Lab Canada

$35M in funding supports research into medical isotope supplies

Ottawa, ON – The federal government is providing $35 million in funding to support four projects that will focus on developing supply sources of the key medical isotope technetium-99 (Tc-99m), a radioactive tracer used in nuclear medicine for many diagnostic tests. The projects will study cyclotron and linear accelerator technologies to better understand their commercial viability and to attract private sector investment.

The selected projects are being led by TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics), the Prairie Isotope Production Enterprise, Canadian Light Source and Advanced Cyclotron Systems. The projects are intended to lay the groundwork for a more secure and sustainable supply of Tc-99m in the medium to long term and a reduced reliance on reactor-based production.

The team led by TRIUMF includes Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, the BC Cancer Agency, the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC), the Lawson Health Research Institute, and the University of British Columbia. The team is being led by Dr Thomas J Ruth, senior research scientist at TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency. The team will study, develop, and prepare for commercialization a technology suited for producing Tc-99m isotopes using existing medical cyclotrons in select regions of Canada.

“It is part of our responsibility as a laboratory, as scientists, and as citizens, to address matters of national importance where possible,” says Nigel S Lockyer, director of TRIUMF.

“This could be the start of the long-sought network for nuclear-medicine imaging in Canada,” says John Valliant, scientific director and CEO of CPDC.

According to Dr Michael Kovacs, director of the Lawson Cyclotron & PET Radiochemistry Facility, “With the aging NRU reactor at Chalk River reaching the end of its useful life, this project is a critical first step by the federal government to ensure a stable and highly diversified supply chain of technetium-99m for Canadians.”

The Prairie Isotope Production Enterprise (PIPE) has been formed by a partnership between the University of Winnipeg, Acsion Industries and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and various other partners.

PIPE’s technology uses an electron accelerator rather than a nuclear reactor to make the radioactive molybdenum, the starting radioisotope for producing Tc-99m. Electricity is sprayed from the electron accelerator onto molybdenum metal, which produces the Mo-99 radioisotope. Next, a chemical process is used to fabricate the Tc-99m compounds.

The process has no radioactive wastes that need to be managed as do the current production methods that use uranium as a starting material. In fact, the process includes recycling where everything comes back to PIPE to be used again.