New study to explore ways to strengthen delivery of life-saving medical isotopes



The Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) and Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council (CNIC) have partnered in an innovative study to identify challenges and evaluate potential technology, logistical, regulatory and policy solutions in Canada’s medical isotope supply chain.

Canada is a leader in the production and global supply of isotopes that play a major role in diagnosing and treating many forms of cancer. The importance of isotopes was also underscored in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, in which the nuclear industry supplied the isotopes critical to sterilizing medical equipment.

“While the sector has managed well through the current challenges, the pandemic has placed a laser-focus on the need for robust supply chains,” said James Scongack, Chair of the CNIC. “Now more than ever we need to understand the challenges, opportunities and innovations available to ensure supply and delivery of these life-saving isotopes.”

The production and distribution of medical isotopes is a just-in-time activity conducted along a complex chain of global public and private sector actors. The products generally have a short shelf-life of effectiveness due to their half-lives.

The research study will seek to:

· identify the source and nature of the supply chain’s most significant weaknesses and strengths in order to further strengthen it;

· determine appropriate recommendations for domestic and international regulators and/or policy makers that address supply chain logistics challenges and opportunities;

· determine if the pandemic has raised new – or exacerbated existing – supply chain issues, and assess its impact on demand;

· place a value on the cost of supply chain disruptions to patients and the industry;

· evaluate whether new technologies and platforms such as AI and machine learning can contribute to more predictive demand that would enable the industry to be more efficient and expand into new lines of business.

“A resilient supply chain is essential to the sector’s ability to grow through the development of new products and lines of business,” said Scongack. “Patients fighting cancer and other medical conditions all over the world rely on Canada for a safe and stable supply of medical isotopes. This presents a major challenge – and opportunity – for Canadian leadership in securing a safe and reliable supply of isotopes.”

Specifically, the study will examine supply chain issues for four critical isotopes:

· Cobalt-60 which sterilizes single-use medical devices, including masks, gloves, implantable devices, as well as some food products like spices and more;

· Iodine-125 (I-125), used in medical imaging and the treatment of prostate and other cancers, with 60% of the world’s supply produced at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor at McMaster University;

· Actinium-225 (Ac-225), used in precision targeting of cancer cells, currently produced at TRIUMF in Vancouver in a fast-developing market where key challenges include scaling up production, including improving availability and recycling of target materials; and

· Lutetium-177 (Lu-177), a treatment for advanced and metastasizing prostate cancers, which currently accounts for 16% of the beta-emitters in the Canadian therapeutic product market.

“A reliable supply chain is critical to improving patient outcomes and expanding the industry,” said NII President Bruce Wallace. “The medical isotope industry and policy makers need actionable intelligence to address vulnerabilities that inhibit growth of a strategic Canadian sector. And we need to assess whether new technologies provide potential solutions to addressing them.”

The study will aim to be released in Q4 2020 with a virtual stakeholder update session in Q3-2020.