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ProNova’s possibilities draw local entrepreneur Joe Matteo out of retirement


Published: Sep 22, 2013 at 03:23 PM EDT
Oct. 7, 2013
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
By: Amy Nolan

ProNova’s possibilities draw local entrepreneur Joe Matteo out of retirement
Knoxville company ProNova Solutions developing next-generation proton therapy

Joe Matteo couldn’t say no to Terry Douglass.

The two had worked together at CTI Molecular Imaging, the Knoxville company that developed PET imaging technology, which Douglass and three other local engineers founded. Matteo describes Douglass and the others as mentors who hired him and promoted him to lead CTI’s manufacturing and research and development efforts, and then encouraged him when he started his own imaging technology venture in 2004.

The two are neighbors on a remote ridge near Walland, where the “tinkerers” adapted technology to pump water from a well to their homes and their neighbors. During one of their walks in the woods, Douglass asked Matteo what he knew about proton therapy, the advanced cancer treatment that Douglass planned to start offering in Knoxville.

“I said, ‘You need some help, don’t you?’ because he was probing pretty specifically,” recalls Matteo, who headed CTI’s cyclotron business, machinery that also powers proton therapy. “He said, ‘I would love to have you come up and help us.’”

Matteo soon found himself driving up Pellissippi Parkway to the proton center that was under construction in West Knoxville.

In a reversal of roles, Matteo says when the team began talking to vendors, “Every company that came in here asked for help with imaging and eventually asked us for help with manufacturing.

“Within a couple of months a group came to us with a piece of technology and said, ‘We can’t develop this but we want to buy it from you if you can develop it.’”

Douglass, Matteo and Mary Lou DuBois, a 20-year CTI veteran, created a business plan. And then Matteo had to decide whether he wanted to join the effort.

“I went home to talk it over with my wife, Debbie, because we knew how much work it was, how it would change our lives,” says Matteo, who had been consulting and biking since selling NanoTek LLC in 2007. “I was really thinking of just staying on as a consultant and she said, ‘You know it’s going to happen. And if it’s going to happen in Knoxville, there’s no way you are going to keep yourself out of it, so you might as well run it.

“I came in the office the next day, sat down with Terry and said, ‘I am in. Let’s do it,’ and that was it, off we went,” Matteo says.

To say their timeline is aggressive is an understatement. The new venture, ProNova Solutions, expects to ship its first system in 2015.

“We call this a startup business, but this is a startup business on steroids,” Matteo says. “We are building a major product and major company in a very short period of time.”

Employees invested

While acting in many ways as a big company in preparation for Federal Drug Administration clearance, ProNova is still a startup that’s financed like one — albeit with founders with deeper pockets because of their earlier success.

Douglass, Matteo and DuBois financed the first year, 2012, when they conducted engineering tests and firmed up collaborations with the Indiana University Cyclotron Operations and Indiana University Health Proton Therapy Center, both of which are deeply connected to John Cameron, a physicist who is among the pioneers in proton therapy. Cameron’s recent work has focused on deploying superconducting magnets, and ProNova will incorporate that technology in its designs.

This year, other employees have bought stock, and many have been granted options — a scenario that generated wealth among CTI employees a decade ago.

“Our first raise was totally internal, employees and a few close collaborators,” Matteo says. “Similar to CTI, we are promoting ownership and involvement.”

Money is being raised from outside investors now.

“It’s a lot easier to do here because of Terry’s track record, and my track record,” Matteo says of raising capital. “The community is familiar with us, and a lot of the folks here are familiar with us. This is a really unique startup, and anybody who comes here knows it right away.”

Blount County, where the foundation is being dug for ProNova’s new facility, has essentially given the company 26 acres at Pellissippi Place Business Park, and waived its property taxes for the first eight years. The state will chip in with nearly $4.3 million in grants to build out the park’s infrastructure and train employees.

Matteo expects ProNova will be in its new building in May 2014.

While ProNova may be unique, Matteo acknowledges, “We make comparisons to CTI all the time. It’s a very parallel business, very similar, just bigger.

