B&W and Covidien to develop US source of key medical isotope
9 February 2009
Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group, Inc. (B&W TSG) has
signed an agreement with Covidien (NYSE:COV, BSX: COV) to develop
technology for the manufacture of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the parent
isotope of technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely used radioisotope
for molecular imaging and nuclear medicine procedures.
The program has the potential to supply more than 50% of US demand
for Mo-99. Under the agreement, B&W TSG and Mallinckrodt Inc., a
subsidiary of Covidien, will collaborate on the development of
solution-based reactor technology for medical isotope production.
The shortage of radioisotopes made global headlines in September last
year when hospitals worldwide faced a shortage of radioisotopes due to
closure of three European nuclear reactors producing medical isotopes (see
article: Diagnostic imaging tests across Europe disrupted by isotope shortage).
The agreement combines Covidien’s expertise in radiopharmaceutical
production and global regulatory approvals with B&W’s patented liquid
phase nuclear technology. This reactor technology uses low enriched
uranium (LEU) and generates only about 1% of the radioactive waste
compared to spent fuel and processing wastes generated by current
reactor production of Mo-99, most of which uses highly enriched uranium
This collaboration is an initial step toward establishing a
large-scale US supply of medical isotopes. Currently, the US imports
100% of the Mo-99 supply, which is manufactured at a handful of aging
nuclear reactors. Unplanned shutdowns of these reactors for maintenance
needs or safety-related issues have led to periodic shortages of medical
Because Mo-99 has a half-life of only 66 hours, shortages have an
almost immediate impact on the ability of physicians to perform critical
patient procedures. Besides providing a reliable, domestic supply of the
medical isotope, the program will support the US National Nuclear
Security Administration’s nonproliferation efforts.
“For more than 50 years, B&W has been a leader in developing and
deploying technologies that contribute to the nuclear industry through
government initiatives and commercial endeavors,” said S. Robert
Cochran, President of B&W TSG. “This is a significant advancement in
technology that B&W is proud to lead. Working in concert with Covidien,
we believe this achievement will have a great impact on the medical and
“Our agreement with B&W is another demonstration of how Covidien’s
commitment to innovation is laying the foundation for significant
advances in medical imaging,” said Timothy R Wright, President,
Pharmaceutical Products and Imaging Solutions, Covidien. “We’re focused
on delivering the critical solutions clinicians need to provide
insightful diagnoses and quality treatments for patients. With
technology advances such as this, we hope to improve the reliability of
medical isotope supply, which is of vital importance to the nuclear
Approximately 16 million US patients benefit annually from nuclear
medicine procedures that are performed to diagnose heart disease or to
detect and treat cancer and other medical conditions. Tc-99m, which is
derived from Mo-99, is used in approximately 80% of these medical
imaging procedures .
Current production methods for imported Mo-99 involve extraction from
HEU targets that have been irradiated in a reactor. Mo-99 is used to
manufacture generators, which are distributed to hospitals and
radiopharmacies as a source of Tc-99m.
1. Arlington Medical Resources, Diagnostic Imaging Market Guide, 2008.
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