The medtech world has recently been abuzz with contrast agent-related news, and I'm taking a look at a few of the key events that are shaking up the market. Contrast media— also known as imaging tracers—are agents that when consumed, enhance a specific anatomic area of a patient during diagnostic imaging procedures, making it easier for a physician to analyze, diagnose and stage various conditions. Contrast media is commonly used in CT, X-ray and MRI imaging procedures globally.

1. Safety Review: A blast from the past for contrast? The safety of gadolinium-based MRI contrast media has been thrust back in to the spotlight with a series of studies that have suggested that traces of metals can be detected in the brain many years after a contrast-enhanced MRI procedure using these agents. Although the consequences of these metal remnants are questionable, a warning by the FDA last week has triggered alerts globally, encouraging physicians to review the necessity of frequent and repeated MRIs using this type of contrast agent. The first round of concerns were ignited back in 2006, nearly two decades after gadolinium was first introduced in to the market for use as a contrast medium. Use of the agent was associated with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF)—however, it was concluded that only patients with highly compromised liver function were really at risk of developing this debilitating condition when undergoing contrast-enhanced MRI procedures. The effects of this warning are expected to resonate globally, with more research required to determine the long-term impact and health risks of these recent findings.

2. M&A Activity: French manufacturer Guerbet recently announced its intentions to acquire the contrast agent branch of Mallinckrodt. This really can't be seen as a surprising move by either party; Mallinckrodt has made it clear that it is shifting its focus on to higher growth markets—namely its specialty biopharmaceutical business— and saw sales of its medical imaging business decline this year. On the other hand, Guerbet is strongly engrained in the contrast agent market and associated delivery systems, thereby through this acquisition, it will inherit Mallinckrodt's strong US (and global) distribution network, in addition to its complimentary product portfolio. At the end of the day, this agreement really falls in line with both companies' respective strategies. Considering the direction in which Mallinckrodt is headed, the next thing to go will likely be its nuclear imaging business— the only question is, which company will be the one to grab it? Although PET procedures and associated radiopharmaceuticals are booming, and expected to continue steady growth over the coming years, the same cannot be said for SPECT procedures, which are being increasingly overshadowed by the technological evolution of competing imaging modalities such as CT and PET/CT.

3. Latest and Greatest: Novel thyroid and parathyroid contrast agents have recently been developed, whereby they emit near infrared light and illuminate the glands when injected in to the patient. The goal of these agents is to help surgeons identify the thyroid and parathyroid tissues from surrounding tissue and thereby offer the potential for more accurate surgical procedures in that anatomical region. These agents have major potential for helping in the treatment of oncological thyroid interventions and other thyroid conditions requiring surgery. Because a major focus for contrast and radiopharmaceutical innovation is on therapeutic solutions, we can expect more research and breakthroughs in this field in the coming years.

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