NorthStar breaks ground for Beloit facility to produce medical radioisotopes
BELOIT—What started as a dream 12 years ago moved closer to reality Wednesday when George Messina worked a shovel into rock-hard soil on Beloit's far east side.
It wasn't easy, but it was reflective of Messina's efforts to build a facility that ultimately could produce medical radioisotopes.
NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes broke ground for a 50,000-square-foot facility on Gateway Boulevard that will house the company's headquarters and activities related to the production of the medical radioisotope molybdenum-99.
NorthStar is one 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.
SHINE Medical Technologies is another. It plans to build and open an isotope production plant in Janesville by 2017.
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.
“What we're trying to do is avert a medical crisis,” said Messina, NorthStar's chief executive officer who founded the company in 2002 with Glenn Isensee, the company's chief technology officer.
The Beloit facility is the first phase of development on the 32-acre site.
It will support the company's work at the University of Missouri Research Reactor in Columbia, Missouri, where NorthStar is developing a neutron capture process to generate Mo-99.
Future phases could expand the buildings to a total of 200,000 square feet in the next six to eight years, Messina said.
A separate facility would house linear accelerators for use in another Mo-99-generation process that NorthStar is developing, he said.
Initially, 20 employees will work in the new facility.
Employment could grow to 165 by 2018, Messina said.
“Most of these people would be engineers and scientists averaging $70,000 to $80,000 a year,” he said.
Reed Hall, secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and a 34-year executive with Marshfield Clinic, said the NorthStar project is important on several fronts.
The $150 million project will ultimately provide 165 jobs with substantial salaries, he said.
“What this does is move our economy forward, and it moves the medical community forward,” he said. “I've said before that the renaissance continues here in Rock County, and this is a major chapter in that renaissance.”
Diane Hendricks, chairman of Hendricks Holdings, is the lead investor in the project.
She said Messina approached her four years ago in an effort to identify possible funding sources.
“Over time, I bought into his dream,” Hendricks said. “Not only will NorthStar create jobs and economic development in Beloit and the surrounding area, it is developing exciting new technologies and processes that will help improve patient care, advance important medical research and alleviate safety and national security concerns.”
Messina gave credit to several people and organizations Wednesday for the company's milestone, including the city of Beloit, which is supporting the project with property tax refunds over the next nine years.
In June, NorthStar signed a letter of intent with Triad Isotopes, the second-largest radiopharmacy chain in the United States.
Under the agreement, Triad will market the non-uranium-based molybdenum-99 that NorthStar will produce.
NorthStar is developing a domestic source of Mo-99 produced without the use of highly enriched uranium.
In Janesville, SHINE 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.
NorthStar is seeking regulatory approval from Wisconsin and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
SHINE is seeking permits from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.