House bill allots $163M to create medical isotopes in U.S.

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Reps. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, and Fred Upton, R-Mich., the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, have introduced the American Medical Isotopes Production Act, which seeks to ensure that a reliable supply of critical medical isotopes are produced in the United States.

Within weeks, the current shortage of the primary isotope (molybdenum-99) used for medical procedures is expected to develop into a full-blown crisis, according to the congressmen.

"The United States is facing a crisis in nuclear medicine. Because of serious technical problems in other countries, 50,000 critical procedures performed in this country every day will soon vanish...We cannot afford to have American patients held hostage to old and faulty nuclear reactors in other countries," Markey said.

"The American Medical Isotopes Production Act will ensure that Americans have access to these vital medical procedures by establishing a robust domestic production of molybdenum-99 for medical uses," he added.

Currently, the American Medical Isotopes Production Act has been endorsed by:

  • The Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals (CORAR);
  • The Society for Nuclear Medicine (SNM);
  • The American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM);
  • The American College of Radiology (ACR);
  • The American College of Cardiology (ACC);
  • The American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC);
  • The Health Physics Society;
  • Lantheus Medical Imaging of North Billerica, Mass.;
  • Covidien of Dublin, Ireland; and
  • University of Missouri in Columbia.

Technetium-99m, a product of molybdenum-99, is used for 50,000 U.S. medical procedures each day, including for the detection and staging of cancer and the detection of heart disease.  However, the United States does not currently produce these isotopes, and is reliant upon foreign producers for a constant supply.

In addition, the bill will close a loophole in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation law, by ending the export of highly enriched uranium for medical isotope production, the legislators said. Medical isotopes can be made effectively with low-enriched uranium. This year, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there are "no technical reasons that adequate quantities cannot be produced" without the use of highly enriched uranium.

The American Medical Isotopes Production Act seeks to provide resources and authority to the Department of Energy (DoE) to bring domestic production of this critical isotope on-line as soon as possible. The bill authorizes $163 million over five years, which fully funds the current DoE cost projection for creating a robust domestic molybdenum-99 production capacity.  The DoE would be required to use this money to support private sector or research sector projects to establish molybdenum-99 production. 

The bill also provides the DoE with new authorities to assist in the development of fuels, targets, and processes for domestic molybdenum-99 production. Additionally, the bill will responsibly end the export of U.S. highly enriched uranium in seven to 10 years, providing sufficient time for less dangerous technologies to be substituted.