NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes reached the finish line first in the race to become the first company in North America to produce molybdenum-99, a radioisotope used for diagnosing cancer and other diseases.

The Beloit-based company received permission this month from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell and supply moly-99 it produces using a government reactor in Missouri.

A Janesville-based competitor, SHINE Medical Technologies, is still years away from bringing moly-99 to market, though SHINE officials expressed confidence last week when asked about NorthStar’s achievement.

A SHINE official said NorthStar produces a type of moly-99 different from what SHINE plans to produce. SHINE plans to produce moly-99 on site, and SHINE is building a prototype to demonstrate the viability of its process.

There seems to be enough room for both NorthStar and SHINE to operate in an industry still in its infancy.

That Rock County has become the epicenter for moly-99 innovation is a curious development. The county’s proximity to Madison, where SHINE got its start, provides an explanation. Janesville emerged as an eager partner, luring the company with tax incentives worth millions of dollars.

Most other moly-99 producers are in Europe, and medical providers and government officials alike have taken an interest in boosting and securing the moly-99 supply for North America.

The supply chain is precarious in part because moly-99 decays rapidly. “It’s like running through the desert with an ice cream cone,” Ira N. Goldman, senior director of global strategic supply at Lantheus Medical Imaging in North Billerica, Mass., told a reporter with Kaiser Health News.

The Kaiser report states stabilizing the moly-99 market is critical for patient health, noting the globe experienced shortages in 2009 and 2010 when two nuclear reactors unexpectedly shut down. Some doctors had to switch to more dangerous concoctions for diagnostics. “For cardiac imaging, we had to shift to a more expensive agent and expose patients to more radiation,” said Dr. Andrei Iagaru, chief of the division of nuclear medicine at Stanford Health Care.

We don’t claim to understand the science behind producing this stuff (NorthStar officials, in particular, have been reluctant to discuss their operations), but we wish both SHINE and NorthStar success. If the two companies can become dependable suppliers of moly-99, patients throughout the United States and all of North America will be safer.

And as an added bonus, Rock County will solidify its reputation as a medical technology innovator, bringing more jobs and prosperity to the area. does not condone or review every comment. Read more in our Commenter Policy Agreement

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