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Demonstrating miniaturized production of a KOR PET tracer as a proof-of-concept for low-cost distribution of nascent PET neurotracers

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 1R41DA059980-01
Agency Tracking Number: R41DA059980
Amount: $286,331.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: STTR
Solicitation Topic Code: NIDA
Solicitation Number: PA22-178
Solicitation Year: 2022
Award Year: 2023
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2023-09-30
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2024-09-29
Small Business Information
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403-4303
United States
DUNS: 118626333
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (440) 773-6852
Business Contact
Phone: (626) 807-2233
Research Institution
LOS ANGELES, CA 90095-2000
United States

 Nonprofit College or University

Positron-emission tomography (PET) studies play a critical role in many areas of neurological health by
enabling quantitative in vivo measurements of specific neuroreceptor systems (e.g. receptor density, drug
occupancy, endogenous ligand occupancy) to (i) evaluate fundamental hypotheses about disease or (ii) aid in
the development of novel treatments targeting those receptors. As biological understanding evolves, novel
PET radiotracers targeting relevant receptors are continually being developed, but access to these novel PET
ligands is extremely limited. Short half-lives limit tracer distribution beyond the initial institution where it was
developed, and it can be very difficult for other investigators in the field to perform additional studies to
evaluate, validate, or make use of the novel ligand. Due to the relatively infrequent usage in early stages, and
the absence of foreseeable widespread diagnostic use for many neurotracers, commercial radiopharmacies
are not interested in manufacturing them. Instead, researchers can only benefit from these novel tracers by
producing the tracers themselves, an endeavor that incurs an enormous resource cost to set up suitable space
and equipment, and then develop and optimize an in-house synthesis protocol for routine production.
New microscale technologies for radiotracer production have the potential to overcome these challenges by
reducing consumption of expensive reagents (~100x), increasing yields, and shortening synthesis times, and
their compact size allows self-shielded operation and avoids the need for the infrastructure (hot cells) of a
conventional radiochemistry lab. DropletPharm, Inc. is commercializing a droplet-based reaction technology in
which radiotracers are prepared in high-yield and molar activity in a device the size of a coffee cup. By
reducing costs of all aspects of tracer production (isotope, reagents, operator time, space, capital), and relying
on commercial [18F]fluoride sources, this technology will enable a highly economical pathway to build out a
“network” of low-cost radiopharmacies for supplying a variety of investigational PET tracers for researchers in
academia and pharmaceutical companies.
As a proof-of-concept, DropletPharm plans to adapt the radiosynthesis of an early-stage kappa opioid receptor
(KOR) ligand, [18F]LY2459989, to the droplet radiosynthesizer, establish a cGMP compatible radiosynthesis
process, and compare the costs (between conventional and droplet-based approaches) of the synthesis
development effort as well as routine batch production. This particular ligand shows considerable promise for
imaging the KOR / dynorphin systems in humans, and supplying it to researchers will benefit studies of a wide
range of neuropsychiatric disorders in which KOR/dynorphin is implicated, including chronic pain, anxiety,
depressive disorders, substance abuse and other conditions with far-reaching negative impacts on society.
Success of the project will also show that this process can be replicated quickly and economically to increase
accessibility of additional novel PET ligands for other receptors (e.g. µOR, SV2A, NMDA, orexin) in the future.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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