SHINE, a Wisconsin startup company led by alumnus Greg Piefer (BSECE, Physics, ’99, PhDNEEP, ’06) achieved a major milestone toward its goal of becoming the first U.S. producer of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 in August.
“We completed the first demonstration of our accelerator technology at production-level beam voltage and current,” says Piefer. “This accelerator beam power achieves the requirement of our plan to produce half the U.S. supply of this critical medical isotope.”
Radioactive isotopes allow doctors to see inside a patient non-invasively. The isotopes (tracers) emit a wavelength of light that special cameras can detect. By attaching tracers to drugs, physicians could diagnose and treat heart disease, cancers, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments. The isotopes have an extremely short half-life and disappear from the body within hours, but this also means that they cannot be stockpiled. Because most of these isotopes currently are created in old, overused nuclear reactors, there recently have been critical worldwide shortages, pushing the price of some isotopes as high as $150 million per gram.
The company’s success is the result of a six-month scale-up effort at Phoenix Nuclear Labs and is sponsored in part by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Morgridge Institute for Research.
SHINE’s accelerator-based process allows for low-cost, environmentally friendly molybdenum-99 production without a nuclear reactor, while creating a product that is compatible with current operating practices of hospitals and radiopharmacies.
Knox LLC of Las Vegas, the investment vehicle of Stevens Point native and alumnus Frederick J. Mancheski (BSME, ’48) committed $10 million. Mancheski is a former chairman and CEO of automotive parts supplier Echlin and an investor in Madison biosciences company FluGen. He says SHINE’s technology solves a number of critical problems.
“I am particularly excited by SHINE’s technology because it addresses a compelling global health care need,” says Mancheski. “By not using highly enriched uranium, SHINE shows it is possible to address medical needs and societal needs for non-proliferation with a good business model that will create jobs and profits.”
Piefer says the investment by Mancheski and additional commitments from 14 other individual investors builds on initial support from Wisconsin Investment Partners and the Morgridge Institute.
Thomas “Rock” Mackie, director of medical devices for the Morgridge Institute for Research, principal scientific investigator on the project, and a UW-Madison Professor with joint appointment in biomedical engineering, engineering physics, human oncology and medical physics says the scope of the SHINE effort highlights the public benefits that accrue when private sector catalysts are able to leverage the research and policy strengths of public institutions.
“By establishing clear policy goals, the U.S. Department of Energy has enabled private sector leaders such as SHINE and the Morgridge Institute to tackle an immense technical challenge and aid society on many levels,” Mackie says.
In addition to SHINE and the Morgridge Institute, the project’s collaborators include UW–Madison Fusion Technology Institute, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.
Piefer says several sites are currently under review as possible locations for the new SHINE plant. The operation is expected to initially create more than 100 permanent jobs with the possibility of even further employment growth. The plant will foster additional employment opportunities in supporting industries. The current timetable anticipates completion of the plant in 2014.