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 MTB Europe 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 (HEU).

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 isotopes.

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 nuclear industries.”

“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 medicine industry.”

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 [1].

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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