TEC Edmonton

New way to produce world’s most important medical isotope

Alberta spin-off formed to transfer research discovery to society

In 2012, UAlberta researchers made a revolutionary breakthrough—with local, national, and global significance. They proved a vital medical diagnostic isotope, technetium-99m (Tc-99m), could be successfully manufactured in a cyclotron (particle accelerator) and that it was as safe and effective as current nuclear reactor isotopes. The result—a safe, effective, reliable and cost-effective alternative to problem-plagued reactor Tc-99m—with no toxic nuclear waste by product. To transfer the results of that discovery to society, researchers Sandy McEwan, Katie Gagnon, Steve McQuarrie, John Wilson and Doug Abrams—formed spin-off company Belgravia Tech Inc. (BTI).

World’s most important medical isotope
This Tc-99m discovery is critically important— Tc-99m is used in over 80% of medical imaging procedures to diagnose cancer, heart and circulatory conditions, as well as neurological and other diseases. The world's isotope supply is produced by a few specialized, but ageing commercial reactors—that will soon need costly upgrades or replacement. Canada’s Chalk River facility produces 30-40% of the global demand. In 2009, its unplanned shut-down triggered a global shortage and a race for alternatives. In 2016, Chalk River is slated for permanent closure, followed by a Dutch reactor in 2018.

Promising model for impending global need
In 2013, with funding from both the Alberta and Canadian governments, UAlberta opened its medical isotope and cyclotron research and production facility. Due to half-life limitations, Tc-99m can only be shipped short distances—meaning UAlberta's facility could only supply Alberta’s medical isotope needs. However, the technology is transportable and can be replicated anywhere in the world. Meaning, UAlberta’s cyclotron solution could become the model nationally and internationally, and help save countless lives.

Transferring research + discovery to society
Commercialization is one way university research and discovery is transferred to society. But universities don’t commercialize technology—the private sector does. UAlberta’s commercialization arm TEC Edmonton—a non-profit joint venture between UAlberta and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation—helped BTI navigate the challenging commercialization process, create a viable business model and connect with key resources.

Next steps + international interest
BTI's technology has attracted significant international interest (Europe, Asia and the U.S.). In the coming months, BTI will seek regulatory approval in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom—a key hurdle to taking the technology to market and attracting interest from medical communities, health systems, and industrial partners. If successful, BTI will become an international company very quickly because the cyclotron Tc-99m technology can only be implemented via BTI. In the meantime, BTI is refining the technology and testing its cost-effectiveness. At worst the cyclotron system is no more expensive than the current, heavily subsidized reactor model. But it could be up to 25 per cent cheaper.