Medical Assistant hanging chemo therapy medicine.

How a Medical Isotope You’ve Never Heard of May Revolutionize Cancer Treatment


When we think of cancer treatment options, we tend to focus on the ones we hear about often:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery

Unfortunately, we probably all know someone affected by cancer, and we likely all know someone who has dealt with the side effects of each of those treatments. We know how they can be devastating to a body, even if they work to kill and destroy the cancer.

What if there was another way? What if we could target specific cancer cells with a so-called “cancer-fighting smart bomb” that could damage or even explode the cancer cells with minimal damage to nearby healthy tissues?

Welcome to the work of a small but mighty medical isotope, lutetium 177 (Lu-177). The FDA has approved two specific late-stage cancer treatments that rely on Lu-177, with dozens more clinical trials currently ongoing. Many of those studies are showing that Lu-177 is helping prolong the lives of cancer survivors, and, amazingly, is curative in many cases.

To understand how Lu-177 is working to revolutionize cancer treatment, we need to start from the beginning.

What are medical isotopes?

Medical isotopes are radioactive materials used in nuclear medicine, for both diagnosing and treating conditions (like cancer or heart disease). The majority of isotopes (including Lu-177),  rely on nuclear reactors, which force nuclear fission reactions in a controlled environment, in order to be produced. The end result is isotopes with radioactive properties that can be used medicinally. There are currently 24 reactor isotopes used for medical purposes.

Ok, so now you’ve learned the basics of medical isotopes, and why they’re important in the healthcare world. This means you’re ready for the next big question:

How does Lu-177 work to fight cancer cells?

SHINE intends to work with pharmaceutical companies that will link their targeting molecule with our Lu-177, and together they will be injected into a cancer patient to find and destroy the specific protein to the cancer cells.

To offer an analogy, picture the Lu-177 as a small bomb. The “targeting molecule” is a heat-seeking missile that scours the body for cancer cells. Working in tandem with that molecule, the Lu-177 destroys those very specific cancer cells.

How is this different from current cancer treatment options?

Lu-177 potentially offers a few advantages as a treatment option. Because it only goes two millimeters into tissue and targets a very specific cancer molecule, it does limited damage to surrounding healthy cells. This is in contrast to a treatment like chemotherapy, which will kill both good and bad tissues and can be extremely hard on a person’s body. If you think of chemotherapy as eight sprays of perfume, Lu-177 is a dab of fragrance behind the ear – small and targeted, but powerful.

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What does the research say about Lu-177 and where is the treatment heading?

Ideally, Lu-177 will eventually be moved to an earlier stage in a patient’s treatment plan. Lu-177 is still in clinical trials, and for the most part is used as a last resort for cancer patients. In clinical trials, research is showing incredibly promising results. Lu-177 can at least shrink or slow down cancer, and in some cases, it can have a curative effect.

Where does SHINE stand in its production of Lu-177?

Currently, SHINE’s Therapeutics division is producing small batches of Lu-177 for use in clinical trials and studies.

In July, SHINE submitted its Drug Master File to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for non-carrier-added lutetium-177 chloride. The DMF submission provides confidential details about facilities, procedures, or articles used in the manufacturing, processing, and storing of drugs; it demonstrates a predictable and consistent manufacturing process.

SHINE is working to swiftly ramp up our production capabilities and to bring its large-scale production facility, Cassiopeia, online next year. SHINE plans to play a large role in a potentially revolutionary cancer treatment that could make a huge impact on patient lives.