GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have formed a new company, Omnyx (Pittsburgh), in an effort to move pathology into the digital age.
The companies hope to develop digital solutions to "shape a new age of patient care" and apply those solutions to a science that has relied on glass slides and microscopes for more than 125 years.
Tony Melanson, VP of strategy and marketing at Omnyx, told Medical Device Daily that the new company's first product will be a "digital microscope." The new device will be a scanner capable of scanning a glass slide at a "very high speed" compared to current scan times, and allow a pathologist to view the slide digitally on a computer screen, and even share it with other pathologists in remote locations, he said.
Currently it takes about three to five minutes to scan a slide, Melanson said. Omnyx' scanner will scan at roughly 30 seconds per slide, he said.
GE and the UPMC each are kicking in $20 million to form Omnyx, and the state of Pennsylvania is contributing $180,000 for job creation. The company expects to create about 40 high-tech jobs over the next three years.
"Digital pathology has not really been adopted in the market place," Melanson said.
He noted several technical hurdles that have to be overcome in order to digitize pathology the way that radiology and other medical sectors have been. First is the scan-time hurdle.
"Because these systems operate in a production factory environment, scan time has to be very fast," Melanson said.
Second is the ability to show that image to a pathologist in a hospital over current bandwidth, which he said is "actually very difficult to do."
The third hurdle was storage because the images are easily 10 gigabytes, Melanson said. So the cost of image storage had to come down in order to keep the total cost of the solution down. Fortunately, "that tipping point has happened," he said.
For the pathologist, being liberated from the physical glass slide is an opportunity to improve efficiency, Melanson said, because they would be able to consult with other clinicians in remote locations about a specimen, which would also increase the confidence of diagnoses.
Omnyx said its digital platform also would seek to reduce costs associated with diagnosis. The benefit to patients could include reducing medical errors, improved turnaround time for lab results and integrating pathology information as part of their electronic medical record.
It also is an opportunity for the company to tap into a rather large market.
"In several years we would estimate the market size to be about $2 billion globally," Melanson said. "Pathology is something that is performed all over the world, and digital pathology will be valuable in all corners of the globe. The U.S. market will obviously be a very large market, but we're really poised to be a global provider in this space."
Omnyx is the first GE company to be formed with an academic medical center, GE said.
The investment is part of UPMC's strategy to commercialize its health care, technology and management expertise. UPMC formed a joint development partnership two years ago with GE, which led to the creation of Omnyx.
Gene Cartwright, a 26-year healthcare veteran and former president of GE Healthcare's molecular diagnostics unit, has been appointed as CEO of Omnyx.
"This new company will revolutionize patient care and expand GE vision for early health – the ability to diagnose disease at the earliest possible stage, which in turn can lead to more effective treatment and monitoring," Cartwright said. "Digitizing pathology will allow Omnyx to provide doctors with better tools for the full care continuum, enhancing their decision-making capabilities in key disease areas."
GE researchers including biologists, applied physicists, visualization scientists, mechanical and electrical engineers, high-performance computer scientists and optical engineers worked for three years to develop the first prototype systems. Building on early developments in GE's Global Research Center, Omnyx will unite UPMC's pioneering developments in digital pathology with GE's technology to create a viable solution for high-volume clinical use, according to the company.
"Digital pathology provides a platform for the creation of new tools that will help pathologists screen large numbers of slides in search of a small nest of cells or a few bacteria to quickly and accurately diagnose disease," said George Michalopoulos, MD, PhD, professor and chairman of the department of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh and a pathologist at UPMC.
Jeffrey Romoff, president/CEO of UPMC, said the new company would also help address cost and quality issues facing healthcare today.
"The formation of Omnyx underscores UPMC's strategy of leveraging its medical, technology and research expertise to create solutions that benefit patients worldwide. At the same time, this new, Pittsburgh-based company will contribute to the continuing revitalization of the economy of western Pennsylvania."
Operating as an independent company, with financial support from both GE and UPMC, Omnyx will be governed by an executive board, including Mark Little, senior VP and director of GE's Global Research Center; Vishal Wanchoo, president/CEO, GE Healthcare IT (Barrington, Illinois); Dan Drawbaugh, chief information officer, UPMC; Stephen Boochever, executive VP, UPMC's International and Commercial Services division.
In addition to its Pittsburgh headquarters, Omnyx will have offices in Piscataway, New Jersey, and other GE Healthcare facilities. The company has launched a web site at www.omnyxpath.com.
UPMC is an integrated global health enterprise in Pittsburgh.
GE Healthcare provides products and services designed to diagnose and treat cancer, heart disease, neurological diseases, and other conditions earlier.