Amersham is about visualising life at all levels within the human body--from the molecules and biochemicals that make our genetic structure, to cells, tissues, and organs.
Our strategy is to build our position as a leading provider of products and technologies to enable the molecular medicine revolution, in which disease will be better understood, diagnosed sooner, and treated more effectively.
Initially known as Amersham International PLC, Amersham PLC was formed in 1997 through the merger of Amersham International (U.K.), Pharmacia Biotech (Sweden), and Nycomed (Norway). The company took on the new name of Amersham PLC in July 2001, with its two businesses taking on new names on October 15, 2001: Nycomed Amersham Imaging became Amersham Health, and Amersham Pharmacia Biotech became Amersham Biosciences. The customer base for Amersham's products and technology are pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and leading research and academic institutions in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Amersham has participated in a cross-licensing arrangement for the joint development, supply, and commercialization of some new DNA technologies, and has been the leader in protein sciences. The DNA agreement may give the company greater access to the DNA sequencing market. At the time of the 2001 annual report, Amersham was working toward expanding its imaging capabilities from the visualization of tissue structure and anatomy to the visualization of disease-related changes in the cells and molecules of the human body.
A Complex History
Amersham PLC was the product of three medical technology and research companies: Pharmacia based in Peapack, New Jersey; Nycomed headquartered in Roskilde, Denmark; and Amersham PLC, based in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, the United Kingdom. All three were powerful and productive companies in their own right.
As these companies matured and evolved into the manufacturing of diagnostic tools and pharmaceuticals in the 1950s and 1960s, their developments and operations were frequently intertwined through joint ventures, partnerships, sales agreements, or buyouts among the companies. They were dealing with some of the same cutting-edge products, such as several iterations of X-ray contrast media used in medical diagnostic imaging. Although Nycomed remained an independent company with 2,500 employees and Pharmacia has likewise been hearty and independent with 59,000 employees worldwide, the areas in which they had joint ventures or common research and development were pivotal to Amersham's success.
Early Beginnings: Mid-1800s
Nycomed was founded in 1874 in Oslo, Norway, as an agency for imported pharmaceutical products by Morten Nyegaard, a pharmacist. By 1900, the business had expanded to encompass wholesale distribution of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. The company began to manufacture its own brand of pharmaceuticals in 1913, expanding to research and development in 1925. One of its first major products was aspirin. The company was known as Nyegaard & Co. from 1890 to 1986, when its name was changed to Nycomed.
Pharmacia dates back to 1853, when Carlo Erba, an Italian pharmacist, started his own company, which later became Farmitalia Carlo Erba. This company later merged with Kabi Pharmacia and Pharmacia Aktiebolag to create Pharmacia AB, a Swedish-based company. The Upjohn Company, which began as The Upjohn Pill and Granule Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1886, grew throughout the 19th century to become an international company. In 1995, Pharmacia and Upjohn was created through the merger of Pharmacia AB and the Upjohn Company, a provider of healthcare products, animal health products, as well as diagnostics and specialty products. In 1998, the company relocated its global headquarters to Peapack, New Jersey, which is now the management and pharmaceutical headquarters for Pharmacia Corporation.
Pharmacia also encompassed Monsanto, which was founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 1901, and produced artificial sweetener. Monsanto expanded into one of the largest chemical companies in the United States, making saccharin, aspirin, caffeine, and vanilla. Another pharmaceutical company, which was formed in 1888 by a young druggist named Gideon Daniel Searle, manufactured bulk laxative, the first motion sickness drug, the first oral contraceptive, and other innovative products. Searle was headquartered in Skokie, Illinois, and became the pharmaceutical unit of Monsanto in 1985. In 1999, Monsanto and Pharmacia & Upjohn agreed to create a new company, Pharmacia Corporation.
Amersham was founded in 1940 wartime Britain when Dr. Patrick Grove, a 26-year-old organic chemist established a facility, Chilcote House, at the village of Amersham for extracting radium. This research was made possible following the confiscation of a shipment of radium ore. The radium was vital during the war for the production of luminous dials for ships and planes. By the war's end, the facility had produced approximately 35 grams of radium and 500 kilos of luminous compound.
