Practical and R&D prospects reinforce ties between imaging and pharma

April 7, 2004

Industry and academia forge European partnershipsSimultaneous advances in molecular medicine and scanner hardware are drawing the imaging and pharmaceutical industries closer together, a development underscored by two new

Industry and academia forge European partnerships

Simultaneous advances in molecular medicine and scanner hardware are drawing the imaging and pharmaceutical industries closer together, a development underscored by two new multimillion-dollar clinical imaging facilities planned for the U.K.

Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has announced its intention to plow British Sterling 28 million ($15 million) into construction of a clinical imaging center next to Hammersmith Hospital in London. The company has pledged an additional British Sterling 16 million ($8.5 million) for imaging equipment to be installed in the center as part of a British Sterling 60 million ($33 million) research development by Imperial College. GSK expects to purchase two MR scanners, two PET scanners, and two cyclotrons, all to come online in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Scottish start-up PharmaImaging Group is receiving British Sterling 15 million ($8 million) from public and private investors to set up and run a private diagnostic imaging center and a clinical imaging service, as well as to manufacture a licensed form of the PET tracer FDG. PharmaImaging has agreed to purchase PET/CT, SPECT, MR, and ultrasound equipment from GE Healthcare, and it will become a reference center for the imaging company. This arrangement forms part of PharmaImaging's deal with GE Capital to provide financial backing for the business venture.

"We are starting with one PET/CT, one SPECT, and one MR unit, though we have the capacity to increase these numbers," said Keith McKellar, CEO of PharmaImaging Group. "We also have an agreement with GE Healthcare to upgrade the equipment on a regular, as-appropriate basis."

The GSK-funded clinical imaging facility is intended to advance the company's R&D efforts in cancer, stroke, neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, and psychiatric disorders. Its endeavors are being boosted by a 10-year medical imaging research collaboration with Imperial College.

"We will be able to look at potential medicines in patients a lot earlier," said Louise Dunn, GSK press officer. "If you can take a PET scan of the brain, you can see the effect of a pain medication, for example. That's the kind of information that is very difficult to get clinically when you're relying on physical symptoms. You can also look at possible side effects, because you can see if the drug is accumulating somewhere you hadn't expected."

By comparison, imaging equipment purchased for the PharmaImaging project will be used to examine private patients referred from local hospitals as well as clinical trials volunteers. FDG produced in-house will be sold to National Health Service hospitals in the region, in addition to fulfilling PharmaImaging's FDG tracer needs.

"This project is going to bring PET/CT to the Scottish healthcare market for the first time," said John Mackenzie, a regional business manager for GE Healthcare in the U.K. "This extends beyond just being a pharmaceutical project; there is going to be considerable patient involvement too."

PharmaImaging plans to offer its imaging-based clinical research services to pharmaceutical companies on a fee-per-service basis. It plans to have its SPECT facility running by Q3 2004 and the remaining modalities by Q1 2005, according to McKellar. It has, however, struck an exclusive deal to produce its FDG on behalf of Schering, despite the involvement of GE, which may soon have its own interests in the pharmaceuticals market through the acquisition of Amersham.

PharmaImaging was careful to eliminate any potential for conflict among competing investors and clients when structuring the business, McKellar said. Its diagnostic imaging, clinical research, and tracer production elements will be operated by three separate trading companies: the Eliburn Clinic, PharmaImaging, and Pharma PET Radiopharmaceuticals, respectively. Neither Schering nor GE Healthcare has any management influence over the clinical imaging activities.

"It was very important for us that the clinical research organization activities were completely autonomous and independent," he said. "There is no conflict of interest, though I think this was on a lot of people's minds given the involvement of Schering as well as GE."