From Phenotype to Genotype: Amersham Health Paves the Way

Jun 01, 2002


CEO John Padfield (left), Daniel Peters, president, global medical diagnostics (center) and William Clarke, MD, MSc, executive vice-president, R&D, (right) steer Amersham Health into the new era of "predict and prevent."
Terminally ill patients often wonder about the roles of timing and fate in determining their life's course. If only they had been tested or diagnosed earlier; if only the doctors had found the tumor before it metastasized. As purveyors of science and administrators of public health, the world's pharma companies and physicians struggle to intervene earlier-indeed to predict and prevent disease-before it's too late.

Genomics seeks to answer patients' questions: Why me? Why now? By determining human genetic predispositions, monitoring disease, and prescribing appropriate treatment, researchers and doctors can alter patients' fate through timely diagnosis. Amersham, a world leader in developing tools for the genomics revolution, is at the forefront with products that may change the current healthcare paradigm. Although it has little name recognition within the industry, Amersham has appeared on pharma's radar screen, not so much because of who it is but because of the way it purports to reshape the traditional healthcare model from "diagnose and treat" to "predict and prevent." (See "A New Pardigm,") Indeed, diagnostic agents will illuminate genomics the way it illuminated anatomy: by making genes, which were once invisible, visible.


A New Paradigm
Leading that charge is Amersham Health CEO John Padfield, PhD, head of the company's diagnostic imaging business and architect of the business' impressive growth. Padfield, along with Daniel Peters, president, medical diagnostics, and William Clarke, MD, MSc, executive vice-president, R&D, met with PE in the New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center to view the department of radiology's new ultra fast computed tomography (CT) machine. Padfield, whose proven acumen for creating partnerships is tempered only by his disarmingly easygoing manner, says the secret to his success is to use his "two ears and one mouth in proportion." The articulate Welsh businessman is working on bridging the link between diagnostics and therapeutics now, to make personalized medicine possible in 20 years. By doing so, the company may be the first to offer paired diagnostic and therapeutic products-and succeed in giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

History of Change Amersham is no new kid on the block. Its roots began in 1940, when the British government established the Radiochemical Centre in a farmhouse in Amersham, United Kingdom, to refine radium used in luminous paint for ship and plane dials during WWII. By 1950, that mission changed to reflect peacetime applications, and the company turned to researching and supplying radioactive isotopes for pharma and other industries. Renaming itself Amersham International in 1977, it made history in 1982 by becoming the first company under British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government to become privatized. After a dizzying spree of mergers, acquisitions, and divestments, Amersham eventually became a powerhouse of artillery for the genomics revolution. In addition to a long list of "firsts," the company boasts that someone somewhere in the world uses an Amersham product every other second.


Its most recent and far-reaching reorganization took place in 1997, involving Amersham International, Pharmacia Biotech, and Nycomed. That year, Amersham's healthcare business merged with Nycomed's imaging business, forming Nycomed Amersham Imaging, and Amersham's life sciences business joined Pharmacia Biotech to create Amersham Pharmacia Biotech. Shortly before buying out Pharmacia's remaining 45 percent stake, the company rebranded itself under one identity, Amersham, and renamed its two businesses Amersham Health (AH) and Amersham Biosciences.

AH develops and manufactures diagnostic pharmaceuticals that allow physicians to visualize all elements of the human body, from organs to molecules, as well as a line of immunotherapy products. It makes up the lion's share of the company's business, accounting for 58 percent of its sales and 77 percent of its operating profit. Amersham Biosciences manufactures gene-sequencing machines as well as other "pick and shovel" equipment for drug discovery and development.

"We were years beyond the merger, and everybody in the company was waiting for a new brand, so there was great energy behind the change," says Padfield. "We've gone from strength to strength since that time."

Although London-based analysts question whether Amersham's business units, with their lack of common products, should be two separate companies, Padfield is certain the synergy lies in the future: "In talking to our colleagues in Biosciences, we are well aware of the possibilities technology offers and what changes in gene-based diagnostic tests might come through. Who knows? We may have our genetic sequence on a computer chip or smart card in ten years. Therefore, we make sure that our work complements advances in technology."

Sales Drivers Amersham Health is an undisputed leader in the global diagnostic market and the top provider of x-ray, ultrasound, and nuclear imaging agents, the latter for use in spectroscopy and positron emission tomography (PET) scanning machines. (See "Taking the Cake.") Its radiotherapies-four brachytherapies or "seed" implants for cancer treatment and pain palliation-capture 50 percent of the worldwide radiotherapy market. Its MRI contrast agent Omniscan (gadodiamide) is second only to Schering AG's Magnevist (gadopentate).


Taking the Cake
AH's global 2001 sales increased 13 percent from 2000, reaching $1.35 billion. The company's best-selling product is Omnipaque (iohexol), its x-ray agent in use for more than 20 years and considered the world's gold standard, with global sales of $324 million. Visipaque (iodixanol), another x-ray agent, has global sales of $117 million, a 28 percent increase from 2000. Those nonionic contrast agents, which are believed to cause fewer adverse drug reactions compared with other products, are one reason for the company's growth.

Its second largest selling product, Myoview (technetium Tc-99 m tetrofosmin), is a radiopharmaceutical imaging agent with $161 million in global sales. Up 27 percent from 2000, the product is propelled by the ever-increasing rates of cardiovascular disease and patient demand for screening, and AH expects that double-digit growth to continue. Omniscan reached $124 million in worldwide sales in 2001, an increase of 20 percent since 2000. The full portfolio of brachyherapy seeds achieved sales of $86 million in 2001, up 13 percent. Although no numbers were available for DaTSCAN and Neospect (technetium Tc-99m depreotide), two recently launched radiopharmaceutical imaging products, the company says they were "well received" by their respective markets.