Ontario nuclear plant to produce material for life-saving cancer treatment

7 March 2024
Ontario nuclear plant to produce material for life-saving cancer treatment


Without domestic supply of radioactive isotopes, Ottawa companies have relied on imports to make drug. 

This equipment at the Darlington nuclear generating station for production of medical isotopes is called the ‘target delivery system.’ Its operator, Laurentis Energy Partners, says it is the world’s largest isotope irradiation system. The machinery currently produces molybdenum-99, used widely in scans for detecting cancers and heart disease, and will produce yttrium-90, a radioactive medical isotope used to treat liver cancer. (Laurentis Energy Partners).

Ontario will announce plans Thursday to produce a nuclear medical isotope that forms the essential component in a life-saving treatment for liver cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths.

The plan involves creating the medical isotope yttrium-90 (also known as Y-90) at the Darlington nuclear generating station in partnership with a pair of Ottawa-based companies, which transform the radioactive raw material into a cancer-fighting drug called TheraSphere.

The two companies — BWXT Medical and Boston Scientific — already manufacture the treatment in Ontario but until now, have had to import their supply of isotopes from nuclear reactors outside of Canada.

The deal to produce the isotope at Darlington will ease concerns about access to the raw material for TheraSphere, which has been provided to more than 100,000 liver cancer patients worldwide, said Peter Pattison, president of Boston Scientific’s interventional oncology franchise in Ottawa.

“Now we have a situation where we have increased capacity, increased reliability and increased proximity, so we couldn’t ask for a better partner,” said Pattison in an interview.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones and Energy Minister Todd Smith are set to announce the deal Thursday afternoon at Ontario’s biggest cancer treatment centre, Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Government officials provided CBC News with information in advance of the news conference.

The isotope production is to be led by Laurentis Energy Partners, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation, the provincial Crown corporation that runs Darlington.

“We’re using our nuclear power generation in Ontario to produce these life-saving medical isotopes,” said Jason Van Wart, president and CEO of Laurentis, in an interview. “While we’re seamlessly making electricity, we’re also saving lives.”

Growing use of isotopes in cancer treatment

Various medical isotopes have long been used for diagnosis, particularly in scans of the brain and other organs. With advances in technology, they are increasingly being used in treatment.

Rather than blasting a cancerous tumour with radiation, running the risk that surrounding healthy cells are killed along with the cancerous ones, radioactive medical isotopes can be injected to target a tumour directly. The technique is used in treatment of a range of cancers, including liver and prostate.

“The further away your supply lines are, the more chances of issues disrupting patient care,” he said. “When you’re relying on sources from around the world, will the plane show up? Will it get through customs? Will there be a production issue at source?”

O’Brien said treatments like TheraSphere that deliver the radioactive isotopes directly to the tumour provide a more targeted attack on the cancerous cells than general radiation and are generally better for patients.

“Rather than going through the skin, the bone, the muscles and then to the organ, we are supplying the medical isotope directly to the tumor,” he said. “The area that’s affected by the medical isotope or the radiation is much narrower and smaller in size, so there’s less collateral damage, if you will, to the surrounding healthy tissues.”

Source: cbc

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