In 2018, an Italian, Roberto La Forgia, the founder of an innovative company BeForPharma, came to work in Russia to become the only foreigner in ROSATOM’s nuclear medicine team. And, he fell in love with the expression "He who doesn't risk never gets to drink champagne". Riccardo Ricci, a correspondent of the Agenzia Nova News Agency, spoke to his countryman in Moscow.
Getting to know ROSATOM
In 2014, I was invited to Russia by Isotope JSC - an official distributor of isotope products of ROSATOM enterprises – with a task to proceed with an audit of a facility as a GMP expert (GMP - Good Manufacturing Practice, International Standard). Later I worked as a consultant within several ROSATOM initiatives in medical isotopes and radiopharmaceuticals. In 2018, my project in Bahrain was finished as the first and only Radiopharmaceutical Facility at King Hamad University Hospital was built and I moved to Moscow to become a full member of the ROSATOM team.
I was really excited. First time in my career, I was to observe the production process of enormous volumes of medical isotopes. The job is exciting and challenging and I can assure you that not many of my colleagues can get this opportunity to evaluate the entire chain of radiopharmaceutical production – from raw material to medicinal product.
About life in Russia
A medicinal chemist by education, I have much international experience while working in nuclear medicine projects in Chile and Jamaica, Azerbaijan and Bahrain, IAEA missions that became absolutely beautiful life adventures. After having spent almost two years living in Moscow, I assure you that the Russian people have taught me a lot, how to be patient, tamp down the emotions, and just wait. You know, these tasks are not that easy for Italians! I feel at home when I come to the office in the morning and the security guards welcome me with their “Buongiorno, Roberto!”.
Indeed, I can tell that one of the strong points of the working environment here is a more direct communication – if people don't like something or don't agree with your approach, they tell. It's absolutely not about being impolite or a lack of education. Direct communication helps to achieve goals faster.
I really like this famous Russian proverb that describes the Russian Soul perfectly - “He who doesn't risk never gets to drink champagne”. And, by the way, that’s very close to my attitude in all my life experience and approach in work. The word “champagne” in this context is absolutely about success.
ROSATOM has a lot of businesses with nuclear medicine being one of the most perspective. The State Corporation has the biggest product portfolio of medical isotopes as it produces and supplies worldwide bulk molybdenum-99, iodine-131, as well as perspective isotopes like lutetium-177, actinium-225 and radium-223 for manufacturing of radiopharmaceuticals applied in diagnosis and therapy of cancer, cardiological, neurological diseases.
Considering my long-standing international expertise in GMP regulations and product quality, I see a lot of prospective areas to be developed. I strongly believe that in a few years, ROSATOM will become the strongest player in the radiopharmaceutical world, because there are not many players on the market who can compete with ROSATOM’s technological background.
In November 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding for scientific, medical, technological, and innovative cooperation was signed by Apulia region, Apulia Oncology Network, Rusatom Healthcare and Isotope JSC on behalf of ROSATOM, and I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University.
Unfortunately, coronavirus affected our plans. Some scientific events and meetings have been postponed. Nevertheless, we expect to achieve a lot by the end of the year. I have become a bit superstitious here in Russia and prefer to talk about results when they are reached in order not to press our luck.
I want to share one thought which popped into my head during my international work experience. I can see how the world is gorgeous, deep, and diverse. I genuinely believe that there are no geographical, cultural, political, or any other borders for those who devote their life to science and medicine. For real scientists, patients are beyond citizenship or nationality. I’m happy to know that there are high-level people at institutions who trust scientists and are ready to support initiatives helping to achieve a global target.
About the future of nuclear medicine
The world nuclear medicine is a very dynamic industry that annually creates new tools and technologies for cancer therapy and diagnosis. Even five years ago, we couldn't expect such a rapid growth of the radiopharmaceutical sector as well as imagine that this sector would start its progressive transformation to the classic pharmaceutical business.
Competition among players increases every single year, with new companies coming to the radiopharmaceutical market with their know-how. At present, there are many radiopharmaceutical products in research or already at the advanced clinical stage. Hopefully, soon doctors and physicians will come up with new medicinal weapons to cure cancer. For those companies who want to "get on board," there is no time for deep thinking or analysis. It’s the best time for action.
Certainly, considering the complexity of the radiopharmaceutical field when you work with a radioactive product, there is always a possibility in the market to improve your product quality and its safety. This is a top priority for all contributors – from raw material producers to physicians working at a radiopharmaceutical laboratory. In my opinion, ROSATOM is working a lot on this task within its sustainable development strategy. One of the 17 United Nation’s sustainable development goals is good health and the radiopharmaceutical business is doing a lot nowadays to contribute to this target.
Considering the current international activities of ROSATOM, I hope to continue developing our productive relationship in the future – possibly from somewhere in Europe, possibly from Italy.