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GE Healthcare Said to Be Close to Acquiring Abbott Diagnostics In Further Dx Reorganization

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — GE Healthcare may soon acquire Abbott Diagnostics in an attempt to fatten its molecular diagnostics play, according to news reports this morning.

GE has been eyeing the in vitro diagnostic space since it acquired Amersham in 2004, and the Abbott business could offer it a substantial position in that market.

Last month, GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt indicated he was looking to expand the company's healthcare business and add new platforms through acquisitions, saying the company has “always wanted to build a broader diagnostics company," according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited “people familiar with the matter” in its Abbott story.

The Abbott news comes one month after GE said it would abandon its CodeLink microarray business. Since acquiring Amersham, “our prospects to profitably grow [the CodeLink] product long-term have fallen short of expectations, and as a result GE has decided to discontinue the CodeLink printed microarray product line during early 2007,” a GE spokesperson told GenomeWeb News sister publication BioArray News.

That move triggered speculation about the conglomerate’s intentions in the molecular diagnostics space. Unlike other multi-platform life-science tool companies, GE Healthcare has been relatively quiet about its plans for the molecular diagnostics market.
Since naming Gene Cartwright as its president of molecular diagnostics a year ago, GE Healthcare has yet to say which technologies it will employ in the field, according to GenomeWeb News sister publication BioCommerce Week. It also has been comparatively timid on the alliance and acquisition front in expanding its options for the market.
But the company hasn’t been shy about explaining its decisions to scuttle CodeLink. “One [reason] ... is that the majority of future molecular diagnostics products will use technologies other than microarrays primarily due to the small number of genes that will need to be measured for most clinical molecular diagnostics applications.”
By comparison, Abbott uses fluorescence in situ hybridization in the molecular diagnostics portion of its business. The company late last month said it expects to launch six FISH tests in Europe in the coming months that identify chromosomal abnormalities associated with certain forms of leukemia.
According to Abbott, combining conventional cytogenetics — which may reveal changes in large chromosomes — with the specifically targeted FISH method may help physicians make more accurate treatment decisions.
"Certain genetic aberrations can be important indicators of whether a patient has a particularly aggressive form of leukemia or whether they will respond to certain therapies," Abbott Molecular Medical Director Timothy Stenzel said in a statement in December.

The six FISH tests Abbott plans to release in Europe are designed to identify chromosomal abnormalities associated with certain forms of leukemia. The products represent the first in a series of CE-marked DNA probes that Abbott Molecular expects to launch in Europe in the coming months. Future probes will be for variety of applications in cancer and genetic testing.

Abbott fattened its molecular diagnostics play in 2001 by acquiring Vysis for around $355 million. Vysis made and sold two tests that detect certain genetic markers for breast and bladder cancer.

Abbott has also had a diagnostic alliance with Celera since 2002. As of last summer, Abbott was slated to market an in vitro diagnostic made by Celera that detects the A/H5 influenza virus.
Celera said it expects the test to run on Abbott's new m2000 system for detecting and monitoring infectious diseases and use automated real-time PCR technology from Applied Biosystems.
The m2000 is currently available in Europe with CE Mark certification and is pending 510(k) clearance with the US Food and Drug Administration.
As GenomeWeb News reported in 2002, Celera and Abbott penned an alliance to develop and market a "broad range" of in vitro molecular diagnostics, including a new DNA sequencer, to detect and monitor a variety of diseases. It was not immediately clear whether a GE acquisition of Abbott will affect this partnership.

GE Healthcare spokesman Brian McKaig said the company “can’t comment right now on any market speculation or any rumors.” Officials at Abbott did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

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