Lab Canada

$6M supports research to address isotope situation

Vancouver, BC – An alternative medical-isotope production technology, which was proposed by TRIUMF, BC Cancer Agency, the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization, and the Lawson Health Research Institute, is receiving $6 million in funding from the federal government.. The team will leverage existing medical cyclotrons to develop and demonstrate viable production of Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely-used medical isotope and which gained worldwide attention last year due to reliability concerns around the Chalk River nuclear reactor.

“Together with our team, we are pleased to have this opportunity to address the isotope question facing all Canadians,” says Thomas J Ruth, who is head of the proposal as well as senior research scientist at TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency. “This technology will take advantage of existing infrastructure to develop and demonstrate the capability for manufacturing technetium at multiple sites across the country using the most diverse collection of commercially available cyclotrons.”

Recently, the technetium isotope has been the subject of a world-wide shortage with the sudden and unexpected shutdown of the two highest-capacity nuclear reactors capable of producing Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), an isotope whose decay to produce Tc-99m is the critical element of today’s global supply chain. The reactors have been repaired and are back online, but uncertainty remains about their long-term future.

The team will be developing a long-known alternative for producing Tc-99m that uses particle accelerators called cyclotrons that already exist in major hospitals throughout the country. By enabling regional hospitals to produce and distribute this lifesaving isotope to local clinics, widespread disruptions will be an issue of the past. Dr Ruth added, “We believe this technology, based on existing cyclotrons, will enhance the reliability of medical-isotope supply for Canadians and, when we are successful, can be commercialized for sale in other countries.”

The team, known as CycloTech99 because of the cyclotron production of Tc-99m, brings together physicists, nuclear chemists, radiochemists, pharmacologists, biologists, technicians, and clinicians from across the country to answer the critical questions that remain to use this process at a large scale.

The proposal was entitled “A Collaborative Program for the Production of Tc-99m Using Medical Cyclotrons” and was submitted last July to the Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program formulated by Natural Resources Canada. Other teams successful in the program are being led by Advanced Cyclotron Systems, the Canadian Light Source, and the Prairie Isotope Production Enterprise.