Cyclotrons are particle accelerators that play an increasingly important role in patient care. Cyclotrons create isotopes, which are used to create pharmaceuticals that diagnose and treat brain, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
ARTMS, a Burnaby-based medtech company, is combining world-class talent with leading-edge innovation to significantly increase the cyclotron production of isotopes and transform the practice of nuclear medicine. The company’s breakthrough technology has forever changed the way isotopes are supplied to healthcare professionals and patients, ensuring more people can access the care and treatments they need.
ARTMS was founded a decade ago by a group of TRIUMF scientists. In 2021, an ARTMS and TRIUMF collaboration project received $300,000 through Innovate BC’s Ignite Program to develop PET-isotopes and antibodies for non-invasive imaging of the immune system to improve cancer treatments. The Ignite funding helped ARTMS attract additional investment and position themselves for long-term success in the nuclear medicine industry.
We sat down with ARTMS’ Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Michael Cross, to discuss how the medtech company is solving isotope supply issues and improving patient care across the globe.
Tell us about ARTMS. What do you do and why do you do it?
Dr. Cross: Well, firstly, thanks very much for the opportunity to speak to you about ARTMS. I would also like to thank you for the support that ARTMS has received from InnovateBC; it has been instrumental in helping turn our start-up company into an impactful, global leader that is achieving important milestones in the nuclear medicine field.
New radiopharmaceutical innovation and development has lagged, and ultimately patient care has suffered because of the lack of some very important medical isotopes, such as zirconium-89 (Zr-98), gallium-68 (Ga-68), and copper-64 (Cu-64). ARTMS was established to address this unmet medical need by bringing reliable, high-activity and high-quality supplies of imaging isotopes to patients requiring diagnostic scans for important indications within oncology, cardiology and neurology.
ARTMS has combined leading-edge innovation, high science and the use of particle accelerators, called cyclotrons, to solve this isotope supply issue. ARTMS has taken a quantum leap in this field and is changing the practice of nuclear medicine by enabling the high activity and GMP quality production of our first set of medical isotopes, Zr-89, Ga-68 and Cu-64. Physicians, and their patients, are no longer restricted to treatment decisions that are based on isotope availability. Rather, best practices and evidence-based medicine can be utilized for patient care choices.
How is your technology improving the management of cancer treatments?
Dr. Cross: There is a rapidly growing segment within oncology treatment that is referred to as “theranostics”, the combination of radioactive therapeutic (“thera”) and diagnostic (“nostics”) agents against the same molecular target on the cancer cell. This precision medicine approach harnesses the power of radioactive isotopes and is in contrast to traditional chemotherapy in that to be eligible for these treatments, patients must first be administered the companion imaging product to identify if the shared molecular target is present on the cancer cells. This allows for improved patient selection for therapy based on the presence, or absence, of the target. As an example, a theranostic approach available today is based on the use of lutetium-177 (Lu-177) as the radiotherapy in prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours, in combination with a diagnostic that is based on the Ga-68 imaging isotope. The traditional sources of Ga-68 are quite expensive and are only able to supply a modest amount of isotope to hospitals and radiopharmacies, thereby limiting the use of the diagnostic agent. ARTMS’ solid target technology allows for the decentralized and efficient production of large amounts of GMP quality Ga-68, Cu-64 and Zr-89.
In 2021 ARTMS, in partnership with TRIUMF, received $300,000 through our Ignite program. Can you tell us how the funding has helped to commercialize your product?
Dr. Cross: Innovate BC and the Ignite program were instrumental in helping ARTMS mature a isotope product that was previously unpartnered and in need of scale-up and commercial proof of concept. InnovateBC helped to bring a number of different stakeholder groups together, including TRIUMF, BC Cancer, Lawson Health Research and our drug innovator partner, ImaginAb, in order to solve the GMP Zr-89 supply problem and prove concept in a late-stage clinical radiopharmaceutical. The InnovateBC project allowed us to produce the GMP Zr-89 isotope, and test and validate ImaginAb’s Zr-89-linked delivery vector (CD8). The Zr-89-CD8 ImmunoPET targets a cell surface receptor on immune cells in order to identify potential responder vs. non-responder cancer patients that are eligible for immuno-oncology treatments (“IO”). Although IO therapy works very well in a select pool of cancer patients, it is cost prohibitive (upwards of US$150,000 per treatment course), to the viability of an efficient healthcare system without some knowledge or understanding that the IO therapy is appropriate for the specific patient. To solve this situation ImaginAb’s Zr-89-CD8 ImmunoPET will be a required as a diagnostic for IO treatment which is projected to reach US$34B in the near future.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while growing your company and how did you overcome them?
Dr. Cross: ARTMS has seen many more opportunities than challenges, but we are not without areas that needed to be addressed. The main areas of focus were scaling our Zr-89 production, making the isotope to GMP standards and attracting the best people and investors to help ARTMS continue to grow. The Ignite program facilitated all three of these areas. ARTMS has scaled the production process and made progress towards completion all of the SOPs and quality testing leading to its regulatory submission. Further, the ability to leverage funding resources with investor support has allowed ARTMS to position itself as a leader poised for long term success in the nuclear medicine field, and in so doing, attract the very best talent in the field.
Despite general COVID restrictions and the full isolation of hospital facilities, ARTMS found creative means to expand our footprint not just in Canada but globally, through virtual means and technology innovation.
Due to ARTMS’ rapid growth, our operations became space and human resource limited quite quickly, resulting in the need for site expansion. Unfortunately, the design, permitting and construction of a new site with R&D labs and GMP production suites in Burnaby required much more time to complete than was anticipated. As a stop-gap measure, ARTMS implemented remote, flex and shift schedules for both research and production activities that optimized our operations. ARTMS recently completed the site buildout and relocation and has become fully operational in a shorten amount of time. With the expanded operations, ARTMS is now expanding the team with the recruitment of both new graduates and experienced veterans in broad fields, including chemistry, radiochemistry, general science and medicine, mechanical/electrical/software and design engineers and business professionals. Having the reputation of commercial leadership and leading-edge innovation facilitates ARTMS to attract these hires.
What’s next for ARTMS? Are there any updates on the horizon?
Dr. Cross: There are so many positive developments and opportunities in front of us, it is difficult to know where to start! There are two very impactful milestones on the near-term horizon for ARTMS. First and foremost, the completion of the Drug Master File (DMF) reference submission for Zr-89 will allow our innovator customers to prepare commercial patient doses for their FDA approved products. Secondly, ARTMS has executed long term commercial agreements with commercial radiopharmacies that are producing and distributing patient doses. When ARTMS’ technology is fully deployed to these radiopharmacies, our products, including the InnovateBC sponsored Zr-89, will be available to upwards of 95% of the available patient population. These commercialization activities will produce significant profit growth for ARTMS in the very near term.
ARTMS will continue to innovate and bring new diagnostic isotopes to our product offering. Further, by utilizing our expertise in solid targetry, cyclotron operations and drug development, ARTMS will also champion the use of our technology platform into other areas such as therapeutic isotope production.
Although ARTMS is only just beginning to realize its potential, it has already been very impactful to the practice of nuclear medicine. All of our staff, founders, investors and stakeholders see a very bright future for ARTMS. Thank you once again for the opportunity to discuss ARTMS and for the important support that InnovateBC has provided us.
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