South African nuclear company NTP Radioisotopes, a subsidiary of the State-owned South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (better known as Necsa), has increased its production of, and its share in the global market for, the Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) radioisotope, the company announced recently. This followed the withdrawal from the market by Canada’s NRU reactor last year.
“We have managed to grow our market share for Mo-99 through continued investment in our production and by working with our partners to cover the supply gap,” reported NTP group executive for finance Precious Hawadi. NTP’s revenues for the 2015/16 financial year came to more than R1.2-billion, of which almost R1-billion came from radioisotopes and radiopharmaceuticals. The global market for nuclear medicine was estimated at more than $11-billion last year and is expected to reach almost $20-billion in 2021.
The company is one of the few vertically integrated medical radioisotope producers in the world. It has also exported radioisotope production technology – its proprietary process to produce Mo-99 using low-enriched uranium has been licensed to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. NTP is both a primary producer and a beneficiator of its product and has a unique place in South African manufacturing, supplying Mo-99 to 50 countries around the world, as well as meeting all South Africa’s own requirements. It is one of the world’s top three producers, being responsible for between 25% and 33% of global production.
This is the result of the company “excelling in manufacturing, processing and moving extremely time-sensitive radiochemicals to our customers around the world”, explained NTP MD Tina Eboka. “What NTP does [is to provide] the foundational material for a global, multibillion-dollar nuclear medicine industry. And there are only a few companies in the world that can do what we do. Without South Africa’s contribution to nuclear medicine, the whole health system could not function.”
NTP has also highlighted that Eboka was last month re-elected vice-chairperson of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency’s (NEA’s) High-Level Group on the Security of Supply of Medical Radioisotopes (HLG-MR). The re-election occurred during the biannual meeting of the group in Paris. She was first elected in 2016, becoming the first South African to hold the post. She was also the first representative of a leading radioisotope producer to be elected to the HLG-MR’s executive.
The same meeting saw US National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) director Jeff Chamberlain elected the new chairperson of the HLG-MR. He replaced the outgoing chairperson, Rilla Hamilton, also from the NNSA.
“Tina has been the cornerstone of the leadership team and, as my mentor, helped me to do my role successfully,” affirmed Hamilton, while Chamberlain stated that he would “rely on Tina’s input and support to ensure continuity and the successful completion of [his] term”. “The re-election confirms Tina’s phenomenal leadership talents, and is a continued acknowledgement of the NTP group’s key role in global medical radioisotope production,” said NTP board chairperson Dr Namane Magau.
The HLG-MR was set up by the NEA in 2009 because of a global shortage of Mo-99, a very important medical radioisotope, at that time. Mo-99 decays into Technetium-99m (Tc-99m), which is employed in more than 40-million medical imaging procedures every year. But Mo-99 has a half-life of only 66 hours, while Tc-99m’s half-life is a mere six hours, meaning that neither can be stockpiled.
NTP is based at Necsa’s complex at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria, and uses the Safari-1 research reactor there in manufacturing its products. The company has strategic partnerships and associations with leading global suppliers of nuclear technology products, nuclear imaging services, and pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.