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GE Healthcare partners with Chile-based mining company to meet future contrast media demands

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | October 14, 2022
CT X-Ray
GE Healthcare has partnered with SQM to produce 30 million more doses of iodinated contrast media annually by 2025.
GE Healthcare expects demand for CT contrast media to double over the next ten years and has partnered with SQM, a Chile-based mining company, to increase dose production by 30 million annually by 2025.

Following China’s March 2022 COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai, GE temporarily closed its factory there, where all concentrations of its Omnipaque (iohexol) tracers are produced, significantly building up a worldwide shortage of contrast media.

While the factory has since reopened and is operating at full capacity again, the effects of the shutdown still linger, with the availability of contrast media limited globally.
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One of the largest producers of iodine, a key ingredient in contrast media products, Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM) dedicates 24% of its production process to making the substance, and will provide GE with an alternative source of production to combat the current and future shortages, according to Pablo Altimiras, executive vice president of Iodine and Nitrates at SQM.

"Access to medical imaging is improving globally. Coupled with ageing populations and rising chronic disease, that drives demand for medical imaging procedures, many of which utilize contrast media," a GE spokesperson told HCB News.

GE Healthcare Pharmaceutical Diagnostics develops and manufactures imaging agents that are used in over 100 million procedures annually, which is equivalent to three exams every second. All stages of production are performed in accordance with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP).

In addition to partnering with SQM, GE has invested $30 million in a manufacturing line at its contrast media production facility in Cork, Ireland. The line opens in October.

During the shutdown, the company relied on its Irish facility to produce iodinated contrast media to prevent delays. It also prioritized existing supplies for critical cases.

Radiologists came up with guidelines that suggested alternative imaging methods, emphasizing “case prioritization” and “short-term strategies” around the use of iodinated contrast media.

Companies like Bayer were able to assist by securing FDA permission to distribute foreign-labeled contrast media in the U.S.

GE Healthcare Pharmaceutical Diagnostics has seven manufacturing sites and over 4,000 employees and also develops and supplies radiopharmaceuticals.

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