“I describe it as CTI times 10 — it’s 10 times bigger, it’s 10 times more expensive and it takes 10 times more effort,” he says.

Many entrepreneurs reach a stage in their life that they want to give back to the community that’s helped them achieve success. Matteo says he gets a similar sense of satisfaction from ProNova.

“There is probably nothing I can do that would have a bigger impact on this community than to make ProNova successful,” he says. “We are generating a huge number of high-paying jobs and we are putting an enormous amount of manufacturing business into the community. At this point in the economy, around the country and locally, people really appreciate bringing that kind of technology here.”

By the time ProNova is at full steam in 2018, the company is expected to have invested $52 million in the project and employ 500 people, many of them engineers, software developers and other highly skilled and high-paying professions.

Technology leaders

Current technology will be in use when the Provision Center for Proton Therapy begins accepting patients early next year. But ProNova is reserving two of the five vaults to install its own technology.

Milestones were marked in September when multiple components of its lightweight gantry were installed in one vault, and its unique superconducting magnet elements were tested.

According to announcements from the company, the gantry and magnet assembly is one-third the weight of similar machines and operates at half the power.

“We really believe in the proton therapy business model,” he says. “We think it’s the right technology. We think the timing is right, and we think we can solve the things that have it held it back — size and cost.”

The collaborations with Indiana University are a big reason for his confidence, as well as the experience of the team.
“Our team is probably a little more experienced and of the size of an FDA structure, but we are also an an R&D company that is developing a new product, so we don’t want to introduce that structure too soon,” he says. “We are pretty careful about balancing that — we want to be creative and we want to move fast, but we also know that we need to transition to a medical production manufacturer.”

Matteo says one of his colleagues joked that ProNova “lives in dog years. One of our years is like seven years for everybody else. We are just going so fast and it’s just really exhiliterating.”

He tells his team that 2015 — when ProNova hopes to have FDA clearance — is not the end, but just the beginning

“If you think about the kind of people we attract here, they always want to be generating new technology,” he says.

“We are going to be developing that for years and years, and we are going to be building relationships with world-class research institutions, which we are already doing.”

Much like CTI continued to advance positron emission tomography and revolutionized cancer diagnosis, ProNova will continue to refine proton therapy and make it more accessible for cancer treatment, he says.

“We are very much technology focused and we want to be the technology leader. That was CTI’s role in PET. They were the innovators,” he says. “I think that’s the fun part too.”

The company estimates that about 30 percent of cancer patients who receive traditional radiation therapy would benefit from proton therapy instead. That amounts to about 320,000 patients annually. Only 12,000 can be treated in the United States with proton therapy’s current capacity.

“So there’s a huge gap,” he says.

Relationships matter

Talk to Matteo about his journey as an entrepreneur, and you’ll hear little about education and technical skills, and a lot about relationships.

He and his wife Debbie, who would later retire from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, arrived in Knoxville from Baltimore. Joe Matteo had applied for a job at a San Francisco maker of cyclotrons — he was working in robotics, at the time — that CTI had purchased.

He toyed between job offers in Los Angeles and Knoxville, which the couple preferred over L.A., but the selling point was the people, Matteo says.

“I always felt like I wanted to have my own company,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew being around guys like that was a good thing.”

He had already garnered Small Business Research Innovation Research Grants, and CTI’s founders encouraged him to explore his own research ambitions.

Several years before he would launch NanoTek, he told Kelly Milam, a CTI co-founder who led its cyclotron business, that he was considering leaving. Milam said he was too, and he asked Matteo to succeed him.

Matteo turned to another mentor, Lee Martin, a local entrepreneur who shared his interest in robotics, for advice.

“And Lee said, “I think you should take the opportunity and don’t look back. So I gave up the small business thing, and I literally made a very conscious decision I was going to take that job and build the skills I needed.”

