Special report: Contrast injectors and agents

by Carol Ko, Staff Writer | April 30, 2013
Lantheus’ Definity Ultrasound
Contrast Agent
From the April 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

It’s no secret that the U.S. contrast agents market is experiencing a slump. The size of the market shrank 15 percent from 2010 to 2012 — a trend that’s projected to continue till 2017.

Not only has sales volume for contrast agents decreased due in part, to reimbursement cuts, the market has also seen a drastic drop in the price of contrast. Despite attempts by manufacturers to differentiate their products, imaging facilities tend to view brand name and generic contrast agents interchangeably, which means profit is based more on that troubling sales volume.

According to Ravindra Sharma, senior analyst at Millenium Research Group, a medical market research company, overall growth in the markets is predicted to stay in the single digits.
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Major players affected by this downturn include Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd., Bayer Schering Pharma AG, AMAG Pharmaceuticals Inc., GE Healthcare, Mallinckrodt, Bracco Group, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, Eisai Co. Ltd., Guerbet Group and Lantheus Medical Imaging.

There are a few bright spots in the market. Ultrasound, for example, hasn’t experienced a competitive price plunge. But that’s essentially a bright spot just for Lantheus, whose ultrasound microbubble contrast product, Definity, dominates nearly 90 percent of the market share. Yet this stability may not last much longer. Recent shortages of Lantheus’ product left an opening for GE Healthcare’s slightly lower-cost Optison to gain share.

And if Bracco Diagnostic’s ultrasound agent, SonoVue, hits the U.S. market in 2014 as anticipated, even the ultrasound contrast agent segment will likely experience price wars and subsequent price reductions.

Bubble Solution
The extent of ultrasound’s growth also depends on how successfully physicians can adapt it for other, novel applications. Ultrasound contrast works by using gas-filled microbubbles that reflect ultrasound waves back. But the unique physiology of these microbubbles also opens the door for an array of other diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, experts say.

One such application is myocardial perfusion scanning, an important diagnostic tool for coronary artery disease that helps physicians measure blood flow to the heart.

Conventional perfusion scans use radiopharmaceutical contrast agents that are injected into the patient and absorbed into the heart. Healthy areas of the heart where the contrast has been absorbed will show up differently in a scan than areas with damaged tissue with decreased blood flow. The entire test typically takes a few hours to perform.

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