Supporting Canada’s Role as a Leading Medical Isotope Producer
Canada is well known for its role as a leading producer of medical isotopes. Presently, over two-thirds of all nuclear medicine procedures involve Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most commonly used radiolabelled tracer in SPECT imaging. Canada produces about forty percent of the world’s supply of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the precursor of Tc-99m, by irradiating highly enriched uranium (HEU) targets in the NRU reactor (operating since 1957) at Chalk River, Ontario. A handful of other reactors around the world provide the balance of global supplies. Recent disruptions in the supply chain have focused attention on the age, safety, and reliability of these reactor operations (world-wide) and there is mounting concern about prolonged shortages of this medical isotope. The situation is further complicated by concerns about the continued use of HEU. In the interests of nuclear security and non-proliferation, the U.S. and other countries are increasing the pressure to migrate all non-military applications (such as research reactor fuel and isotope production targets) to use low enriched uranium (LEU).
Given Canada’s historical strengths in nuclear science and the rapidly growing worldwide demand for nuclear medicine in neurology, cardiology, and oncology, we believe it is advantageous for Canada to continue to play a central role in this international high-tech field.
AAPS has been exploring a number of opportunities to leverage TRIUMF’s recognized isotope and nuclear chemistry expertise. A consortium led by TRIUMF, including the British Columbia Cancer Agency, the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (McMaster University) and Lawson Health Research Institute, received funding from Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) ITAP (Isotope Technology Accelerator Program) Program in 2013 to research and validate the potential commercial production of Tc-99m from cyclotrons. The success of this project would help to sustain Canada’s position as a world leader in medical isotope production. AAPS incorporated ARTMS Products Inc. in September 2013 to commercialize the intellectual property developed by the TRIUMF-led consortium, and continues to work on finding viable ways to develop, test, and market innovative isotope production and refining hardware, so as to position Canada as a leading supplier of these systems.