Companies that develop diagnostic agents and those that make therapeutic drugs are at opposite ends of the pharmaceutical industry. Traditionally, neither has taken much interest in the other.
"Developers of therapeutic agents have tended to think of diagnostics as a bit of a dirty word," said Dr. John Padfield, CEO of Nycomed Amersham Imaging. "It is only in the last one or two years that these companies have recognized that diagnostics can be of great value to them, not only in the early stages of clinical research but also in developing data that will convince payers that a drug is worth its price."
To accelerate this corporate detente, Nycomed Amersham Imaging (NAI) is fostering a network of imaging research centers where these two segments of the pharmaceutical industry can work together on common problems. The network, dubbed Imanet, is an expression of NAI's long-term goal to develop, through partnerships with therapeutic companies, products that detect physiological changes preceding the symptoms of disease.
"Imanet will enable us to leverage our core skills and position us at the forefront of innovation in predictive medicine," Padfield said.
Nycomed Amersham Imaging is today the undisputed global leader in the sale of medical imaging agents, bringing in more than $1 billion annually through the sale of diagnostic agents used in x-ray, MRI-based imaging, and nuclear medicine. In the process of convincing the makers of therapeutic drugs to pay attention to the prospects represented by diagnostic agents, NAI will move from being a company focused on imaging to one concerned primarily with early diagnosis.
"We need to move away from the anatomy, seeing pictures of hearts and brains, to the molecular level of disease," Padfield said. "This will enable people to have medical intervention through new drugs or surgery, if that is appropriate."
The sites involved in Imanet will look especially hard at opportunities involving PET and MRI-based spin signal technology (SST), a proprietary technology, under the auspices of Nycomed Amersham Imaging. PET was chosen because it provides diagnostic information at a molecular level. Pharmaceutical houses are already harnessing PET as a means to evaluate the clinical performance of experimental therapies with the hope that PET-based results will shorten time to market and reduce financial risks accompanying drug development. Spin signal technology uses noble gases such as xenon to increase the MRI signal. SST may prove helpful in studying models of disease and evaluating the effects of new therapeutics. Clinical experience with SST is limited, Padfield noted, but promising.
"We believe these products might dissolve in some of the plaques in the brain or in atherosclerotic plaques in blood vessels," he said. "If so, then we will have a product that enhances MRI such that we will be able to see when and where the plaque is being produced. It might allow us to see disease at a very early stage."
Imanet is designed to promote collaborations among leading pharmaceutical companies early in the product development cycle. Through this network, Nycomed Amersham Imaging hopes to offer corporate partners the means for improving the efficiency and precision with which they choose and test experimental drugs. NAI expects these partnerships to lead to the codevelopment of specifically paired diagnostic and therapeutic products and a new generation of intellectual property for NAI.
"By codeveloping diagnostic and therapeutic products, we can advance the clinical approach to disease management," Padfield said. "We are aiming to bring closer the crucial link between the diagnosis of a disease and its therapy, which will offer crucial new benefits to patients."
2/28/01, Issue # 1504, page 5.