Canadian government invests in isotopes

6 April 2010

The Canadian government has decided to invest $48 million in the 2010 budget for research and development of medical isotope production technologies. However, the funding will focus on cyclotron or linear accelerator-based production solutions to the isotope crisis, and MAPLE remains off the cards.

The decision follows the publication of a report on medical isotope production by an expert panel it established in June 2009.

In response to the report, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Christian Paradis said: “The Expert Review Panel has provided insightful guidance, and its report is playing an important role in the development of our isotope policy. We carefully considered the panel’s advice and have already begun to act on their recommendations.”

The $48-million investment announced in Budget 2010 is to support the research, development and demonstration of new technologies for the production of medical isotopes; establish a clinical trials network; and optimize the use of isotopes in the health system.

In total $35million of this will be used for research, development and demonstration of non-reactor-based technologies for the production of technetium-99m. It would fund a range of activities from applied research up to and including demonstration activities to expedite the progression of the cyclotron and linear accelerator technologies from the lab to the market.

The remaining funding will be used to support increased efficiency in the use of Tc-99m and diversification of imaging modalities. Targeted investments will include $3 million for the development of tools, protocols and standards and $10 million to create a clinical trials network to help move research on isotopes into clinical practice.

The panel also considered the restart of a dedicated isotope production facility, MAPLE, which was cancelled in 2008. The panel said: “Cost and timeline estimates associated with the commissioning and licensing of the MAPLE reactors varied widely. Although it may be possible to bring them into operation, the business case is such that even if the facilities could be licensed immediately at no cost, the ongoing revenues from isotope sales would be insufficient to cover the ongoing operating expenses, particularly with the anticipated reduced throughput from future conversion to LEU targets. A dedicated isotope facility based on a private sector cost-recovery model would be a good solution, assuming a private-sector organization would be willing to accept the full commercial risk associated with this model.”

In response, the government said it would not invest additional funds in the project, but would remain open to to considering private sector proposals that would cover full costs, liabilities and risks without further public investment.

The report said that supplies of Tc-99m would remain fragile in the short term. Continued dependence on the world’s five ageing, government-funded nuclear reactors for production of Tc-99m is unsustainable, it said.

One of these reactors, Canada’s NRU is currently undergoing repairs. The Canadian Government says it has instructed Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to bring the NRU back online as quickly, and as safely, as possible while working to extend its operating licence to 2016.


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