A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

Citing a shortage of trained professionals specializing in magnetic resonance imaging, GE Healthcare (Chalfont St. Giles, UK) reported that it has co-founded China’s first MR Application Academy at its GE China Technology Center in Shanghai.

The company said that while the use of MRI in China is expected to escalate dramatically, hospitals continue to suffer from a shortage of technicians, physicists and radiologists specializing in MR imaging.

Even with more than 2,000 MRI units having already been deployed across China, GE Healthcare said the ratio of equipment to population remains low, at 25 times less than the U.S. market.

The MR Application Academy was established by GE and the Chinese Society of Radiology and Chinese Society of Imaging Technology.

The academy, which comprises the MR Education Center China (MRECC), the Sino-U.S. MR Physics Center and the Sino-U.S. MR Molecular Imaging Center, will focus on advancing MR clinical application in China and promoting research using the technique. In addition, much attention will be paid to its applications among the Chinese research and academic community, teaching hospitals, medical schools and universities.

More than 60 experts from China and the U.S. have been appointed as professors at the academy.

“As medical reform in China continues, GE Healthcare will maintain its support of the academy in order to cultivate a world-class pool of senior MRI experts to meet China’s needs within the next five to 10 years,” said George Cao, general manager-marketing, GE Healthcare China. “This will help China’s medical sector provide quality services through MRI technology, both within township hospitals nationwide and at the highest levels of R&D.”

GE Healthcare has been active since 1979 in introducing high-end medical equipment to Chinese hospitals and popularizing its use. It was the first international medical company to establish a manufacturing factory in China and was the first to design, develop and produce high-quality medical equipment such as computed tomography, ultrasound imaging systems and X-ray machines in the country.

Draximage files for approval of imaging kit

Draximage Specialty Pharmaceuticals, the radiopharmaceutical division of Draxis Health (both Montreal), said it has taken “another significant step” in its product development strategy with the filing of its Draximage Sestamibi with European regulatory authorities.

Draximage Sestamibi is a generic kit for the preparation of Tc-99m Sestamibi — an imaging agent used in myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI) to evaluate blood flow to the heart — for injection. It is the largest radiopharmaceutical product in the nuclear medicine market segment.

“Filing Draximage Sestamibi in Europe marks another milestone in our comprehensive plan to pursue major MPI markets globally,” said Jean-Pierre Robert, president of Draxis Specialty Pharmaceuticals. “Draximage Sestamibi is one of our highest-priority growth drivers and the filing of marketing applications in Europe and in the U.S. means that we are one step closer to the realization of our strategy. In addition, we are actively pursuing marketing and distribution partnerships for Sestamibi in Europe and in North America.”

The FDA recently acknowledged receipt and acceptance for review of an Abbreviated New Drug Application for Draximage Sestamibi that was submitted to the agency earlier this year.

The sestamibi kit is used in nuclear medicine imaging to show how well the heart muscle is perfused both at rest and during strenuous activity. The radioisotope Technetium-99m is attached to the sestamibi molecule, forming Tc-99m Sestamibi.

When injected into the bloodstream, this radiopharmaceutical agent is distributed throughout the heart muscle in proportion to the blood flow received by various portions of the heart. Heart images are then obtained using a gamma camera that can detect the Technetium-99m.

Two sets of images are typically taken, one while the patient is at rest and a second set while the patient is under stress, often by exercising on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. The resulting two sets of images are compared with each other to diagnose the presence of coronary heart disease by detecting areas of the heart that may not be receiving normal blood flow.

According to Arlington Medical Resources, in 2005 there were more than 7 million cardiac studies conducted in the U.S. out of a total of some 15 million nuclear medicine procedures, making MPI the most widely performed nuclear medicine scan in the U.S.

Draximage said that, while such cardiac procedures are not nearly so widely performed in Europe, it believes that “significant opportunities do exist in the European market. Recent market research estimates indicate that existing MPI products generate revenues in excess of $50 million in Europe.”

The company said that once its product is approved, it plans to enter the MPI market after key patents for the currently marketed Tc-99m Sestamibi product expire, which is expected to be in 2008 for the U.S. and from this year onward in various European countries.

Draximage said it also plans to file for marketing approvals in additional jurisdictions other than the U.S. and Europe.

Big contract in China for Chindex

Chindex International (Bethesda, Maryland), a provider of Western healthcare products and services in China, said it has been awarded a contract as the exclusive supplier for premium clinical application color ultrasound systems to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hospital system in China for the year.

Under the terms of the tender, the PLA has agreed to purchase at least 15 Siemens Sequoia ultrasound systems to be installed in PLA hospitals throughout China.

The contract was awarded to Chindex through an annual public tendering process conducted by the PLA Health Department. The PLA hospital system is the largest centrally-administered hospital network in China, comprising nearly 200 institutions.

Chindex CEO Roberta Lipson said, “Chindex has been providing top-tier Western medical technologies to the PLA hospital system for more than 25 years. The award of this large procurement tender is evidence of both our long history as a supplier and service provider to the PLA hospital system, as well as to the continued high quality of the Siemens color ultrasound products, for which Chindex is the exclusive national distributor in China.”