Russia’s first batch of 'pure' lutetium isotopes for anti-cancer therapy obtained in TPU

The first experimental batch of lutetium-177 trichloride has been obtained at Tomsk Polytechnic University research reactor. This is an extremely effective basis for therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals. All lutetium-177 isotopes produced in the world are obtained with the impurity of lutetium-176m which emits hard gamma radiation and affects healthy tissues in the patient’s body. Tomsk scientists succeeded to solve the most difficult problem and obtain ‘pure’ lutetium-177 without harmful impurities out of other source material. The experimental batch has been already sent for the external examination and certification at the Center for Molecular Research (Moscow). Lutetium-177 trichloride samples were presented to Tomsk Oblast Governor Sergey Zhvachkin who is also the chairperson of TPU Supervisory Board. 

Photo: Samples of phosphorus-32 and lutetium-177 obtained at the TPU reactor

TPU reactor is Russia’s only nuclear reactor operating at a university, which is enlisted as a unique research facility. One of the critical research directions at the reactor is nuclear medicine. Due to the mega-science platform, Tomsk Polytechnic University is one of the leading Russian centers for development and production of radiopharmaceuticals containing radioisotopes. They are used for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Lutetium-177 based medicine is extremely effective. They are used in the treatment of tumors of bones and inner organs.

The head of the TPU Research Laboratory of Isotope Analysis and Technology Igor Shamanin says:

‘Lutetium-177 is a soft beta-emitter which affects the malignant cells in a targeted manner. It is used in leading clinics in Germany and Israel. However, there is a constraint that it is obtained out of lutetium-176. This impurity is hardly possible to remove. We take a different approach using ytterbium-176 as source material. After the irradiation to ytterbium-177 followed by the beta decay, we obtain lutetium-177. 

We are capable to separate ytterbium from lutetium in several stages. That is our know-how in which we succeeded to implement a lot of features.’

It is the first time in Russia to implement such an approach to obtaining lutetium-177.

‘An experimental batch has been never produced in Russia yet. – notes the scientist. Now, the chemical and physical properties of our lutetium-177 trichloride are being tested. In order to reach end consumers and get medical use, the development will have to undergo preclinical and clinical trials.’