There’s a fast-growing medical imaging company in town with a core product invented just after the turn of the century. No, not this century: Guerbet, a French manufacturer of contrasting agents, traces the roots of its main product, Lipiodol, back to Marcel Guerbet’s 1901 invention of a new kind of oil at the Paris School of Pharmacy.
Guerbet developed Lipiodol, an iodized oil, as a medicine for treating illnesses like asthma, but in 1918 scientists discovered that the oil had another amazing property: injected into a person, the oil had an opacifying effect, making areas where the oil went stand out from surrounding tissue. Combined with the recently invented x-ray machine, Lipiodol helped doctors see the insides of patients like never before. By 1926, Guerbet founded a company to exploit this new use of his invention.
Since then the company has expanded its range of offerings. As new imaging technologies were invented, Guerbet introduced new contrast agents to help sharpen the picture for radiologists. All the while it has remained a family-owned business.
Today Guerbet LLC employs 2,600 people worldwide and has recently expanded into the United States. In 2014 it won FDA approval for a Lipiodol factory in Montreal. In 2015 Guerbet made a big bet on the American market when it bought the contrast media delivery system division of Mallinckrodt, which had a major site in Cincinnati.
The US affiliate of the company are run out of an office at 821 Alexander Road, where about 26 people work under Massimo Carrara, pictured at right, general manager of the company’s U.S. subsidiary. Carrara says he expects the Princeton location to expand by 50 percent in the near future as the company looks to North America for future growth.
Alongside Lipiodol, Guerbet’s other major product is Dotarem, a gadolinium-based contrast agent that helps radiologists spot brain abnormalities and can be used in patients as young as two. The agent has almost half the European market share, and was approved for the U.S. only in 2013. Guerbet now has 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. market share, Carrara says, noting that all of it was taken from other companies.
As it expands its imaging business, Guerbet is going back to the medicinal roots of Lipiodol by exploring potential therapeutic uses for the product. In May the company reported that a preliminary trial showed that women who had their fallopian tubes examined with the help of the contrast agent got pregnant at a higher rate than those who did not, suggesting the oil has potential as a fertility treatment.
Carrara said the main use for Guerbet’s line of contrast agents is in surgery. For example, in an angioplasty procedure, surgeons guide a long, thin tube up an artery or vein to a blockage. Then they inject contrast medium into a balloon, expanding a stent, which Carrara describes as “sort of like a rigatoni” to push aside plaque deposits and clear the bloodstream. The contrast agent helps the radiologist, using a monitor, guide the tube to its target.
Carrara was born in Connecticut and his father, a nuclear engineer, moved the family back to Italy when Carrara was less than two months old. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Bocconi University in Milan and then came to America where he earned an MBA at Columbia.
Before joining Guerbet, Carrara was an executive at Global Strategic Marketing and USA Contrast Marketing for Bracco Diagnostics.
He says he didn’t grow up saying, “Mother I want to be a marketing manager in contrast media industry,” but that he found his way into the industry after being hired by a small Italian contrast agent company as a generalist and marketing expert, moving to Guebert after a period of consolidation in the Italian contrast agent industry.
Carrara now lives in Hopewell and has a daughter who attends Hopewell Valley High School while his son is in college in Montreal. While many of Guerbet’s U.S. operations are in Raleigh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, Princeton made a good headquarters for the US affiliate of the company because of the easy access to New York and Philadelphia airports, where executives can catch a direct flight to Paris, but much cheaper than New York. It’s also a good place to recruit experienced biotech employees. “There’s a big reservoir of quality talent here,” Carrara says.
Guerbet LLC, 821 Alexander Road, Suite 204, Princeton 08540. 609-919-0495. Massimo Carrara. www.guerbet.com.