Advanced Research Technologies Inc. aims to jump ahead in the field of optical molecular imaging by Monday acquiring the exclusive worldwide licensing rights to a U.S. professor’s extensive patent portfolio in the same scientific area.

Montreal-based

ART, a bio-imaging company, purchased the intellectual property of Professor Joseph Lakowicz, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Fluorescence Spectroscopy, because it wants to leap from developing pre-clinical applications to clinical applications for human use, explained Nadia Martel, vice-president, strategic alliances and business development.

“”All the major players i.e., GE, Philips or Siemens, are seeing molecular imaging as the next great thing. (The acquisition) opens for us the future.””

ART already had two products focusing on pre-clinical trials, eXplore Optix and SoftScan. The first, which was commercialized last June, moved the company from an R&D phase with no revenues to one in which it had sold products and attracted the attention of GE Medical Systems, the exclusive worldwide distributor of eXplore Optix, Martel said.

eXplore Optix is a pre-clinical imaging device used by researchers in the pharmaceutical sector or academic research world to test pharmaceutical compounds before they become drugs.

SoftScan is a breast imaging device that helps detect breast cancer. In preliminary clinical trials that have been approved by Health Canada and hospitals, SoftScan should be brought to market in a few years, she said. ART also has an agreement with GE to commercialize SoftScan.

Brian Piccioni, managing director of high technology at BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto, said today’s patent purchase could be viewed from different angles. ART would eventually have developed this technology, but buying it now is “”almost certainly a defensive-type move. It means you can’t be sued now by the guys who own this patent portfolio, and it can also make it difficult for somebody else to use the same technology as you’re using.””

Licensing the optical molecular imaging patents of Lakowicz, who recently gained a spot on ART’s scientific advisory board, also helps it accelerate product development, Piccioni said. “”They may tap his special knowledge now with a little bit more freedom in terms of suggesting approaches to how they deal with certain challenges in their technology.””

Attracting customers for new products based on the professor’s patents will depend on the commercial success of ART’s existing products and “”a lot of coverage in the scientific, sort of peer-review press,”” said Piccioni.

At the moment, ART has targeted eXplore Optix at drug companies like Novartis Pharma AG and research centres such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said Martel. Delving deeper into the field of molecular medicine will add hospitals, doctors and health care institutions to ART’s client base, she said.

ART hopes to entice future partners now that it has Professor Lakowicz’s technologies, as well as the support of GE, which in October bought the UK’s Amersham Biosciences, a move underscoring the coming merger of the pharmaceutical and medical imaging sectors, said Martel.

Industry observers said it’s hard to pinpoint the value of the optical molecular imaging market but ART estimates the market for products like eXplore Optix is worth US$800 million and is expected to grow to US$1.5 billion over five years.

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