A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

Alerion Biomedical (San Diego), in collaboration with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Nashville, Tennessee), was awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, Maryland) small business technology transfer grant for their project titled "MRI with Protease-Sensing Contrast Agents."

Lynn Matrisian, PhD, of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at the medical center, is the principal investigator for the study. Matrisian is an internationally recognized expert in the molecular mechanisms that underlie cancer development, growth and metastasis.

The goals of the STTR project include designing, synthesizing and testing a new class of biochemically activated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents that detect and monitor disease-associated enzymatic activity in vivo. The success of the project has the potential for improved non-invasive detection and evaluation of cancer.

"Our project is based upon the hypothesis that the activation of MRI contrast agents by extracellular proteases represents a particularly promising strategy to detect and image biochemical processes relevant to cancer," said Matrisian. "Our goal is to determine if tumor-associated matrix metalloproteinase activity can be non-invasively imaged by MRI."

Dr. William Dow, Alerion's vice president of R&D, said, "This partnership has the potential to yield MRI contrast agents that will improve the way we detect and stage cancer, as well as provide new tools for the assessment of experimental therapies for cancer treatment."

Alerion develops technologies for improving the detection, treatment and monitoring of disease processes at the molecular level.

BioVeris (Gaithersburg, Maryland) and the Brooke Army Medical Center's (BAMC; Fort Sam Houston, Texas) Department of Clinical Investigation have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to develop BioVeris technology-based tests for the detection of clinical markers of disease and disease progression or recovery.

Work under the CRADA will occur over the next two years. BioVeris will be able to commercialize tests of clinical significance that may be identified. The CRADA is expected to provide research experience for the medical residents of the teaching program at Brooke Army Medical Center.

BioVeris technology-based systems are currently sold commercially for the detection of markers of potential bioterror agents, such as botulinum neurotoxin, ricin and staphylococcal enterotoxins, and have demonstrated a potential for rapid, specific and sensitive tests.

The tests to be developed under the CRADA will explore numerous clinical markers to improve patient diagnosis and monitoring for the military community and the public. In addition, future patients at Brooke Army Medical Center may be able to receive more rapid diagnoses of disease and improved monitoring of the progression or recovery from disease.

In other grants/contracts news:

Iris International (Chatsworth, California), a manufacturer of automated in vitro diagnostics urinalysis systems and medical devices used in hospitals and reference clinical laboratories worldwide, said its Advanced Digital Imaging Research subsidiary (ADIR; Houston) has been awarded a $746,167 research grant from the National Institutes of Health for "Multi-resolution Autofocusing for Automated Microscopy."

Under the Small Business Innovative Research Phase II grant, ADIR will seek over two years to develop advanced techniques that will further improve the company's capabilities to maintain the specimen image in focus in its automated microscope instruments.

"Automated microscope focusing is an increasingly important feature in high-volume, low-cost medical diagnosis," said Dr. Kenneth Castleman, president of ADIR. "Automatic focusing is a key element affecting performance, and multi-resolution techniques offer considerable promise for improvements in this critical function."

Cesar Garcia, president and CEO of IRIS, said, "Autofocus software is potentially useful in a number of future IRIS products and high-value applications. This new development program underscores the important role that ADIR plays in our company. The grant brings to $4.2 million ADIR's total federal funding for research and development covering the next three years."

E-Z-EM (Lake Success, New York) reported that E-Z-EM Canada, its wholly owned subsidiary, has concluded contract negotiations with Local 7625 of the United Steel Workers of America, representing 100 employees at its Montreal production facility. The renewed contract became effective as of Dec.19 and runs until Dec. 18, 2010.

E-Z-EM Canada is the production site for all of the company's liquid barium contrast products, and upon completion of the second phase of the company's manufacturing, streamlining and restructuring (MSR II) program, will be the sole production facility for its powdered barium contrast products.

"This agreement provides us with a firm foundation at our main production facility through 2010," said Anthony Lombardo, president and CEO of E-Z-EM. "As we continue to consolidate our production operations through our MSR II program, we are pleased to have successfully concluded these negotiations in a beneficial way for all parties involved."

E-Z-EM is a manufacturer of contrast agents for gastrointestinal radiology.