We must now take steps to preserve and increase the limited supply of this critical material. First, we must recognize there is a shortage of Tc99m that is likely to last for a long time. Second, we must acknowledge that the United States should control the availability of its supply of this product.
We need to get the most benefit from a limited supply by using it efficiently. Radioactivity continues around-the-clock. The mother isotope from which Tc99m is made does not sleep, and we must take advantage of this 24-hour-a-day characteristic by identifying hospitals where all patients within geographical regions can receive tests that are scheduled throughout the day and night.
We can maximize the benefit of a limited supply by standardizing dosages. Some tests that use TC99m in off-label applications have no standard dosage. We need to encourage the FDA to set standards for TC99m and accelerate approval of tests that use minimal dosages of this critical material as soon as possible.
We can create a U.S. supply of TC99m. The U.S. needs to allocate the funds necessary to convert an existing reactor or build a new reactor from which the source of Tc99m can be produced. This will free the U.S. from foreign sources and reduce delivery time of an isotope with a limited lifespan while eliminating international border inspections and delays.
The National Academy of Science and professional societies such as Society for Nuclear Medicine and the American College of Cardiology have called for building a U.S. reactor to produce this critical medical diagnostic for years. The best candidate for conversion of an existing reactor is the U.S. Department of Energy research reactor at the University of Missouri.
Finally, we must ask ourselves what other weak spots exist in the U.S. medical system. We take for granted the availability and affordability of most medical procedures and supplies in the U.S. Yet there is little public awareness of the vulnerabilities in our medical system. Over the past few years we have seen other surprise vulnerabilities -- to anthrax and influenza. It is unlikely that the shortage of Tc99m is the last problem we will encounter. Let's take the step of finding out where all the vulnerabilities are. Without such awareness, we become prey to a new, unexpected tragedy, as we were on 9/11 and the day Katrina hit New Orleans.
Steve Brozak is president of WBB Securities LLC, an independent broker-dealer and investment bank specializing in biotechnology, medical devices and pharmaceutical research. Larry Jindra, M.D., is director of research for WBB Securities LLC.