Saturday, March 8, 2014

Our Legislators' Vision Good for Healthcare and National Security

The below blogpost was written with Professor Ladimer S. Nagurney, Professor of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering, University of Hartford, CT.

Several years ago, we became interested in the Supply Chain of the Medical Nuclear Isotope Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) that decays into Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), which is used for countless medical tests, especially for cardiac symptoms and cancer diagnostics. At that time, no US reactor was generating Mo-99. As a result, this critical radioisotope that is used in over 50,000 procedures per day in the US with over 1000 procedures per year at Cooley Dickinson Hospital (our local hospital in Northampton, MA) had to be imported from reactors in Canada, Western Europe, and the former Eastern Bloc countries. In addition to the potential security problems caused by reliance on foreign sources, most of the isotope was generated in reactors using Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) fuel, which could, if not properly secured, be diverted to nuclear weapons.

Concern about the security of the supply of this radioisotope from medical professionals, scientists, and nuclear security experts led the House of Representatives in the 111th Congress to pass the American Medical Isotope Production Act, sponsored by Representative (now Senator) Ed Markey (D-MA) and co-sponsored by Representative James McGovern (D-MA), whose district, after the 2010 census, now includes Amherst and Northampton.

Just over two years later, the results of these efforts are closer to being realized. Their legislative initiatives were fulfilled with the passage of Public Law 112-239 in January 2013, which includes Subtitle F —American Medical Isotopes Production as part of the Department of Energy National Security Programs.

In September 2013, NorthStar Medical Technologies, of Madison, Wisconsin, a manufacturer and distributor of domestically-produced radioisotopes for the nuclear medicine industry, was able to raise $13.5 million from private investors to begin production of Mo-99 at the Missouri University Research Reactor. According to a recent article in Physics Today, production will begin, following FDA approval, in mid 2014 and, by late 2015, Northstar should be able to produce 3000 six-day curies of Mo-99 per week, approximately half of the US demand for this critical radioisotope.

In November 2013, NorthStar was awarded a $21.8 million cooperative agreement that included $10.9 millionfrom the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear SecurityAdministration (NNSA) as part of its Global Threat ReductionInitiative. Currently, a large portion of Mo-99 is produced in reactors using Highly Enriched Uranium, HEU. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative aims to accelerate the development of a reliable, domestic supply of Mo-99 while reducing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in civilian applications worldwide. NorthStar plans to develop non-uranium-based production of Mo-99 via neutron capture.

This funding will reduce potential supply shortages, address national security concerns associated with the use of HEU for civilian applications and reliance on foreign sources, and simplify the logistical complexities of the shipping and disposal of a highly radioactive isotope with long life byproducts. We discussed these issues in our book, Networks Against Time: Supply Chain Analytics for Perishable Products, co-authored with then UMass Isenberg School of Management doctoral students Min Yu and Amir Masoumi, and published in 2013.

As we look forward to the production of Mo-99 in Missouri and Northstar's new technology, we see the efforts of many scientists, engineers, medical professionals, public policy makers, and our outstanding elected officials bearing fruit (or Mo-99/TC99m, as it be). 

Our OpED of a few years ago, emphasized the severity of this issue.

Very glad to see such great progress made, thanks to our legislators in Massachusetts!