Nuclear agency to share cost of developing Beloit plant

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published: November 1, 2011

NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes LLC said Tuesday it has signed a $4.6 million agreement with the National Nuclear Security Administration that will help the Madison company develop architectural and site plans for a Beloit plant to produce medical isotopes.

The company will also use the funding to continue developing its production technology.

Under the agreement, the federal agency and Northstar will split the costs evenly, said Glenn Isensee, a senior vice president at NorthStar.

"NorthStar is pleased to have the National Nuclear Security Administration recognize the potential of NorthStar's technologies to solve the molybdenum-99 shortages that for the past four years have intermittently created shortages that limited some diagnostic testing and may continue to do so," said George P. Messina, NorthStar's president, in a statement.

Production issues at several nuclear power plants outside the United States and worries about nuclear proliferation prompted the federal government in 2009 to look for ways to produce a critical medical isotope more safely and closer to home. The agency has partnered with four groups that are trying to create a domestic supply.

The isotope - technetium-99m - is necessary for medical imaging tests that diagnose, monitor and treat some cancers as well as heart and brain diseases. Experts estimate roughly 50,000 diagnostic procedures using the isotope are done in the U.S. each day.

NorthStar has developed a device it calls TechneGen that nuclear pharmacies would use to separate technetium-99m from Mo-99.

The company has an agreement with the University of Missouri Research Reactor to produce Mo-99 for those pharmacies to begin using next year.

NorthStar also has a tentative agreement with GE Hitachi, one of three other companies that received a grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration to work on the isotope problem. Under that agreement, NorthStar would process GE Hitachi's irradiated material into Mo-99 for nuclear pharmacy use. NorthStar would process that material in the plant in Beloit, where it plans to eventually move its headquarters.

The company plans to produce as much as half of the required U.S. supply of the isotope within the next two to three years, Messina has said. It also could eventually hire as many as 150 people, mostly for scientific positions, he has said.

NorthStar, founded in 2006, has raised $6 million from Hendricks Holdings Co. Inc. in Beloit and $5 million from its founders and early partners. Also, in October 2010 the National Nuclear Security Administration, the division of the Department of Energy that is trying to solve the isotope problem, awarded the company $1 million through another cooperative agreement where each party provided half the funding.