Behemoth Machine to Make Isotopes in Indiana
BUNKER HILL - Called a cyclotron, the machine will be the centerpiece of AZIsotopes Corp.’s new $45 million headquarters, which the startup recently announced it will be establishing in the north central Indiana town. AZIsotopes President Greg Brooksby sees the state as a land of opportunity and is already expanding business plans in Bunker Hill—simply put—“because of Indiana.”
Brooksby describes the machine as “just a big magnet”; two 70-ton magnets that, when powered up, transmit magnetic forces between each other to “accelerate a material up to one-third the speed of light.” The process rearranges atomic particles to create medical isotopes, which are packaged and sent to the startup’s clients. The mind-boggling machine will sit inside a concrete vault with walls and a foundation that are 10 feet thick to meet stringent government regulations.
“The two machines [in the U.S.] will still be meeting maybe just one-third of the U.S. demand,” says Brooksby. “There’s a huge demand [for isotopes], because they’re better healthcare; that’s what it comes down to. This allows for unbelievably improved healthcare.”
The cyclotron will be producing isotopes, which Brooksby describes as radioactive particles. He likens isotopes to the “gasoline” that’s used inside state-of-the-art diagnostic machines and equipment that deliver certain therapies.
“When you get an MRI or CT scan, we liken [the images] to a 1960s black and white TV with rabbit ears,” says Brooksby. “With isotopes, it’s like looking at a 4K resolution TV, and you can actually image the body in color and in motion. So, the ability to be right substantially grows, because it’s a very clear picture. It allows the radiologist to get a much clearer understanding of what he’s seeing; what the problem is, where exactly it’s located, and what it consists of.”
Brooksby says isotopes are also used in certain cancer treatments to destroy targeted cells, “So when that ray is put on the cancerous tissue, it can be more precise, powerful and only affect that exact piece of tissue.”
The powerful machine was recently manufactured in Belgium at IBA RadioPharma Solutions, which Brooksby says is the world leader for cyclotron manufacturing. It has quite the journey ahead of it to reach Indiana; the cyclotron will be disassembled, crated, and—because it’s so heavy—welded to the bottom of a ship that will carry it to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. Trucks will drive the machine to the shell building the startup is currently renovating in Bunker Hill, about 15 miles north of Kokomo, where it will be reassembled.
Before AZIsotopes declared Indiana its home, the startup’s progress had slowed as it struggled to find a place that met a long list of specifications. AZIsotopes needed to be near a U.S. Air Force base to meet security requirements, and the Bunker Hill facility is within three miles of Grissom Air Reserve Base. The startup was also searching for room to grow—it will have about 200 acres total—and the right kind of attitude among local leaders.
“We were looking for a feeling of, ‘We really want you here, what can we do to help you?’” We were having a hard time finding that. And we have an eye on a significant amount of expansion; in West and East Coast states, land is a greater premium,” says Brooksby. “Because of Indiana, we’ve had so many customers step up, so we’re increasing our range of isotopes. We were going to focus on just two, but because of the space we’re going to have…we’ve already identified four other isotopes we’re going to [produce].”
AZIsotopes will use smaller cyclotrons at the new facility until the behemoth arrives and is assembled. While Brooksby can’t disclose specifics, he says at least two universities have already signed business agreements with the company, and many other major universities both near and far have expressed interest.
“The space we have with the opportunity to grow has turned on so many customers and vendors, because they have room to play with us,” says Brooksby. “Now we can expand as we desire. We can create the campus that we envision.”