Billion-dollar boost

GE's health business unit earmarks $1 billion for cancer diagnostics and molecular imaging

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CHALFONT ST. GILES, U.K.—As the medical community continues to struggle to tackle the complexity of cancer, GE Healthcare, the health business division of General Electric Co., is rising to the challenge with a $1 billion boost to its R&D budget over the next five years to expand its cancer diagnostic and molecular imaging capabilities, as well as technologies for the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals and for cancer research.
The investment is congruent with GE Healthcare's "Healthymagination challenge," an open call to action for oncology researchers and healthcare innovators seeking ideas to accelerate innovation in breast cancer. Through the challenge, GE and its venture partners will award up to $100 million to fund breakthrough ideas that advance early detection, more accurate diagnoses and targeted treatment of breast cancer.
According to the company's announcement, made Sept. 15, the investment crosses all lines of GE Healthcare's global businesses. Dr. Nigel Darby, vice president of biotechnologies and chief technology officer at GE Healthcare Life Sciences, tells ddn, "We've not broken down the investment commitment by project; however, technologies for cancer research and the discovery and manufacture of the new cancer therapies are a key part of this initiative."
The company's oncology portfolio already encompasses cellular research, medical imaging, laboratory diagnostics, biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies and information technology—all of which are vital to help researchers increase their understanding of the causes and progression of cancer and help physicians make more personalized cancer treatment and management decisions, while improving clinical outcomes and accelerating the delivery of care, says Darby.
"We offer a portfolio of diagnostic technologies, such as X-ray, ultrasound and MRI, all of which are used for the diagnosis of cancer," he says. "In December 2010, we acquired Clarient, a leading player in the fast-growing molecular diagnostics sector. Clarient's technologies, combined with GE Healthcare's strengths in diagnostic imaging, are expected to accelerate the development of new integrated tools for the diagnosis and characterization of cancer. Molecular diagnostics provide precise information about a patient's cancer and can help doctors decide on the best treatment. The rapid increase in the incidence of cancer worldwide, together with advances in specific cancer-focused therapies, is driving significant demand for molecular diagnostics."
Other oncology portfolio-boosting acquisitions by GE Healthcare that have brought the company to this moment include Amersham PLC in 2004, Biacore International AB in 2006, Wave Biotech LLC in 2007, MicroCal LLC in 2008 and Applied Precision in 2011. GE Healthcare also entered into a joint venture with Omnyx in 2009. 
GE Healthcare's Positron Emission Tomography (PET)/Computed Tomography (CT) imaging tools combining functional and anatomical data in a single image, making it possible to achieve early diagnosis and uncover valuable information on tumor location, size and metabolic activity. It assists physicians in differentiating between malignant and benign lesions, identifying recurrences and metastases, and guiding treatment selection and delivery. 
GE Healthcare is also introducing new tracers to the FASTlab multi-tracer platform, an advanced PET chemistry system on which the company is also developing PET proprietary agents. FASTlab offers a number of significant enhancements to address the ever-evolving challenges of tracer production.
The $1 billion investment will build on these technologies and research already in progress, but it will also focus heavily on developing new oncology solutions—namely, in the identification of new biomarkers.
"This is a key area of research for GE Healthcare," says Darby. "Clarient pathologists recently identified a unique cancer diagnostic technology at GE Global Research that may give a clearer picture of the pathways driving specific tumors, and in turn may lead to more effective, personalized treatment recommendations. It is Clarient's goal that by developing this sophisticated multiplexing technology, pathologists will be able to conduct more than 50 different stains on a single tissue section. GE Global Research's ability to invent key technologies identified as critical by Clarient's Medical Staff and Clarient's ability to commercialize mean this game-changing breakthrough in science will be available for cancer patients in the very near future."
In addition to oncology, other key areas of research for GE Healthcare include investing in the development of stem cells as a tool for drug discovery research as well as cell-imaging technologies.

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