Europe's Beating Cancer Plan: Driving forces for the security of medical radioisotopes supply

EESC section opinion: Europe's Beating Cancer Plan: Driving forces for the security of medical radioisotopes supply

Practical information

  • Composition of the study group
  • Administrator:Maja RADMAN, Assistant: Maria Grazia RUOCCO
  • Foreseen for the TEN section meeting: 16 May 2024
  • Foreseen for the EESC plenary session: 30-31 May 2024

Background

Europe's Beating Cancer Plan reflects a political commitment to leave no stone unturned to take action against cancer. Radiological and nuclear technologies are indispensable in the fight against cancer. They contribute significantly to all stages of cancer patients' care, including early detection, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. Each year, up to 10 million European patients rely on nuclear medicine imaging to diagnose cancer, cardiac diseases, etc. Tens of thousands of patients rely on radionuclide therapy, often for cancers without alternative treatment. Therapeutic uses are developing and demand is growing.

European researchers and companies have developed some of the most recent radionuclide cancer treatments, e.g. endocrine and prostate cancer pharmaceuticals based on Lutetium-177. Despite being a leader in the supply of medical radioisotopes to the world market, the EU network of research reactors used to produce radioisotopes is quite old (on average, about 50 years old) and several reactors are expected to be permanently shut down in the next 10 years. Current projections show that at least one new research reactor is needed for the EU to be able to meet its own demand in the future.

At the same time, the EU is fully dependent on the US (about 80%) and Russia (the remaining 20%) for the supply of metallic, high-assay, low enriched uranium (enrichment to 19.75% Uranium-235) for research reactor fuels and radioisotope production targets. There are strong EU dependencies on the supply of stable isotope targets for the production of some medical radioisotopes. This includes 100% dependence on Russia for the supply of stable isotopes for the production of some modern therapeutic radioisotopes, e.g. the stable Yterbium-176 for production of Lutetium-177.

Given the growing needs for radioisotopes, the EU has to secure the supply of medical radioisotopes in the long term in order to maintain EU patients' access to vital medical procedures and support the development of new cancer treatments. The EU's comprehensive action plan to support safe, high quality and reliable use of radiological and nuclear technology in healthcare is endorsed as the SAMIRA Action Plan. The action plan defines EU actions in three priority areas: securing the supply of medical radioisotopes, improving radiation quality and safety in medicine, and facilitating innovation and the technological development of medical ionising radiation applications.

The own-initiative opinion should focus on how to ensure that the demand for medical radioisotopes is satisfied, taking into account Europe's dependencies, the ageing of its nuclear fleet, the lack of human resources in the sector and, above all, the growing demand. It should provide answers on how to mitigate dependencies and reflect on the need for EU-level action, including strengthening cooperation with global partners.

The subject is of high interest for the TEN section, as it defines how a source of energy can be applied in other fields. It also deals with strategic autonomy, industrial leadership, energy supplies and infrastructure, research, education and job creation.