Diagnostics & Imaging Week Correspondents

HELSINKI, Finland Speaking last week at BioFinland 05 at the Helsinki Fair Center, Steven Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Co. (San Francisco), said the era of personalized medicine and theranostics is closer than many think.

Increasingly, said the noted life sciences investment banker, companies seeking approval for a new drug will need an accompanying predictive diagnostic test to convince regulators of its efficacy in defined patient populations.

"Don't bet against it," Burrill said in his conference keynote address, adding that payers "grab onto this technology and use it, because it will eliminate cost." With access to greater predictability obtained through genomic information, he said healthcare systems will shift from caring for the needs of 5% of the population who are sick to maintaining the health of the majority population who are healthy. "That's both an extreme challenge and opportunity for us in this business," Burrill said.

As the personalized era unfolds, the U.S. might not be the country best equipped to incorporate the underlying technologies, said David Cox, chief scientific officer at Perlegen Sciences (Mountain View, California), since it lacks the socialized healthcare system and the longstanding tradition of building national patient registers practiced in Finland and the other Nordic countries.

"I think [Nordic countries are] best adapted to demonstrate its utility in the shortest amount of time," Cox told Diagnostics & Imaging Week's sister publication, BioWorld International.

Finland's homogenous population and its state-run healthcare system, which has, over several decades, built up a rich store of epidemiological information, make it fertile ground for conducting population genetics studies. "Finland is one of the best-characterized populations in the world for disease mutations," said Leena Peltonen-Palotie, professor of medical genetics at the University of Helsinki.

GeneOs Oy (Helsinki) is one company betting on that advantage. It disclosed "several million euros" in new investment last week to fund its construction of a biobank that will link lifestyle and clinical information on 6,000 patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to variations in associated genetic markers.

The company last year reported the discovery of two novel genes that are linked to asthma, one of which it characterized as an orphan G protein-coupled receptor. It has identified eight different variations, six of which appear to have varying degrees of disease risk.

On the funding side, Sitra (Helsinki), the Finnish national endowment, which has been one of the principal sources of seed financing for life science start-ups, is selecting 17 life sciences companies from its existing portfolio of 36 firms. It plans to create a new fund to support those, drawing on its own resources as well as finances it hopes to raise from international institutions.

A team from Sitra will be spun out to manage the new entity, with the whole process expected to be completed by year-end.

While that is good news for the companies selected for further support, Sitra's withdrawal from life sciences seed funding will be a setback for a sector already suffering from an underdeveloped capital market, hampering the flow of start-up activity.

"The market is thin," said Paavo Lipponen, former prime minister and speaker of parliament, who also was a speaker during the opening session of the BioFinland meeting. "There is an aversion to risk."

MedMira test products in UAE

MedMira (Halifax, Nova Scotia), a developer of rapid flow-through diagnostic technology, said it has successfully completed the registration process with the Ministry of Health in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The registration enables MedMira to participate in government tenders and sell its rapid HIV and hepatitis C tests to government healthcare facilities, where 70% of all HIV and hepatitis C testing is conducted in the UAE.

MedMira said its distributor, Prestige Group, part of the $4.5 billion Al Jaber Group of companies, has established a "solid position" in the Middle East's private healthcare sector with sales of the MiraWell Rapid HIV Test and MiraWell Rapid HCV Test.

MedMira said its rapid tests are the fastest flow-through diagnostic tests in the world, providing results in three minutes. The company said rapid diagnostic tests present significant value in the UAE market, where expatriates make up 80% of the population and must be tested for HIV every two years as part of the visa renewal process.

Giles Crouch, vice president of marketing and business development for MedMira, said, "We expect to expand this market in the near future by introducing the first over-the-counter rapid HIV test to the Middle East market."

The World Health Organization (Geneva, Switzerland) estimates that about 83,000 people were newly infected with HIV in the Middle East region in 2003 and that some 0.3% of adults in the region are currently infected.

MedMira's Reveal G2 and MiraWell rapid HIV tests are currently used in clinical laboratories and hospitals where professional counseling and patient treatment are immediately available.

The MiraCare Rapid HIV Antibody Test is available over the counter in pharmacies throughout the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions in the People's Republic of China.

MedMira markets its rapid tests in the U.S., Canada, South Africa and China. In addition to its corporate offices and manufacturing facilities in Halifax, it has a representative office in Beijing, China.

New CFO for In Veritas

Martin Thorp has been named CFO of In Veritas Medical Diagnostics (IVMD; Inverness, Scotland). He has been an independent consultant since 2002, including serving as a strategic advisory non-executive board member of Grant Thornton.

In Veritas, which recently changed its name from the previous In Vivo Medical Diagnostics, consists of two subsidiaries based in the UK, IVMD Ltd. and Jopejo Ltd. IVMD reports being "in the final stage" of developing a medical device for the cardiovascular market.

Other medical conditions being addressed by IVMD's technology include the diabetes market and other areas relying on imaging. Jopejo reports being in the late stages of developing new monitoring devices that utilize signal processing for late-term pregnancy.

MSI Nigerian contract is signed

Medical Services International (MSI; Edmonton, Alberta) said its received a contract from the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria to supply that country with rapid VScan HIV 1 & 2 test kits.

The contract was reported by the company last month following notification that MSI had been awarded the tender offer to supply $25 million worth of its VScan HIV test kits to Nigeria. The company will begin delivery of the kits in June.