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Backbone of Bench to Bedside Vision for GE Healthcare is Informatics, Exec Says

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When General Electric finalized its acquisition of Amersham on April 8, it created a new business unit — GE Healthcare — to market a diagnostic platform that combines Amersham’s broad portfolio of discovery technologies with GE’s imaging prowess. But the integration of the two companies’ offerings into a seamless, “bench-to-bedside” diagnostic system will ultimately depend on informatics, according to Trevor Hawkins, formerly senior vice president of genomics at Amersham Biosciences, and now senior vice president of development and new business initiatives for discovery systems at GE Healthcare Biosciences.

Hawkins told BioInform last week that informatics is the “glue” that will bind the tools and systems of the two firms. The details of GE Healthcare’s post-acquisition informatics strategy are still under discussion, but “I can’t stress how important we see informatics being as we move forward,” Hawkins said.

From Hawkins’ perspective, the former Amersham informatics team stands to gain enormously from the “substantial” IT resources of GE Medical Systems, which was combined with Amersham’s Biosciences and Health business units to create GE Healthcare. Company officials were unable to provide the headcount for the combined informatics staff prior to press time, but Hawkins noted that “it’s a lot.”

Prior to the acquisition, GE’s Medical Systems IT group sold over $2 billion worth of data management systems per year for clinical and healthcare applications. One of these systems, PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System), “has come to the surface immediately” as a contender for the IT scaffold upon which the newly merged entity may build its integrated diagnostic platform, Hawkins said. PACS captures and stores image data from the company’s PET, CT, and MRI systems, and enables physicians and other users to access that data from anywhere within a hospital network. “We have teams working on how we can take this PACS network that is in the hospitals today and pull that back into the pharmaceutical industry, into the research and academic community,” Hawkins said, “so that we not only provide them with a very critical and important backbone that they can use to analyze and interpret data, but also a backbone off of which the applications software that [Amersham has] been working on for many years can feed into.”

Hawkins said that PACS’ ability to handle very large amounts of image data should easily translate to data from Amersham’s discovery systems, such as “a gel picture or some chromatograms from a DNA sequence, or image slices from the In Cell Analyzer, or images from our MALDI mass spec system.”

While cautioning that “it’s really too early to tell” how the combined company will take this PACS-based informatics plan forward — and that a development timeline was not yet in place five days following the closure of the acquisition — Hawkins said the ultimate goal of GE Healthcare’s informatics strategy is to “provide one platform that could be used for a whole host of applications.”

Prior to the GE acquisition, Amersham’s informatics strategy was built around its Scierra Laboratory Workflow System (LWS) suite of LIMS tools, which it co-developed with Cimarron Software in Salt Lake City, Utah. These tools “continue to be interesting to us” within GE Healthcare, Hawkins said, but he added that at this point, the future of most of the current informatics product portfolio is up for discussion as the company evaluates its options. “We do see lab workflow and lab information systems to be important as we move forward, but, similarly, we see that application-based systems that have the same look and feel across all of GE Healthcare are also something that we feel very passionate about delivering. … I think it’s fair to say at this point, now with everything that we have in GE Healthcare, that we’re really looking at how do we use PACS, how do we integrate our applications-based software so that it works with PACS, and provides one solution to the customers.”

GE Healthcare is also examining its ongoing relationships with Amersham’s informatics partners, such as Cimarron and GeneticXchange. “We’re evaluating how they fit, but we don’t anticipate any changes,” Hawkins said.

For now, Hawkins said, informatics activities are still split between the original GE and Amersham groups — now named GE Healthcare Technologies and GE Healthcare Biosciences. Dow Wilson, formerly president and CEO of GE Medical Systems Information Technologies, is now president and CEO of GE Healthcare Information Technologies, while Hawkins will lead the informatics activities at GE Healthcare Biosciences. Hawkins said he is working with Wilson to develop a unified informatics strategy for the GE Healthcare group.

In addition, Hawkins said, there have been “many meetings” with a small bioinformatics team that GE had in place prior to the acquisition. The GE group is developing software tools to support the discovery of molecular probes for use in diagnostic molecular imaging in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease [BioInform 07-04-03]. “We’re very excited about some of the things that they’ve been doing over the last couple of years, and there’s a pretty intensive dialogue right now to look at how we take some of the systems and prototypes that they’ve been developing, and move those into products,” Hawkins said.

—BT

 

GE Medical Systems + Amersham = GE Healthcare

Management: William Castell, formerly CEO of Amersham, will be president and CEO of GE Healthcare; Joseph Hogan, senior vice president of GE, will lead GE Healthcare Technologies (former GE Medical systems operations); Peter Loescher, former COO of Amersham, will manage GE Healthcare Biosciences (former Amersham operations)

Headquarters: GE Healthcare will have global headquarters in Chalfont St. Giles, UK; GE Healthcare Technologies will be headquartered in Waukesha, Wis.; GE Healthcare Biosciences will be headquartered in Little Chalfont, UK.

Employees: 42,500

Purchase Price for Amersham: £5.7 billion ($10.2 billion)

GE Healthcare Revenues, 2004: $14 billion ($11 billion from GE Healthcare Technologies, $3 billion from GE Healthcare Biosciences)

GE Healthcare Revenues, 2005 (projected): $16 billion.

 

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