Appropriations committees for both the House and Senate have introduced legislation aimed at addressing the worldwide shortage of molybedenum-99, a nuclear isotope used to produce an imaging procedure agent.
Isotope-related bill ready for vote
Up to $20 million may go toward Mo. nuclear reactor
The House bill was introduced July 13 but as of deadline a vote had not taken place. If passed, the legislation would allocate $10 million for outfitting a university-based nuclear reactor—most likely the University of Missouri’s reactor in Columbia—for production and processing of medical isotopes. The Senate bill, introduced on July 9, has been referred to the full Senate for a vote. That bill didn’t single out a specific manufacturing source, but it would allocate $20 million to create a U.S.-based medical isotope production facility.
Alan Kuperman, director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, said neither bill would likely provide enough funding for the most readily available solution, which would be conversion of the University of Missouri reactor. That solution would involve building a processing plant to capture medical isotopes. Kuperman said construction of the plant is estimated at $40 million.
“I’d characterize the funding as an effort by the government to jump-start the process” of building a U.S.-based medical isotope facility, said Kuperman, who believes one of the bills is likely to be approved since both branches of Congress and the Obama administration are showing support for the effort. “This is supposed to be a money-making entity, so private capital will most likely fund the balance.”
The current isotope shortage surfaced in February with the unexpected indefinite shutdown of Canada’s Chalk River nuclear plant, which produced roughly one-third of the world’s medical isotope supply. Since then, radiologists have been forced to reschedule and delay some imaging procedures, said Society of Nuclear Medicine President Michael Graham during a recent news briefing. “We surveyed our membership and had well over 1,000 responses. About 91% said about 50% of their imaging studies were impacted by this crisis.”
While the world’s remaining five plants producing medical isotopes have beefed up production to help meet demand, the facilities are still only able to produce between 50% and 70% of the isotope supplies that could be manufactured if all plants were operational, said Ed Schrader, senior director of imaging contract and program services for group purchasing organization Novation. The problem is expected to worsen when the Petten nuclear plant in the Netherlands shuts down for a monthlong maintenance at the end of July and again for up to six months early next year. “The Holland location is the only large reactor at full production right now, and the Australia reactor was just built, so it’s not yet up to full production,” Schrader said. He added that currently the Netherlands plant shutdown, which begins this week and runs until late August, is expected to create a four-to-six week shortage of isotope supplies. “What we’ve done is make sure our suppliers have licensing agreements with all the other reactors around the world so they have multiple sources and we can mitigate shortages,” Schrader said.
Still, even with concerns over isotope shortages growing, representatives from a number of group purchasing organizations say most of their provider members have so far been able to meet patient demand for imaging procedures. “We haven’t heard any major grumblings,” said Monica Caldwell, senior contract manager of diagnostics for group purchaser Amerinet. “I think it’s received a lot of press and that the industry has become very astute in dealing with these types of shortages.”
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