Columbia-based Meridian Medical Technologies Inc. said yesterday that it has acquired the North American rights to manufacture and co-market a disposable injector that uses a painless plunger-like device to get drugs into the body.
The deal with British-based Weston Medical Ltd. marks the first time that Meridian has competed directly for the mainstream medical market. The publicly held company develops and sells a line of automatic injectors for emergency use in the allergy and military markets.
Thomas Handel, Meridian's executive director of business development, said the company believes that the pre-filled, disposable device, marketed under the name Intraject, has the potential to become a big seller, gaining a significant share of the multibillion-dollar hypodermic needle market.
The reason: The Weston injector -- expected to cost several dollars apiece -- is much cheaper than existing needleless injectors, which cost several hundred dollars apiece wholesale and are reused. As a result, Meridian and Weston are banking on the device to find favor among the legions of patients who dislike needles and among physicians and health insurers seeking better compliance among patients who must inject themselves with medicine.
Handel declined to cite first-year revenue projections that might result from the deal, but said they were potentially significant.
"We will now compete in a big way with syringe makers," Handel said. Intraject, he said, uses a plunger-like device to deliver a drug at high speed into skin tissue.
"This is the newest technology we've seen come out that can compete with the pre-filled syringe market," he said.
Meridian and Weston plan to initially market the device to pharmaceutical companies that need syringes pre-filled with vaccines or with other drugs marketed to the home health care market to treat migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, growth hormone deficiencies, pain and cancer, said Handel.
The vaccine syringe business is a multibillion-dollar market, while other target markets generate an estimated $2.2 billion annually in wholesale sales for syringe makers. Meridian estimates that the migraine headache market alone generates $1 billion in sales, said Handel.
He said Suffolk, England-based Weston has begun marketing the device to several of the large vaccine manufacturers.
Meridian expects to begin production of Intraject this year at its St. Louis manufacturing plant. The company is first adding new equipment to the plant to accommodate manufacturing requirements for the device, which is smaller than a fountain pen, the executive said. Meridian, he said, expects that it may have to add workers to the plant once full-scale production is under way.
Under terms of the agreement, privately held Weston, which is developing new easy-to-use drug-delivery devices, will pay Meridian a manufacturing fee. The fee will cover Meridian's marketing efforts, Handel said.
Shares in Meridian closed yesterday at $11.25, up 12 cents.
Pub Date: 3/11/98