Sterling funds basic contrast R&D

February 24, 1993

At a time when drug firms face growing government pressure tokeep prices down, contrast supplier Sterling Winthrop has returnedto basics--basic imaging research, that is. Sterling's new ContrastMedia Research Alliance (CMRA) program is an attempt to

At a time when drug firms face growing government pressure tokeep prices down, contrast supplier Sterling Winthrop has returnedto basics--basic imaging research, that is. Sterling's new ContrastMedia Research Alliance (CMRA) program is an attempt to fosterthe basic research needed for development of new contrast agentsand applications.

CMRA highlights the degree of investment required by imagingpharmaceutical developers before a product reaches the market.Sterling Winthrop, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of imaging filmvendor Kodak, hopes alliances forged with academia through theprogram will pay dividends down the road for the imaging professionin general as well as for the company's own bottom line.

Sterling and its academic partners paint the program as a marriageof convenience that will steer the industry-academic relationshipbeyond clinical trials and into more fundamental research. TheCMRA programs will fill the hole in the funding of basic contrastagent research.

"(Funding for basic research) is something that is recognizedas being in shortfall," said Denis M. Bailey, Sterling'sexecutive vice president of diagnostic imaging. "Supportof radiology departments by the government and by radiologicalorganizations is generally recognized as insufficient to improvethe overall research of the specialty."

The CMRA program provides three-year grants for institutions.The grants have few strings attached, giving academics considerableleeway in deciding what to investigate. There are no restrictionson CMRA-funded research other than that it involve contrast media.

Research could range from such practical topics as developingnew applications for contrast media to more basic investigationsat the molecular level of how contrast agents interact with theirenvironments.

THE FIRST CMRA INSTITUTIONS are Stanford University and the Universityof Chicago, with more groups expected to join the program throughout1993.

The University of Chicago will receive $250,000 a year overthree years under CMRA, according to Dr. Martin J. Lipton, chairof radiology.

The university is still determining research protocols to befunded with the grants. But Lipton identified two areas of contrastresearch in which he believes more work is needed.

"We don't easily identify tumors early enough. There arelots of methods available, but none are entirely satisfactory,"Lipton said. "Also, we need better methods of measuring howeffective a drug or treatment is. We'd like to be more precisein not just identifying disease, but also quantifying the therapy."

Sterling has first negotiation rights for any products developedunder CMRA grants. Although pushing products into the developmentpipeline is not a major goal of CMRA, the program is part of aneffort by Sterling to be more aggressive in developing productsinternally. Sterling is emerging from a period in which many ofits products were licensed from external sources, according toBailey.

"Many of the products that Sterling has developed havebeen the result of aggressive licensing," Bailey said. "Inrecent years we have been expanding and developing our own researchprogram, and the collaboration of that program with the academiccommunity is a major strategic point in our overall plan."

Sterling opened its research and development pipeline to publicview in December, revealing that four out of seven new pharmaceuticalagents anticipated for commercial release over the next four yearswill be contrast agents (SCAN 12/30/92).

The CMRA follows closely on the heels of another partnershipSterling has developed with academia. Last summer MassachusettsGeneral Hospital opened the Center for Imaging and PharmaceuticalResearch (CIPR), a contrast R&D project funded with a seven-year,$21 million Sterling grant (SCAN 8/12/92).

Lipton sees the type of industry-academia collaborations exemplifiedby CMRA and CIPR as part of a growing trend that holds benefitsfor both sides.

"Industry has played a prominent role in the developmentof the research base, because both government and clinical fundingand government research funding have dwindled," Lipton said."If either the university or the corporation works in isolation,there are some deficiencies. If they collaborate, I think thereare benefits."