Radioisotope market growing, but where will production be?

The global market for radioisotopes looks to continue its steady growth, but another top story from the last month in nuclear medicine highlights the challenges that lie ahead.

On the positive side, analysts with MarketsandMarkets predicted the global radioisotope market to hit $5.5 billion by 2017, up from $3.8 billion in 2012. This would represent a compound annual growth rate of 7.8 percent over the next few years.

North America is the leading market for diagnostic radioisotopes, expected to reach $2.7 billion by 2017. The European market, in comparison, is projected to grow to $1.6 billion in that same span.

SPECT dominates the nuclear medicine market, with technetium-99m (Tc-99m) expected to grow more than 15 percent in the developed world by 2030.

MarketsandMarkets notes that manufacturing difficulties still loom, however, a point underscored by a review published last month in Nature.

Tc-99m is extracted from decaying molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) and global production of Mo-99 is confined to a handful of reactors that have been less than reliable. In recent years, planned and unplanned shutdowns at these reactors have affected the supply of Tc-99m, and the National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, Canada, is scheduled for decommission in 2016. The reactor at Chalk River accounts for about one third of the world supply of medical radioisotopes, and approximately half of the North American supply.

To fill the void, five different organizations will compete for North American medical isotope production, according to the review in Nature. These include SHINE Medical Technologies and NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, both in Madison, Wis., as well as Prairie Isotope Production Enterprise in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; The TRIUMF laboratory at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver; and Advanced Cyclotron Systems in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.

The methods used by some of this next generation of radioisotope producers are particularly intriguing in that they don’t result in any associated radioactive wastes that must be managed. How these organizations develop over the next two years will go a long way in determining where the U.S.—and the world—get their radioisotopes once the reactor at Chalk River shuts down for good.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging