Canadians continue to innovate medical isotope production and delivery
Risk of a looming global shortage of medical isotopes – a foundation of nuclear medicine and a global Canadian business interest – is being averted thanks to the ongoing efforts of an innovative scientific consortium led by Canada’s TRIUMF research facility. Located on the campus of the University of British Columbia, TRIUMF is widely recognized among the world’s leading subatomic physics laboratories. According to Health Canada, medical isotopes are safe radioactive substances that, when injected into a patient, essentially light up a target organ and allow clinicians using specialized cameras to non-invasively peer inside a patient’s body – in real-time and to a molecular level. Threats of a potential shortage of Technetium-99m ( Tc-99m) – used in over 80 per cent of nuclear medicine imaging procedures to diagnoses serious illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s and heart disease – however, had physicians, governments and patients worldwide on alert. The issue revolves around the age and related reliability of nuclear reactors used to produce Tc-99m. In particular, Canada’s Chalk River reactor, which produces some 40 per cent of the global supply of Tc-99m, is slated to shut down in 2018. Beyond the risk to human health, Canada also faced a potential threat to its dominance in a global supply of medical isotopes, a market valued at approximately $4 billion that is expected to grow between one per cent and four per cent annually over the coming decade.
A CANADIAN SOLUTION
In 2009, TRIUMF and its research partners – the BC Cancer Agency, the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization, the Lawson Health Research Institute and UBC – began to investigate new ways to produce isotopes. By 2012, the group successfully manufactured Tc-99m on a GE cyclotron, a commercial technology similar to machines available in many Canadian hospitals. More recently, the group’s advances enabled medical isotope production using a cyclotron in quantities sufficient to meet the province of B.C.’s daily needs. In September 2016, the research partners took their efforts one step further by creating ARTMS Products Inc. This new commercial entity combines the group’s know-how and intellectual property, and will globally market technology to produce Tc-99m isotopes using cyclotrons. According to TRIUMF, ARTMS’s solution “offers the potential to revolutionize medical isotope production: instead of producing Tc-99m in a small number of large, global facilities, it can be produced via local hospitals, clinics and radiopharmacies that already have medical imaging infrastructure in place.”
TRUIMF houses state-of-the-art commercial cyclotrons, like the TR30 cyclotron which are intended for radioisotope production.