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More than one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 1.8 million new cases of cancer were expected in the United States in 2020. Fortunately, outcomes for cancer patients have improved tremendously, in part, due to advances in nuclear science and technology, and new approaches to the medical application of radioisotope technology.

Today, the TerraPower Isotopes® (TPI™) program harnesses the company’s focus on nuclear science and innovation to apply it to the health care sector. The program is supporting medical research and innovation by developing advanced radioisotope generators that efficiently extract rare isotopes with potentially lifesaving qualities. In this case, the material of interest is Actinium-225.

What is Actinium-225?

Actinium-225 is an alpha-emitting radionuclide with the potential to effectively treat diseases such as prostate, breast, colon and neuroendocrine cancers, melanoma and lymphoma. It can be attached to a molecule that will selectively target cancerous tissue and deliver the Actinium-225 to the cancer site, where the Actinium-225 alpha-emission can destroy the cancerous tissue with minimum damage to nearby healthy cells.

Unfortunately, Actinium-225 is in scarce supply globally, limiting the drug trials to explore the effectiveness of this crucial radionuclide.

What is being done to increase the supply of Actinium-225?

Through an innovative public-private partnership launched in 2019, the U.S. government and private partners are extracting isotopes for advanced cancer treatments from existing legacy materials stored and monitored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Isotek, a DOE contractor, is currently working to dispose of Uranium-233, the legacy nuclear material the department manages. With support from TerraPower, Isotek obtains Thorium-229 from the Uranium-233 before its ultimate disposal. Thorium-229 is in short supply worldwide, but it is a key source to obtaining Actinium-225. TerraPower’s partnership with Isotek assures TerraPower of a strategic supply of purified Thorium-229 as a starting material to Actinium-225. 

TerraPower harvests Actinium-225 from the Thorium-229 using advanced radioisotope generators. The company’s experts developed these generators to increase efficiency and automation, enabling a robust supply of Actinium-225 intended for drug trials and development of advanced therapies for cancer treatment.

How does Actinium-225 become a pharmaceutical for potential cancer treatments?

Once extracted, the Actinium-225 will be provided to biotech and pharmaceutical communities as a much-needed “Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient Starting Material”.  This raw material is processed into various tumor targeting compounds. The tumor targeting compound, labeled with Actinium-225, will be used to treat various cancers.

In August, TerraPower and Cardinal Health announced an agreement to work together developing and producing Actinium-225 for drug development and commercial sales. They expect to provide Actinium-225 to drug innovation companies for clinical trials of this treatment as soon as next year.

Notably, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged receipt earlier this year of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) drug master file for Actinium-225 nitrate.  This sets the stage for innovator pharmaceutical and biotech companies to further advance their development of important therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals which use Actinium-225 as a critical pharmaceutical ingredient, without disclosing proprietary information.

TerraPower’s and its partners’ efforts to provide Actinium-225 to the medical community, bring advanced cancer treatments another step closer to patients.