Radiopharma Series Part 1: Overview of Radiopharma

By: David Grew MD MPH

“...radiopharmaceuticals harness the power of radioactive isotopes to selectively destroy malignant cells while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.”

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Radiopharmaceuticals are all the rage right now.  

C-suite executives at biotech and pharmaceutical companies are racing to build out their pipeline with promising assets, accrue participants to portfolio trials - heads on swivel as competition heats up.  

Physicians are watching closely as data are reported out, looking for winners, as they steer patients towards the most promising new therapies.  

PRIMR is helping demystify the space for industry newcomers, physicians and patients alike.  We’re launching a new multimedia educational campaign with a blog series (this blog is the first in that series), radiopharma educational videos, and trusted IRB approved video content about key clinical trials featuring leading candidates in the radiopharma ecosystem.  

Without further ado, let’s dive into the first part in the series: a brief overview of radiopharmaceuticals for newcomers.


Radiopharmaceuticals represent a dynamic class of therapeutic agents designed to deliver precise and targeted radiation to cancer cells. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, which often affects healthy cells along with cancerous ones, radiopharmaceuticals harness the power of radioactive isotopes to selectively destroy malignant cells while sparing surrounding healthy tissue. This targeted approach not only enhances treatment efficacy but also minimizes adverse effects, offering a promising avenue for improving patient outcomes in oncology.

Radiopharmaceuticals consist of a carrier molecule coupled with a radioactive isotope, commonly referred to as a radionuclide. These molecules can vary widely in their composition and structure, allowing for versatility in targeting specific cancer types and molecular pathways. By exploiting the unique biological characteristics of cancer cells, radiopharmaceuticals can deliver potent radiation directly to tumor sites, effectively disrupting cellular processes essential for tumor growth and survival.

The clinical application of radiopharmaceuticals spans various cancer types, including but not limited to prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, neuroendocrine tumors, and certain types of lymphoma. Depending on the specific radionuclide used and the tumor's characteristics, radiopharmaceuticals can be administered via different routes, such as intravenous injection, oral ingestion, or localized delivery via catheter in an artery.

In recent years, advancements in radiopharmaceutical research and development have led to the emergence of novel agents with enhanced targeting capabilities, improved safety profiles, and expanded therapeutic indications. From alpha and beta emitters to theranostic pairs enabling simultaneous imaging and therapy, the landscape of radiopharmaceuticals continues to evolve rapidly, offering new hope for patients with challenging-to-treat malignancies.

As we delve deeper into the history, current state, and future prospects of radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment, it becomes increasingly clear that these agents hold immense promise in reshaping the oncology landscape. By harnessing the power of radiation with precision and efficacy, radiopharmaceuticals represent a cornerstone of modern cancer care, offering new horizons for patients and clinicians alike.

In future blogs in this series, we’ll dive deeper into the early development and milestones in radiopharma, understanding patient and physician perceptions of radiopharma, challenges to physician adoption and opportunities for collaboration.


What are the specific types of cancer that radiopharmaceuticals have been approved to treat so far?

Radiopharmaceuticals have been approved to treat various types of cancer, including prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, neuroendocrine tumors, and certain types of lymphoma. These agents are designed to target specific cancer types and molecular pathways, offering a versatile approach to treatment.

What are the potential side effects or risks associated with radiopharmaceutical treatments?

Potential side effects or risks associated with radiopharmaceutical treatments can vary depending on the specific agent used and the individual patient's response. Common side effects may include fatigue, nausea, and temporary changes in blood cell counts. However, the targeted nature of radiopharmaceuticals aims to minimize damage to healthy tissues and reduce the risk of severe adverse effects.

How do the costs of radiopharmaceutical therapies compare to other cancer treatment options?

The costs of radiopharmaceutical therapies can vary based on factors such as the specific agent used, treatment regimen, and health insurance. While radiopharmaceuticals may involve higher upfront costs compared to traditional treatments, their targeted approach and potential for improved outcomes could lead to cost savings in the long run by reducing the need for additional treatments or managing side effects.