BELOIT — Company growth at NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes remains uninterrupted by COVID-19, according to CEO Steve Merrick.
Work continues at the headquarters on a new electron accelerator production building to expand capacity of the company’s non-uranium domestic supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99).
“Construction has continued without interruption,” Merrick said.
The accelerator project coincides with the isotope processing facility that saw construction in 2019. The processing facility, built directly next to the in-progress accelerator building, will help the company avoid shipping delays between irradiation and processing of Mo-99. Equipment installation at the processing facility remains underway, Merrick added.
The accelerator facility will further expand NorthStar’s production chain in partnership with the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR) in Columbia, Missouri, assisting in weekly production timed to coincide with weekly market demand once operational.
“We continue to operate at full capacity in producing domestic Mo-99 for our customers in the United States,” Merrick said. “In fact, we have provided reliable supply for nearly 18 months since becoming commercially available.”
The project’s central components, the electron accelerators, have been constructed and have moved to the assembly floor in Belgium. Delivery is expected by the end of 2020, Merrick said.
Equipment installation and commissioning are expected in 2021, followed by validation through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2022.
“We would therefore expect to start commercial operations in 2023,” Merrick said.
The company continues to hire and bring on new employees, even amid the pandemic, Merrick said.
“All NorthStar operations have implemented CDC precautions to protect our employees and customers and to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus,” Merrick said. “All staff are practicing social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting work areas, adhering to advised hygiene practices and working remotely where possible.”
Mo-99 is used in combination with Technetium-99 (Tc-99m), the most widely used isotope in radio-medical imaging. Tc-99 is used in around 40 million procedures worldwide each year to diagnose cancer, heart disease, infection and inflammation. The U.S. accounts for 50% of all Mo-99 and Tc-99m used in the global health care market.
In 2018, NorthStar received FDA approval on its new drug application and was recognized as the first domestic producer of non-uranium Mo-99 in nearly 30 years by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Security Administration.