At 53, Matteo says he’s since come to believe that “life-changing opportunities blow past us all the time … I think the challenge is to have the skills to recognize it and the courage to take it. So that’s consciously what I did, and I really had an opportunity to run the business unit and learn the financing side of running the business.”

By 2004, he and Debbie were ready to strike out again with NanoTek, which was developing systems for rapid production of biomarkers, a critical tool for drug discovery and detection of cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases.

The reaction of CTI’s Ron Nutt and Douglass was “when are you going to start?” he says.

He also cites a number of other mentors, including former ORNL scientist Mike Ramsey, who is now at the University of North Carolina. He was consulting with Ramsey, as well as working in his home’s R&D lab — “I did a couple of patents and was developing a few ideas” — when the ProNova opportunity arose.

Joining Douglass and Dubois again, he says, “was a big step, but it’s a lot more than a job.”


Blount Partnership Receives $1.4M Grant from U.S. Economic Development Administration


Published: Sep 4, 2013 at 11:32 AM EDT


Sept. 4, 2013
Contact: Jeff Muir, Blount Partnership Communications Director
Office: 865.983.2241; Cell: 865.323.6522

Blount Partnership Receives $1.4M Grant from U.S. Economic Development Administration
Money defrays road construction costs for ProNova Solutions at Pellissippi Place

Maryville, Tenn. – The Blount Partnership, which includes the Industrial Development Board of Blount County, received a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help defray road construction costs in Pellissippi Place as ProNova Solutions begins building the first phase of its proton therapy facility.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Matt Erskine made the announcement as elected officials from Blount and Knox counties looked on.

“Today I bring good news that will help further cement this region’s reputation as a premier place to live, work and do business. I’m pleased to officially announce that the U.S. Economic Development Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce is awarding a $1.4 million grant to the Industrial Development Board of Blount County to extend a critical roadway in the Pellissippi Place industrial park,” said Erskine. “These critical infrastructure improvements will support ProNova Solutions advanced manufacturing facility. This investment builds upon the more than $44 million that EDA has invested across Tennessee since 2009 to create more than 12,400 jobs and spur almost a billion dollars in private investment.”

Erskine also noted that, “This is truly a co-investment by EDA. One and a half million dollars in financing will be provided locally to meet the total project cost of almost $3 million. EDA’s grants are competitive, merit based and also require that local by-in for the match. This project is no exception.”

Construction of the road extension is projected to begin in Feb. 2014.

“We’ve been very grateful for the support of agencies like EDA,” said Earl Gohl, Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair. “We’ve been able to bring together 10 federal agencies through a cooperative agreement to work to make sure there are greater investments like this in Appalachia.”

“This is an investment in America’s infrastructure. It’s so important because it’s this type of critical investment that makes other things happen. That’s what strengthens communities and creates opportunities. It’s how we grow and succeed.”

“We are extremely grateful for the commitment made by EDA to Pellissippi Place and supporting us,” said Joe Matteo, President of R&D and Manufacturing ProNova.

“With a half billion dollars of investment and 2,500 jobs over the past couple of years, it really speaks to the cooperative efforts we’ve have among all the mayors, city managers and county commissioners,” said Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell. “They are all working together for this area and region. That’s what makes this happen.”

“The good news today continues for ProNova and our entire region,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. “We appreciate the support of the Economic Development Administration and its investment in this community.”

“Thank you to ProNova and EDA because this is the kind of partnership we enjoy having,” said Maryville mayor Tom Taylor.

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ProNova Solutions Announces Key Positions


Published: Aug 21, 2013 at 03:13 PM EDT


ProNova Solutions Announces Key Positions
Well Known Experts to Lead Key Divisions of Proton Therapy Company

Proton therapy company ProNova Solutions, LLC, has added to its arsenal of experts with the addition of three well known industry executives.  Vladamir (Laddie) Derenchuk, Tom Welch and Jeff Pelletier recently joined the emerging start-up company, based in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Vladamir (Laddie) Derenchuk has joined as Director of Physics.  A leading expert in ion and accelerator research, Derenchuk was previously Group and Project Leader of the Indiana University Cyclotron Operations, where he managed the design, build-out, and installation of new ion sources and accelerators for both the research program and the proton therapy facility.  He also held positions as the Mechanical Engineering Division Head and the Accelerator Technologies Division Head leading the servicing and operation of the IU Proton Therapy System as well as overseeing the physics research and development programs.  Derenchuk and his team achieved an availability exceeding 98%.