Following the important discovery of dextran by Björn Ingelman of Pharmacia that put the company in the front ranks of international industry, Pharmacia moved from Stockholm to Uppsala in 1950 and made Ingelman research director. At about this same time, 1949, Amersham was doing pioneering work in producing radioactive isotope tracers, which were initially carbon-14, and were later tritium-labeled compounds. This work gave Amersham an international name, as radioactive tracers made major advances in molecular biology and initial work on sequencing DNA possible.
Ingenuity Flourishes in the 1950s and 1960s
In 1957, Pharmacia invented Sephadex, a filtration medium used in chromatography to separate biomolecules by size, and established Separations as a new business area. The discovery was made by Jerker-Porath of Uppsala and Per Flodin of Pharmacia, and was a gel-like substance based on cross-linked dextran that Björn Ingelman had developed during the war, thinking that it might serve as a pectin substitute. The product was launched in 1960, with the name Sephadex drawn from SEparation PHArmacia DEXtran, and became a staple in large-scale manufacture of early pharmaceuticals, such as insulin, paving the way for other drug combinations. Since that time, more than 50 products based on Sephadex have been developed. Pharmacia established a Separations facility at Piscataway, New Jersey in 1963, which is now the headquarters for Amersham Biosciences. Likewise, Sephadex became a product of Amersham Biosciences following the merger with Pharmacia in 1997.
This very productive period in the 1950s and 1960s found the three companies producing watershed medical diagnostic tools. Under the direction of R&D Director Dr. Hugo Holtermann, Nycomed discovered the Isopaque X-ray contrast medium, leading to the company's serious involvement in medical diagnostic imaging. Amersham began marketing the first commercial RIA (radioimmunoassay) kit in 1965, to be used in measuring insulin levels in the blood of diabetics.
A radioimmunoassay is the immunoassay--a laboratory technique that makes use of the binding between an antigen and its corresponding antibody to identify and quantify the specific antigen or antibody in a sample--of a radiolabeled substance, such as a hormone or an enzyme. Radiolabeling is the tagging of an enzyme, hormone, or other substance with a radioactive tracer. An antigen is a substance that stimulates the production of antibodies when introduced into the body. During this time, Amersham also began making isotopes--atoms having the same atomic numbers but different mass numbers--for use in nuclear medicine.
A scientific breakthrough occurred in 1969 when Nycomed collaborated with Professor Torsten Almén of Lund University, Sweden in developing Amipaque, the first nonionic X-ray contrast medium. The new contrast medium greatly enhanced the field of diagnostic imaging in that it created far superior images under safer and more comfortable conditions for the patient.
Expansion and Product Development
After this wave of development, it is not surprising that Amersham Searle was established at Arlington Heights near Chicago to market Amersham's many products in the United States. Three years later, in 1971, Amersham expanded into Germany through an Amersham Buchler joint venture.
Nycomed continued to develop new products, with Omnipaque, a new nonionic X-ray diagnostic medium that went on the market in 1982, leading Nycomed to unprecedented growth. Omnipaque was a sterile solution that was ready to use, and was one of the top ten pharmaceutical products sold for several years. It continued to be a best-selling X-ray contrast agent worldwide, and, through a merger in 1997, became an Amersham product.
In 1982, Amersham International became the first company to be privatized under Margaret Thatcher. A flurry of acquisitions followed, with Pharmacia Biotech acquiring LKB Produkter AB, a Swedish company known for its laboratory equipment and its leadership in mass spectrometry and electrophoresis. Amersham International purchased Medi-Physics in Arlington Heights, Illinois in 1992, providing a facility for manufacture of radioisotopes and iodine seeds, and purchased United States Biochemical (USB) in 1993, which led to the company becoming a major innovator in DNA sequencing technology.
