Nancy Crotti

November 11, 2015

2 Min Read
GE Finds Alternative to Weapons-Grade Uranium for Medical Imaging

Medical imaging institutions in the United States may land a domestic source of the isotope that makes many scans possible, made with lower-strength uranium than the diminishing overseas supply.

Nancy Crotti

GE Health Care and Wisconsin-based Shine have successfully used Shine's low-enriched uranium Mo-99 (molybdenum) to produce an isotope made by GE and used in more than 40 million medical imaging procedures annually, the companies announced.

Imaging technology primarily uses that isotope in cardiac stress tests and in bone scans to determine the stage of cancer progression. The United States consumes half of the world's supply of Mo-99 needed to produce the isotope, sourced exclusively from foreign nuclear reactors, according to GE. The supply of Mo-99 has been drying up as those aging reactors go offline or experiences outages, the company said.

The U.S. government and private investors are helping to fund the nuclear non-arms race to develop of a lower-uranium version of Mo-99. Two Wisconsin startups, Shine and NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, have separately landed matching government grants to produce the less hazardous Mo-99.

NNSA has committed the maximum $25 million to NorthStar to develop its technology to produce Mo-99 via neutron capture, and $5.7 million for its accelerator-based Mo-99 production. The agency has also awarded $25 million to help Shine develop its accelerator-based technology to produce Mo-99 via fission of low-enriched uranium.

Each company has also attracted hefty private investment. Hedge fund Deerfield Management last year agreed to provide for up to $125 million of debt and equity financing to Shine for its work with Mo-99. NorthStar's investors ($13.5 million) include Hendricks Holding Co. and Stateline Angels.

Both companies need FDA approval to begin commercial production of Mo-99. NorthStar expects to do so by the fourth quarter of 2016, while Shine anticipates it in 2019. Shine also expects to be able to produce enough of the isotope to supply two-thirds of the U.S. patient population.

Learn more about medical technology trends at BIOMEDevice San Jose, December 2-3.

About the Author(s)

Nancy Crotti

Nancy Crotti is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected].

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