Translation of article in the science appendix of the North-Holland daily news, by journalist Roel van Leeuwen, published 2017-09-01. Read original Dutch article here.
Petten – The packages of Curium in Petten find their way by road and by air (via Brussels and often not via Schiphol) to hospitals worldwide almost every day. With the radioactive content of the packages, many thousands of lives are improved or saved annually.
A fresh wind blows at Curium, as evidenced by the fact that Director Frank de Lange of Curium in Petten accepted the invitation to talk about developments within the company. When the company was a subsidiary of the US listed company Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, publicity was usually shunned.
But that’s not the only thing that has changed since “Petten” was acquired by the British investment company CapVest at the beginning of last year and merged with the French competitor IBA Molecular. “Curium (as the company is called since this spring, editor note) focuses only on nuclear medicine,” says De Lange. “It’s not about all kinds of other things.”
According to De Lange, the merger with competitor IBA Molecular is mainly advantageous. “Together we are a lot stronger. We can help each other with the supply of products. In addition, we want to learn from each other. The more, because we realize that there is a customer behind each of our products.”
Curium specializes in the production, processing, registration and distribution of medical isotopes, which reveal all kinds of abnormalities in the hospital or which are used for treating patients.
The Petten unit – employing over 300 people – hires radiation capacity at the High Flux Reactor in Petten, run by NRG. In addition, it also uses two own cyclotrons.
[Pull-out quote: Medical isotopes Curium fly all over the world]
MORE AND MORE NUCLEAR MEDICINES
In addition to Petten, Curium has production facilities in St. Louis (US) and in Saclay near Paris. De Lange: “The special thing about Petten is that we have our own molybdenum production facility. This plant supplies the raw material for technetium generators that are also produced in the other two facilities.”
LARGE SPAGHETTI BOX
These generators, with the size of a large cylinder shaped spaghetti box, are delivered to hospitals, after which it is usually used during a week. “Our products go from Petten to more than sixty countries around the world.”
In the coming years, the Curium Group must continue to grow in order to make more profit. De Lange: “The owners are looking for growth, but they give us a lot of freedom in how to realize that growth”. The coming period will be used for seeking synergy benefits. “This may mean that certain products are no longer manufactured in Petten or in France. In addition, the company will look for new products and collaborate with other companies, including startups.”
In order to grow further, Curium needs new staff. The Lange: “People with a technical background are definitely welcome. In the Noordkop (= region around Petten), good staff is sometimes hard to find. But we have a beautiful work environment here, we never have to deal with traffic and we’re working on products that improve people’s lives.”
Experts expect that the demand for medical radioisotopes will increase to fivefold by 2030 and De Lange supports that opinion. In particular, growth is expected in the demand for therapeutic isotopes. “A lot of research takes place on alpha radiation emitting products, which emit a lot of energy to only a small area in the body. Of course, we want to ensure that the radiation goes to the tumor and as little as possible to areas around it. If one has more isotopes that can actually cure people, we’re talking about a significantly larger market than the current market, which is specifically focused on diagnostics.”
MAINLY BY ROAD
Daily at five to six shipping times, shipments with medical isotopes leave the premises. A large part of which is transported to countries in Europe. For destinations further away, the airport in Brussels is used. “We don’t use Schiphol airport very often because KLM has chosen not to transport radioactive materials. Conversations with KLM to change this have not been successful so far. “But it would be nice if the drive was shorter,” said De Lange.
He refutes rumors about Curium possibly leaving Petten. “Physically, we are bound to this location because of the infrastructure. Our molybdenum plant is here and we have a nuclear reactor in our vicinity. In addition, our cyclotrons (with which a selection of the products are produced, editor note) cannot simply be moved. They have become radioactive and are placed in bunkers with concrete walls with a thickness of two meters.”
According to De Lange it is very important that the High Flux Reactor – run by NRG – gets a successor in the form of the Pallas reactor. “Our molybdenum plant is for two thirds fed by the High Flux Reactor. If Pallas does not happen, we have to ask ourselves if we have to keep it here.”
The company and its customers are dependent on reactors. “We can make a number of isotopes in cyclotrons, but 85 to 90 percent of the scans are done with technetium99m. The main disadvantage of cyclotrons is that the products that result from it generally have a much shorter half-life and can thus work less long. You may need 250 cyclotrons in the world to do what you could do with one reactor.”
Developments about the arrival of the Pallas reactor are awaited with great interest. “We were asked what we expect from Pallas. It is especially important for us that we can use the reactor ideally for more than three hundred days a year.”
[pull-out quote: “People with a technical background are most welcome.”]
PURE MOLYBDENUM FROM PETTEN
Curium in Petten buys radiation capacity in research reactors. Especially at the HFR (two thirds), but also in reactors in Belgium and Poland. But Curium itself also owns various facilities in Petten. For example, Curium has a molybdenum plant, which is leased from neighbor NRG. Herein the material irradiated in the nuclear reactor is processed in five different cells, until a purified molybdenum solution remains. The pure molybdenum is contained in a small stainless steel vial. “With the content 30,000 to 50,000 patients can be diagnosed”, says director Frank de Lange. This molybdenum is the basis for the technetium generators that go to the hospitals. In Petten, also other medical isotopes are produced, some of which by means of the two on-site cyclotrons.
Furthermore, Curium supplies non-radioactive products called cold kits. These are substances that are linked to the medical isotope in the hospital and attach to a specific organ, tissue or cell type. In this way, the radioactive substance goes directly to the right place in the human body.