Minister Oliver Announces Funding for Medical Isotopes Innovation Program

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Minister Oliver with UHN, Techna and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization leadership

Minister Oliver with UHN, Techna and the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization leadership

(TORONTO, Canada – Jun. 27, 2012) At UHN, Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and Techna Director Dr. David Jaffray announced a new funding initiative to advance a distributed model for medical isotope production. The $25 million commitment will fund research to further develop isotope production technology in a move towards a market-based supply chain.

Nuclear medicine uses radioactive isotopes to produce images that are invaluable diagnostic tools, revealing information about the functional state of the body unavailable from other imaging methods like MRI, CT or x-ray. The most commonly used medical isotope is Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), much of which is produced at the National Research Universal (NRU) nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, and shipped to hospitals all over the world. Unexpected shut-downs of the aging reactor raised questions about the security and stability of the medical isotope supply, leading to new collaborative research programs to find alternative ways of supplying the needs of the nuclear medicine industry.

Those research programs have demonstrated the ability to produce Tc-99m with cyclotrons. A transition is now underway to create a stable, secure and distributed supply chain for medical isotopes, where Tc 99m will be produced in small batches in cyclotrons across the country; often in the very hospitals where the isotopes will be used to diagnose patients.

The challenge is now to show that cyclotrons—like the one under construction at UHN—can produce Tc-99m in sufficient quantities to meet medical demand: in other words, to develop the technology through to commercial viability and full-scale production. To facilitate that development, the federal government announced $25 million over four years for the Isotope Technology Acceleration Program (ITAP), which will build collaborations between academic, private and public sector partners to further advance non-reactor-based technologies.

On Friday, Minister Joe Oliver announced the Request for Project Proposals to receive funding under the ITAP. “We are investing in Canadian expertise to help ensure new sources of supply for medical isotopes, and that isotope production is on a sound commercial footing,” he said. “We will move from exporting Canadian isotopes to exporting Canadian technology and know-how.”