Amersham further demonstrated its global reach and interest in nuclear medicine by acquiring a 50 percent stake in Nihon Medi-Physics in Japan in 1994. In the same year, Nycomed paid $450 million for Sterling Winthrop's diagnostic imaging business, becoming the largest supplier of contrast media. In 1994, Amersham launched Myoview heart imaging agent, which was an immediate commercial success, becoming Amersham's leading heart diagnostic. By 2000, sales worldwide were over £80 million.
Amersham International acquired United States Biochemical in Cleveland, Ohio in 1993, a leader in manual sequencing with its product Sequenase DNA polymerase, an enzyme that catalyzes the formation of polynucleotides of DNA or RNA using an existing strand of DNA or RNA as a template. ThermoSequenase DNA sequencing enzyme and DYEnamic ET primer sequencing kits were developed and marketed in 1995, both of which proved instrumental in the subsequent success of the MegaBACE DNA Analysis System launched in 1997 and the Human Genome Project.
"MegaBACE was the first capillary sequencer on the market that allowed sequencing to be performed much faster than it had been done before," explained Tracy Cheung, vice-president of Corporate Affairs. "Tasks could be accomplished in two hours that had previously taken ten hours. It was the MegaBACE that allowed the human genome to be sequenced more quickly."
The race for both acquisition and development continued into the late 1990s, pausing for joint ventures, then wound up in a merger. Pharmacia Biotech acquired Hoefer Scientific Instruments in San Francisco, a supplier of instruments for electrophoresis and protein separation in 1995. In 1997, Amersham International's Life Science business merged with Pharmacia Biotech in a 55:45 joint venture to form Amersham Pharmacia Biotech. Amersham International also merged with Nycomed to form Nycomed Amersham PLC and the Nycomed Amersham Imaging business.
As Nycomed Amersham, the company also developed and marketed brachytherapy products in the late 1990s for treatment of prostate cancer, to be used with its OncoSeed brand seeds. The brachytherapy ("brachy" means short) products can be used in place of surgery by implanting radioactive I-125 prostate brachytherapy seeds into the prostate where they irradiate the tumor. The process has about the same survival rate as surgery and is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure for prostate cancer in the early stages. In 2001, the company developed a new generation of brachytherapy seed, EchoSeed, which utilizes conventional ultrasound imaging to assist physicians in placement of the seeds during an implant procedure.
Another product, Myoview, can be used with pharmacological stress agents for coronary artery disease patients who are unable to exercise. Visipaque, used to assist doctors in diagnosing coronary artery stenosis, is an X-ray product designed to be comfortable and safe for the patient who is considered to be at high risk because of other health issues. Yet another product, Optison, can be used in imaging heart wall abnormalities. Omniscan, Amersham's leading MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) product, has been used in neurology for detecting stroke and cancers of the brain, but has also been used in cardiology. However, an X-ray diagnostic, Omnipaque, that was developed 20 years ago, is still the best-selling product on the market.
"LEADseeker was launched in 1998 as a high-throughput drug screening system," Cheung stated. "There are biopharma companies that have thousands of chemical compounds that may not be good drugs, and they need to get these into their protein targets as quickly as possible to see which ones bind. LEADseeker is one of the quickest on the market."
In 1998, one year after Molecular Dynamics launched MegaBACE, the DNA sequencer used to sequence the first chromosome that was completely mapped in the course of the Human Genome Project, Amersham Pharmacia Biotech acquired the company. Molecular Dynamics had been the company's alliance partner since 1994. In 1999, Amersham sold Nycomed Pharma, which was a pharmaceutical business that was acquired through the merger with Nycomed, but was never a core business for Amersham.
Amersham Pharmacia Biotech's relentless research and acquisition positioned the company strategically when a high-production DNA sequencer was needed. Regulatory Intelligence Data stated in a 1999 issue, "The U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute has tripled its capacity to decode human DNA with the purchase of 24 MegaBACE DNA sequencers form Amersham Pharmacia Biotech valued at nearly $5 million."
