UBC signs deal with India to continue to bring foreign investment to B.C. tech firms

Published: August 8, 2013

Nigel Lockyer, Director of TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics at UBC poses for a photo with a vial that would contain isotopes to go into the hot cell where medical isotopes are mixed with molecules to make a bio marker at TRIUMF in Vancouver November 14, 2008. A $10-million deal signed on Thursday between technology centres at the University of B.C. and India has set the foundation for breakthroughs in isotope research as well as bringing foreign investment to technology firms in the Lower Mainland.

JESSICA BARRETT
POSTMEDIA NEWS

A $10-million deal signed on Thursday between technology centres at the University of B.C. and India has set the foundation for breakthroughs in isotope research as well as bringing foreign investment to technology firms in the Lower Mainland.

The deal, signed between TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, and India’s Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre in Calcutta, will see the continuation of a 10-year partnership between the two centres to develop cutting-edge production techniques and the study of rare isotopes.

“The goal here is to produce the isotopes of the future,” said Dr. Tim Meyer, head of strategic planning and communications for TRIUMF. He added the deal may also lead to technology that will help alleviate the worldwide shortage of the technetium-99m isotope, the most common medical isotope used for diagnostic testing.

The deal, which is equally financed by the two parties and scheduled to last until December 2016, builds on a $6.2-million agreement between the two agencies signed five years ago that resulted in the development of state-of-the-art accelerators both at TRIUMF and VECC in India.

This next phase has a two-prong focus, said Dr. Lia Merminga, head of the accelerator program at TRIUMF.

“One is to develop the science of rare isotope beams, the other is to develop the accelerator technology,” she said.

Research on the first point will focus on creating and studying new isotopes through the development of two rare isotope production facilities at TRIUMF, one of which will eventually be shipped to India.

The second point will see researchers focus on refining accelerator technology so that the world no longer needs to rely on nuclear reactors to produce large amounts of medical isotopes.

Fifty to 80 per cent of the world’s medical isotopes are created at the aging Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario, which caused severe shortages when it was shut down for maintenance in 2007.

But the team will work to develop particle accelerators that are small enough and cheap enough to place in individual hospitals, enabling medical centres to essentially produce isotopes to order, said Dr. Alok Chakrabarti, associate director for Accelerators at VECC.

“I think 10 years from now there will not be this problem (of isotope shortages),” he said.

The deal will also include long-term exchanges between scientists from both laboratories, as well as strengthen trade relations between Canada and India, said Merminga.

An essential part for the high-tech infrastructure to be exported to India will be manufactured at Pavac Industries in Richmond, she said, which could lead to a lucrative contract.

“This is only number one of several more to come. We expect in the future the Indians will be ordering … again from Pavac,” she said.

“It is totally aligned with more trade with India. Indian money goes into Canadian manufacturers.”

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