For cancer patients, nuclear therapy is sometimes the last and best option to fight advanced tumors that have metastasized. Radiopharmaceuticals, as nuclear isotope-based medicines are called, are powerful — but they are also radioactive. Handling with care is a priority, but circumstances often work against careful handling by technicians. For those technicians, an Israeli start-up called RescueDose has developed a system to help them avoid contact with radioactive materials, enabling them to prepare dosages without having to come into contact with the dangerous chemicals.

Nuclear medicine involves the use of small amounts of radioactive materials (or tracers) into the body, allowing doctors to more easily determine where the problematic cancerous cells are originating. Armed with that information, doctors can more easily establish a regimen of treatment, whether chemotherapy or surgery. Technetium-99 is the most common radioisotope used in diagnosis, accounting for 80% of all nuclear medicine procedures worldwide — some 40 million procedures per year. In addition, some cancers can be treated with radiation therapy (radioimmunotherapy), usually administered in conjunction with radiopharmaceuticals.

Dealing with the radioactive materials used in nuclear medicine diagnosis and therapy is a big problem for cancer ward technicians. Individual portions of radiopharmaceuticals used for each patient are considered safe, but for technicians exposed to numerous doses on a daily basis, the risks are significant. Extreme care is needed, and even where safety procedures are in place, many technicians complain that they eventually contract radiation sickness or other maladies related to their work.

RescueDose takes that assembly labor out of the hands of technicians, and makes it the responsibility of the the RescueDose device. Vials of chemicals are placed in the machine and using a computer interface a technician keys in how much of each component is needed for a dosage — and the system automatically adds the right amount of each component to an attached syringe. Instead of fussing with the vials and manually measuring the amount of chemicals needed for a dosage, the RescueDose devices does the job, reducing the amount of contact technicians have with the chemicals, thus reducing the possibility of human error as well.

The RescueDose device is comprised of a compact machine which does not require a large, reinforced space — unlike some of its competitors — so medications can be assembled at any pharmacist work station. In addition, the company said, the RescueDose solution does not require any changes in the existing working methods or in the filling environment.

RescueDose’s first big customer — and investor — is Israel’s Soreq Nuclear Research Center, a major manufacturer and distributor of nuclear medicine products for diagnostics (imaging, cardiology) and therapy, which are the specific materials RescueDose was designed to handle. Soreq is working with RescueDose on further development and marketing of the system. In addition, the company has a deal with US company ec2 Software Solutions, makers of a isotope tracking system, to run pilot programs; the company, via its BioDose system, has a market share of over half the pharmacies in the US that handle nuclear medicine.

“RescueDose puts safety first, improving patient and medical-worker safety via automated preparation and dispensing of pharmaceutical agents in ready-for-use, sterile IV syringes,” said Gilad Einey, CEO of RescueDose. “Patients receive accurate dosage, as and when they need it. Dosage quality is retained in nuclear medicine – the dose is prepared per need, rather than in advance and thus ‘decay’ of nuclear elements is prevented. Medical personnel are protected as exposure to radioactive elements is minimized.”