In 2000, Amersham Health launched a product called Datscan which is used in testing for Parkinson's disease. "This was the world's first objective test for Parkinson's," Cheung explained. "Prior to that, the only objective test for Parkinson's was post-mortem. You could not find out if you absolutely had it unless you were dead, which wasn't helpful."
Amersham also launched a range of products under the name Ettan that are used in protein analysis. "Having mapped the human genome, we now have a pretty good idea of genes," Cheung noted, "but genes are really only the recipe for the code for making the proteins that cause the disease. When proteins stop working, that's when you get disease, so we really need to understand proteins and how they work."
The Impact of the Human Genome Project on Health
The Human Genome Project (HGP) grew out of an initiative in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which launched the 1986 Human Genome Initiative in search of a reference human genome sequence. The U.S. Human Genome Project was a 13-year project, with an expected completion date of 2003. Its goals included identifying all 30,000 genes in human DNA, and determining the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA. This information will then be stored in databases, providing improved tools for data analysis.
A working draft sequence of the entire human genome was generated in June 2000 that provided a scaffold for the finished version, becoming a road map to roughly 90 percent of genes on every chromosome. Since that time, genes associated with more than 30 disorders have been pinpointed, leading to a boom in spinoff sequencing programs on the human and other genomes in the public and private sectors.
These new genetic discoveries have led to medical applications of DNA-based tests that can be used to diagnose disease or confirm a diagnosis, and provide a prognosis about the course of a disease. The tests can also confirm the presence of a disease in people who do not show the symptoms of a disease, and may predict the risk of future disease in healthy people and their offspring. Because genomic data and technologies lead to new drugs that are targeted at specific sites in the body and at particular biochemical events leading to disease with fewer side effects, drug development can be cheaper, faster, and more effective.
Branding Identity: 2001
Tracy Cheung explained that Amersham PLC's most important success since the renaming of the company in 2001 was the developing of a clear brand with a unified identity that signified one company with two businesses.
"This helped improve understanding of the company," Cheung stated. "After the merger, we had three companies: Nycomed Amersham, Nycomed Amersham Imaging, and Amersham Pharmacia Biotech, all of which were sort of connected in some way, but it wasn't very clear how. Amersham PLC was two businesses, Amersham Health and Amersham Biosciences--very clear brand with unified identity. The logos that look very similar really demonstrated our commitment to using technologies from across both businesses to meet the needs of our customers."
Still Looking Ahead
In 2002, Amersham Biosciences acquired two separation companies, AG Technology and InnovaSep Technology, both in the Boston. AG Technology was an established supplier of hollow-fiber membrane filtration technology used in biopharmaceuticals manufacturing, while InnovaSep Technology was a new company that held several patent-pending membrane filtration technologies. Because bioprocessing, the separation of proteins used in the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals, such as insulin and monoclonal antibodies, is accomplished by using a series of filtration and chromatography steps, these were important purchases for Amersham Biosciences.
Amersham also became the sole owner of one of its own businesses. "In March 2002, we purchased the 45 percent of Amersham Biosciences that we did not own from Pharmacia," Tracy Cheung explained. "Amersham had already owned 55 percent from the merger in 1997." Amersham Biosciences paid £704 million (US $1 billion) for the Pharmacia side of the business.
Peter Ehrenheim, executive vice-president of Separations, stated that Amersham's chromatography "systems and media are used in the production of over 90 percent of all biopharmaceuticals on the market." The company continues to be a major supplier worldwide. In the meantime, Amersham Health was selected as the sole source supplier for the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research in Rochester, Minnesota, for Amersham Health's line of X-ray and MRI products.
Principal Subsidiaries:Amersham Biosciences: Japan, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Sweden; Amersham Health: China, Japan, Norway, United Kingdom, United States.
Principal Competitors:Bracco; Shearing; du Pont; Mallinckrodt; Millipore; Bio-Rad Laboratories; Discovery Systems; Applied Biosystems; PerkinElmer.