A new Gamma-Knife financing model has emerged in lower-income countries, Rau adds. If a government payer can’t afford the device, a private investor can often be found to pay for it and then split the revenues with the hospital in which it is housed. That’s how a new Gamma Knife installation in Guayaquil, Ecuador, was financed. Overall, about 20 to 30 percent of new purchases in developing countries are financed with a private investor’s help, Rau estimates.
Sometimes it only takes a single physician to start Gamma Knives rolling into a country that’s never had one, says Rau, as was the case in Turkey. “Once that physician becomes a champion for acquiring the device, and convinces a hospital to buy one, other physicians in the country take note and push for one for their own hospitals,” he explains.
— Sony Salzman
Sony Salzman is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York.