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GE Healthcare, Lilly Pharmacogenomic Alliance Provides Glimpse of GE’s Diagnostics Plans

This story originally appeared in Biocommerce Week, a newsletter that has been discontinued.
 
Last week’s announcement that GE Healthcare would collaborate with Eli Lilly on a three-year project to develop in vitro diagnostics to predict the response of patients to targeted cancer therapies provides a glimpse of GE’s strategy for the diagnostics market.
 
It’s been three months since GE’s $8.1 billion deal to acquire two of Abbott’s diagnostics businesses was called off (see BioCommerce Week 7/18/2007). In the wake of the terminated pact, GE officials suggested it was unlikely the firm would pursue another large acquisition to further its ambitions in the diagnostics field, but other than those comments the firm has been quiet about its plans for the traditional IVD and molecular diagnostics markets.
 
This week, GE officials continued to be vague on the firm’s overall strategy for those markets, but a spokesman for the medical and research products giant told BioCommerce Week via e-mail that the firm “continues to build a product base around the earlier diagnosis and treatment of disease.”
 
Foray Into MDx
 
GE Healthcare appointed Gene Cartwright as its president of molecular diagnostics almost two years ago, but up until now has not disclosed which technologies it would employ in the field, which is seen as the highest growth area in diagnostics with an expected growth rate of 20 percent annually for the next decade.
 
“To diagnose diseases earlier, we need to understand what is happening at the molecular level with cells, genes, and proteins,” the GE spokesperson said this week. “The development of in vitro diagnostic tools will help enhance this understanding and provide pharma companies like Lilly with the ability to analyze the effectiveness of various drug therapies in combating a given disease.”
 
One of those tools will be a multiplex tissue-based platform that GE plans to develop as part of the collaboration with Lilly. The spokesperson said that this platform is in the early-research stage and will likely take “years to develop.” He added that GE might consider a licensing deal or an acquisition to commercialize such a diagnostic product, but “it’s too early to say what GE might do.”
 
Tissue-based diagnostics are becoming more common and can be a valuable part of a broader diagnostics franchise. That thinking led Roche to bid $3 billion for Ventana Medical Systems (see BioCommerce Week 6/27/2007). That hostile takeover bid, which has been repeatedly rebuffed by Ventana’s management, would provide Roche with a tissue-based diagnostics platform, which it currently lacks and sees as an important piece of the oncology diagnostics market.
 
For GE Healthcare, a tissue-based platform also makes sense because of the firm’s strong presence in the medical imaging market and the potential tie-in with its molecular imaging technologies.
 
‘Unique’ Alliance
 
As part of the collaboration, GE and Lilly plan to discover protein and gene signatures that will predict the likelihood that a given therapy being developed by Lilly will be effective in treating certain cancers. These signatures could then be used to pre-select patients who are good candidates for the targeted therapy, the companies said.
 
“What’s unique and significant about this agreement is the commitment by GE and Lilly to share resources and other pertinent clinical information,” said the spokesperson. “GE will have access to clinical tissue samples from unidentified patients enrolled in Lilly’s clinical trials. In turn, Lilly will have access to GE’s advanced technologies in automated tissue-based image analysis and molecular reagents.”
 
He added, “It is illustrative of a new business paradigm that is emerging in healthcare as the world moves toward an era of personalized medicine, where the push is on to detect and treat diseases at the earliest stages possible.”
 

“What’s unique and significant about this agreement is the commitment by GE and Lilly to share resources and other pertinent clinical information.”

He said that both companies will “invest what is necessary to further the collaboration’s goals,” though further terms of the agreement, including financial details, are not being disclosed by the partners.
 
The collaboration “complements Lilly's research and development strategy of tailored therapeutics, or in other words, finding the right dose of the right medication at the right time for patients,” Richard Gaynor, vice president of cancer research and global oncology for Eli Lilly, said in a statement.
 
Gaynor said that Lilly is hoping to identify biomarkers for two of its targeted cancer therapeutic agents “by examining patient tissues in order to determine which patients are most likely to respond to the medications and, just as importantly, which are not."
 
GE officials would not say whether the partnership is the first of similar deals it expects to sign in the future or whether its plans for the in vitro diagnostics space would include an acquisition, considering the collapse of the deal with Abbott.
 
GE’s proposed acquisition of the Abbott businesses, which was announced in January, was part of its plan to reposition its Healthcare unit’s focus on an “early health model” that fuses in vitro and in vivo diagnostic technologies (see BioCommerce Week 1/24/2007). It also would have transformed GE Healthcare from a firm with no in vitro diagnostics component to the world’s second-biggest IVD player behind Roche.
 
However, GE’s proposed acquisition did not include Abbott’s molecular diagnostics business.
 
The deal to acquire Abbott’s diagnostic businesses was viewed by many as GE’s answer to aggressive moves made by long-time rival Siemens in the diagnostics field. Over the past year and a half, Siemens completed the acquisitions of Diagnostics Products Corp. for nearly $2 billion and Bayer Diagnostics for roughly $5.25 billion (see BioCommerce Week 7/5/2006).
 
“This partnership makes clear what we have been saying all along … that in vitro diagnostics is a key component of GE’s early health strategy,” said the GE spokesperson this week. “The partnership with Lilly fits with that strategy and we will continue to evaluate future opportunities that may arise in the in vitro diagnostics business space.”

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