The supply and pricing of isotopes in the market has been gaining attention for some time now and for good reason. Nuclear medicine is dependent on a continuous supply of technetium, and the market doesn’t seem to be offering any outward sign of comfort.
Cause for concern?
In short, yes, isotope supply issues continue to be a concern in the marketplace. Currently, there is a push to move to low enriched uranium (LEU). The U.S. government has already set a mandate to move away from highly enriched uranium (HEU) source molybdenum (99Mo), which is used to make technetium-99m, the radioisotope used in nuclear imaging studies. The U.S. government, however, has not set a timeline or deadline for this change.
The situation is compounded by relatively few suppliers in the market. The production of medical isotopes is managed by eight reactors located across the globe. Once a reactor produces an isotope, it is sent to a production facility, which is usually in a different location, in order to extract the technetium-99m from the molybdenum. It is then shipped to a generator facility in the U.S. and, once processed, makes its way to the market and is ready for sale. It is a multiple step progression that works well, yet has potential problems.
New technologies on the horizon
There are viable improvements and solutions on the horizon. Companies are currently investigating new technologies, including domestic molybdenum production, experimenting with ways to ship the longer half-life radiated molybdenum, and a new resin core process that will not only add stability and reliability to the marketplace, but will also impact long-term pricing.
With the resin core process, naturally occurring molybdenum is irradiated in a university-type reactor and applied to the generator core. Domestic production, without any waste, and a simple process to market will allow for long-term, predictable pricing, which is what the current market is seeking.
What lies ahead
While traditional ways of producing technetium have not necessarily improved, there are many companies finding new, safer and more economical solutions to satisfy the demand. Millions of dollars are being spent to develop these new techniques and they will be a reality for providers across the globe. It will take time to perfect the solutions, but they are within reach.