Fission with a Vision
Niowave pinpoints next stage of cancer treatment
These days it’s full speed ahead for the self-anointed “Chevrolet of Particle Accelerators,” otherwise known as Niowave Inc.
Despite Michigan State University’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) being viewed as the Formula One model of scientific accelerator facilities, the little engine that could on North Walnut Street in Lansing- Niowave – continues to set the pace when it comes to adapting superconducting accelerator technology to medical problem-solving.
Niowave founder Dr. Terry Grimm and his team of nuclear physicists, chemical engineers, machinists and technicians have focused their attention on the medical isotope market, and the cancer-fighting community has taken notice. Niowave’s mission is to increase production of actinium-225 (Ac-225), an alpha particle emitter with energy so high that it can break bonds in DNA.
Ac-225 can be combined with a protein or antibody that specifically targets cancer cells, resulting in a revolutionary treatment that is extremely effective at killing cancer cells without doing damage to surrounding healthy cells – an approach known as targetedalpha therapy.
Only a few accelerators in the country create high enough energy proton beams to generate Ac-225. Niowave intends to be one of them.
“We’re uniquely positioned to do so because of our proximity to FRIB, and because of Terry’s prior work at Michigan State University’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory,” said Niowave Chief Financial Officer Mike Ziamara. “We have the ability to apply the research being conducted at FRIB in a way that we believe will be commercially successful.”
Earlier this year, Niowave was one of four North American companies to receive Department of Energy funding to produce the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which is used by hospitals in approximately 80% of all nuclear-imaging procedures.
Beyond that, Niowave has positioned itself to quickly take the lead in manufacturing alpha-emitters for cancer therapy due to the following core competencies:
- Niowave is the only company in the world that can build and operate superconducting electron accelerators.
- Niowave is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to work with radioactive materials, including uranium.
- Niowave operates an in-house radiochemistry facility to extract and purify solid, liquid, and gaseous radioactive isotopes.
In a 10-minute video entitled “The Rarest Drug on Earth” (www.rarestdrug.com), a German man in his 70s with stage 4 terminal prostate cancer is riddled with metastatic cancer tumors throughout his body. In 2015 at the University of Heidelberg, the man received a new, untested drug that included a rare, radioactive isotope: Ac-225. Eight months later, all of the tumors had disappeared. Two years later, he was still alive.
According to doctors interviewed in the video, it was very rare to see extended remission with this type of cancer.
“That right there shows the power and potential of Ac-225,” said Ziamara. “The isotope’s ability to seek and destroy the cancerous cells while at the same time leaving the healthy cells untouched.”
Niowave has steadily acquired the necessary licensing and has begun testing its system to point where it is ready to share its product with partners who are eager to test the effectiveness of Ac-225 in controlled studies.
“The thing that excites me about this work on Ac-225 is that you have these experts from different disciplines coming together to form a product that ultimately could save many lives and benefit our society for many years to come,” Ziamara said. “It also goes to show how technology and research can interact commercially to address real-world issues, such as the therapeutic treatment of cancer and other such ailments.”