The Flint-based McLaren Health Care System announced this week it would build a proton beam radiation therapy center, putting it ahead of five other systems that have battled for more than a year to be the first to build the potentially lucrative cancer center in the state.

McLaren said it would partner with Texas-based ProTom International to build the $50 million center in Flint. Officials said they are aiming for a 2010 groundbreaking and a 2012 opening.

Unlike radiation, where the dosage is complicated by a need to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue, proton therapy allows for a more precise targeting of cancer cells. With only five proton treatment centers in the country, and none in Michigan, hospitals could see strong profits from the cutting-edge therapy.

Several Michigan-based systems have spent the last year trying to secure state permits and obtain partners and financing for their own proton therapy centers. ­William Beaumont Hospital earlier this year put on hold its own plan to do so, though it continues to try to secure financing.

A consortium that includes the University of Michigan, the Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute of Flint, the Henry Ford Health System, and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Institute of Detroit has spent the last year trying to put together a deal to build a proton beam center.

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