MU Lures Medical Isotope Production Facility To Research Park

Northwest Medical Isotopes will use the University of Missouri facility at Discovery Ridge in Columbia to produce isotopes. | Courtesy of the UM System
Northwest Medical Isotopes will use the University of Missouri facility at Discovery Ridge in Columbia to produce isotopes. | Courtesy of the UM System

An Oregon company announced plans to produce radioactive medical isotopes at a $50 million facility it is building at a research park near the University of Missouri’s nuclear reactor, an operation expected to create 68 high-paying jobs.

Northwest Medical Isotopes intends to use the facility at Discovery Ridge to produce molybdenum-99, which is used in scans for cancer, heart disease, and bone and kidney disease. The announcement was made Thursday at Columbia’s City Council chambers.

NWMI CEO Nicholas Fowler said hospitals in the United States use half the global supply of molybdenum-99, but nearly all of the isotopes are produced outside the country.

NWMI intends to provide “a domestic, secure, and reliable supply of molybdenum-99 for medical diagnostics,” Fowler said in a news release. At full capacity, the proposed facility could supply half of North America’s needs for molybdenum-99, eliminating potential shortages, he said.

NWM said the company licensed technology developed by researchers at the University of Oregon that allows for commercial production of molybdenum-99, and the isotope will come from the university reactor.

NWMI has notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its intent to apply for a construction license.

The company anticipates finishing construction of the 50,000-square-foot building and starting operations by the end of 2016.

Fowler said the company decided to locate in Columbia because of its central location, the partnership with the university and the local labor force.

Fowler said during the event in Columbia that the company has a complex production process and requires a skilled, adaptable workforce. The local university and community college can help “maintain those skill sets over time as our needs evolve over time,” he said.

Mike Downing, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said MU’s reactor was crucial to luring the company, and being close to Columbia Regional Airport probably helped.

Isotopes decay at a quick rate, and shipping them off soon after production is key to the processes associated with nuclear medicine.

“So that’s why it is important for them to be close to a source and then able to fly it out,” said Hank Foley, executive vice president for academic affairs at the MU System, which owns Discovery Ridge. “That’s what we give them, and people trained in nuclear and medical technologies.”


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