The Molecular Imaging and Therapy Research Unit (MITRU) is a pharmaceutical production and research unit focused on developing tracers for molecular imaging centred on incorporating radiation. The site began the task of becoming a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) manufacturing facility when the SAHMRI team moved in at the end of 2013. Eight months later they had their first federal inspection and achieved a TGA licence to provide a radiopharmaceutical FDG, a cancer diagnosis imaging tool, for patient administration across Australia. The unit began to provide the FDG for South Australia imaging facilities soon after allowing patients to no longer be reliant on this tracer being imported into the state. The demand for FDG, has begun to grow slowly in South Australia, limited currently by the lack of scanners in the state, however the SAHMRI has been able to obtain smaller scanners to utilise this and future agents through Research funding.
Since the initial move to the SAHMRI iconic building on North Terrace at the end of 2013 the team has grown from two persons to a total of 10, awaiting another senior radiochemist to join within the next few months. The unit has expanded its work to include PET-generator based products to ensure expansion further into the radiopharmaceutical field and recently using the particle accelerator, GE Cyclotron, into generating further isotopes that could be provided regularly across Australia forging new research grounds. The unit is currently developing radioactive tracers that have shown promise in neurology in early diagnosis detection of Alzheimer’s, various dementia models and spinal cord injuries as and when funding is secured. It is further involved in commercial process for labelling safely radio-therapeutic drugs for several cancer to allow access across Australia using ANSTO developed materials.
MITRU is a commercial facility, able to conduct research when required, that has obtained the highest manufacturing standards to allowing their current and future developments to be moved into clinical practice sooner. The timeframes for projects are often smaller as they have a unique funding model where costs are recuperated through sales once initial funding is obtained to ensure that there is a further demand. Overall this reduces the costs and adds a demand focus to the units’ endeavours.
The unit is also involved with pre-arranged tours to the public, high-school and University students, where several of the team lecture on or are associated with South Australian Universities. Currently the unit has a shared supervision of several students developing agents for diagnosis and to increase disease understanding. All the team in unit do not have direct funding from grants and look for funding through either philanthropic or general research opportunities to allow them to development further into new tracer avenues with some small success which has helped the unit to become a centre of excellence for several equipment vendors.
The profile in the community has grown through public and peer talks, conferences, radio, TV and newspaper articles, which is hoped to be furthered with the presence on the unit on the internet in the near future. The unit hopes to develop further tracers to ensure small animal trials to understand mechanism of disease and use this to move quickly into human work, as seen with Ga68-PSMA for prostate cancer where in less than 6months from initial donation to patient injection was possible. Work has begun to align and work together with facilities globally by developing satellite radiopharmaceutical and imaging centres using common protocols. The unit continues to expand its TGA licence and it is hoped in the near future will ensure testing of pharmaceuticals used in cold kits for SPECT imaging and implementation of new global diagnostic PET-agents for examination in Australia safely.