It’s a daunting task to explain to us commoners what medical imaging entails. Those who have even a vague idea probably know that two Rock County companies have entered the field to supply something called molybdenum-99.
Molybdenum-99 is an isotope universally referred to by its nickname: mo-99. Without getting lost in the weeds, the simple summary of this industry is that mo-99 was traditionally created overseas using uranium reactors similar to those that produce material for nuclear bombs. These reactors are being shut down, and there’s an emerging industry trying to figure out how to create mo-99 domestically without using what amounts to a potential Three Mile Island.
The two Rock County companies working on the task of safely creating mo-99 are—in alphabetical order—NorthStar in Beloit and SHINE Medical Technologies in Janesville. They have invested and raised millions of dollars perfecting different processes with a common goal to safely create mo-99 in a timely and profitable manner. Mo-99 starts to “go bad” the second it’s created, so rapid delivery is crucial, and what’s the point of it all if you can’t sustain production financially?
This is high-tech stuff performed by talented and committed brainiacs. NorthStar uses a nonuranium process to create mo-99, while SHINE will produce it with low-enriched uranium.
People have asked me if two companies in Rock County doing the same thing in different ways in such a unique industry can both succeed. Are NorthStar and SHINE competing with each other? Will only one be left standing, or can they play well with each other and form a high-tech center in Rock County—a mo-99 Silicon Valley?
My answer is always: “Are you kidding me? You’re asking Stan about science?” I barely got through Mr. Wilson’s physics class, had the lowest passing grade ever recorded in Mr. Swanson’s chemistry class and got a D in botany in college. I’m obviously not the one to ask.
So, to find the answers, I went to the experts.
NorthStar President and CEO Stephen Merrick says he has “great respect for all organizations devoted to” a common goal of ensuring a reliable domestic supply of medically important radioisotopes that are important to patient care.
“The fact that two leading companies in Rock County are at the forefront of working to increase domestic production of mo-99 and other medical radioisotopes testifies to the importance of the need and the area’s talented, highly educated and committed workforce,” Merrick said. “We believe that success in these efforts by both companies can be a ‘win-win’ situation for all, since the technologies do not directly compete, and can help make Rock County an international leader in medical radioisotope production.”
SHINE Vice President for Business Development Katrina Pitas agreed both companies can succeed.
“The two companies have different products and sell to different customers,” Pitas said. She suggested that the two companies could work together and offered that NorthStar might be able to use mo-99 produced by SHINE.
“We are very confident that SHINE will be a big player in the U.S. and global markets for mo-99 and other important medical isotopes,” Pitas said. “Our recent submission of the operating license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission means that SHINE is on track to help end the global shortage of isotopes when our production facility, which will be capable of producing more than one-third of the global demand for mo-99, is ramped up.”
The short answer is yes, NorthStar and SHINE can both succeed, and Rock County can be mo-99 heaven.