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GE's Clarient Purchase Heightens Company's Focus on Tests for Cancer Drug Personalization

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Originally published Oct. 26.

By Turna Ray

Continuing to aggrandize its presence in the personalized medicine space, GE Healthcare announced plans last week to scoop up Clarient for around $580 million.

The acquisition gives GE access to an array of molecular tests in oncology, a clinical laboratory for providing diagnostic services, and markers that can lead to the development of companion diagnostics for therapies treating leukemia, as well as breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers.

GE's latest purchase in the personalized medicine arena comes five months after GE invested $5 million in the genomic diagnostics firm CardioDx, as part of an agreement focused on the co-development of cardiovascular diagnostics (PGx Reporter 05/19/10).

Now, in purchasing Clarient, GE will be better positioned to meet the rapidly growing demand for cancer-profiling products and services. According to BCC Research, the market for cancer-profiling technologies and capabilities will grow from $15 billion in 2009 to $47 billion by 2015.

"We believe that the strategic fit between Clarient and GE Healthcare will offer substantial benefits to pathologists, oncologists, and the biopharmaceutical industry," Pascale Witz, president and CEO of GE Healthcare's Medical Diagnostics division, told PGx Reporter this week. "Combining Clarient’s in vitro capabilities with GE’s in vivo capabilities creates a comprehensive diagnostics business that will enable more accurate diagnosis, more targeted treatments, and reduced healthcare costs."

Witz added that the strategic acquisition fits in with the goals of the company's Healthymagination program, which aims to reduce healthcare costs and improve access to care and healthcare delivery internationally. The investment in CardioDx was the first infusion of funding from the $250 million Healthymagination Fund, which aims to invest in "highly promising" young companies developing life sciences tools, diagnostics, or healthcare information technologies.

Diagnostics Fit

According to John Dineen, CEO of GE Healthcare, the Clarient purchase fits with GE's plan to build a more than $1 billion business in integrated diagnostics offerings in cancer and other diseases.

In its diagnostics oncology division, GE currently offers a multitude of services and products including bone densitometry, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, PET-CT, ultrasound, and digital mammography systems.

An example of GE's recent investments in its internal molecular diagnostics portfolio was in 2009, when Eli Lilly and GE Global Research co-developed a tissue-based biomarker technology for mapping more than 25 proteins in tumors at the sub-cellular level. This technology, researchers at the companies believe, may aid in drug discovery research and help doctors identify best responders to drugs.

In turn, Clarient's offerings include companion diagnostics for several established and emerging markers, including ALK gene rearrangements to gauge best responders to non-small cell lung cancer treatments; BRAF and KRAS mutations to target colorectal cancer treatments to the right patients; and EGFR mutation testing, which can be used to personalize tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

The company in February launched Pulmotype, a five-antibody immunohistochemistry test that can be used to histologically differentiate between adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma in NSCLC tumors. Pulmotype came to Clarient last year through its purchase of Applied Genomics in an all-stock merger valued at up to $17.6 million.

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Clarient is marketing Pulmotype to the 1,100 pathology practices in its network. By launching Pulmotype as a tool for pathologists, Clarient is hoping to gain access to lung cancer patients' initial tumor samples. This provides an in-road for Clarient to eventually perform pharmacogenomic analysis on samples when oncologists request information on their patients' EGFR status to determine treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as AstraZeneca's Iressa or Genentech/OSI's Tarceva. Clarient conducts IHC and PCR testing on EGFR mutations for a variety of cancers, including NSCLC (PGx Reporter 12/23/10).

Clarient's existing marketing channels to pathologists and oncologists are viewed as a positive by GE. "Clarient already operates a commercial service to oncologists and pathologists," the company told PGx Reporter. "At GE Healthcare we believe that combining Clarient's services and technologies with our global reach, together with the scientific resources of GE Healthcare and GE's Global research organization, will accelerate the development of novel tests and services for this market."

Trendy Purchases

GE's purchase of Clarient comes during a purchasing spree in the molecular diagnostics industry among companies looking to get a lead in the personalized medicine space.

The Laboratory Corporation of America in September announced plans to purchase Genzyme Genetics for $925 million, its second purchase since buying Monogram Biosciences last year (PGx Reporter 08/22/10). With Genzyme Genetics, LabCorp stands to gain a greater foothold in oncology and reproductive diagnostic markets.

The high-profile acquisition last year of DxS by Qiagen for $95 million gave Qiagen a greater foothold in collaborating with drug companies for the co-development of Rx/Dx combination products. The terms of the acquisition include $35 million in additional payments to DxS if certain undisclosed commercial and other milestones are met (PGx Reporter 09/23/09).

A few months before the DxS purchase, Qiagen also acquired SABiosciences for $90 million, which gave the company bioinformatics capabilities and 100 disease- and pathway-focused real-time PCR-based array panels.

Additionally, during its third-quarter earnings call earlier this month, Quest Diagnostics hinted, that it was eyeing acquisitions in genetics, esoteric testing, and cancer diagnostics.

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