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While It s too Early to Tell, on Headcount, CodeLink Seems Secure in New GE Healthcare

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While cautioning that “it’s too early to tell yet,” Trevor Hawkins, a new vice president at GE Healthcare’s Biosciences Division, told BioArray News that the CodeLink line of microarrays from Amersham fits prominently into the company’s vision of a clinical future integrated throughout by General Electric products.

Hawkins, who only a day before was vice president of development for Amersham Biosciences’ Discovery Systems, was fielding conference calls with the media in regimented 20-minute sessions after the closing of the estimated $10.3 billion acquisition of London-based Amersham by General Electric. (See BAN 1/28/2004).

For the CodeLink line, this will be the second integration in two years, as Amersham purchased CodeLink for $20 million in July 2002 (see BAN 8/2/2002) from Motorola, which had opted to exit the pre-printed microarray business. Since then, Amersham consolidated CodeLink’s Chicago and its Tempe, Ariz.-based operations into an 85,000 square-foot factory in Chandler, Ariz. In its year-end report for 2003, the city of Chandler estimated Amersham’s capital investment on the factory at $5.5 million.

Much of the first year of Amersham’s ownership of the product line was spent in integrating the product line into the company, moving out of the Motorola facility and constructing the new fabrication facility in Chandler, and introducing four new microarray products — including the Sept. 10, 2003 rollout of the CodeLink Human P450 SNP Bioarray, which joins the Affymetrix-manufactured Roche Diagnostics AmpliChip microarray in having clear designs on the vision of personalized medicine.

The CodeLink Human P450 SNP Bioarray, which genotypes 110 SNPs within nine P450 genes (CYP1A1, 1A2, 1B1, 2C9, 2C19, 2D6, 2E, 3A4, and 3A5), is “designed for screening clinical trial populations to determine their toxicogenetic profiles and for the discovery of novel associations between P450 genotypes and phenotypes,” the company said..

While the CodeLink product line has drawn plaudits for its accuracy and quality, it hasn’t measurably cut into the dominant share of the market held by Affymetrix, or by No. 2 microarray maker Agilent Technologies.

Still, Hawkins, who joined Amersham Biosciences in 2002 after serving as director of the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute, and was the executive responsible for planning the strategic direction of Amersham’s genomic business, said the new company sees growth for the CodeLink line as part of an integrated information system within clinics — powered by GE products.

“While it’s too early to tell, we are looking at this as an incredible opportunity for growth,” Hawkins said in response to a question about any growth or contraction in the number of CodeLink employees. “To enable us to really leverage those opportunities, we are going to have to draw on additional resources.”

CodeLink serves three markets, Hawkins said. The first market is the research market, where CodeLink has gene-profiling and SNP-based products. The second is proteomics, where the company is developing protein microarray products that are planned for launch at the end of the year. The third market, he said, is the diagnostics market.

GE Healthcare, he said, has a four-pronged focus — predict, diagnose, inform, and treat — and CodeLink fits into at least two of those sections — prediction and diagnosis.

CodeLink microarray products for gene-expression profiling and SNP detection fit into the predict category, while in diagnostics, “CodeLink will be one of the key platforms that we will take forward,” he said

Hawkins laid out a scenario of what the future could look like for a medical patient, with mentions of GE’s Centricity PACS system (Patient Archiving and Communications System) and its PET/CT imaging products.

The patient goes into the hospital, and his or her information is entered into the company’s electronic medical records system, provided by GE. The patient’s physician requests a PET/CT, and the patient gets a blood draw on the way. After the PET/CT, the patient returns and data is available from the CT as well as genomic fingerprinting, or SNP-based profiling, results from a CodeLink test, provided by the GE PACS system.

“That is a compelling story and that is something we are aggressively moving toward,” he said.

“The concept of mixing together in vivo diagnostic information from MRI or PET with the in vitro information from CodeLink is really one of the core strengths of Amersham,” said Hawkins in a November interview with BioArray News (see BAN 11/12/03). “I believe as we go forward with the concept of personalized medicine, you will see a merger of the in vivo and in vitro world and the merging of MRI and information from microarrays would be a good example. It’s conceptual, but an area that is getting a lot of interest.”

The CodeLink line will be located within the GE Healthcare Biosciences division as Amersham becomes GE Healthcare, the company’s first non-US headquartered business. Sir William Castell, Amersham’s chief executive officer, becomes its CEO and joins GE’s board of directors as one of four vice chairmen.

GE Healthcare will consist of GE Healthcare Technologies, headed by Joe Hogan, and GE Healthcare Biosciences, headed by Peter Losher. It will encompass the former Amersham Discovery Systems and Protein Separations businesses that will continue to be headquartered in Piscataway, NJ.

General Electric, which is considered the world’s largest company by market value, had 11 businesses before the Amersham acquisition. The company reported a net income of $3.2 billion and sales of $33 billion for its first quarter.

Now that the deal is done, the next challenge will be the integration of the two cultures — GE’s very buttoned-down person and Amersham, the first company privatized by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and today personified by Castell, who the Financial Times recently described as the “chattiest” executive in its list of the top 100 businesses in the UK.

—MOK