Calgary to build cyclotron for radiopharmaceuticals
July 21, 2021
CALGARY – Alberta is committing more than $18 million over the next three years to build Calgary’s first cyclotron and a new radiopharmaceutical facility. The funding is a part of the government’s $3.4-billion plan to build new health facilities, equipment and information systems across the province.
The project will allow Calgary to produce its own consistent supply of radiopharmaceuticals – a special class of drug that can help diagnose and treat many types of cancers, bone disease, strokes, epilepsy or dementia.
“This is exciting news for people in Calgary, central and all of southern Alberta: to know they will have access to a modern facility that can help provide the best care possible for cancer, heart conditions and other disorders – and that can challenge our province to be on the cutting edge of medical science,” said Tyler Shandro, minister of health.
The new Calgary facility will also spark world-class research to discover innovative, next-generation radiopharmaceuticals and radiotracers that can direct and provide medicine precisely to targeted organs or parts of the body, or could help better understand the progression of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
“Research is essential to improve treatment and to discover new therapies. This new cyclotron will help those diagnosed with cancer and other health conditions and will create new opportunities for researchers and clinicians to improve the lives of patients. We are very grateful for this investment in advancing health care in our province,” said Dr. Verna Yiu (pictured), president and CEO, Alberta Health Services.
“This investment will give Albertans access to a cutting-edge technology which cancer patients need. Having a cyclotron right here in Calgary will support world class research, diagnostics and treatments. I speak from personal experience having traveled to the United States numerous times for PSMA PET scans – I’m living proof of the benefit of these scans and am really pleased to see this technology soon to be offered in the world of prostate cancer detection in Alberta,” added W. Brett Wilson, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Radiopharmaceuticals are important agents used to diagnose some medical conditions and treat certain diseases. The radioactive agents are given to patients orally, by injection or through inhalation, and collect in certain types of organs or cells, such as tumours, the prostate gland or other organs.
The radioactive products can then be detected by special gamma cameras in PET (positron emission tomography) scanners, helping doctors pinpoint the disease and target treatment.
“The future Calgary-based cyclotron is an urgently needed resource for Alberta cancer care. It will enable cutting-edge, clinically relevant research and it will have a major impact on the diagnosis, staging and treatment of our patients affected by cancer,” observed Dr. Steven Yip, medical oncologist, Alberta Health Services, chair, Southern Alberta GU Tumour Group, and clinical assistant professor, University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine.
The Calgary cyclotron will also begin developing novel radiopharmaceuticals with very short half-lives of less than 20 minutes, since they can be used and studied immediately. This will drive research into new treatments, therapeutic uses of isotopes, diagnostic probes and radiotracers that is expected to attract scientists and medical experts to Calgary.
“A cyclotron in Calgary will improve access to a wide variety of diagnostic products as we will be able produce the radiopharmaceuticals on site. It will also offer stability to the provincial radiopharmaceutical supply by supporting and complementing production in Edmonton,” said Dr. Ingrid Koslowsky, director, Calgary Radiopharmaceutical Centre, Alberta Health Services.
While the exact location of the new cyclotron and radiopharmaceutical facility is still being finalized, initial planning steps have been completed. Once a functional plan is complete, final dates for construction will be set. The project is expected to be complete in 2024-25 and will open to serve the public after commissioning and certification.
A cyclotron is a machine that produces radioisotopes (radioactive atoms). This technology is used in medicine for medical imaging, therapy, and research and is vital to cancer care and treatment.
The entire Calgary project is expected to cost about $50 million and will replace the Calgary Radiopharmaceutical Centre, which needs upgrades to meet existing standards.
Currently, Alberta’s cyclotron at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton must send the specialized product to Calgary. Because these drugs have short half-lives and degrade along the journey, only 25 percent of what arrives can be used in hospitals, patients and imaging scanners.
The Edmonton Radiopharmaceutical Centre at the Cross Cancer Institute is moving to the new Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility south of the cancer institute. That new facility is expected to receive Health Canada approval by summer 2022. The Edmonton Radiopharmaceutical Centre provides radiopharmaceuticals for clinical use in patients in Edmonton and across Alberta.
Once the new Edmonton facility is complete and open, the cyclotron at the Cross Cancer Institute will focus on research advancements.
Having cyclotrons in Calgary and Edmonton producing medical products for patient use will ensure Alberta has a consistent supply during regular maintenance shutdowns each year.