In a long-anticipated move, this past Wednesday GE spun out its healthcare division with a listing on the NASDAQ stock exchange. After initially listing at $55 a share, the stock is now trading at a shade under $60 with a market capitalisation of $27 billion. In the USA, the healthcare industry accounts for almost 20% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and the newly listed company is well placed to grab its piece of the $4 trillion pie. While under the umbrella of its parent company, GE HealthCare has been serving patients and providers for more than 100 years.
The company will operate four business units: (1) Imaging (CT, MRI, X-ray, women’s imaging, and image-guided therapy); (2) Ultrasound; (3) Patient Care (monitoring, cardiac, and anaesthetics); and (4) Pharmaceutical Diagnostics. Catherine Estrampes, CEO of GE HealthCare for North America, noted that the company has a robust balance sheet and is currently generating significant cash flow, enabling it to invest in both organic growth and external acquisitions. “We are focused on building on the legacy of GE from an innovation perspective,” she stated.
Estrampes also said that GE HealthCare would now have a greater ability to take calculated risks that perhaps may have been avoided while still being part of a larger conglomerate. This is an interesting comment, and perhaps explains why the company failed to exploit the digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) technology which it licensed from Massachusetts General Hospital twenty years ago, thus allowing Hologic to steal a march. That said, GE HealthCare does now have its own DBT system, Senographe Pristina (seen left) which is gaining market share worldwide.
Just yesterday, the company announced the appointment of its first Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Dr Taha Kass-Hout, who had previously served as vice president for machine learning (ML) at Amazon. In his new role, Kass-Hout will work with the four business units and their ML teams to drive growth through patient-centred innovation and clinical research. He commented, “I am excited about what lies ahead and the incredible opportunity to deliver on [the company’s] vision of creating a world where healthcare has no limits.”
Ten years ago, GE HealthCare acquired the automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) company U-Systems for $64 million and rebranded their ABUS device as Invenia (seen right). This system has been approved by the FDA for use as an adjunct to DBT, so once the power of ML and AI have been successfully implemented, the combination of DBT plus ABUS will have a significant impact on early detection when screening for breast cancer.
Some more history:
GE licensed my patent (held by the Massachusetts General Hospital) for DBT with the promise to commercialize it by 2005. They actually had a second generation device that could have been a commercial product, but, for never explained reasons, sat on it allowing Hologic to get the first FDA approval in 2011. We had convinced Hologic about the importance of DBT and they had bid for our patent, but MGH decided to license it to GE. Hologic named their system “3D mammography” to get around the patent.
Having helped to develop Digital Mammography starting in the 1980’s with the “way ahead of its time” AS&E line scanning system, in 1992 we obtained GE’s digital angiography detector that they wanted to adapt for breast. We immediately argued that it would make great sense to incorporate ultrasound in the system to create perfectly registered x-ray and ultrasound images as CapeRay ultimately has done. When we developed DBT we continued to argue for incorporation of US in the DBT systems. Prototypes were developed by GE and Siemens, but never commercialized. Unfortutnely, I suspect that it was more profitable to market separate DBT and ultrasound systems. Prototypes were unable to have ultrasound contact with the periphery of the breast when it is held in a mammography (DBT) system, but this is not critical. DBT does a great job of imaging the periphery where it abuts the subcutaneous fat. Hopefully someone will develop the combined systems since this will greatly enhance the detection and cure of early cancers.
Many thanks for sharing this historical insight, Dan. As you say, hopefully some company will bring to market a product that incorporates both DBT and ABUS in the same platform.