In recent years, there’s been a heightened focus on the supply of Molybdenum-99, the radioisotope used in nuclear diagnostic imaging. Previous regulatory and capacity issues have caused shipment delays, but today the outlook for molybdenum-99 supply has never been stronger.
Reactors step up production
One unlikely catalyst for the turnaround has been the closing of Canada’s National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in Chalk River, Ont., in 2016. At its closing, Chalk River produced nearly 30% of the world’s supply of molybdenum-99. The nuclear medicine community feared that the shortfall would jeopardize the supply.
Not only did the remaining world reactors in Europe, South Africa, and Australia more than fill the deficit left behind by the closing of Chalk River, an additional three reactors have come online, which has further strengthened the radioactive isotope’s supply.
The more stable supply can also be attributed to diversification. With almost one-third of the world’s supply produced by Chalk River and another significant portion from the High Flux Reactor in the Netherlands, any prolonged breakdown of the remaining worldwide reactors would cause disruption on the supply chain. Now, with the supply diversified across many more reactors, one reactor’s supply issue is less likely to cause a global impact.
Radiopharmacies and diversification
Radiopharmacies are also working smarter and using diversification to their advantage. Maintaining multiple relationships among suppliers allows them to minimize any potential service disruptions. If one reactor source suffers an extended setback, a well-positioned radiopharmacy can leverage the diversity they’ve created in their supply chain to continue providing reliable service and delivery.
In order to hedge against the impact of one reactor’s shortage, it’s critical for nuclear medicine departments, cardiology practices, and other consumers of radiopharmaceuticals to make sure their radiopharmacy partner has a diversified supply chain.
Exclusivity with one supplier may offer the most advantageous pricing. However, diversification opens additional doors and allows you to sidestep a shortage without interruption. In the molybdenum-99 supply chain, each cog in the wheel must run smoothly. When one breaks, those providers who have diversified their sources will be able to adjust while others who have exclusive contracts may not.
If you’re negotiating a radiopharmacy contract, it’s also prudent to protect yourself with a serviceability guarantee. This performance clause will allow you to exit the contract if your supply needs cannot be filled due to lack of diversification.
The future of isotope production
Diversification has proven to help successfully and effectively manage the delicate supply and demand of molybdenum-99. But, as we move forward, the industry is also looking at domestic sources of production that would not only increase availability in the United States, but also alleviate the time and travel challenges that come with crossing international boundaries.
While the supply chain is strong and the industry is continually working to mitigate any potential supply challenges to customers and the marketplace as a whole, there’s always room for improvement. Pursuing domestic production, new methods and improved technologies are sure to positively impact the future of isotope production.