Small animal imaging (SAI) is used by research institutes and pharmaceutical companies for studying disease models and testing possible treatments.  The SAI equipment market has a bright future, as we can see from the latest report on the Small Animal Imaging (In Vivo) Market by ‘MarketsandMarkets’, which predicts an annual growth rate of 14.5% over the next five years.  One of the most important challenges SAI equipment manufacturers must overcome to achieve this broad market adoption is the high cost of these devices.

The importance of SAI to the success rate of research institutes and pharmaceutical companies in their drug development process cannot be overstated.  From an outsider’s point of view, the numbers are absolutely mind boggling: of 250 drugs tested in the preclinical environment, only ten will make it to the clinical testing phase, and only two will make it to the shelf (http:/  This is a success rate of 0.8%, and this isn’t considering the thousands of compounds that didn’t make it to the preclinical phase.  Being in the computer hardware and systems business, I can assure you that our company would have closed years ago if we had had this kind of success rate in our projects.

Advanced SAI Systems Benefits

This is where the true value of advanced SAI systems comes into play: the early detection of flaws.  Detecting errors or unpromising compounds early in the development stage brings significant savings in terms of both costs and time, and greatly accelerates the overall drug development process.  This is especially true if we consider the impact of not focusing resources on promising chemical compounds right from the start.  The further the drug development process moves forward, the higher the costs involved.

Eliminating useless avenues right from the start can improve the success rate of a drug development program operating under strict budgetary conditions, by directly addressing the attrition rate problem.  With organizations evaluating hundreds of chemical compounds at the preclinical phase in the hope of discovering a single drug to treat a specific disease, it is easy to see that there’s still a lot of room for improving this process.

Still, organizations that purchase SAI equipment are faced with evaluating their return on investment (ROI) before buying such expensive equipment.  To find out how quickly they can get their money’s worth, these organizations must perform a careful analysis of the costs and expected savings.

Typical Costs Of SAI Systems

Leading the way in terms of cost per system, a high resolution micro-MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) SAI system is yours for only $6 million USD, with more economical options available at $1 million USD.  Positron Emission Tomography (PET) systems sell at prices similar to those for MRIs, but organizations will typically need both PET and MRI systems together to give them both the anatomical imaging provided by the MRI, as well as the molecular imaging provided by the PET system.

This enormous multi-million dollar systems expenditure is in direct contrast to the expected savings arising from early detection of poor pharmaceutical candidates.  It’s hard to believe that an industry known for investing billions of dollars in the development of one single product can be faced with capital expenditure issues, but this is a reality when a mixed PET-MRI system is considered.  If those costs are closely monitored by giant pharmaceutical companies, for the hundreds of smaller independent research laboratories, they are a total show stopper for the adoption of PET and MRI technology.  This has dramatic consequences on their level of efficiency.

Luckily, strong support from the government in the development of SAI systems promises to lead to a decrease in costs for SAI.  This is likely to broaden the adoption of these systems, allowing them to become an intrinsic part of the drug development process, not only for a few privileged companies, but eventually for a majority of mid-level research labs.  As for any market, a broader adoption of small animal imaging systems is likely to lead to economies of scale which will eventually result in lower prices of the final systems being deployed.

Watch for an upcoming post that will address the system costs in more detail, and identify the key cost components of a PET system.