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ILL is the intended partner for Novartis to deliver a new cancer treatment drug

- Industry - Pharmaceuticals, General news, France, Switzerland

The Swiss company NOVARTIS announced at the Choose France Summit the desire to establish a partnership with the ILL, already a partner of other pharmaceutical companies in radioisotope production for cancer treatment and research. This is part of the plan to create a production unit intended to supply the French market with the first radioligand therapy (RLT) drug for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer, an investment close to 30 million euros in France.

The announcement was made at the 7th edition of the Choose France Summit, held this week at the Château de Versailles. The summit brought together 180 foreign business leaders from around 40 countries. On this occasion, 56 projects were announced representing 15 billion euros of investments and the prospect of 10 thousand jobs created.

Pharmaceutical companies have the necessary expertise to run clinical trials and perform the synthesis, quality control and distribution of new drugs. The primary ingredients of these drugs, however, are usually provided by specific players. In the case of RLT drugs, the main ingredient are radionuclides - radioactive isotopes of certain elements. These are used to label specific molecules (ligands) that, when given to patients, can target certain types of cancer cells.

In recent years, there was a significant broadening of the clinical applications of therapeutic radionuclides. In particular, the use of radionuclide lutetium-177 (namely in the form of Lu-177-PSMA, Prostate Specific Membrane Antigen compounds) has led to a breakthrough in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer, a very common type of cancer.

After successful clinical trials, the first compound of this class was approved in 2022 by the medical agencies in the US, UK and EU under the brand name Pluvicto©, marketed by Novartis. The approval of Pluvicto© and the start of its large-scale marketing in 2023 called for an increase in capacity in all steps of the radiopharmaceutical supply chain.

The highest quality of Lu-177 is required for such applications, and this is produced in irradiations under a high neutron flux. The ILL, that provides one of the highest neutron fluxes world-wide for this purpose, is contributing to this effort. Over the past few years, the ILL has been producing radioisotopes for medicine, in particular lutetium-177. Production has been stepped up in 2023.

In addition, the ILL is involved in preclinical and clinical research in the framework of the EU-funded project PRISMAP, supplying researchers with a variety of novel radionuclides that are not available commercially, together with other European partners, such as CERN, PSI or ARRONAX.  

The ILL is working to double its irradiation capacity by adding a second dedicated irradiation tube (a possibility foreseen in the original reactor design). A new compact hot cell dedicated to radionuclide shipments would then also be constructed, to increase the throughput and improve the efficiency and ergonomics of the process.

Thanks to the incredible farsightedness of the engineers who designed the ILL reactor two generations ago and the commitment of the Institute’s scientific, technical and administrative staff, the ILL’s high-flux reactor will be able to produce radioisotopes to treat cancer patients of future generations.