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GE Healthcare sets sights on clinics

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When General Electric acquired Amersham for £5.7 billion in April, speculation mounted about what would happen to the British biotech’s biosciences unit.

Now, with the recent opening of GE’s molecular diagnostics unit in Piscataway, NJ, the conglomerate’s healthcare division, which absorbed Amersham, seems to be moving on its plan to beef up Amersham assets most likely to contribute to diagnostics: the MegaBACE sequencing technology and the moribund CodeLink array. It will also help propel GE’s own in vivo imaging and information technology.

Trevor Hawkins, president of the molecular diagnostics unit, says that his division would maintain a staff of “several hundred” employees “to provide DNA- as well as protein-based assays that will go to the clinic.” The unit will concentrate on clinical areas in which GE already has expertise: cardiology, neurology, oncology, and infectious diseases, according to Hawkins.

Formation of the unit would involve no layoffs, Hawkins says. Instead, the company intends to “bring together” research groups in Piscataway, Arizona, California, and the United Kingdom. “We’re looking at this as one of our key growth areas within the business,” Hawkins says.

So how does GE Healthcare fit together in vivo, in vitro and IT from here? Even though GE Healthcare has mammoth resources in its corner and already reaches the clinical diagnostics market with its imaging technology, it can’t do anything without demand.

To be sure, GE is in it for the long haul. According to Hawkins, putting together genomics, traditional imaging, and IT “is a change that will occur over the next five to 10 to 15 years as DNA-based and protein-based assays become more prevalent, as the early diagnosis of disease becomes the norm, and the ability to have one’s DNA checked for predisposition and how one metabolizes particular drugs is something that is done at birth and is very much part and parcel of standard healthcare.”

— Chris Womack

PATENT WATCH

US Patent 6,777,188. Genotyping by mass spectrometric analysis of allelic fragments. Inventors: Vincent Stanton, Jr., Jeffrey Olson, Jia Liu Wolfe, and Martin Zillmann. Assignee: Variagenics. Issued: August 17, 2004.

According to the patent abstract, the “invention relates to a method for genotyping a diploid organism by cleaving segments of two alleles such that 7-20 nucleotide fragments that contain a suspected polymorphic locus are produced and comparing the masses of those fragments.”

US Patent 6,770,443. Method and apparatus for mass spectrometric genotyping. Inventor: Jochen Franzen. Assignee: Bruker Daltonik. Issued: August 3, 2004.

This patent covers instruments and techniques for the measurement of a large number of genotyping profiles by mass spectrometry using several chips with oligo probes for SNP mutations, according to the abstract. After DNA analysis in wells, “light or chemicals can … be used to cleave short chains particularly suitable for ionization by matrix assisted laser desorption and mass spectrometric analysis using time-of-flight mass spectrometers.”

Datapoint

-13.4%
Decrease in combined average market cap of publicly traded molecular diagnostic companies for the three months ending July 31, according to a report from Pacific Growth Equities in a survey of 111 companies. The sector fell 9.5 percent for the first seven months of the year combined.

Promega says it will appeal the dismissal of a $1 billion PCR-based lawsuit it filed on behalf of the US government against Hoffman-La Roche and Applera. The case, which charges that Roche overcharged government agencies by collecting royalty payments on Taq enzymes, was dismissed by a federal court in late June. This case continues litigation between Roche and Promega, which have been involved in lawsuits against each other since 1992.

In other court news, Illumina agreed to pay Applera $8.5 million to settle competing lawsuits concerning a joint development program established between the companies in 1999. The money will come from the $10 million Applera originally paid Illumina as part of the alliance. The companies will also cross-license each other’s technology without royalties as part of the settlement.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute gains access to Sequenom’s candidate gene portfolio. The targets, associated with skin cancer, will be further validated at TGen using gene expression databases in the hopes that they can eventually be used as jointly owned diagnostic markers of an individual’s proclivity to that form of cancer.

Japan’s Riken SNP Research Center will use SNP analysis technology from HuBit Genomics. The product, LD Miner, was codeveloped with IT firm NTT Data to screen SNPs and disease-related genes.

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