Business, diagnostic imaging  

Schering and Philips to develop laser imaging technology for cancer treatment

Berlin, Germany. Schering AG and Royal Philips Electronics announced they will collaborate to research, develop and commercialize medical equipment and associated contrast agents for optical imaging.

Optical imaging is an emerging imaging technology with the potential to offer new approaches in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer as well as other diseases. Optical imaging uses lasers to illuminate superficial tissue — such as breast tissue. By combining this technology with an optical dye, tumours might be targeted more precisely.

As part of their collaboration, the companies will have the option to expand the alliance to cover other imaging technologies and contrast agents, where synergies between the partners are expected, and will also explore the emerging field of molecular imaging. Schering and Philips have agreed to split equally all research and development costs as well as all future revenues from the contrast agents, medical equipment and related services related to this alliance. Financial details of the alliance were not disclosed.

Due to its high resolution and sensitivity, optical imaging is expected to offer breast cancer patients a less aggressive, more patient-friendly follow-up examination. Today, such patients may need to undergo the invasive procedure of a biopsy in cases where traditional exams produce inconclusive results.

"Schering is highly committed to drive innovation in the field of optical imaging," said Dr. Karin Dorrepaal, member of the executive board of Schering AG, responsible for Diagnostic Imaging. "We are looking forward to combining our expertise in the field of optical imaging agents with Philips' strong capabilities in medical imaging and established track record in developing leading edge diagnostic imaging. This will create strong synergies to drive progress in areas of high unmet medical need such as the early and precise diagnosis of breast cancer."

"We are very excited to team up with a leader in the contrast agent industry. Schering has strong capabilities in pharmaceutical R&D, and is clearly out in front in the new field of contrast agents for optical imaging. We also believe this collaboration builds on Philips' patient focus of coming out with advanced, patient-friendly approaches to preventing and treating serious diseases like breast cancer," explained Jouko Karvinen, CEO of Philips Medical Systems.

The alliance's first development project will combine an optical dye called omocianine (SF-64) from Schering for the diagnosis of breast cancer, currently in Phase I trials, with an enhanced mammography device developed by Philips.

The companies will also explore the emerging field of molecular imaging, looking at how to develop dyes that can potentially target breast tumours at the molecular level. Philips and Schering believe the alliance will put them in a leading position in the emerging optical imaging market. It is estimated that once products are commercialized, the market for optical imaging contrast agents and equipment will see average annual growth rates of over 20%.

According to health services company Imaginis Corporation, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer). The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1.2 million people around the world will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, with the number of deaths among women expected to exceed 40,000 in the United States alone. Death rates from breast cancer did decline significantly between 1992 and 1996, according to the American Cancer Society, and medical experts attribute the decline to earlier detection and more effective treatments.

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