Bracco is one of the world’s leaders in diagnostic imaging. The Bracco Suisse Research Centre was founded in 1989 in Geneva from the spin-off of a research team of The Battelle Institute. Since 2010, the Centre has been devoting its efforts with an efficient process-oriented approach and has achieved a track record of innovations in the ultrasound field. The Bracco Geneva site, which houses both the R&D and Manufacturing Units, represents a key asset for the Bracco Group and a reference point at international level.
Thierry Bettinger, PhD, Bracco Research Center Geneva Director at Bracco Suisse SA, Switzerland. We recently spoke with Dr. Bettinger about this innovative company.
How was Bracco started and who was involved?
Bracco traces its roots back more than 90 years, with a rich history of developing and distributing innovative solutions focused on health, and starting from the ’60s, through ground-breaking innovations which have changed the history of diagnostics worldwide. The Bracco Group today is one of the world’s leading companies in the diagnostic imaging business.
From its beginnings, the company shared a common trait which still lives on in Bracco: a passion for contributing to improve patients’ lives through advances in science and health. Building on this heritage, today Bracco focuses its innovation on addressing the unmet needs in Diagnostic imaging, Interventional Oncology and Fluorescence Image Guided Surgery fields.
On June 27, 2019, Bracco Imaging signed a definitive agreement to acquire Blue Earth Diagnostics, a molecular imaging company based in Oxford, UK. Blue Earth Diagnostics’ innovative products and pipeline will significantly enhance Bracco Imaging’s portfolio in precision medicine and personalized diagnostics, while expanding our range of nuclear oncology imaging solutions in the Urology segment and other specialties
Tell us about the company’s structure, ownership, and lead executives.
Bracco is an integrated international Group that operates in the health sector through three Business Units:
- Bracco Imaging – a world’s leading provider of solutions for the full range of diagnostics imaging modalities,
- Acist – a global leading provider in injector systems and advanced medical devices for cardiovascular imaging and intervention, and
- Centro Diagnostico Italiano (CDI) in Milan – an outpatient clinic, based in Milan, Italy, providing prevention, diagnosis, rehabilitation and therapeutic services.
The Group employs a total of about 3,400 people, with consolidated revenues in 2018 of 1.29 billion euros, 87% of which are on foreign markets. The company invests annually in Research & Development more than 9% of its reference turnover in diagnostic imaging and advanced medical devices and boasts a patrimony of more than 2,000 patents. Diana Bracco is President and CEO of the Bracco Group.
Fulvio Renoldi Bracco is CEO of Bracco Imaging. Headquartered in Milan, Italy, Bracco Imaging develops, manufactures, and markets diagnostic imaging agents and solutions that meet medical needs. Bracco Imaging offers a product and solution portfolio for all key diagnostic imaging modalities: X-ray Imaging (including Computed Tomography-CT, Interventional Radiology, and Cardiac Catheterization), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Contrast Enhanced Ultrasound (CEUS), Nuclear Medicine through radioactive tracers. The diagnostic imaging offer is completed by several medical devices and advanced administration systems for contrast imaging products in the fields of radiology, interventional oncology and Fluorescence Image Guided Surgery fields. The company operates in more than 100 markets worldwide, either directly or indirectly, through subsidiaries, joint ventures, licenses and distribution partnership agreements. With an on-going research covering all key modalities, Bracco Imaging has a strong presence in key geographies: North America, Europe and Japan operating through the Joint Venture Bracco-Eisai Co. Ltd. The company also operates in Brazil, South Korea, and China through the Joint Venture Bracco Sine Pharmaceutical Corp. Ltd.
Operational investments have been made in order to achieve top quality and compliances with a sustainable eco-friendly production. Manufacturing activities are located in Italy, Switzerland, Japan, China, and Germany. Bracco Imaging is an innovative Research and Development (R&D) player with an efficient, process-oriented approach and a track record of innovation in the diagnostic imaging industry. R&D activities are managed in the three Research Centres located in Italy, Switzerland, and the US.
How did you get involved in joining Bracco?
I joined Bracco Imaging in 2001, after my post-doctoral position at the University of Birmingham (UK). My field was in the non-viral gene delivery using cationic polymer. Interestingly, I was hired at Bracco to promote gene delivery using the combination of ultrasound and gas microbubbles. So Bracco was an early adapter in the application of this new delivery technology.
What is Bracco’s involvement in focused ultrasound?
Focused ultrasound is a new field for Bracco. Because our strong and core competency is really diagnostic imaging, for us it is a new area to explore. Over the years our company has developed knowhow and expertise in various contrast agents, and gas microbubbles are particularly useful for focused ultrasound applications. Gas microbubbles were initially developed as a contrast agent for ultrasound, but they are now evolving as a possible enhancer for focused ultrasound technology.
Focused ultrasound is a very interesting and great opportunity for Bracco to investigate. I also think that Bracco can provide value to this emerging technology, which is very interestingly already demonstrating some very good results in the clinic. Our main drivers are to be able to contribute to this technology and to provide new technologies that are best for patients.
How is Bracco improving imaging capabilities, and how will that affect focused ultrasound?
Improving imaging technologies and quality is our main goal because we are a diagnostic company. We are developing a new formulation for improving the diagnostic capability of gas microbubbles, and in that sense, we are developing an agent that is specific for detecting tumor lesions. It is called BR55, and it is actually able to detect tumor lesions by binding to a specific biomarker (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor 2, VEGFR2) expressed in the vessels of these lesions.
Previous clinical trials conducted with this agent, demonstrated its capability to detect expression of the VEGFR2 in neoangiogenic vessels in humans. We are now further investigating the potency of this agent for the detection of cancer lesions in the ovary, pancreas and breast. This ongoing clinical development is conducted at Stanford University (USA) in the department of the Pr. Sam Gambhir.
We are now further expanding the possible role of these gas microbubbles and entering the field of focused ultrasound. It is incredibly interesting because of all of the possible applications where this technology can be employed, including oncology, neurodegenerative diseases, and many other unmet medical needs where patients are suffering. Applying our gas microbubble platform to focused ultrasound opens a wide range of opportunities to better manage patients that today are not properly managed.
What are some of the technical challenges your group has to overcome with microbubble development for use with focused ultrasound?
At Bracco, we have the technology to develop new gas microbubble formulation and manufacture it at a clinical grade within the Pilot Plant at Bracco Suisse SA – R&D site. Our main task is to design an agent that can meet the prerequisite for a therapeutic use, when used in combination with focused ultrasound. For this we have two lines of products: one early stage relying on the preparation of microbubbles displaying a monodisperse size distribution (exploiting microfluidic technology), and a second line, more at advanced stage, already available at clinical grade, namely BR38 agent.