Companies work on securing medical isotope supplies

28 February 2020

Three recent announcements will help secure future supplies of vital medical radioisotopes. Westinghouse Electric Company and Nordion (Canada) Inc are to work together on technology to produce cobalt-60 in pressurised water reactors (PWRs); Framatome and Kinectrics have launched a new joint venture to produce lutetium-177 in partnership with Bruce Power; and BWXT Technologies' proprietary technetium-99m generators have passed a testing milestone.

(Image: S Slavchev/IAEA)

Cobalt-60 (Co-60) is widely used to sterilise medical instruments as well as in cancer treatments. It is produced by irradiating rods of cobalt-59 in a nuclear reactor, and according to World Nuclear Association, almost all the world's supply of the radioisotope is produced in Candu reactors, mostly in Canada but also in Argentina, China and South Korea. Some is also produced in Russia, in RBMK reactors and one fast neutron reactor. Westinghouse and Nordion - a Sotera Health Company - have signed a Letter of Intent under which they will develop "innovative isotope production technology" to produce the isotope in PWRs.

Expanding production to PWRs - of which there are nearly 100 in North America alone - will strengthen the diversity of the global supply chain, the companies said. "This partnership will substantially expand future supply options for life-saving cobalt-60," said Kevin Brooks, President of Nordion. "Cobalt-60 is critical to our mission … and we continue to invest heavily in maintaining a reliable, long-term supply."

New JV for Lu-177

French company Framatome and Canadian company Kinectrics have announced the launch of Isogen, a joint venture that will provide and support isotope production systems for Bruce Power's nuclear reactors in Canada to begin the production of lutetium-177 (Lu-177). Isogen has partnered with Bruce Power to produce the isotope by irradiating ytterbium-176 in the company's eight Candu units. Isogen will design and support the licensing of an isotope production system to support large-scale production of Lu-177 starting in 2022, subject to regulatory and other approvals.

Lu-177 is used as a gamma emitter for imaging and is also used as a beta emitter for targeted radiotherapy for the treatment of cancers including prostate cancer, neuroendocrine tumours and bone metastases.

German specialised radiopharmaceutical company Isotopen Technologien M√ľnchen will deliver the ytterbium-176 to the Bruce Power site, and Isogen will be responsible for handling and preparing the source material according to ITM requirements, the companies said.

Progress for BWXT Mo-99 technology

BWX Technologies (BWXT) announced that it has successfully labelled nine widely used "cold kits" using technetium-99mm (Tc-99m) derived from its proprietary molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) production process and Tc-99m generators. The ability to label cold kits - the chemical reagents which are combined with Tc-99m to produce a radiopharmaceutical for use in an individual patient - is a critical step towards regulatory and market acceptance for BWXT's Tc-99m generator, the company said.

BWXT's proprietary technology, which was announced in 2018, uses a neutron capture process to produce Mo-99, the parent isotope of Tc-99m, using natural molybdenum rather than enriched uranium targets. Tc-99m is the most commonly used radioisotope in diagnosis, accounting for about 80% of all nuclear medicine procedures and 85% of diagnostic scans in nuclear medicine worldwide, but it - and its precursor, Mo-99 - are extremely short-lived so a constant, stable supply of them is needed.

The company is currently engaged in facility construction and modification, but said it is "re-baselining" the project schedule due to delays in the Mo-99 project and will provide updates "as appropriate". It previously said it planned to introduce the technology by the end of 2019.

Irradiation of natural Mo-99 targets will be done primarily at the Darlington nuclear power plant in Canada by Ontario Power Generation's wholly-owned subsidiary Laurentis Energy Partners. BWXT also has a reactor services agreement with the Missouri University Research Reactor, which provided irradiation services for the Mo-99 used in the cold-kit labelling.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News