A Lansing company called Niowave has begun producing actinium-225, a silvery metal isotope that barely exists on Earth, with a superconducting linear accelerator. The reason? This isotope is a promising cancer treatment; however, researchers don’t know its full potential due to the absence of clinical trials.
Niowave has secured a $5 million deal with Fusion Pharmaceuticals to start production in 2024. Between Russia, the United States, Germany, and Canada, there are only two curies (unit of measurement for radioactive materials) of actinium-225. Niowave plans on making one curie per week.
In 2019, the federal government gave Niowave $15 million, and another $13 million last year, to produce molybdenum 99, which is used for medical imaging. Since other countries subsidize its production, making a profit from molybdenum 99 is tricky.
After working with uranium for years, the federal government determined Niowave could function safely with another highly radioactive element, radium, to create actinium-225.
Cancer therapy isotopes emit beta particles, which can destroy cancer cells but also kill healthy cells around them. Actinium-225 delivers more targeted alpha particles, which can emit more energy at a shorter distance.
Justin Wilson, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University said, “If you can get those alpha particles to the cancer cells, they have the capability of doing more damage but in a more confined region. Which, in theory, could prevent hitting healthy cells that maybe aren’t part of the small metastatic lesion.”
Eric Burak, chief technical officer at Fusion Pharmaceuticals, states that they are working on formulating three separate drugs that use actinium-225. He said the isotope is “One of the rarest elements in the entire planet, and, with more companies interested in its therapeutic potential, everyone is scrambling for actinium supply.”
Fusion Pharmaceuticals are investing $5 million to help Niowave create actinium-225 in exchange for a guaranteed share of the end result.
Niowave’s superconducting linear accelerator has been moved to a concrete room as radium is extremely radioactive.
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