Long-term solution for U.S. medical isotope shortage needed

SNM cautions that establishing a reliable US supply of medical isotopes is critical

The medical community has taken additional steps to help alleviate ongoing challenges facing physicians and patients due to the worldwide isotope shortage. SNM cautions that while this is good news, a long-term solution for the U.S. is needed urgently.

Covidien today announced that it has reached an agreement with the Institute of Atomic Energy in Poland (IAE POLATOM) to irradiate targets at the Maria Research Reactor in Poland. It is estimated that these reactors could produce sufficient Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) to supply up to one million patient doses of Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) within the next six months.

"We are pleased by the level of international cooperation and coordination that is taking place to help resolve some of the continuing challenges that we face due to the ongoing medical isotope shortage," said Michael M. Graham, Ph.D., M.D., president of SNM. "This will help. However, we need to establish a stable source closer to home."

"There may be some short-term improvements for patients in Europe," said Robert W. Atcher, Ph.D., M.B.A, chair of SNM's Domestic Isotope Availability Task Force. "However, this is only a short-term fix to a long-term problem."

There are currently only five major producers of Mo-99-the decay product of which is Tc-99m-in the world, with none in the United States. In the U.S., 16 million diagnostic medical tests are performed annually using Tc-99m to detect cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease and other serious conditions.

"We need a stable Tc-99m supply to diagnose patients in the U.S.," added Graham. "Any and all viable efforts are welcome. Most critically, we must ensure that we have a stable and reliable supply to be able to image patients in the U.S."

The reactor at Petten in the Netherlands is expected to go offline Feb. 19 for a period of four to six months. Compounding problems, the Canadian government recently announced that the AECL reactor in Chalk River will remain offline at least through early April. The AECL reactor has been offline since May 2009 due to significant maintenance issues. Combined, the Petten and AECL reactors supply the U.S. with more than 80 percent of its Mo-99 supply.

Last month, GE-Hitachi and Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group announced support from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for the production of medical isotopes.

On a related note, the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 (H.R. 3276) was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2009, but is now held up in the Senate. Graham notes that even if this legislation is passed, a long-term solution is still years away. SNM applauds any and all efforts to expedite Mo-99 production in the U.S. and to provide a reliable isotope supply in the interim.

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