Belgium, a world leader in the production of radiopharmaceuticals
The early interest of the country in nuclear activities, focused at a very early stage in healthcare radioactivity applications, brought Belgium to a high level of development in radiopharmacy and radionuclides manufacturing. By the end of the 90’s, alongside Germany, Belgium became not only the top European country but also the top country worldwide with one of the highest density of nuclear medicine equipment per capita.
Hence translating into a very high density of nuclear physics experts and nuclear physicians. The leader position of IBA in large size cyclotrons production was also confirmed since IBA entered the manufacturing of proton therapy equipment. Besides, with the actual presence of the SCK•CEN and IRE, Belgium is one of the major producers of radionuclides for radiopharmaceuticals worldwide and is the second supplier of 99Mo worldwide.
Five reactors in the world are actually able to produce this radioisotope, among them the powerful reactor BR2 from SCK•CEN in Mol, Belgium. SCK•CEN actually produces 20 to 25% of the radioisotopes used worldwide for diagnostic and treatments of cancers. Thanks to IRE, one of the five locations for 99Mo processing in the world, this radioisotope is then processed to become 99Tc, which is sent to hospitals and other clinical centres. More than 95% of IRE’s production is exported, and this production allows 6 million exams to be realized each year in the world, with 50% in Europe. Brussels is also host to the European Association of Imaging Producers & Equipment Suppliers (AIPES) that brings together the major producers of radionuclides, radiopharmaceuticals and medical equipment in the field of nuclear medicine.
The different reactors in the world, among them the SCK•CEN reactor, will stop their activity a few years from now. Since this sector is very important in Belgium, initiatives have been taken to ensure the sustainability of this expertise, and to solve the challenges linked to the future needs of radioisotopes. One initiative is the international MYRRHA project, developed by SCK•CEN in Belgium. This multidisciplinary research infrastructure, with a new generation reactor under construction, will replace the actual BR2 reactor. It will allow the sustaining of 99Mo production, with studies linked to nuclear waste management and the development of radiopharmaceuticals within in a completely new technology facility.