It is estimated that 50 percent of radioactive drugs must be imported.

WHO warned that the number of cancer cases globally will be increasing by 57 percent to 22 million, in the next 20 years. Vietnam is believed to be one of the countries with the fastest increase in number of cancer cases.

According to Globocan, in 2012 alone, Vietnam had 125,000 new cancer cases and 94,700 deaths because of the disease.

Mai Trong Khoa, deputy director of Bach Mai Hospital, said various methods are used at the same time to treat cancer patients such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy.

More than 50 percent of cancer patients in Vietnam use ionizing radiation for diagnosis and treatment, so the demand for radioactive substances is high.

Meanwhile, the number of units capable of producing radioactive drugs in Vietnam is very modest. The biggest producer is the Da Lat Nuclear Reactor which makes 20 radioactive isotopes and radioactive drugs, just enough to provide 25 medical establishments.

There are only five cyclotron collider centers across the country, four of which are in stable operation to provide 18 FDG radiopharmaceuticals for PET/CT machines, including one at Cho Ray Hospital (HCM City), three in Hanoi and one at Da Nang General Hospital.

According to Duong Van Dong, director of the Center for Research and Production of Radioisotope, under the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute, radioactive substances are prepared by radiation to activate the nucleus of stable isotopes with neutron in the nuclear reactor. This is followed by another treatment process for thevfinal product.

In 2008, the institute imported a production line from Germany which automates the key stages of the production process, ensuring the GMP standards in WHO/IAEA radioactive drug manufacturing practices.

The production line is the only one of this kind in Vietnam which operates under the principle of dry distillation, thus ensuring high radiation safety.

According to Dong, with the development of nuclear medicine, the demand for radioactive isotopes from hospitals is very high in terms of quantity and frequency of supply. Many hospitals require high frequency of supply – once every two weeks, or weekly.

Nguyen Nhi Dien, former director of the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute, said the activities of producing radioactive drugs account for 70 percent of the nuclear reactor’s operation. However, because of the low capacity (500 kw/year), the output is not high enough to satisfy demand.

By Thanh Mai - VietNamNet Bridge - April 5, 2017