SCK CEN, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, and the National Institute for Radioelements (IRE) are going to start the large-scale production of lutetium-177. This decision, validated by the signature of the two partners, opens up opportunities for cancer patients. Among other things, this radioisotope is very promising for the treatment of prostate cancer. This type of cancer is responsible for 90,000 deaths each year in Europe.
SCK CEN, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, and the National Institute for Radioelements (IRE) have been a key duo in the fight against cancer for many years. Their production has helped diagnose millions of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses around the world. In 2020, the two partners made a promise, endorsed by their signature, to further increase their contribution. "Radioisotopes can make a difference not only in medical imaging, but also in targeted therapies. As global players in radioisotope production, we must keep this dynamic in mind and enable the further development of emerging therapeutic radioisotopes", said Erich Kollegger, the CEO of IRE, at the signing. The big day has arrived for lutetium-177 - a promising radioisotope for the treatment of prostate cancer, among other things.
"Over the past two years, we have conducted extensive research and development to perfect our innovative method for producing pure lutetium-177. We are now ready to convert our own research into a full-scale production line. We are thus expanding the offer and giving many cancer patients access to targeted treatment and thus to life-saving care", says Eric van Walle, the Director-General of SCK CEN. "The need for lutetium-177 is expected to grow exponentially: from 16,000 patients in 2020 to 138,000 patients in 2026."
An experienced business partner
The National Institute for Radioelements (IRE) plays a major role in the efficient supply of radioisotopes to the patient. The IRE has more than twenty years of experience in the rapid worldwide distribution of radioisotopes, with some 2,500 consignments per year.
"In this particular case, we are merging our complementary knowledge, expertise and experience. In doing so, we can use their full potential in order to benefit the patient. That's what makes this cooperation so valuable", says Erich Kollegger (IRE).
An increase in capacity
The production facility will be located on the premises of SCK CEN in Mol. Construction will begin in the autumn of 2022 and be completed in 2024. It is possible that a second increase in capacity will be made available later. The two partners are also working on a plan to accelerate production in case of increasing demand.
"Patients need to be confident that their treatment will happen. The market must therefore be able to count upon a reliable supply of radioisotopes. We want to keep this promise even in the face of increasing demand", concludes Eric van Walle (SCK CEN). "The second production facility would then be located on the IRE premises in Fleurus."
About Lutetium-177: personalised medicine
Lutetium-177 is currently used in hospitals to treat neuroendocrine tumours. Neuroendocrine cells are found primarily in the organs of the digestive system, including the stomach, pancreas and intestines. But this radioisotope is also very promising for treating prostate cancer. It is used in combination with gallium-68 (68Ga). This radioisotope allows doctors to map the size of the prostate tumour and adjust accordingly the dose of lutetium-177 that will be administered to the patient during treatment.