* Return to service increases supply of medical isotopes
* Worldwide shortage continues, patients affected
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO, Aug 20 (Reuters) - A nuclear reactor in the Netherlands that supplies medical isotopes is back up after scheduled maintenance, promising to ease a global shortage of the material used in scores of diagnostic imaging tests.
Covidien COV.N expects to begin receiving material from the reactor in Petten this weekend, the company said in a letter to hospital clients dated August 18 and posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website on Thursday.
Covidien, which gets most of its isotopes from the reactor, processes the raw material known as molybdenum-99 or Mo 99, into generators, specially packaged capsules used to mix the isotopes with solutions for imaging procedures done for cancer, heart disease and a host of other ills.
A medical isotope is a small quantity of radioactive material used to perform nuclear medicine imaging tests. Isotopes are mixed with different solutions and injected into patients, where they emit energy that special cameras read.
Only five nuclear reactors in the world produce molybdenum-99 or Mo-99. Molybdenum-99 has a shelf life of just 67 hours, making it impossible to stockpile.
Last May, Canadian health officials closed a nuclear reactor that produces a third of the world’s Mo-99 supply, sending medical isotope makers scrambling to find new suppliers.
That shortage was exacerbated last month when the Dutch reactor went offline for maintenance.
Covidien said the Petten reactor’s return increases the availability of Mo-99, but said the further extension of the Canadian reactor shutdown “remains a concern.”
Earlier this month, Atomic Energy of Canada said repairs to the reactor will extend to the first quarter of 2010.
Covidien and privately held Lantheus Medical Imaging of North Billerica, Massachusetts are the two major U.S. suppliers. They supply medical isotopes to Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N), which runs nearly 160 nuclear pharmacies that use the generators to process the isotopes into injectable form.
Covidien said the worldwide shortage affects the entire supply chain, from reactors to doctors and patients. (Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen. Editing by Robert MacMillan)