Using drones to deliver radiopharmaceuticals earns almost £10,000 in funding from IPEM


A PIONEERING project looking at using drones to deliver radiopharmaceuticals between hospital sites in the West Midlands has earned almost £10,000 in funding from IPEM.

Dr Lisa Rowley, an IPEM member who is Head of Nuclear Medicine and Vascular Ultrasound at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, applied for an Innovation Grant for the project.

Currently, more than 59 radiopharmacies serve nuclear medicine providers in the UK, each of which are costly to operate. Due to the short half-lives of radiopharmaceuticals and time-sensitive transport, comprehensive radiopharmacy coverage is vital.

Using drones for delivery could transform supply chains. Centralised, strategically-located radiopharmacies could use drones to supply nuclear medicine departments within a 50-mile radius, potentially reducing costs for NHS Trusts. Drones could also expand access to tracers like Gallium-68, which are currently limited by road transport constraints, thereby enhancing nationwide nuclear medicine capabilities.

The transportation of radiopharmaceuticals via drone has not been performed in the UK before, so the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) does not have a certification process in place, and so this needs to be addressed before deliveries can begin.

Transporting blood

However, the Trust recently partnered with Skyfarer to use drones for transporting blood samples and implants between Rugby St Cross Hospital and the Trust, the first of its kind in Europe. The flight trials took place over four months, during both the day and at night, with almost 2,000km of successful flights being completed.

The trials demonstrated the potential for the use of drones, which also led to substantial carbon savings (90.5% greater than electric vans), and time (eight minutes by drone versus 45 minutes by car between the hospital sites).

The new project Dr Rowley is leading links up with the same drone transport team to explore the feasibility of the use of drones for transporting radiopharmaceuticals. This will include testing packages to transport the radiation in safely and securely, to look at the legislative requirements of transporting radioactive material with the regulatory bodies and performing test flights using approved air corridors.

Dr Rowley said: ‘Myself and Chris Pickles (a trainee Clinical Scientist) will be leading on the project from the Trust side. The IPEM grant will help move the project forward by investigating feasibility in terms of drones, air corridors for test flights, assessment of packaging and safety and enabling engagement with the CAA as to the requirements for approval of transport of radioactive material.’

Dr Anna Barnes, IPEM’s President, said: ‘I am delighted Lisa has been awarded this grant, it is just this kind of innovative approach we want to encourage, which will to help benefit both patients and NHS trusts.’

*In the next few weeks IPEM will be launching new and reinvigorated innovation grants.