Other achievements include the design and operation of technologically ground-breaking accelerator hardware including the world’s highest intensity source of polarized negatively charged hydrogen and deuterium beams, an accelerator with an average beam power of 30 kW for the production of neutrons, and developing the world’s only continuously operating (not pulsed) RFQ linear accelerator for a proton therapy system.  In October of 2009, he participated in the “Accelerators for America’s Future” workshop and contributed to the medical applications report where he expressed a strong need for America to regain leadership in engineering and manufacturing of particle therapy systems that were automated and more compact and could provide treatments at a reduced cost compared to the currently available options.

Derenchuk received his undergraduate degree and MSc from University of Manitoba, Canada and worked at the University of Manitoba Cyclotron Facility as the Assistant Director and as Accelerator Physics Post Graduate Degree Instructor until he joined Indiana University.


Tom Welch joins as Division President for the new ProNova Proton Centers Division.  Welch has more than 20 years of broad business experience from pre-revenue Companies to growth stage and Fortune 50. He has primary responsibility for the planning, development, implementation and operations of the ProNova Proton Centers.  He is leveraging the total solutions foundations of the ProNova Total Solutions Division and the technology and systems developed by ProNova R&D and Operations Divisions.

Most recently Welch was the President and CEO of ABT Molecular Imaging, Inc. He led the Company’s efforts to turn a technology vision into reality with $8m in revenue in its third year of commercial operations leading to product installations on four continents. He also raised over $15m in debt and equity through preferred equity and venture debt, which combined with the growth in revenue, facilitated quadrupling the Company value in four years. Prior to joining ABT, Tom was the CEO of PETNET Solutions, Inc., formerly a division of CTI Molecular Imaging, Inc., which is now Siemens Medical Solutions, Inc.  In his 11-year career with PETNET, Welch helped grow from 12 to more than 50 radio-pharmacies to become the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of PET radiopharmaceuticals.  PETNET is located in four countries with drug manufacturing licenses on three continents. Numerous PETNET locations were joint ventures with leading healthcare institutions in the United States. He also led the Company through the introduction of the manufacturing of new drug products into the network as well as the industry’s first commercial New Drug Application.

Welch received his undergraduate work in business administration with a major in accounting and graduate work at the University of Tennessee, receiving his MBA.

Jeff Pelletier is on board as Vice President of Research and Development. He has more than 20 years of medical device product development experience with additional experiences in marketing and product service. Previously, he served as the Vice President of the Global Device Program Management organization for Hospira, Inc.  In this role, Pelletier provided strategic and operational direction to new product development activities across all Hospira device products, including infusion therapy and medication management systems.  Over a 10 year career with Hospira, Inc., he held positions in program management, R&D and marketing, published two editorials in industry publications and has been granted three patents in the area of infusion therapy clinical integration.

Prior to joining Hospira, Inc., Pelletier held several positions of increasing responsibility over a 15 year career with GE Healthcare.  In his most recent role at GE Healthcare, he managed a staff of 75 software developers and testers tasked with the development of a next-generation integrated radiology information system and diagnostic image review workstation.  Before this role, Pelletier held product development roles for magnetic resonance imaging and digital x-ray products, and also held a leadership role in regional field service, where he managed a $10M P&L within GE Healthcare’s service organization.

He received his MBA from Northwestern University, Master of Science in Electrical and Software Engineering from Marquette University, and Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.

