The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Tag Archives: nuclear isotopes

Bill for U.S. Domestic Production of Medical Isotopes Passed by House of Representatives

683px-Schematicky_atomThe 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:

  1. supply of molybdenum-99 produced in the United States, because of the heavy impact on U.S. patients (16 million medical procedures annually); and
  2. 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.

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I-131! Getchyer Rrrred Hot I-131 Here! Health Canada Approves Alternate Source for Thryoid Cancer Treatment

683px-Schematicky_atomDraximage 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.

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Chalk River Reactor Isotope Shortage Gets Timing Update, International Attention, Local Solution

683px-Schematicky_atomThe 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.

Medical Isotope Shortage Looms as Canada’s Chalk River Reactor Shuts Down

683px-Schematicky_atomAccording 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.

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