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Innovation funding awarded for vital nuclear medicine supply chain research

UK Government announces projects funded via the Medical Radionuclide Innovation Programme (MRIP)

3 minute read 

To support the development of a secure and resilient supply of medical radioisotopes used in the diagnosis and treatment of key diseases, such as cancer, The Department for Energy security and Net Zero has awarded funding for ten innovation projects within the Medical Radionuclide Innovation Programme (MRIP). NPL will provide measurement science, innovation and nuclear medicine expertise to half of the projects selected and will lead two of the funded consortia. 

The MRIP Innovation Workstream projects will take place over the next 17 months, providing critical research into technologies and techniques to produce radionuclides using current UK based facilities. This research will underpin the future ability for the UK to deliver a resilient and robust domestic supply of the radionuclide needed for patient treatments and research and development for the next generation of drugs to diagnose and treat key diseases, such as cancer.  

The two projects NPL is leading within the programme are: 

  1. Research on the end-to-end production processes required to produce Actinium-225, a radionuclide that is showing exciting promise for use in the targeted alpha-particle therapy of tumours. Through existing UK particle accelerator facilities at the University of Birmingham, Radium-226 will be used as the target material for irradiation, with different reaction routes being explored to generate Actinium-225 and the development of processing techniques to provide high purity products. 

  2. Investigating the use of an electron beam (produced by a laser-plasma accelerator at the University of Strathclyde) to produce medical radionuclides by photonuclear reactions. This technology has the potential to be used to produce a wide range of medical radionuclides, with this project focusing on emerging isotopes difficult to produce by conventional techniques, including Copper-67 and Actinium-225.  

NPL is supporting three further projects aimed at producing a range of radionuclides for improved cancer therapy and diagnosis: Development of the first UK Astatine‑211 production capability (led by Queen Mary University of London); extraction of the parent isotopes for Protactinium and Actinium from spent nuclear material (led by the National Nuclear Laboratory); and scaling up the extraction of Thorium‑228 from legacy nuclear material to be processed into further radionuclides (led by the National Nuclear Laboratory). 

Mike Adeogun, Head of Health, NPL said: "NPL strongly supports the aims of the Medical Radionuclide Innovation Programme (MRIP) to initiate projects that will deliver innovative research into technologies and techniques that could strengthen the UK’s access to medical radionuclides in the future. With the recent news that MRIP Innovation project funding will support 10 projects across academia and industry, NPL is delighted to be able to continue our involvement with MRIP both leading specific areas of research and in supporting the projects to be delivered by our collaborators. NPL’s expertise in measurement and standardisation will play an important role in driving innovation and technology development while also providing vital input to support UK Government investment decision making across molecular radionuclide diagnostics, therapy and research. Ensuring a resilient and robust UK supply of medical radionuclides will require ongoing collaboration across the ecosystem and we look forward to contributing our expertise to this important initiative."

Ben Russell, Principal Scientist, NPL said:  "The importance of NPL’s nuclear metrology expertise is well recognised across the medical radionuclide production ecosystem both in the UK and globally. Techniques have been developed and refined to overcome measurement challenges and deliver traceable standards to support the development of a range of medical radionuclides. This includes fundamental nuclear decay data, upon which all activities related to the use of radionuclides for medical applications rely on, and radiochemical separation methods that ensure high radionuclide yields and purities. 

NPL are excited to be contributing to a number of the successful MRIP proposals, each focusing on different medical radionuclides and production routes. These projects require expertise in target production, irradiation techniques, nuclear decay data, radiochemistry and a range of analytical techniques. This outcome recognises NPL's expertise and growing reputation as being at the forefront of the UK's ambitions around future development of key radionuclides for improved cancer diagnosis and treatment."

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30 Oct 2023