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Looking to Expand Its Molecular Medicine Arm, Philips Teams with BG in Biomarker Alliance

In its ongoing effort to develop new products for molecular medicine applications, Royal Philips Electronics said last week that it has formed an alliance with BG Medicine to develop next-generation products for use in areas including molecular imaging and point-of-care diagnostics.
 
The pact will expand upon Philips’ biomarker development collaborations with undisclosed academic institutions. The firm is hoping that discoveries made through the collaboration with BG will eventually be applied in near-patient diagnostic offerings that include both its molecular imaging and biosensor technologies.
 
“This alliance with BG Medicine is just an example of our recent expanded molecular medicine activity,” said Steve Klink, a spokesman for Philips Research.
 
“At the moment, the project is very broad,” he told BioCommerce Week. “We have not narrowed it down to a specific disease. The general idea is to first agree on which disease we will work on, and BG Medicine will search for the appropriate biomarkers, and we will use that knowledge to implement our imaging solutions,” he said.
 
“They specialize in the discovery and validation of biomarkers,” said Klink. “That is exactly the expertise that Philips does not have.
 
“In the end, we would like to implement our imaging solutions, such as MR, PET, and CT. At the moment, you can image organs, but more and more we want to image the function of an organ, and for that we need to know what we are looking for,” he said. “So, we need to know which biomarker belongs to which disease.”
 
The alliance with BG will aim toward applying the biomarker findings to the firm’s in vitro and in vivo diagnostic offerings, said Klink.
 
According to the companies, the products will incorporate BG’s systems profiling technologies that identify biomarker sets associated with disease stage, progression, and treatment. Philips has also been granted access to certain of BG’s proprietary technologies and services.
 
As part of the deal, Philips has acquired a 6.3-percent stake in privately held BG.
 
Additional terms of the deal were not disclosed.
 
Molecular Medicine in Focus
 
"Philips is looking at the broader stroke of molecular medicine and developing expertise in both molecular diagnostics as well as in molecular imaging," David Rollo, chief medical officer of Philips' nuclear medicine group, told BioCommerce Week last year (see BioCommerce Week 6/30/2005).
 
He noted that Philips has a molecular medicine group employing roughly 100 people who are focused on molecular diagnostics. But that is likely to get bigger in the near future. According to Klink, Philips is about to open a large life sciences facility that will focus on molecular medicine, which will include the biomarker discoveries from the BG alliance, as well as its molecular imaging and in vitro biosensor technologies.
 
Rollo told BioCommerce Week last year that the firm has been collaborating with academic institutions on biomarker development and expects that products from some of those collaborations would be further developed by Philips' cardiac monitoring services division.
 
He said that the firm would likely manufacture devices to analyze biomarkers and collaborate with others who would make diagnostic kits. The molecular imaging products Philips sells would "cut across all of our current modalities — that includes nuclear medicine, PET and SPECT, ultrasound, MR, and CT," according to Rollo. "But we're also becoming more interested and excited by the potential of optical imaging, which we believe has the ability to also have molecular diagnostic agents that can be evaluated in areas like the breast and tissues that are close to the surface of the body."
 
Playing Catch-Up?
 
While the biomarker alliance with BG can be viewed as a signal of Philips’ growing interest in the molecular diagnostics field, it doesn’t compare with the splash that its rival Siemens has made in recent months. At the beginning of July, the German imaging giant announced that it would acquire Bayer Diagnostics for €4.2 billion ($5.26 billion), which would immediately make it a top-three player in the molecular diagnostics market (see BioCommerce Week 7/5/2006).
 

“The general idea is to first agree on which disease we will work on, and BG Medicine will search for the appropriate biomarkers, and we will use that knowledge to implement our imaging solutions.”

"The acquisition of Bayer Diagnostics is part of our targeted strategy to create the healthcare industry's first integrated diagnostics company by combining the entire imaging diagnostics, laboratory diagnostics, and clinical IT value chain under one roof," said Klaus Kleinfeld, Siemens president and CEO, at the time of the announcement.
 
The acquisition, which Siemens hopes to close by the end of the year, comes on the heels of its April agreement to acquire Diagnostic Products Corp. (DPC) for nearly $2 billion. It also follows investments to bolster the firm’s molecular imaging products, such as its $1-billion purchase last year of CTI Molecular Imaging, and an ongoing alliance with pharmacogenomics tool provider Sequenom.
 
Siemens last year also purchased the biochip technology division of Infineon — a German semiconductor firm that is itself a spin off of Siemens — furthering its patent estate and development activities in the molecular diagnostics field.
 
The response from rivals Philips and GE Healthcare has thus far been tame in comparison to Siemens’ actions. Since acquiring Amersham in 2004, which signaled GE’s interest in integrating in vivo and in vitro technologies, GE Healthcare has not taken other steps to gain in vitro diagnostic or molecular diagnostic technologies to pair with its in vivo molecular imaging technologies.
 
GE last fall began collaborating with University of Oxford researchers to study the use of medical imaging and genomic profiling to improve the treatment of colorectal cancer (see BioCommerce Week 9/29/2005). The partnership might be the first of similar collaborations that the company could forge that focus on pairing in vitro and in vivo technologies for drug and diagnostic development, which was a key reason for GE's 2004 acquisition of Amersham.
 
"We believe that the future of healthcare is about integrated approaches to the early diagnosis of disease, and provision of maximum information from in vivo (imaging) and in vitro (gene) tests, all integrated by clinical informatics software," Jonathan Allis, vice president of technology and medical diagnostics at GE Healthcare in Amersham, UK, wrote to BioCommerce Week in an e-mail message at the time. "To this end, we continue to seek out collaborations, be that with industry or academic institutions."

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