Immunomedics moves to cut costs, refocus sales effort for CEA-Scan

Firm to stress cancer therapeutics R&DRadiopharmaceutical developer Immunomedics continues its quest for the right marketing magic for its products. The Morris Plains, NJ, company this month announced that it will implement restructuring

Firm to stress cancer therapeutics R&D

Radiopharmaceutical developer Immunomedics continues its quest for the right marketing magic for its products. The Morris Plains, NJ, company this month announced that it will implement restructuring measures in an effort to reduce its operating expenses and refocus its R&D resources. The moves indicate that the company is shifting its focus away from imaging agents and toward therapeutic products.

Immunomedics expects to curb its operating costs by $3.5 million in the next year. To do so, it has cut 10 staff positions across the company, and plans to direct its resources toward its existing products, particularly those in its cancer therapeutics pipeline.

Immunomedics’ restructuring comes after the nuclear medicine community’s tepid response to monoclonal antibody-based imaging agents developed by radiopharmaceutical firms. Although many targeted agents have been launched since 1996—one of them being Immunomedics’ own CEA-Scan—radiopharmaceutical firms continue to face an uphill battle for market acceptance of these agents. Companies like Immunomedics, Cytogen of Princeton, NJ, and Centocor of Malvern, PA, have struggled through lengthy regulatory processes and physician training efforts, and have faced users’ concerns about the cost of the products, which can be higher than other diagnostic agents.

Immunomedics hopes to counter this market environment by honing its sales structure for CEA-Scan, an agent for targeting colorectal cancer. The company will focus on customers at major medical centers that will become what the company calls colorectal cancer centers of excellence. The firm is conducting market research to identify sites that see many colorectal cancer patients and that have the ability to integrate their nuclear medicine, oncology, and surgical departments. And Immunomedics intends to use the same centers of excellence strategy for LeukoScan, a bone infection imaging agent that is still under review at the Food and Drug Administration.

By training surgeons, nuclear medicine physicians, and oncologists to use CEA-Scan correctly, the company hopes to expand its customer base. Training is crucial to market acceptance of monoclonal antibody agents, according to Cynthia Sullivan, executive vice president.

“The reception to (monoclonal antibody products) is only as good as the training,” Sullivan said. “You cannot leave the dose on the counter and say, ‘Call me when you get the pictures.’ It’s a new scan, a different picture (that physicians) aren’t used to seeing.”

Immunomedics’ move to restructure its imaging products business is the latest in a series of attempts by the firm to revamp its sales structure. Last April, the company discontinued its distribution agreement with Mallinckrodt, citing dissatisfaction with the St. Louis firm’s performance in marketing CEA-Scan. Immunomedics hired Bergen Brunswig to take Mallinckrodt’s place (SCAN 3/4/98 and 4/1/98). This month, Immunomedics hired a consulting firm to help it form marketing partnerships and identify in-licensing product opportunities.

But Immunomedics is not only reshaping its marketing structure to deal with its diagnostic agents. It is also shifting its R&D effort to cancer therapeutics. The company is collaborating with the National Cancer Institute on the development of anticancer biological drugs, and Immunomedics plans to emphasize the development of these products, including its lead agents, CEA-Cide for colorectal cancer, and LymphoCide for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The company presented its latest work this month at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Philadelphia. Immunomedics scientists have cloned a new toxin that has been shown to be effective against cancers that express carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), and have also developed a rapid method to attach the yttrium-90 isotope, a potent therapeutic material, to anticancer antibodies.

“Our new focus is an aggressive push into the area of cancer therapeutics,” Sullivan said. “We’re moving along and reviewing what we’ve done so far in clinical trials for certain agents, and what the outcomes are.”