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Medical Isotopes: Driving Innovation and Growth in Canada's Healthcare Sector

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Aerial view of Bruce Power's main facility.

Fostering innovation and driving growth in key sectors vital to our region's prosperity. Building upon the success of our first symposium, Life Sciences – Can Toronto be the Next Boston?, the Board is launching our Life Sciences Event Series to provide a vibrant platform for industry players to spotlight their innovations, forge valuable connections, and catalyze positive change within the ecosystem.

Our first event in the series, The Medical Isotopes Revolution, will bring together industry leaders, healthcare professionals, researchers and innovators for a discussion on the unprecedented surge of investment that is propelling Toronto to the forefront of the medical isotopes revolution. In an era where advancements in medical technology are shaping the future of diagnosis, treatment and patient care, medical isotopes have a pivotal role to play in health care transformation – here in the province and worldwide.

We spoke with James Scongack, Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer at Bruce Power to understand the company’s role in providing medical isotopes and how Canada can continue to lead in the medical isotope sector.

James, thanks for participating in our Life Sciences Breakfast, ‘The Medical Isotopes Revolution.’ Not everyone knows what medical isotopes are, but this isn’t a new conversation. Can we begin by talking a bit about what exactly constitutes a medical isotope and what are they used for? What role do Canada's nuclear reactors and particle accelerators play in this sector?

JS: Medical isotopes are produced by irradiating stable isotopes to become unstable. Think about it as another form of energy we use in modern health care. Critical to global health care, these isotopes are used to diagnose and treat disease and to keep hospitals clean and safe through sterilization. A growing field of nuclear medicine is theranostics, which involves finding diseased cells and delivering targeted therapy to kill those cells. 


Canada has been a leader in the research, development and production of medical isotopes for decades, providing a foundation to advance medical innovation to help save lives. Canada’s robust isotope ecosystem includes nuclear reactors, research reactors, liner accelerators and two dozen cyclotrons that provide a reliable supply of life-saving isotopes to support global health care.

JS: In addition to providing a third of Ontario’s electricity, Bruce Power has produced medical isotopes for more than 35 years. Most recently, in 2022 Bruce Power became the first commercial power reactor to produce the short-lived medical isotope lutetium-177 in a first-of-a-kind Isotope Production System. Lutetium-177 is an increasingly popular theranostic isotope used in precision oncology for targeted therapy of a growing number of cancers, including neuroendocrine tumours and prostate cancer.  


The demand for medical isotopes appears to be booming. Can you speak to the scale of global demand today and the expected demand over time? How big is this market and is supply keeping up?

JS: With advancements in medicine, the demand for isotopes continues to grow at a rapid pace. The market for nuclear medicine is estimated to increase by 15 per cent per year until 2026, and reach between $14 billion and $33 billion U.S. by 2031. In the face of this anticipated growth, Canada faces a critical juncture, and must build on its progress to continue to lead in the fight against cancer and disease.

The Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council, issued a report entitled Isotopes for Hope to outline the policy, financial, logistical, and infrastructure supports required to enable Canada to double its production of medical isotopes by 2030.


At our recent Life Sciences Symposium, the recurring theme of 'capital, capital, capital' was identified among the primary obstacles to the expansion of our region's life sciences sector. What strategic measures do you believe are necessary to secure the capital investment required to sustain and grow the life sciences sector within Canada.

JS: The Canadian medical isotope sector has a significant opportunity to build on its leadership position and advance the fight against cancer with expanded and novel treatment options. To encourage international investment and industry growth and help meet growing demand for medical isotopes, avenues for capital investment will be critical. By expanding funding programs offered through organizations like Business Development Canada and Export Development Canada to encompass medical isotopes, and with specific funding support from the federal government, the sector can leverage its infrastructure and strong network of universities, institutes, national labs, researchers, clinicians, and entrepreneurs to position our country as a global leader in medical isotope innovation.

Specifically, these funding programs would also include designating Canada’s isotope community as a key focus area within the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). Encouraging industry, such as pharmaceutical companies, to invest in the Canadian Medical Isotope Ecosystem with funding or financial incentives can directly provide jobs and better health outcomes for cancer patients. Other programs and research tax incentives, such as the Life Sciences Innovation Fund and Canada Foundation for Innovation grants, should also place specific consideration on isotopes. With specific and targeted funding programs, Canada can encourage larger pharmaceutical companies to develop products here in Canada and help overcome the commercialization challenges currently faced by Canadian isotope companies.


During our recent "Powering the Future - Investing in a Clean Energy Economy" event, we talked a lot about the pivotal role nuclear energy will continue to play in Ontario’s clean energy landscape. How do you see nuclear advancements aligning with Ontario's wider innovation, economic, and sustainability objectives?

 JS: A strong nuclear sector in Ontario not only ensures a reliable supply of carbon-free energy, vital to the fight against climate change, and a global supply of life-saving medical isotopes, it also powers a strong economy. With a supply chain of more than 1,000 companies strong, and 76,000 direct and indirect jobs across Canada supported by the nuclear industry, the nuclear sector contributes tens of billions to Canada’s economy each year.  The life extension of our nuclear fleet means these strategic assets can be relied upon for decades to come for a reliable supply of medical isotopes.

As we look to the future, Bruce Power and the nuclear sector will play an important role in the province’s Powering Ontario’s Growth plan. Bruce Power is investing in its current assets through a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar refurbishment program, which is Canada’s largest private sector infrastructure project and will secure a reliable supply of carbon-free nuclear power and life-saving medical isotopes for Ontario to at least 2064. Bruce Power is also conducting an Impact Assessment, referred to as the Bruce C project, to consider the option of adding up to 4,800 megawatts of nuclear capacity to complement the existing Bruce A and Bruce B generating stations which currently provide carbon-free nuclear energy for 30 per cent of the province’s current energy needs. These projects will position economic development, localization, supply chain and workforce development as key priorities.

About the Life Sciences Event Series

Over the next several months The Board will host a trio of gatherings to shed further light on our region’s Life Sciences sector. The breakfast series comes on the heels of our successful Life Sciences Symposium. We’re in an era where advancements in medical technology are shaping the future of diagnosis, treatment and patient care and medical isotopes have a pivotal role to play in health care transformation. So how will our region secure its foothold in a sector already well positioned to improve our lives, and our economy?