Startup gets almost $12M from DOE to secure alternate tech for imaging radioisotope

Production map of the radioisotope moly-99--Courtesy of OSU

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes nabbed $11.75 million from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to develop two technologies to produce the medical radioisotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) without using highly enriched uranium. The intent is to aid chronic product shortages for technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging.

Mo-99 is currently made almost entirely in facilities that are located ex-U.S. using weapons-grade uranium. The DOE's interest is in supporting a means of Mo-99 production that doesn't require that high-grade uranium, thereby securing U.S. access.

"These awards are clear indications of the progress that NorthStar is making toward bringing a viable domestic supply of Mo-99 to the United States--something we have not had since 1990," said NorthStar President and CEO George Messina in a statement. "They are significant milestones toward ensuring that medical professionals here have reliable access to this vital isotope, enabling them to make accurate diagnoses and conduct important research, while also addressing important safety and national security concerns."

But NorthStar is hardly alone in this effort--last fall, hedge fund Deerfield Management said it would sink up to $125 million in equity and debt into Shine Medical Technologies to accomplish the same task of alternative production of Mo-99 in the U.S.

Shine also just received a $2 million NNSA award that rounds out a 50/50 cost-sharing agreement for $25 million between the agency and private investors that's identical to the one for NorthStar. Shine claims that its facility, once operational, will be able to supply more than two-third of U.S. market for Mo-99.

NorthStar has two alternative techniques for Mo-99 production. In the first, developed at the University of Missouri Research Reactor, it adds a neutron to Mo-98 to create Mo-99.

In the second, it starts with Mo-100 and uses a neutron capture process that uses a linear accelerator, rather than a nuclear reactor. Via this process, a neutron is ejected from Mo-100 to create Mo-99. Part of the cash is intended to support scaling up Mo-99 production to 3,000 6-day curies by the fourth quarter of 2016.

The NorthStar award also completes an existing agreement in which NNSA provides a matching award of $25 million for NorthStar, to which private investors also added $25 million. Its investors include Hendricks Holding Company and Stateline Angel Investors.

Later this year, NorthStar expects to submit an NDA to the FDA for its neutron capture technology.

- here is the NorthStar announcement
- and here is the one from Shine