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With Friday s Q3 Report, GE Gets First Chance To Show Power of Genomics -- and Amersham

About 20 minutes into his 30-minute presentation at the UBS Global Healthcare Conference in New York City last week, William Clarke, chief technology and medical officer for GE Healthcare, presented a slide containing an image of a processed microarray chip.

“The reason GE Healthcare was created is summarized in this slide,” said Clarke, who until April was executive vice president for research and development for Amersham Health.

Coming some five months after GE’s acquisition of Amersham was completed and days before Friday’s release of earnings for the third quarter, the presentation was the company’s most public affirmation that it expects molecular biology tools, such as microarrays and proteomics as well as other platforms, to drive the company deeper into the $4 trillion global healthcare market.

GE’s third-quarter report will provide the first full-quarter measures of how the integration of Amersham is affecting the conglomerate’s results.

Analysts project GE’s net income will increase to 38 cents a share for the third quarter, in part from the Amersham acquisition, a survey of 17 analysts by Thomson Financial said. In its most recent SEC filing, the company reported that GE Healthcare revenues rose 40 percent to $3.4 billion in the second quarter, primarily on contributions from the Amersham acquisition, GE said.

General Electric purchased Amersham for $11.4 billion in a stock-and-cash transaction in April and tapped Clarke to oversee technology development for the new UK-based GE Healthcare business unit. The business combines the legacy General Electric Medical Systems unit as GE Healthcare Technologies, and Amersham as GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences, all under the leadership of William Castell, the former head of Amersham.

For Clarke, the focus is on genomics today, and proteomics soon.

The slide he presented was from a study that used gene-expression profiling to identify 17 genes that appeared predictive of response to treatment on the day of diagnosis for patients with B-cell lymphoma.

A graph with a downward curve showing 50 percent of patients in the study still alive five years after being diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma moved significantly upward with the click of his mouse.

“That is the power of genomics,” said Clarke. “There are very few companies that can bring this to the market in a solid, prospective, demonstrated fashion. We are one of them.”

GE Healthcare is a “growth engine” for General Electric, Clarke said, and expects to record some $14 billion in revenues this year, up from $10.2 billion in 2003, prior to the acquisition, while spending $1 billion in research and development.

GE Healthcare Technologies, led by Joseph Hogan, president and CEO, sells a product line of diagnostic imaging, ultrasound, information technologies, and healthcare services, with an estimated $11 billion in sales for 2004, while GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences, led by Peter Loescher, president and CEO, will bring in an estimated $3 billion this year with a portfolio of products in medical diagnostics, protein separations, and drug-discovery technologies.

“We have two business streams, but we are not two businesses,” Clarke said. “We are one business and we are integrating into one business with one business model.”

The company is targeting the changing practice of healthcare globally, Clarke said.

“We are moving to clinical convergence and the boundary between in vitro diagnostics and in vivo diagnostics, I think, will be absolutely meaningless in 18 months,” he said. “The companies who will be successful are the ones who know that it [is] meaningless and move seamlessly across what used to be a gap.”

GE Healthcare, Clarke said, will focus on bringing new molecular diagnostics to the market, focusing on cardiology, oncology, and neurology.

The unit’s activities are divided into: medical diagnostics, focusing on new markets for positron emission tomography and moving from organ images to the cellular scale; diagnostic imaging, with a focus on technology innovation and moving from the anatomical scale to the molecular level; clinical services, focusing on hospital productivity; information technology, with a focus on physician workflow and digital information; and life sciences, with a focus on drug development and in vivo diagnostics and moving applications from molecular discovery to clinical applications.

Integrating data across the healthcare industry is also a critical goal, Clarke said.

“We have to wrap this up in integrated informatics, or we will break the back of the healthcare industry,” he told the analysts.

New Molecular Diagnostics Unit

In September, GE created a molecular diagnostics unit, tapping Trevor Hawkins, former vice president of development and new business initiatives at Amersham, as president. Hawkins was director of the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.

—Mo Krochmal ([email protected])


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