Diagnostics & Imaging Week

Neovacs (Paris) and Biomedical Diagnostics (BMD; Marne La Vallee, France) have won financing of €7.9 million ($11 million) for the Tracker theranostics program – tharanostics meaning a pairing of a diagnostic test with a therapeutics – in this case for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

The funding, from OSEO Innovation (Maisons-Alfort, France), combines a grant of €2.5 million ($3.5 million) with a loan of €5.4 million ($7.5 million) to validate the diagnostics tools developed by BMD and to test a therapeutic solution developed by Neovacs based on anti tumor necrosis factor (TNF) monoclonal antibodies.

The prevalent therapeutic used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, anti-TNF monoclonal antibodies progressively is neutralized by the antibodies it induces, leading to resistance or intolerance to the treatment, which renders it ineffective over time and in some cases toxic.

A recent study in the UK found that more than one-fourth of patients abandon this class of medication within 15 months.

More than 5 million people in Europe and the U.S. are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis which advances to become a disabling condition for 30% of this patient population within 10 years of diagnosis.

The two partners will use the OSEO funding to evaluate the neutralizing antibodies using BMD tests and determine a treatment strategy using a range of therapeutics from Neovacs involving active anti-TNF immunization.

Spun off from the Pierre and Marie Curie University (Paris) in 1993 by one of France's most eminent immunologists and AIDS experts, Professor Daniel Zagury, Neovacs holds a patent portfolio of therapeutic vaccines for the treatment of AIDS, cancer and auto-immune and allergic diseases.

In July, 2007 Neovacs received a €13 million ($18.3 million) investment from the Novartis Venture Fund and a second investment from Truffle Capital of €4 million ($5.6 million), an investor and majority shareholder since 2003.

BMD specializes in the production and marketing of in vitro diagnostics based on technology from Luminex (Oosterhout, the Netherlands), a multiplex platform that combines flow cytometry, microspheres, lasers, and digital signal processing.

BMD is targeting the emerging theranostics market, with the aim of personalizing medications by identifying appropriate biomarkers to indicate the progression, or regression under treatment, of a disease.

BMD said this market totaled $5.4 billion in 2005 and is expected to grow to $21.2 billion by 2012.

Swedish region in PACS contract

Sectra (Linköping, Sweden) said it has signed a five-year contract with Sweden's Region Skåne regarding a digital solution for managing and archiving radiology images (PACS). With this order, Sectra said it will replace existing systems at the university hospitals in Malmo and Lund.

The initial order value amounts to SEK 30 million.

"With this new, common digital solution for managing radiology images, we are taking an important step towards more efficient cooperation and use of resources within the radiology operations in our region," says Hans Stridbeck, regional chief medical officer.

The agreement includes an option to connect the other radiology departments as well as nuclear medicine and cardiology imaging units in the region to the central backbone solution that Sectra is establishing with Region Skåne.

"Region Skåne's procurement is the largest in Sweden this year for IT systems for radiology departments," said Marie Ekström, president of Sectra's medical operations in Scandinavia. "The need for systems that facilitate cooperation and communication is substantial and the holistic approach taken by Region Skåne for the IT structure of radiology operations is a model for other care providers."

Region Skåne, a regional public body responsible for health, medical and dental services, includes 10 hospitals that conduct more than 900,000 radiology examinations annually. All the hospitals in the region are already are operating with Sectra's system for managing radiology information.

Region Skåne also recently ordered an IT solution, Master Examination Index, from Sectra that enhances the efficiency of radiology cooperation within and outside the region.

In another piece of news, Sectra said the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland will implement an integrated solution for managing radiology information and images (RIS/PACS) provided by the company through a 10-year agreement. Sectra said the contract is valued at £30 million and represents its largest order to date.

The solution will be used throughout the entire public healthcare system in Northern Ireland.

The company noted that there is growing demand for efficient, integrated RIS/PACS solutions that enable sharing of information and reading of images generated at several hospitals.

"This major project is unique in the way it links together so many hospitals for a totally seamless workflow of images and information throughout their entire public healthcare system," says Jan Wolffram, managing director of Sectra in the UK and Ireland.

Northern Ireland has about 1.8 million inhabitants and nearly 1 million radiology examinations are carried out every year. The installation includes some 25 hospitals, organized in five trusts.

Sectra develops IT systems and products for radiology, mammography and orthopedic departments. More than 950 hospitals worldwide use the system, together performing in excess of 45 million radiology examinations annually.

The company was founded in 1978 and has its roots in the Linköping Institute of Technology. Sectra has offices in 11 countries and operates through partners worldwide.

Roche amends UPL agreement

Roche Diagnostics (Penzberg, Germany) and Exiqon (Vedbaek, Denmark, a provider of gene expression analysis products, reported that they have signed an amendment to their 2005 license and distribution agreement for the Universal ProbeLibrary (UPL), based on Exiqon's Locked Nucleic Acid (LNA) Oligonucleotides.

Under the terms of the amended agreement, Roche's exclusive rights to sell and distribute the ProbeLibrary products are extended on a co-exclusive basis. In addition, Roche obtains co-exclusive rights to use the UPL for the development and manufacturing of its new line of RealTime ready qPCR assays. With the RealTime ready assay line, Roche Applied Science will offer a fully customizable portfolio of validated target specific gene expression assays for quantitative PCR in single assay format and multi-well plate format, pre-plated in 96- and 384-well qPCR plates for the LightCycler System.

"This agreement allows us to continue our successful business with the Universal ProbeLibrary products," said Manfred Baier, head of Roche Applied Science, a business area within Roche Diagnostics. "We will address the current need for increased speed and flexibility in biomedical research providing customized on demand supply of single assays and ready-to-use qPCR panels for virtually every gene of the human genome and other important organisms."

He added, "The Universal ProbeLibrary products supplement our broad existing portfolio of RealTime PCR products in the best possible way."

Lars Kongsbak, president/CEO of Exiqon, said, "This extension of our successful partnership with Roche allows the application of the technology of for Exiqon's LNA detection in the new and fast-growing market for ready-to-use and customizable RealTime PCR products. We are exited to have Roche Diagnostics, who is a leader in the RealTime PCR market, embrace the technology of LNA detection in their new product offering."