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VisualSonics taps Bracco for contrast deal
July 2006
by Chris Anderson  |  Email the author


TORONTO—Micro-ultra­sound specialist VisualSonics announced an exclusive agreement with the Bracco Group of Milan, Italy for the joint development and manufacture of a new line of MicroMarker contrast agents for use in preclinical molecular imaging on the VisualSonics Vevo 770 micro-ultrasound plat­form. The deal looks to strength­en VisualSonics' position in what the company says is a $2.9-billion market opportunity in preclinical micro-ultrasound, as well as an estimated $500-mil­lion annual market for micro-ultrasound contrast agents.
"With the addition of molec­ular imaging, we can not only quantify anatomical and functional, but now molecular information, in vivo, in real time non-invasively," says VisualSonics CEO Tom Little. "Understanding the molecu­lar nature of disease initiation, progression and development is an important part of preclini­cal research. With new contrast agents, we will not only be able to discover, but also validate new biomarkers."
Under the terms of the agree­ment, Bracco will manufacture the line of contrast agents at its facility in Geneva, Switzerland, which will be sold under the VisualSonics name. Targeted research areas for the first kits developed under the agreement include cancer, cardio and vascu­lar applications.
Using microbubbles, the kits will be either targeted or untarget­ed agents. Untargeted applications include researchers looking at flow through a tumor vasculature to create a small slice of the vascular tree within a tumor.
The targeted agents will allow researchers to attach the ligand of their choice, for whatever targets they may be examining, via a sim­ple shake-and-wash procedure. The third kit under development will be optimized for the study of myocardial profusions in mice.
Little estimates the untargeted agents, currently in beta use at selected research locations, will be widely available by the end of the summer with release of the other two kits in late 2006 or early 2007.
For Bracco, working with VisualSonics on this project was a natural extension of its already extensive work in providing con­trast agents in a wide variety of imaging applications such as CT, MRI and ultrasound—many in support of its existing line of clini­cal diagnostic equipment.
"With the addition of contrast-enhanced molecular imaging capabilities to its micro-ultrasound technology, VisualSonics [and] Bracco offer the only plat­form with high spatial and tem­poral resolution that simultane­ously provides anatomical, func­tional and molecular data," says Dr. Michel Schneider, director of Bracco Research SA.
While Little acknowledges that there are plenty of other imag­ing technologies available to drug discovery research scientists, he is optimistic that VisualSonics, created specifically as a company dedicated to providing ultrasound technologies for use on small ani­mals, can create a significant busi­ness in the preclinical lab.
"We already have more than 250 of our systems installed across the globe," he says. "And that is just scratching the surface of the 18,000 total available market for our products."
Prices for a VisualSonics sys­tem start around $180,000, which makes it relatively inexpensive compared with other technologies. Further, Little see a collaboration with a company like Bracco as one that will only enhance the value of the company's Vevo 770 platform as it continues to widen the appli­cations for its use.
Code: E070613



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