Nycomed acquires MITI to expand market reach

August 18, 1999

Firm has big plans for MITI’s hyperpolarization technologyThe possibility of helium and xenon one day serving as commercial MRI contrast agents got a big boost with Nycomed Amersham Imaging’s early August acquisition of Magnetic Imaging

Firm has big plans for MITI’s hyperpolarization technology

The possibility of helium and xenon one day serving as commercial MRI contrast agents got a big boost with Nycomed Amersham Imaging’s early August acquisition of Magnetic Imaging Technologies, Inc. (MITI). The imaging agent market leader had held a minority equity stake in MITI, the lone developer of these agents, which are hyperpolarized to extend the MRI signal.

This hyperpolarization technology, based on isotopes of noble gases, promises to enhance imaging of body tissues, particularly the lungs, colon, and brain. With the acquisition of privately held MITI, located in Durham, NC, Nycomed gains ownership of this fledgling technology. As part of the deal, the company has also obtained from Princeton University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook the exclusive license for commercializing these techniques.

“This acquisition will help ensure that Nycomed Amersham participates fully in all imaging modalities and that we maintain our leadership position in imaging,” said Jerry Liebrand, vice president of business development for Nycomed Amersham and general manager for the hyperpolarization process. “Clearly this is an innovative new technology—but it falls right within our core competency of imaging.”

Princeton University, which owns the original patents on the hyperpolarization process, was the wellspring not only of the technology on which MITI was founded but of many of its key staff. William Happer, and Gordon Cates, who helped found the company based on research they did at Princeton, became members of the MITI board. Bastiaan Driehuys, who worked as a graduate student under their direction, became company president.

Nycomed is marshaling its resources to accelerate the development of these hyperpolarizers. Toxicology studies on animals could begin this fall, with phase II clinical trials to follow. The Food and Drug Administration has decided to allow the company to skip phase I testing. With luck, Nycomed Amersham could have a commercial product within three years.

“We want a very aggressive time scale to get this out and see what it can really do,” Driehuys said.

Nycomed Amersham will manage the testing and, if all goes well, the sales and marketing of hyperpolarized products. The staff of the former MITI will provide logistical support, as well as continue improving the technology, two isotopes in particular: helium 3 and xenon 129, so named because of their respective molecular weights.

A major challenge for the North Carolina engineers is to extend the half life of these agents. Unlike radioactive isotopes, the half lives of which are determined by Mother Nature, the half lives of helium 3 and xenon 129 may be affected by many factors, including the interaction of these gases with container surfaces and magnetic fields. Attempts by MITI staff to mitigate these factors have borne some fruit: for example, in their extension of the half-life of helium 3 to about four days.

Helium 3, which may be used for lung and colon studies, is the furthest along in the pipeline. Xenon 129, which holds promise for both lung and colon studies, as well as those for tissues including the brain, is next in line. The difference in utilization between these agents comes from the relatively greater solubility of xenon 129 in the blood. Helium 3 remains in cavities, such as the lung and colon. Xenon 129 is transported throughout the body.

The synergy between MITI and Nycomed Amersham stems in part from the parent company’s expertise in handling products with a limited shelf-life. Specifically, the Amersham component of the firm works with radioactive products, the half-lives of which are due to radioactive decay. The expertise achieved by Nycomed Amersham in distributing and delivering these products will be relevant to handling hyperpolarized agents, which depolarize—or decay—over time.

“With Nycomed Amersham we finally have the resources to really launch this technology on a global scale,” Driehuys said.

The acquisition also bolsters Nycomed’s position, which has improved recently. Financial results released Aug. 10 indicate overall sales growth of 10% over the last six months and a rise in imaging product sales of 6% over that period.