First US medical isotope facility to take root in Alachua

The first medical isotope manufacturing facility of its kind in the United States will be making its home in Alachua County.

Coqui RadioPharmaceuticals announced Aug. 19 that it will be moving into a to-be-built facility in Progress Park in the City of Alachua by 2020.

The announcement was made at an afternoon ceremony at the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator, where public officials and UF leaders spoke to welcome the company to the area and lauded the benefits it will bring.

Charles Perry Partners, Inc. CEO John Carlson, who emceed the ceremony, said the upcoming facility represents millions of dollars of capital investment and more than 150 new jobs with average annual salaries of about $75,000.

Congressman Ted Yoho said the company’s presence in the area will help insulate the local economy to make North Central Florida “recession proof.”

“Alachua County does not need to participate in the recession,” he said. “It will be public-private partnerships like this [that will help].”

Coqui’s goal at the new facility is to use nuclear reactor technology to produce Molybdenum-99, which is used in about 18 million medical procedures across the country each year, according to a statement from the company.

As far as the facility’s timeline to completion, Coqui President and CEO Carmen Bigles said that the building plan will be finalized by 2015 and should secure a construction license by 2016. Construction should begin after that, and the facility should be open to begin manufacturing by 2020.

The timeline is lengthy because of safety requirements and site regulations due to the nuclear reactor used to make the isotopes, said Susan Davenport, vice president of economic development for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a big project and very different in the way it has to move forward,” she said. “All those things make the timeline a little longer.”

Kelly Jordan, a UF materials science and engineering assistant professor, distinguished the reactors that will be built for Coqui from reactors used at electrical power plants. A typical power plant reactor generates about 1,000 megawatts of energy, but Coqui’s will only generate about 10.

“Rather than boiling water and spinning turbines, it creates a medical product,” he said.

That means that Coqui’s facility will require a smaller facility and less-extensive infrastructure, but it still must unravel a host of details.

Jordan said the entire design for both the reactor and the facility must be submitted and approved by 2015. Planners must interface the facility with community emergency services and local utilities and secure nuclear licensing.

When the facility starts to take shape, it will do so at the end of Progress Boulevard, said Bruce Delaney, UF’s assistant vice president of real estate. He said the facility will sit on 275 acres – 25 of which were donated by UF. Progress Boulevard will be extended by 2,600 feet to reach the facility.

He said the infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, that will be installed in the area to service Coqui will also help open up that part of the park for more development in the future.

Bigles said this facility will be significant because the U.S. currently depends on foreign isotope imports. She said her goal is to establish a domestic source that will make treatments more affordable.

Meanwhile, she said the planning of this facility is putting the area on national and global maps.

“I go into international meetings, and people know where Alachua is,” she said.




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