High-tech firm picks Beloit for $194 million development

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NorthStar will serve nuclear medicine market

A highly-specialized company serving the needs of the nuclear medicine market plans to locate its $194 million, 82,000-square foot production facility in Beloit.

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes, LLC announced plans today to build the facility and occupy a 33-acre site adjacent to Gateway Boulevard. The company expects to break ground by mid-2012, with production beginning in 2013.

The development is projected to create about 150 jobs by 2016.

Most of the jobs will be highly specialized, filled by scientists and engineers. The required education for these positions will range from associate degrees up to a few Ph.D.s, according to NorthStar President and CEO George Messina. The project, Messina added, also will create several jobs such as accounting, customer service, sales, material-handling and shipping positions among others.

“NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes is pleased to have chosen Beloit, Wis., as the site to locate our new production facility,” Messina said. “NorthStar believes that our technology will establish a more secure, cost-effective and redundant domestic source of molybdenum-99, which produces in turn a key diagnostic imaging medical isotope called technetium-99m. Rock County has a higher than average unemployment rate and as a citizen of the county (Messina is from Janesville) I am pleased to be able to make this announcement.”

The new facility will utilize redundant, highly reliable, commercially available linear accelerators. Furthermore, the process will use a stable, readily available, non-radioactive isotope of molybdenum to produce this critical isotope used in the field of medical imaging. Twelve linear accelerators — each about the size of a small room — and at least two spares are expected to be constructed. The resulting facility is projected to support up to one-half of the United States’ annual need of this critical medical isotope when fully operational and could be expanded further.

NorthStar’s innovative technology has been proven effective in producing this isotope crucial to diagnostic imaging, Messina explained.

The initial focus of the NorthStar operation in Beloit will be the production of molybdenum-99, an isotope used to support 50,000 diagnostic procedures each day in the United States.

Messina said NorthStar intends to be the first company in the United States that produces molybdenum-99 on a commercial scale by initiating production this year at the University of Missouri before expanding production to this facility.

The molybdenum-99 will be processed using NorthStar’s patented TechneGen Generator System, to produce the purified technetium-99m, meeting technical requirements of the United States Pharmacopeia. Technetium-99m is essential in nuclear imaging for diagnostic applications.

In response to questions about any safety issues related to nuclear or radioactive materials, NorthStar Chief Science Officer Dr. James T. Harvey said NorthStar’s operations do not pose any threat because there is no reactor and no usage of uranium at the facility.

“The TechneGen process provides a unique tool in a compact format that makes routine processing at a nuclear pharmacy safe, effective and reproducible,” Harvey said.

Harvey, whose doctorate is in nuclear physics, said NorthStar’s process is far safer and more environmentally friendly than techniques currently in use or proposed to produce this isotope. Furthermore, NorthStar can recycle over 90 percent of its original raw material back through the process.

Messina said NorthStar is different than any competitors in the field — including a potential development looking at Janesville sites — because it controls the entire supply chain. He also said the NorthStar process, by not using a reactor or uranium, involves much simpler and safer waste product handling and disposal.

For example, Messina said NorthStar’s process manages the waste for a period of time to allow it to erode to a lower level before disposing of it at a licensed facility. NorthStar’s waste will be unlike uranium-based methods where significant waste management challenges exist. There are no appropriate facilities in Wisconsin or Illinois, so NorthStar will ship the material out of the community to a licensed site elsewhere in the United States.

“We see ourselves as having a tremendous competitive cost advantage in this market,” Messina said.

As for its product, NorthStar will ship it for use in nuclear pharmacies. Larger hospitals — such as University Hospital and Clinics in Madison — often maintain on-site nuclear pharmacies. Others, such as Beloit Memorial Hospital, work with commercial nuclear pharmacies serving multiple clients.

Messina said NorthStar will package and ship product via UPS, more often than not destined for airports and air delivery wherever it’s needed in the United States.

NorthStar is a privately-held company. One of the key investors is Beloit’s Diane Hendricks, through Hendricks Holding Company, Inc., who made an investment last November, Messina said. Key executives, in addition to Messina and Harvey, include Scott D. Moffatt, director of regulatory affairs and quality assurance, and Glenn H. Isensee, senior vice president.

Financing is in place, Messina said, and from now until ground is broken the facility planning and primary design work will be done as well as obtaining licensing and permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. NorthStar is pursing FDA approval of the TechneGen system for the production of technetium-99m.

Harvey said he has been told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission likely does not need to license NorthStar because it does not use a reactor nor does it have uranium or uranium byproduct waste on the site.

NorthStar’s move to Beloit was made possible through the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation, which offered the company an incentive package (see sidebar). Additionally, the state of Wisconsin has participated in incentivizing the development and Alliant Energy has been a key supporter enabling the facility to be located adjacent to the new substation being constructed near the property.

“I congratulate the GBEDC and city staff for their successful recruitment campaign, and, in particular, I would like to thank Governor Walker and the Department of Commerce for their support, which made this project possible,” Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said. “I welcome NorthStar to the City of Beloit.”

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