Radiopharmaceuticals and Radiochemicals Research and Development

The ACE Isotope programme with its dedicated 70 MeV Cyclotron is expected to fully exploit the radioisotope manufacture opportunities thereby making South Africa a leading global facility for the supply of high energy accelerator-based radioisotopes. In parallel to the manufacture programme, the current research and development programme is expected to be expanded from the existing SPECT and PET radiopharmaceuticals to the investigation of the new wave of radioisotopes which includes Alpha-particle-emitting radioisotopes used for cancer therapy and Theranostic (therapeutic-diagnostic) radioisotopes.

The current research and development programme, in particular the radiolabelling aspect, focussed mainly on the SPECT 123I-labelled products (123I-mIBG, and fatty acids), PET 68Ga-labelled products (68Ga-DOTATATE, 68Ga-DOTATOC and 68Ga-DOTANOC) and 18F-labelled products (18F-FDG and 18F-fallypride). Several other PET 68Ga and 18F based radiopharmaceuticals would be developed and these include 68Ga-Bombesin and 68Ga-PSMA for prostate cancer diagnosis, 68Ga-RGD as a biomarker for angiogenesis, 68Ga-bisphosphonates for bone scanning, 68Ga-UBI (29-41) for imaging infection, 18F-DOPA for brain tumour localisation and 18F-FLT for cell metabolism studies.

Developing and commercialising the new wave of radioisotopes which includes Alpha-particle-emitting radioisotopes used for cancer therapy and Theranostic (therapeutic-diagnostic) radioisotopes would as part of the LRP receive considerable attention. The focus will be on the cyclotron produced Alpha-emitting radioisotopes that is limited to 225Ac, 213Bi, 225Ac/213Bi generator and 211At (requires an alpha beam). Theranostic (therapeutic-diagnostic) radioisotope, are radioisotopes of matched pairs which behave in the same way in vivo as an imaging radioisotope and a therapeutic radioisotope. The 43Sc (half-life = 3.9 h) radioisotope can be used for the diagnostic nuclear medicine application and the matched pair of 47Sc (half-life = 3.4 d) can be used for the therapeutic nuclear medicine application. Others include the matched pair of 123I (diagnostic) and 131I (therapeutic); 64Cu (diagnostic) and 67Cu (therapeutic); 152Tb (diagnostic) and 149Tb (therapeutic). The research and development of the aforementioned radioisotopes and commercialisation thereof would greatly enhance the diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medicine application capabilities of nuclear medicine departments across South Africa. To ensure sustainability of the research and development programme, iThemba LABS will collaborate with national and international universities and radioisotope institutions to develop a cohort of researchers in the field.

The research and development of the above radioisotopes and radiopharmaceuticals will cover all research aspects as described below:

  • Targetry Development (Nuclear Physics)
  • Measurement of excitation functions and target yields for radioisotope production.
  • Computational flow dynamics (CFD) modelling of target irradiations.
  • Radiation modelling of the bombardment stations and target transport (using MCNPX).
  • Radiochemical separations for the development of radioisotopes
  • Radiolabelling for the development of radiopharmaceuticals
  • Optimisation and development of dispensing processes

Optimisation and development of quality control processes