GE Healthcare will provide Takeda Pharmaceutical with diagnostic imaging technology under a partnership intended to develop new drugs and diagnostics for liver diseases, the companies said today. The value of the partnership was not disclosed.

The partners will use GE Healthcare’s MR elastography imaging technology, used in the U.S. since 2009, and in Japan since 2012. MR elastography uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to generate images depicting the elasticity of the body’s internal tissues in as little as 14 seconds, based on acoustic pulses administered externally.

The minimally-invasive technology, co-developed by GE Healthcare and the Mayo Clinic as MR Touch, is designed to distinguish and differentiate by color the relative stiffness of tissue. The companies say the technology has the potential to aid in the assessment of liver disease, which has increased incidence as Japan’s population has aged.

MR elastography will be used by Takeda as part of R&D into hepatic fibrosis. At present, hepatic fibrosis is diagnosed most commonly by liver biopsies.

The companies said they timed their announcement to coincide with the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), which concludes today in Boston.

Takeda is among drug developers that are showing growing interest in treatments for liver diseases such as advanced fibrosis, cirrhosis, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), as biopharmas look for the same success enjoyed by newly-marketed treatments for hepatitis C, such as Gilead Sciences’ Sovaldi. A Reuters news report yesterday noted that most of the treatments are in Phase I or Phase II trials.

However, Intercept Pharmaceuticals released positive Phase III POISE trial data earlier this year for its obeticholic acid (OCA) in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Intercept on March 16 said that OCA met its primary endpoint of achieving a reduction in serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP) to < 1.67x upper limit of normal (ULN) with a ≥ 15% reduction from baseline and a normal bilirubin level after 12 months of therapy.

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