January 24, 2011 | Embargoed until 11:00am PST
BC Moves to the Forefront of Medical-Isotope Production Technology
New federal investments in BC Cancer Agency and TRIUMF will enable augmenting local supply of key medical isotope
Vancouver—The Government of Canada today announced a $6 million investment to develop an alternative medical-isotope production technology proposed by TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA). The team will leverage existing capabilities at TRIUMF and BCCA to develop and demonstrate viable production of Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely-used medical isotope which gained worldwide attention last year due to reliability concerns around the nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ontario.
Thomas J. Ruth, senior research scientist at TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency, is head of the proposal and said, "Together with our team, we are pleased to have this opportunity to address the isotope question facing all Canadians. This technology will take advantage of existing infrastructure to develop and demonstrate the capability for manufacturing technetium at multiple sites across the country using the most diverse collection of commercially available cyclotrons." The team includes the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization and the Lawson Health Research Institute in Ontario.
Recently, the technetium isotope has been the subject of a world-wide shortage with the sudden and unexpected shutdown of the two highest-capacity nuclear reactors capable of producing Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), an isotope whose decay to produce Tc-99m is the critical element of today's global supply chain.
"We are seizing a significant research opportunity thanks to our new cyclotron facility and the great partnerships that have been forged for this project," said Dr. Francois Benard, scientific director, Centre of Excellence for Functional Cancer Imaging, BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. "B.C. will be at the forefront of an incredibly significant move to secure a long-term production plan for medical isotopes through our research at the BC Cancer Agency and TRIUMF."
The team will be developing a long-known alternative technology for producing Tc-99m using particle accelerators (called cyclotrons) that already exist at TRIUMF and BCCA. The BC Cancer Agency cyclotron facility opened last fall, an initiative made possible through funding provided by the B.C. Ministry of Health Services and the BC Cancer Foundation. TRIUMF's isotope capabilities will be dramatically enhanced by an investment announced last summer by Premier Gordon Campbell for the Advanced Rare-Isotope Laboratory.
"The Provincial government applauds today's significant investment announcement from National Resources Canada to fund research into development of an alternative medical-isotope production technology," said Minister of Health Services Colin Hansen. "We are proud that our recent investments into the new radiopharmaceutical facility at the BC Cancer Agency and the isotope laboratories at TRIUMF are not only helping provide patients with the best care possible but are also facilitating cutting edge research that will benefit future patients."
The proposal was entitled "A Collaborative Program for the Production of Tc-99m Using Medical Cyclotrons" and was submitted last July to the Non-reactor-based Isotope Supply Contribution Program formulated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) as part of the federal government's intention to lay the groundwork for a more secure and sustainable supply of medical isotopes in the future. Another team successful in the NRCan program is being led by Advanced Cyclotron Systems, Inc., based in Richmond, B.C.