November 6, 2009
Posted by on
The shut-down of Ontario’s Chalk River reactor, which used to supply 30% of the world’s medical isotope requirements, and 60% of U.S. isotope needs, has prompted Congressional action in the U.S.
Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 3276 — the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 — finding that “[t]he United States should move expeditiously to ensure that an adequate and reliable supply of molybdenum-99 can be produced in the United States, without the use of highly enriched uranium.”
Both parts of that finding are important:
- supply of molybdenum-99 produced in the United States, because of the heavy impact on U.S. patients (16 million medical procedures annually); and
- without the use of highly enriched uranium, because reducing the need for highly enriched uranium is part of the U.S.’ nuclear security agenda.
The bill would provide funding of $163,000,000 (over FYs 2010-2014) for a program to evaluate and support projects for domestic production of medical isotopes.
In Canada, the latest plan is to spin off and privatize the “reactor business” unit of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL). The Chalk River reactor is facing $70 million of repairs and/or an uncertain long-term future.
September 3, 2009
Posted by on
Yesterday, MDS Inc. (TSX: MDS; NYSE: MDZ) signed an agreement to sell its “analytical technologies” business to Danaher Corporation (NYSE: DHR) for $650 million cash. Two major shareholders, collectively holding 23%, have signed voting support agreements supporting the sale. The shareholders meeting is planned for October, with closing later in Q4. Assets include 1,100 employees operating in 10 countries. Danaher will also purchase part of a mass spectrometry joint-venture partnership from Life Technologies Corporation, each purchase conditional on the closing of the other.
MDS’ strategic review was triggered in part by the Chalk River reactor shut-down. It is also putting its “pharma services” business on the block, and in July it closed the sale of its Phase I-IV services business. If the sale of analytical technologies and pharma services go through, only the isotope business will be left.
MDS “intends to return approximately $400 million to $450 million of the sale proceeds to its shareholders” and will presumably aim for a similar outcome from the pharma services sale.
July 6, 2009
Posted by on
Draximage has been approved by Health Canada to supply I-131 from South Africa’s Safari reactor to treat Canadian thyroid cancer patients. As the Health Canada press release points out, “[p]roduction of I-131 in Canada was interrupted by the unplanned shutdown of the Chalk River National Research Universal reactor (NRU) in May 2009.” Draximage is a division of DRAXIS Specialty Pharmaceuticals, which was bought by Jubliant Organosys in May 2008.
Update: Good thing too, because the Chalk River reactor may be out of commission through the Fall or even into 2010.
June 9, 2009
Posted by on
The shut-down of Ontario’s Chalk River reactor, one of the few sources of medical isotopes for imaging in the world, is now predicted to last at least three months, and the resulting isotope shortage has been noted by the WSJ’s Health Blog as likely to get “a whole lot worse.”
Meanwhile, in Quebec, Sherbrooke University Hospital is substituting a sodium fluoride isotope for bone scans (about 20-40% of the scans done in a day). It’s a 40-year-old technology that they make in-house using a cyclotron. Cyclotrons, you may have noticed, are much easier to come by than nuclear reactors.
May 19, 2009
Posted by on
According to a CBC News report today, Canada’s Chalk River nuclear reactor was shut down for a power outage last Thursday, and Friday inspectors noticed a heavy water leak at the base of the reactor. The month-long shut down that will be needed for repairs means that only one reactor in the world, the HSR reactor in the Netherlands, will be producing medical isotopes. The Netherlands reactor can only service about one-third of global demand, and much of its output is committed outside of North America under existing supply contracts.
Because the isotopes have a short half-life, they cannot be stockpiled and the shortage will begin to affect diagnostic capacity by this weekend. Reactors in Belgium, France and South Africa are currently shut down as well.
A long-term solution may be available, if a joint effort by Canada’s TRIUMF accelerator lab and Ottawa-based medical isotope supplier MDS Nordion succeeds in trying to make the primary isotope (molybdenum–99) in a linear accelerator instead of in nuclear reactors. However, construction on the project doesn’t start until next year, and the first tests would not be until 2013.
An apparently similar effort is underway in a recently-announced collaboration between an Idaho company and Idaho State University.