iThemba LABS expands infrastructure to help boost production of radioisotopes

Phase one of the establishment of the South African Isotope Facility kicked into first gear with the arrival of the cyclotron to the site in Faure, Cape Town, in March.

The facility’s Cape Town campus last week kicked off phase one of the South African Isotope Facility’s construction, which will see the volume of these products being manufactured expanded in the coming months. Picture: Supplied.

CAPE TOWN - iThemba LABS, a national research facility, is on a drive to boost production of its radiopharmaceuticals by expanding its infrastructure.

These radioisotopes are radioactive tracers used in the diagnosis (using single-photon emission computerised tomography scans, which can analyse functions of internal human organs and positron emission tomography scans, which help reveal the biochemical functions of tissues and organs) and treatment of cancer.

Phase one of the establishment of the South African Isotope Facility kicked into first gear with the arrival of the cyclotron to the site in Faure, Cape Town, in March.

The facility’s Cape Town campus last week kicked off phase one of the South African Isotope Facility’s construction, which will see the volume of these products being manufactured expanded in the coming months.

Construction company Stefanutti Stocks has been hard at work since June 2021 to prepare the vaults and to set up the electrical and mechanical plants.

Technicians have begun construction on the cyclotron, a particle accelerator that produces radioactive isotopes applied in scientific research.

Managing director at NRF iThemba LABS Faїçal Azaїez said at present, South Africa supplies from 40% to 60% of the globe’s radiopharmaceuticals.

“Now we will increase by almost a factor five our capacity to produce radioisotopes for export, but also for the clinics and hospitals in the country.”

Le Rou Strydom, the project manager on the construction of the South African Isotope Facility, explained the addition of this capacity will also boost the training of researchers in this scientific field: “The new cyclotron will be dedicated to isotope production, that means our existing facilities through our Separated Sector Cyclotron will be freed up and we can then significantly expand the use of those facilities for scientific research purposes.”

Experts say the volume of patients that will require access to radiopharmaceuticals is expected to increase by an estimated 20% annually.