Through the collaboration of organisations across New Zealand’s health sector, the country’s first radioligand therapy service was established in just eight weeks. The service was developed to provide care for people with neuroendocrine cancer after border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic meant the treatment was no longer accessible to people in New Zealand. The rapid development of the service highlights the potential for other countries to develop their own radioligand therapy service to ensure equitable access.


The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted cancer treatments globally, and prompted rapid development of a new radioligand therapy service in New Zealand. Historically in New Zealand, people with neuroendocrine neoplasms who needed radioligand therapy had to travel to Melbourne, Australia.1 Following Australia’s COVID-19 border closures in June 2020, New Zealand health agencies worked to establish a temporary radioligand therapy service at Auckland City Hospital, so that people could still access the treatment they needed.1

The service was intended as an interim measure, required only until Australian borders reopened. Due to the demand, however, it was expanded and made permanent in 2021, meaning more people who needed radioligand therapy would be able to access the treament.1

Organisations across the health sector in New Zealand collaborated to establish the service. The New Zealand Ministry of Health, Te Aho o te Kahu (Cancer Control Agency), The Unicorn Foundation New Zealand, and the Auckland Academic Health Alliance collectively developed the service.2 3 Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, in Melbourne, and NeuroEndocrine Cancer Australia also provided support.1 The University of Auckland helped to design the treatment protocol, and continues to work with Auckland City Hospital to improve the service.2

What has been achieved?

The interim service was established quickly and safely. In just eight weeks the service was fully operational and delivering care.1 Analysis of radiation safety levels indicate that they were in line with international standards, as well as adhering to the national legislation.4

Since permanently embedding the radioligand therapy service in 2021, it became apparent that demand for the service outstripped the initial planned capacity.5 Consequently, it was necessary for the service to grow from the initial 20 patients per year to 40 patients per year, with a further increase to 50 patients per year in August 2023.5

Future relevance

It is hoped that radioligand therapy will be more widely accessible across other regional centres in New Zealand, under the umbrella of the current national service.5 This could mean people would no longer have to travel to Auckland for each treatment.5 Demand for radioligand therapy, and theranostics more generally, may continue to grow as it becomes available for use in more tumour streams.5 This expansion across New Zealand may therefore help to keep up the growing demand.

Globally, the rapid development of this centre demonstrates that it is possible to react quickly to provide people with the radioligand therapy they need, while still ensuring radiation safety.

  1. International Neuroendocrine Cancer Alliance. PRRT Officially Launched in New Zealand. Available from: [Accessed 29/11/22]
  2. University of Auckland. ‘I’m really grateful’: FMHS helps bring cancer therapy to New Zealand. Available from: [Accessed 29/11/22]
  3. Little A. 2021. New national cancer treatment service opens. Available from:,for%20people%20who%20have%20it [Accessed 29/11/22]
  4. Davidson J, Hull A, Mead T, et al. 2022. Evaluation of radiation safety of the newly established national New Zealand 177-Lutetium (177-Lu or Lutate) Peptide Receptor Radiation Therapy (PRRT) service, a palliative treatment for patients with metastatic neuroendocrine tumours. J Med Imaging Radiat Sci 53(2 Suppl): S22-s30
  5. Davidson J. 2023. Personal communication by email: 09/08/23