U.S., Canadian health officials OK Polish isotopes

Thu Mar 11, 2010 12:55pm EST
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CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. and Canadian health officials have approved the use of the medical isotopes created at a Polish nuclear reactor, a move that will help ease a shortage of the materials used in millions of diagnostic tests, health products provider Covidien said Thursday.

The company said material from the Polish reactor should be available in the United States and Canada later this month, helping to ease a shortage of radioactive material Molybdenum 99, or Mo-99.

Last May, Canadian health officials shut down the National Research Universal reactor that produces a third of the world's supply of MO-99, sending medical isotope makers scrambling to find new suppliers and sparking a global shortage.

The aging Canadian reactor was shut for repairs. It is one of six established reactors worldwide. None are located in the United States.

Last month, Dublin, Ireland-based Covidien cut a deal with the Institute of Atomic Energy in Poland to help shore up supply of the nuclear material, which is made using highly enriched uranium.

Technetium-99, a radioactive byproduct of MO-99, has a half life of just six hours, making it impossible to stockpile.

Technetium-99 is used in more than 14 million nuclear medicine tests in the United States each year, representing a $60 million to $65 million market.

A medical isotope is a small quantity of radioactive material used to perform nuclear medicine imaging tests.

Isotopes are mixed with different solutions and injected into patients, where they emit energy that special cameras read.

Covidien and privately held Lantheus Medical Imaging of North Billerica, Massachusetts, are the two major U.S. suppliers. They supply medical isotopes to Cardinal Health Inc, which runs nearly 160 nuclear pharmacies that use the generators to process the isotopes into injectable form.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Eric Beech)