About ProNova

ProNova is committed to making proton therapy accessible to a greater number of patients and physicians worldwide. Founded by the leaders of CTI Molecular Imaging, ProNova’s team brought positron emission tomography (PET) technology out of the laboratory and made it a clinical reality for millions of cancer patients. Our team’s early work revolutionized cancer diagnostics and helped to develop an industry with over 350 cyclotrons, more than 3,000 PET & PET/CT systems and 160 PET radiopharmaceutical distribution centers installed around the world today.  The same team will redefine cancer treatment once again with the introduction of the SC360 proton therapy system.



Proton Therapy Community Responds to GAO Report on Prostate Cancer


Proton Therapy Community Responds to GAO Report on Prostate Cancer

Calls on Doctors to Fully Inform Patients

Washington, DC, August 7, 2013 — “A new report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) confirms the need for newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients to be certain that their doctors explain all of their treatment options, including proton therapy,” says Leonard Arzt, Executive Director of the National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT). The report, “Higher Use of Costly Prostate Cancer Treatment by Providers Who Self Refer Warrants Scrutiny,” reveals that physicians who self-referred prostate cancer patients in 2009 were 53% more likely to refer for intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and less likely to refer them to other
treatments, including proton therapy.

The GAO report, which is based on a study of Medicare funded treatment, states that, “financial incentives for self-referring providers — specifically those in limited specialty groups –were likely a major factor driving the percentage of prostate cancer patients referred” for IMRT.

The NAPT and the Proton Therapy Consortium urge patients to ask their doctors to explain the risks, benefits and costs of all the appropriate treatments for their cancer. “Patients and physicians have a number of options when approaching prostate cancer,” Mr. Arzt says. “We believe that all options, including proton therapy, should be available through an informed decision making process. The choice of treatment will have an enormous impact on the patient’s health and ability to enjoy his life.”

Currently offered by 11 centers in the US that are affiliated with major academic universities and cancer centers, proton therapy for prostate cancer is clinically proven to benefit patients while causing fewer changes in quality of life than either IMRT or another form of radiation, 3DCRT. Proton therapy treatment also reduces the risk of a second malignancy, when compared with contemporary IMRT. Studies have demonstrated little to no decline in genitourinary and gastrointestinal function for men treated with proton therapy and a faster return to pre-treatment function, compared to standard X-ray radiation therapy.

Ninety nine percent of proton therapy patients believe they made the right choice, according to an NAPT survey released in February 2013. Conducted by The Brotherhood of the Balloon, the study included results from one fifth of all men who had received proton therapy for prostate cancer.

Of the total spent by Medicare for all services, only 1/10th of 1 percent (less than 1 cent) goes for proton therapy. Of the total Medicare paid for radiation therapy cost codes, only 2.04% (2 cents for every dollar spent on radiation therapy) goes for proton therapy treatments, while payments for IMRT account for nearly 60 percent (nearly 60 cents) of every dollar spent on radiation therapy.

The National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT) is a non-profit organization supported by proton center members and is “The Voice of the Proton Community”. The NAPT promotes education and public awareness for the clinical benefits of proton beam radiation therapy. Founded in 1990, NAPT is an advocate for the advancement and future access of proton therapy. It provides the number one website for patients, physicians, health care providers and the news media. NAPT’s site can be found at

The Proton Therapy Consortium is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to ensure availability and access to proton therapy for patients by educating regulators, payment providers, and policymakers on coverage issues. The Consortium promotes improving patient choice, facilitating appropriate use of proton therapy and encouraging cooperative research, and its members are world-renowned cancer centers that provide life-saving treatment to patients throughout the United States. Our members include Advanced Particle Therapy (in partnership with Emory University, Scripps Health & the University of Maryland), McLaren Health Care, The Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, The Indiana University Health Proton Therapy Center, The Loma Linda University Medical Center, The Mayo Clinic, The ProCure Proton Therapy Centers, The Provision Center for Proton Therapy, The Texas Center for Proton Therapy, The University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Pennsylvania Proton Therapy Center, The Willis-Knighton Health System and University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University.

The Brotherhood of the Balloon was founded in 2000 by Robert Marckini. The group consists of 6,400 men who received proton therapy, or proton therapy in combination with other therapies, for prostate cancer. Members are from 50 US states and 33 countries. They represent 10 US proton centers as well as three proton centers in Europe and Asia.

