Miami County is creating a niche of its own in Indiana’s growing life sciences sector by securing a second medical isotopes company. Indianapolis-based Nuke Medical Inc, which does business as SpectronRx, broke ground in March on a $26 million facility near the Grissom Air Reserve Base in Bunker Hill. The facility under construction is adjacent to AZIsotopes Corp., which invested $45 million to build a 55,000-square foot facility that opened last year.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, SpectronRX Chief Executive Officer John Zehner explained Miami County economic development officials made the decision to build there easy.
“We always present these projects months in advance. And Miami County has been one of the few that are prepared to answer the questions,” said Zehner. “I think the most refreshing parts is that they’re ready to move. They’re proactive versus reactive.”
Zehner says his team approached the Miami County Economic Development Authority last fall about the prospects of building the facility. Zehner was already familiar with key economic leaders as his company had previously partnered on AZI’s project and knew what to expect.
“I believe our success in attracting Spectron RX and AZI and future nuclear medicine operations to our community rests in our ability to quickly respond to the needs of our clients,” said Miami County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jim Tidd.
Tidd says incentives such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), an Opportunity Zone, and access to a 12,500-foot runway are extremely beneficial for both isotope manufacturers, and other companies that want to invest in the Grissom Aeroplex business park.
“We are extremely excited about the opportunities and potential growth surrounding medical isotope manufacturing in Miami County and our North Central Indiana region,” said Tidd.
SpectronRx already operates facilities in Indianapolis and South Bend where they take isotopes and attach them to a delivery system that attacks cancer. But the company is now expanding into the production of their own isotopes which will occur at the facility in Bunker Hill.
Once construction is complete, SpectronRx will install two particle accelerators to produce medical isotopes that are used in the treatment of different cancers.
He says the company works with a variety of pharmaceutical and nuclear medicine companies that are developing treatments for cancer that require isotopes. Some of their work is helping to pinpoint cancer cells while not harming healthy cells nearby. It has been especially effective on prostate cancer.
“We’re really seeing good things from it. It’s a targeted therapy, so it goes right to the cancer. And you don’t necessarily destroy a lot of healthy tissue because that radiation doesn’t travel very far,” said Zehner. “You destroy the cancer and keep the rest of the healthy tissue intact. It’s, it’s the ultimate magic bullet.”
SpectronRx’s work focuses on the use of Actinium 225, a byproduct of decaying uranium. It can act like a “smart bomb,” which coincidentally has a historical connection to the Cold War and the threat of nuclear warn hung over the U.S.
“The interesting thing about Actinium is it’s really a byproduct of the Cold War. When nuclear warheads decay, they have a decay chain, it ends up with Actinium 225,” explain Zehner. “Last year, we injected some of our first patients with Actinium. So, we literally took a missile that used just designed to destroy people. And actually, it probably extended lives.”
While SpectronRx is spending $26 million on its initial investment, Zehner expects that amount will climb in the coming years as the company continues to grow and responds to the need from the medical community.
Zehner says their industry is highly regulated by the federal government, so he appreciates the help Indiana government agencies have been providing.
“Indiana’s definitely been more favorable, a little easier to work with than other states. A little less bureaucracy, things move a little quicker. So that’s critical in any project. If you’re sitting there waiting for a license or a permit. That really is costly and almost destroy a project sometime.”
Zehner hopes to start testing their equipment in early 2023 and begin manufacturing of the live saving isotopes next year.