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Ensuring on-time cancer treatment - NII partners with CNIC to improve supplies of medical isotopes

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Building a resilient Canadian isotope supply chain critical for patients at home and around the world

New study will explore ways to strengthen delivery of life-saving medical isotopes

(TORONTO – June 3, 2020) – The Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) and Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council (CNIC) have partnered on an innovative study to identify challenges and evaluate potential technology, logistical, regulatory and policy solutions in Canada’s medical isotope supply chain.

Canada is a leader in the production and global supply of isotopes that play a major role in diagnosing and treating many forms of cancer. The importance of isotopes was also underscored in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, in which the nuclear industry supplied the isotopes critical to sterilizing medical equipment.

“While the sector has managed well through the current challenges, the pandemic has placed a laser focus on the need for robust supply chains,” said James Scongack, Chair of the CNIC. “Now more than ever we need to understand the challenges, opportunities and innovations available to ensure supply and delivery of these life-saving isotopes.”

The production and distribution of medical isotopes is a just-in-time activity conducted along a complex chain of global public and private sector entities. The products generally have a short shelf life of effectiveness due to their half-lives.

The research study will seek to:

  • identify the source and nature of the supply chain’s most significant weaknesses and strengths in order to further strengthen it;

  • determine appropriate recommendations for domestic and international regulators and/or policy makers that address supply chain logistics challenges and opportunities;

  • determine if the pandemic has raised new – or exacerbated existing – supply chain issues, and assess its impact on demand;

  • place a value on the cost of supply chain disruptions to patients and the industry;

  • evaluate whether new technologies and platforms such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can contribute to more predictive demand that would enable the industry to be more efficient and expand into new lines of business.

“A resilient supply chain is essential to the sector’s ability to grow through the development of new products and lines of business,” said Scongack. “Patients fighting cancer and other medical conditions all over the world rely on Canada for a safe and stable supply of medical isotopes. This presents a major challenge – and opportunity – for Canadian leadership in securing a safe and reliable supply of isotopes.”

Specifically, the study will examine supply chain issues for four critical isotopes:

  • Cobalt-60, which sterilizes single-use medical devices, including masks, gloves, implantable devices, as well as some food products like spices and more;

  • Iodine-125 (I-125), used in medical imaging and the treatment of prostate and other cancers, with 60 per cent of the world’s supply produced at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor at McMaster University;

  • Actinium-225 (Ac-225), used in precision targeting of cancer cells, currently produced at TRIUMF in Vancouver in a fast-developing market where key challenges include scaling up production, including improving availability and recycling of target materials; and

  • Lutetium-177 (Lu-177), a treatment for advanced and metastasizing prostate cancers, which currently accounts for 16 per cent of the beta-emitters in the Canadian therapeutic product market.

“A reliable supply chain is critical to improving patient outcomes and expanding the industry,” said NII President Bruce Wallace. “The medical isotope industry and policy makers need actionable intelligence to address vulnerabilities that inhibit growth of a strategic Canadian sector. And we need to assess whether new technologies provide potential solutions to addressing them.”

The study is scheduled to be released in the fourth quarter of 2020 with a virtual stakeholder update session to be held in the third quarter of 2020.

About the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council

The Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council (CNIC) is an independent organization consisting of representatives from various levels within the Canadian health sector, nuclear industry and research bodies, convened specifically to advocate for our country’s role in the production of the world’s isotope supply.

For more information please contact:

Andrew Thiele

Manager Strategic Initiatives

Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council


About the Nuclear Innovation Institute

The Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides a platform for accelerating the pace of innovation in the nuclear industry.

Nuclear energy is a powerful force for decarbonization. It creates good jobs, drives economic growth and produces radioisotopes that are used - among other benefits - for cancer detection and therapies that save lives in Canada and around the world. The Institute is founded on the belief that the industry can enhance these vital contributions by adopting a structured approach to fostering innovation.

NII’s goal is to shape a Canadian nuclear industry that embraces new thinking, new technologies and new lines of business that play a central role in the global shift to a low-carbon future.

For more information please contact:

Bruce Wallace


Nuclear Innovation Institute



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