Click here to view the entire press release.

Prone Position for Radiation Therapy


After Ivy Berry’s last radiation treatment for breast cancer, she rang a victory bell three times. It’s a tradition for patients wrapping up their therapy at Knoxville’s Provision Radiation Therapy in Dowell Springs.

She is now cancer free. But a year ago, the 44-year-old Knoxville woman found out she had breast cancer after her first mammogram.

“They told me I needed to go ahead and have a lumpectomy right away,” said Berry. She had the surgery along with radiation therapy.

Provision Radiation Therapy Medical Director Dr. Allen Meek says that’s the gold standard when it comes to treatment.

But Meek adds, what isn’t standard at Provision Radiation is how the radiation is delivered.

Typically, patients are on placed on their back, in a supine position when the radiation beam targets the affected area. At Provision Radiation, Berry was placed in a prone position, on her stomach.

The breast is able to fall through an open area on a special table.

“With gravity, the breast pulls forward. Then you are able to bring the radiation beam in,” said Meeks.

Berry admits it’s not the most comfortable position but it is the preferred position for both her and her doctor.

Dr. Meeks’ concern with delivering radiation to a patient while on their back is the harmful exposure to areas of the body in addition to the breast.

“The main long term consequences we are concerned about are radiation to the heart and lungs,” said Meek.

When radiation is delivered in a prone position the heart and lungs are spared from exposure and any future potential medical problems.

Meek said, “One of the big concerns is that 15 to 20 years down the road, a patient can develop lung cancer from radiation to the lung.”

For Ivy Berry, radiation treatment in a prone position was the only way to go. She beat cancer this time and ringing the “ceremonial bell” at Provision Radiation Therapy once is more than enough.

ProNova to Locate at Pellissippi Place


ProNova Solutions becomes Pellissippi Place’s first tenant

The Daily Times

By Robert Norris |

Pellissippi Place is about to put high-paying jobs in Blount County with a high-tech business that will serve the region and beyond.

State and local officials announced this morning at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce that ProNova — a new company that is pioneering development of a lower-cost cancer treatment system — will locate its manufacturing facility in the research and development center at Pellissippi Parkway and Old Knoxville Highway in Alcoa.

Continue here for rest of article.

Provision Health & ProNova ramps up new hiring


Jobs target proton center, ProNova

By Carly Harrington

Posted: Nov. 28, 2012     

Knoxville News Sentinel

Plans are under way to ramp up hiring at a West Knoxville medical campus as the state’s first proton therapy center dedicated to cancer treatment nears 80 percent completion.

Provision Health Alliance, an integrated clinical outpatient health care center at Dowell Springs off Middlebrook Pike, has already nearly doubled its staff this year to about 100 employees in a variety of positions, said David Lopater, vice president of human resources and risk management.

“That was very exciting. We’re hoping to continue on this track for a while,” Lopater said. “We are beginning very serious planning as we speak. We are asking our division and business unit heads to plan their staffing needs for 2013.”

The 90,000-square-foot proton therapy center, which recently received approval for a $110 million tax-exempt bond issue by the Knox County Industrial Development Board, is slated to be operational by early 2014.

The primary staffing focus in the coming year will target the proton therapy center and the recently launched ProNova Solutions, which aims to develop and commercialize a next generation proton machine that’s less expensive and easier to use.

ProNova currently employs about a dozen individuals, and Lopater said it is expected to go through significant growth in engineering, research and development and software.

Some recent additions to the staff include Provision’s medical director of radiation oncology Dr. Allen Meek, who was founding chairman of the department of radiation oncology at Stony Brook University Medical School in New York and a professor for more than 28 years.

Steve Clapp, a former Baptist Healthcare System of East Tennessee executive who founded Restoration Healthcare, was named executive vice president of provider services, and Nancy Howard, who previously worked in the tourism sector, serves as manager of hospitality services.