Alcoa gets ProNova: R&D company to invest $52 million, bring 500 jobs
By Robert Norris | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ProNova Solutions will be the first tenant at Pellissippi Place and anchor the R&D park in Blount County.
To Dr. Terry Douglass, CEO and chairman of the board, that’s the micro-scale of his vision for ProNova. He’s thinking macro — super macro.
“Our objective is to become the center of the universe — I humbly say that — for both the diagnosis and the treatment of cancer,” Douglass said Thursday at the Blount Partnership offices in Maryville.
ProNova will bring 500 jobs, a $50 million payroll and a $52 million investment to the 450-acre research and development park located at Pellissippi Parkway and Old Knoxville Highway in Alcoa.
The medical sciences company’s facility will be its headquarters as well as a research and commercialization laboratory.
The announcement that ProNova is coming to Blount County brought out the leaders of local government and a statement from Gov. Bill Haslam.
“I want to thank ProNova for their investment in Blount County that will not only benefit our citizens and economy but cancer patients and physicians worldwide,” Haslam said. “Our Jobs4TN strategy includes leveraging our state’s unique assets, such as those in research and development, and the remarkable technology companies like ProNova are creating will help us toward our goal of becoming the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.”
Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty was on hand to welcome the company and its vision.
“Our state has a rich history of entrepreneurial success stories, and entrepreneurship and innovation can drive economic growth and create job opportunities for our citizens,” Hagerty said.
“Tennessee is a top-10 state when it comes to research and development expenditures, and we are focused on leveraging our state’s extraordinary R&D assets, commercializing new technologies and growing innovative companies right here in the Volunteer State.”
ProNova, in coordination with Provision Health Alliance, its cancer clinic partner in Knoxville, is developing next-generation proton therapy technology to treat cancer.
Proton therapy benefits include a significant decrease in tissue damage, decrease in debilitating side effects and a decrease in secondary cancers from unnecessary radiation exposure, which brings the potential for patient cost savings by decreasing these complications.
Douglass spent 20 years at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with ORTEC and then moved on to CTI Molecular Imaging. Douglass — along with a team that included Joe Matteo, now president of ProNova — developed, manufactured and delivered more than 200 cyclotrons and over 2,000 PET and PET/CT scanners.
For Douglass and Matteo, ProNova Solutions is the next level.
“ProNova is the reality of developing the next generation of proton therapy equipment. We expect in the next 10 years that ProNova Solutions will experience $3.5 billion in revenue,” Douglass said.
As ProNova grows, he expects the company to eventually create 4,000 jobs in the community, counting ProNova employees and others. Many sub-assembly providers for the company are already in the region, and Provision’s $119 million proton therapy cancer center is currently under development in West Knoxville at Dowell Springs Business Park.
“I think, from my background, the key part to becoming world class in anything is development and commercialization of the technology,” Douglass said. “So ProNova is the reality of developing the next generation of proton therapy equipment.”
It fell to Matteo, who like Douglass resides in Walland, to put ProNova’s role in its personal medical perspective.
“Most folks, I’m sure, have been touched by friends and family that have had radiation therapy for cancer treatment,” Matteo said.
Part of that experience is witnessing the sickness and weakness that accompanies the treatment.
“The reason for that is the X-rays are not very precisely targeted to the tumor itself, and that causes a lot of damage to healthy tissue.”
That illustrates the value of proton therapy, which can precisely treat the tumor and significantly reduce damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
“All of that is really a fantastic tool. The downside is the cost and complexity of delivering these protons is enormous,” Matteo said.
The current cost differential is on an order of 2X. The plan is to eliminate the price difference entirely.
“What we’re doing with ProNova is developing the next generation system that will bring that cost down to equal or less than the cost of standard radiation therapy,” Matteo said.
ProNova is slated to construct two facilities on 26 acres on the west side of the Pellissippi Place property to house its corporate headquarters along with a research and commercialization laboratory.
The company intends to construct the project in two phases, the first being a 30,000-square-foot, two-story office and research building with a 40,000-square-foot assembly and test area initially supporting 35 employees, growing to 110 by 2015.
Phase 2 adds an additional 120,000-square-foot, two-story structure with more gantry and cyclotron testing and assembly areas (40,000 square feet). The staff is projected to be 110 in 2015 and to expand to 500 by 2018.
A total of nearly 200,000 square feet will be used upon completion of both phases, including 130,000 feet of office space and 60,000 feet of commercialization and research space.
Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Partnership, put the ProNova announcement in a statewide perspective.
He noted that Blount County’s legislative delegation — Sen. Doug Overbey, Rep. Joe Swann and Rep. Bob Ramsey — will be working with state government to support this economic initiative.
“Today’s project will be the largest research and development corporate headquarters and commercialization private laboratory in Tennessee,” Daniels said.