NorthStar signs isotope customer

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Jim Leute
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The two companies that could put Rock County on the map as the medical isotope capital of the country have each signed their first customers.

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes said Tuesday it has signed a letter of intent with Triad Isotopes, the second-largest radiopharmacy chain in the United States.

Under the agreement, the Florida-based Triad will market the non-uranium-based molybdenum-99 that NorthStar will produce with its proprietary isotope separation system.

Triad Isotopes operates 60 locations that provide customized unit dose service nationwide.

NorthStar officials said the agreement is a significant step toward achieving the U.S. Department of Energy's mandate to establish a commercially viable domestic source of Mo-99, the most widely used radioisotope in medical diagnostic imaging.

“Our goal since the inception of NorthStar has been to alleviate the chronic shortage of vital medical radioisotopes and, ultimately, improve patient care,” said George Messina, NorthStar's president and chief executive officer.

NorthStar is developing a domestic source of Mo-99 produced without the use of highly enriched uranium.

“The team at Triad clearly understands the game-changing impact of our non-HEU process and its benign waste stream on the market,” Messina said. “They showed early interest in our products and technology and helped us refine and improve the system.”

A separate company, SHINE Medical Technologies, wants to build a medical isotope plant in Janesville that also will produce Mo-99. Earlier this year, it announced a supplier agreement with GE Healthcare.

While the end product might be similar for the two companies, their processes will differ.

SHINE plans to use low-enriched uranium in a series of eight accelerators to produce Mo-99, while NorthStar will use particle accelerators and no uranium to make its product.

SHINE and NorthStar are two of three U.S. companies supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration as it pushes for a more reliable and diverse supply of Mo-99, which is primarily used for detecting heart disease and determining stages of cancer progression.

Historically, most Mo-99 used in the United States has been produced in Canada and the Netherlands using highly enriched uranium in high power research reactors. Both the Canadian and Netherlands reactors are operating beyond their licensed lives, and unscheduled shutdowns of the reactors in 2009 and 2010 caused worldwide shortages that delayed or canceled millions of medical procedures.

Both plants are scheduled for permanent closure.

SHINE is seeking permits from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If approved, the company hopes to build on Janesville's south side and have its product on the market in 2017.

Ed Fennell, NorthStar's vice president of business development, said his company is seeking regulatory approval from Wisconsin and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Because NorthStar's process is different, it doesn't need NRC approval, Fennell said.

Fennell said the company hopes to have its product on the market late next year.

Initially, it will be produced in Missouri in partnership with the Missouri University Research Reactor.

The company now has 28 employees in Madison. It is committed to its plant in Beloit, Fennell said, noting that ground could be broken this summer.

Production in Beloit, however, is still three to five years away, he said.

NorthStar and SHINE have no relationship, he said, adding the fact that both companies are eyeing Rock County is merely coincidence.

“We plan to be there because that's where our founders are,” he said. “I believe SHINE wants to be there because of its close connection with UW-Madison.

“It's good for the state and for the county.”

Last year, the Beloit-based Hendricks Holding Co. announced a $13.5 million investment in NorthStar. That's on top of an earlier investment, the amount of which was not made public.

Fennell said NorthStar is working with other potential customers. He said momentum and awareness of the company are starting to reach critical mass.

“I think you're going to start hearing a lot more about NorthStar from here on,” he said. “The more people look at our system, the more it's well received.”

Triad Isotopes operates 60 locations that provide customized unit dose service nationwide.

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