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Q&A: Tom Little, president and CEO, VisualSonics
Biomedical imaging in playing an increasingly larger role in drug discovery. Ultrasonics, however, still brings to mind images of pregnant mothers and unborn babies. Toronto-based VisualSonics is hoping to change that impression. Recently, Executive Editor Randall C Willis spoke with VisualSonics President and CEO Tom Little.
DDN: How would you describe the mandate of VisualSonics?
Little: Our mandate is to allow drug development researchers to reach new insights faster through exploring their small animal research model using in vivo imaging using our micro-ultrasound system, called the Vevo 770. For our customers in drug discovery and development, our mandate is to allow for the early understanding of therapeutic effectiveness and physiological effect of their agents in small animal models in vivo to provide insightful, quantifiable and real-time data upon which to make and optimize development decisions. With 250 Vevo systems sold in three years, we have made great inroads and expect further success.
DDN: Can you briefly describe your main platform?
Little: Our platform—the Vevo 770—is the world's leading micro-ultrasound system that non-invasively and in real-time allows researchers to gather anatomical, physiological, functional and molecular data from small animal models. With resolution to 30 microns, our system can non-invasively see early stage orthotopic tumor development, quantify cardiac function, visualize early fetal development and quantify plaque in the carotid arteries of mice, rats, and even be used effectively in imaging zebra fish and chick embryo models.
DDN: Why ultrasonics and not some other modality, like MRI or CT?
Little: Like in the clinical setting, one modality does not do everything and a number of approaches require a multi-modality approach. Having said that, though, if a researcher wants to visualize and quantify anatomical targets or flow in a small-animal model in vivo, in real time, expensively, without radiochemistry or dedicated facilities, on a modality that is transferable from mouse to man, and on an easy-to-use platform that can be shared and easily moved between most research departments, then micro-ultrasound is the modality of choice. The addition of molecular imaging on the same platform makes this platform even more compelling.
DDN: Who are your major clients now and where do you see markets opening up for you?
Little: We have eight of the top 12 pharma companies as customers—many with multiple instruments—and over 200 of the leading academic institutions actively using the Vevo in the research involving cardio, vascular, cancer, stem cell, fetal/embryological and neurological research. With the recent introduction of Molecular Imaging on our platform, we are experiencing a significant increase in demand in these markets. Examples include being able to visualize and quantify vascular development and architecture for tumor studies, for studying the expression of VEGFR2 for angiogenic assays, and for studying inflammation as expressed through P-Selectin as a biomarker.
DDN: You just got back from the American Association of Cancer Research conference in Washington, DC. How was the response to your platform?
Little: The response at AACR to our new "Molecular Imaging" program was fantastic. We had twice the traffic at our trade show booth, our customers' posters and talks were extremely well attended and we were effectively sold out at our Satellite Workshop. We feel that this is the perfect time for the cancer research market to fully embrace in vivo imaging—and the ability to gather and quantify anatomical, function and molecular data non-invasively like our Vevo is a major attraction to the market.
DDN: What's next for the company?Little: We are rolling out our Molecular Program and developing new tools and applications ensure the Vevo and micro-ultrasound continue to be the fastest growing modality in preclinical in vivo imaging