Three intercontinental deals today illustrate the pressure on medical isotope supplies in the face of problems at two of the world's leading production reactors.
The extended shutdown of the NRU reactor at Chalk River in Canada means a short supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which decays in a matter of hours into technetium-99m for use in medical imaging procedures. Meanwhile, Europe's top Mo-99 producer, the HFR at Petten in the Netherlands, is due for major repairs within a year. The reactors are 52 and 48 years old respectively and are supported by a small number of other producers worldwide, most of which are similarly elderly.
In response to this failing of the supply chain, a Canadian supplier has started talks with the main Russian producer, a US supplier is seeking to import from Australia and the Japanese are expanding production and home and buying in from the Netherlands.
The effects of NRU's shutdown are being particularly felt in Japan, where supplies are down to around 40% of normal. Additional technetium for the next few weeks is being sourced from Nihon Medi-Physics and Fujifilm RI Pharma, according to an Atoms in Japan report. Mo-99 is also being purchased on the spot market from the HFR reactor in the Netherlands.
Canada's MDS Nordion, which has been frustrated in recent years by the failure of a plan to bring in new production reactors at home, has approached Moscow's Karpov Institute. The two will conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of Karpov producing Mo-99 for the global market. The institute already meets around 90% of demand in Russia.
An agreement has also been finalised by Lantheus Medical Imaging of the USA to import Mo-99 from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation's Opal reactor. The materials would be used in the US and Canadian markets subject to approvals from Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration. Opal stands out among research reactors as one of the newest, having started up in the beginning of 2007. Opal itself has the capacity to produce half of the world's Tc-99 demand, though a much larger molybdenum production facility there would be required.
The Association of Imaging Producers and Equipment Suppliers has taken a role in coordinating the operation of research reactors and sharing information to alleviate the shortage. Figures it released for the next few weeks put Mo-99 supplies in North America and Europe at 100-116% of demand, with those in Japan in the 40-46% range and 61-66% for the rest of the world. Supplies are being shifted around to minimize disruption to programs of treatment.