Scientists seek partners for medical isotope process

Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:40pm EST
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Several companies are in talks with Canadian scientists on commercializing a new method to produce a crucial medical isotope without using feedstock from a nuclear reactor, one of the lead scientists said on Tuesday.

Researchers at the TRIUMF physics lab in Vancouver, British Columbia, say their method, showcased at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Vancouver on Monday, would produce technetium-99m without using feedstock molybdenum-99, which is mainly produced at nuclear reactors using enriched uranium.

Technetium-99m is used in medical imaging, particularly to diagnose cardiac problems, and is now usually created from decayed moly-99.

The new method uses cyclotrons, devices already installed in many research hospitals to produce other types of isotopes.

Principal investigator Tom Ruth said companies interested in working with the team include Canada's Nordion Inc, along with Lantheus Medical Imaging Inc, Covidien, GE Healthcare, General Electric Co's healthcare equipment unit, and Cardinal Health Inc.

He would not say what stage discussions were at with any party.

"They would be the ones that would take the technology and maybe they would contract the cyclotrons in a province or across Canada or whatever country, and run it as a business," Ruth said.

Ottawa-based Nordion is one of the world's largest suppliers of molybdenum-99. It processes it at an aging nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ontario, one of the few reactors in the world that produces commercial quantities of the substance.

Canada closed the facility over safety concerns in fall of 2007 and again from May 2009 to August 2010, causing a worldwide shortage of the isotopes, pushing up prices and encouraging many of Nordion's customers to diversify suppliers. Nordion is still feeling the after-effects of the shutdowns.   Continued...