Canada has announced the launch of the Canadian Medical Isotope Ecosystem (CMIE) with funding of up to CAD35m ($26.4m) over five years to develop initiatives focused on the production, advancement and distribution of medical isotopes and radiopharmaceuticals.

The initiative was announced at the Bruce Power Visitors' Centre. CMIE will be under the oversight of the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialisation (CPDC) and TRIUMF Innovations and will support projects with Bruce Power, BWXT Medical, McMaster University and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. The funding announcement was made possible through Innovation, Science & Economic Development’s Strategic Innovation Fund, which provides major investments in innovative projects.

The Canadian Government says, through this investment, it is taking another step in advancing Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy, which is designed to improve the long-term resilience and promote the growth of Canada’s life and sciences sector. The funding came in response to the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council’s report, “Isotopes for Hope: Canadian Leadership Needed Now More Than Ever.

Since March 2020 more than CAD2bn has been invested, resulting in 36 major new and expanded projects to boost the sector. The Government says it is investing in the medical isotopes sector “to ensure that Canada remains a global leader in medical treatments and that Canadians have access to the best health care possible”. Canada has played a key role in the development and use of medical isotopes for over 70 years, and is a world leader in their production and supply.

The Government of Canada said domestic production of medical isotopes will position Canada to take advantage of the growing global market for medical isotopes, which is expected to reach up to $31bn by 2031. Globally, more than 40m procedures use this technology each year.

Demand for medical isotopes worldwide is increasing, and the investment aims to ensure that Canada has access to a steady supply. CMIE will encourage the domestic production of medical isotopes, advance Canadian expertise on medical isotopes and make Canada an attractive hub for investment in the medical isotopes sector.

CMIE will also help to fund new tools and therapies and is expected to attract over CAD75m in investments, create or maintain over 600 highly skilled jobs for Canadians, and create 30 internship opportunities.

As part of the funding, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) will take the next step in their partnership with Bruce Power to jointly produce, advance and market new isotopes in support of the global fight against cancer, marking a significant contribution to economic reconciliation within the SON territory.

François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science & Industry said the pandemic had shown the importance of having a strong domestic production of pharmaceuticals. “With this investment, we are making our country a major player in the global biomanufacturing and life sciences industry while creating good jobs for Canadians and stimulating the local economy.”

CPDC CEO Owen Roberts said: “Canada has held an extraordinary global leadership position in the production and medical use of isotopes for several decades. With the support of the Government of Canada; our co-lead, TRIUMF Innovation; and all our network partners, the new Canadian Medical Isotope Ecosystem has the opportunity to accelerate the use of medical isotopes both here in Canada and globally.” TRIUMF CEO for Innovations Kathryn Hayashi said CMIE brings together government, industry and academia “to work collaboratively to build Canadian medical isotope capabilities and ensure Canada remains a leader in this high-growth sector”.

Bruce Power President and CEO Mike Rencheck said Bruce Power “is proud to be among the innovative companies that places Canada at the forefront of nuclear medicine”. He added: “We are honoured to partner with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation to market isotope production, and we thank the federal government for its support in leveraging this historic opportunity while creating sustainable economic benefits within the SON territory.”

Bruce Power partnered with the SON in 2019 to market current and new isotopes produced through the first-of-a-kind Isotope Production System (IPS) that was installed at Bruce Power in 2022. The partnership, named Gamzook’aamin aakoziwin (We are Teaming Up to Fight the Sickness) includes a revenue-sharing programme that provides a direct benefit to the community.

“Today marks another important milestone in the Gamzook’aamin Aakoziwin partnership between Bruce Power and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation,” said Chief Veronica Smith of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. “By working together, patients around the world have access to cancer-fighting treatments made possible through medical isotope production.” Chief Conrad Ritchie, Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation, said: “We are proud to be part of this innovative project, which will deliver benefits beyond the local community, to people across the world in the global fight against cancer.”

The Made-in-Ontario IPS, designed and installed by Isogen (a joint venture between Framatome and Kinectrics) at Bruce Power, irradiates ytterbium-176 to produce lutetium-177, which is then transported to ITM’s manufacturing facility in Germany for processing of pharmaceutical-grade, non-carrier-added lutetium-177 (n.c.a. lutetium-177) and used in various clinical and commercial radiopharmaceutical cancer treatments.

Image: The Government of Canada has announced funding that will support the development of a medical isotope ecosystem in Canada (courtesy of McMaster University)