Contrast agent industry depends on partnerships

August 2, 2000

The contrast media industry is highly competitive, but strategic partnerships between large and small companies offer consumers choices and consistent quality levels, according to a report about the world’s contrast media industry by healthcare

The contrast media industry is highly competitive, but strategic partnerships between large and small companies offer consumers choices and consistent quality levels, according to a report about the world’s contrast media industry by healthcare analysts at Frost & Sullivan.

Contrast media have been in use for more than a century. The first agents were developed for x-ray imaging equipment. Now, companies are making clinical breakthroughs with MR and ultrasound agents.

The “world” contrast media market, which includes agents for x-ray/CT, MR, and ultrasound, was valued at $3.39 billion in 1999, just 1.2% higher than 1996 revenue, the report found. By 2006, the end of Frost & Sullivan’s forecast period, these three markets combined will generate $4.22 billion. The leap will be driven by an increasing need for strategic partnerships and further geographic expansion.

However, recent low growth rates overall do not reflect significant increases in certain categories of contrast agent sales. For example, x-ray and CT contrast media are experiencing declines in prices brought on in part by generic contrast agents supplanting brand agents, price pressure forcing large discounts, and less expensive locally manufactured agents limiting revenue. Sales of MR and ultrasound media, on the other hand, are growing.

In 1999, the x-ray/CT contrast media market was estimated at $2.93 billion, MR at $459 million, and ultrasound at $49 million.

Mahpara Qureshi, senior industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan and author of the report, studied 24 companies in this market. Out of the 24, only three—Bracco, Mallinckrodt, and Schering—have an agent on the market for all three modalities.

Bigger companies like these three are able to offer contrast media for each modality by forming partnerships with small research companies, Qureshi said. These partnerships benefit the market, especially when two companies from different countries join together.

Nycomed Amersham, based in the U.K and New Jersey, for example, has a manufacturing agreement with Daiichi, an Indian pharmaceutical company that also has headquarters in Japan.

“Nycomed obviously doesn’t have the same marketing capabilities and understanding of the Japanese market as Daiichi. The way things are done in Japan is different than the way things are done in the U.S.,” Qureshi said.

However, Japanese consumers are getting the same quality of products as U.S. consumers, she said.

Partnerships can also accelerate the lengthy regulatory process of getting a new contrast agent to the market, according to Qureshi.

“If it is an early-stage alliance, it helps accelerate product development. If it’s later in the (development) stage, it can accelerate the time it takes to get the product to market.”