Niowave Produces Molybdenum-99
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Niowave Produces Molybdenum-99
First domestic production of key medical radioisotope in over 25 years
LANSING, Michigan—Domestic production of a key medical radioisotope took another big step toward reality in Michigan. Lansing based Niowave, Inc. has confirmed that in September 2015 it produced Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) by fissioning uranium using a superconducting electron linear accelerator. Niowave is the first domestic company to make Mo-99 by splitting uranium in over 25 years. The Mo-99 was generated under an isotope production license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This production method does not require either a nuclear reactor or highly enriched uranium (HEU), and can be incorporated directly into the existing radiopharmaceutical supply chain. Niowave has plans to quickly move from this initial demonstration to full scale Mo-99 production. Mo-99 is the parent isotope of Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), one of the most widely used radioisotopes in medical diagnostic imaging.
The United States does not currently have a domestic supply of Mo-99, but must import from foreign producers, mainly in Canada and Europe. Most current suppliers irradiate highly enriched uranium (HEU) targets inside nuclear reactors to produce Mo-99. HEU, also known as weapons-grade uranium, is supplied to the foreign producers by the US government, raising concerns over the spread of nuclear weapons. This proliferation concern prompted Congress to pass the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012. This law aims to develop a domestic Mo-99 production capability, and also plans to phase out the use of HEU by the end of this decade. Niowave’s recent production of Mo-99 is a step to realizing both of those goals.
Michigan’s congressional delegation is united in their support of Niowave’s development. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a long-time supporter of accelerator technology, remarked “Today’s announcement is a great example of the importance of public-private partnerships that help Michigan companies make new discoveries in medicine and energy. This breakthrough underscores the need to continue federal funding for nuclear science at Michigan State University and cutting-edge technologies, so Michigan can remain a global leader in scientific research and high-tech jobs. Congratulations to Niowave on this groundbreaking achievement.”
US Senator Gary Peters added, “As the first American company to produce this key medical radioisotope in more than a quarter century, Niowave is leading the way in the development of innovative medical technologies that will save lives across the country and create good-paying jobs here in Michigan. This incredible advancement will help the United States avoid the use of highly enriched uranium or the need of a nuclear reactor for the production of Mo-99 while eliminating domestic shortages of this valuable isotope. I have had the opportunity to tour both Niowave’s facility in Lansing and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University this year to see this research and its commercial applications firsthand, and I’m proud that this growing industry is thriving in our state.”
Congressman Mike Bishop, who represents Niowave’s district, also commented, saying: “Niowave’s latest findings underscore the role Michigan plays as a world leader in cutting-edge research and innovation. Not only will Niowave’s ability to produce Mo-99 be beneficial for the medical field and beyond, but it has the potential to bring many exciting new jobs to the Lansing area that will strengthen our economy. I am optimistic of the work Niowave will do to keep Michigan’s Eighth District at the epicenter of today’s technological advances.”
The worldwide radiopharmaceutical market is estimated to be approximately $4 billion annually, and the isotope production portion of this market between $300-400 million. Tc-99m is used in approximately 80% of all nuclear diagnostic imaging procedures in the world, with over 30 million procedures annually. Tc-99m is used to diagnose heart disease, trace the spread of cancer, and image the functioning of the liver, brain and other organs. Tc-99m has a half-life of 6 hours, making storage impossible. Tc-99m is produced in generators that hold a few micrograms of Mo-99, and chemically extract the Tc-99m as Mo-99 decays in the generator. Each generator can potentially be used for up to 10,000 procedures, but the Mo-99 must be replaced every 10-14 days.
Founded in 2005 to commercialize superconducting accelerators, Niowave is located in Michigan to benefit from the state’s highly-skilled workforce. Advanced manufacturing expertise from the auto industry combined with the scientific capability of Michigan’s premier research institutions has allowed Niowave to quickly grow into a world-wide leader in superconducting accelerator technology and its use for radioisotope production.