Startup Eden Radioisotopes has established an investment agreement with Yates Family company Abo Empire that will help fund the construction of a reactor for the production of medical isotopes.
The New Mexico-based nuclear structure will be less than 2 MW and used primarily to generate Molybdenum-99, the parent isotope of Technetium-99m. Its construction is expected to help curb the impact of supply shortages of the highly desirable radioisotope for molecular imaging.
“The Eden approach uses a historically well understood reactor and low-enriched uranium Mo-99 target science that has been validated to produce commercial quantities of Mo-99,” Chris Wagner, COO of Eden Radioisotopes, told HCB News. “The Eden reactor uses an all-target core that would operate 22 hours, seven days a week. This allows for Molybdenum-99 targets to be continuously irradiated and readily available for processing as needed. Other typical current medical isotope reactors may operate on a cycle of some period of time, such as 28 days, and then be down for a week of routine maintenance. During times of market shortage(s), this operational difference would allow Eden to quickly ramp up mo-99 production to fill a shortfall.”
A $4 billion-a-year global market, 40 million diagnostic molecular imaging procedures take place each year worldwide, with 80 percent requiring Technetium-99m. Of that amount, 90 percent are either cardiac or cancer-related.
Distribution of Mo-99, however, is a challenge, due to its short half-life, which prevents it from being stockpiled. In addition, only five reactors in Canada, Netherlands, South Africa, Belgium and Australia are primary producers of the isotope and often encounter numerous unplanned outages for repairs, due to their ages. This leads to supply shortages and hikes in the cost, scenarios which may become more frequent, with the Canadian reactor now offline
and the 60-year-old Dutch one predicted to be at the end of its lifespan.
To keep demand stable, Eden plans to utilize exclusively licensed, patented reactor technology from Sandia National Laboratories to generate Mo-99 in large quantities. The reactor will utilize an all-target, variable-sized core of low-enriched uranium, which only requires downtime measured in hours instead of days, with the entire core of Mo-99 targets able to be processed to produce more than 10,000 Curies of Mo-99 per week.
Its size, which is similar to that of research reactors on many university campuses across the U.S., also helps reduce the costs for fuel, downtime, maintenance, personnel and large-scale operations that make large reactors, which range from 10 MW to 200 MW, not cost-effective.
“While having received funding from the government helps to reduce initial facility capital outlay costs, it alone does not determine the ability to compete in the market,” said Wagner. “Eden feels the projected investment required to come to market and the type of facility operation will provide the company with a strong, low-cost manufacturer competitive position.”
The establishment of the reactor is expected to especially benefit the U.S., which represents more than half of the global use of Mo-99, but lacks a domestic supplier and no readily available alternative for molecular imaging. Among the companies vying to become the first are NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, Shine Medical Technologies, Northwest Medical Isotopes and Niowave. All four recently began negotiations
with the Department of Energy for potential new cooperative agreement awards.
“Mo-99 is such a critical tool in healthcare. Doctors count on it every day,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in a statement at the time, adding, “this industry outreach helps to develop a reliable domestic supply of a vital medical isotope, reduce dependence on foreign imports, and bring new opportunity to the heartland.”
In addition to creating another source for Mo-99 production, the construction of the reactor will bring approximately 100 jobs to New Mexico.
Eden expects to be commercially operational within four years.