Medical Device Daily International Correspondent

CARDIFF, UK – A tsunami of chronic disease is poised to undermine many decades of improvements in healthcare, according to Bill Castell, chairman of GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin), speaking here last week.

“The western world will become regressive in healthcare because it can't cope with the bolus of cost,“ he told delegates at the BioWales conference.

“Healthcare isn't affordable in any economy,“ Castell said, pointing out that it now consumes 17% of gross domestic product in the U.S. Japan, with the world's oldest population, faces a chronic care burden, while in China 850 million people living in rural areas are yet to see any healthcare benefits flowing from the rapid industrialization of the country.

While diseases such as HIV and malaria are a significant weight, the true cost challenges to healthcare systems come from chronic disease.

“In cost terms, the things we have to deal with in a better way are cardiovascular diseases and cancer,“ Castell said, as he outlined his vision of how the healthcare marketplace will be transformed by a marriage of “biology, bytes and broadband.“

The starting point for dealing with the specter of chronic diseases is to view health as an asset, not a cost, or, as Castell put it, “an investment in productivity and wealth creation.“

There is huge complexity involved in moving a patient through the system from first reporting cardiac pain to getting a coronary bypass. Castell called for “interdisciplinary innovation“ to promote the adoption of medical technology for early and noninvasive diagnosis of disease, supported by electronic patient records and management systems to make healthcare more cost effective.

“In GE, we are working to put together an approach for early screening and detection, and better ways of treating congestive heart disease,“ Castell said, based on a non-invasive angiogram that can detect vulnerable plaque. Similarly, in neurological diseases, GE has developed a system for measuring amyloid plaque and now is working with Eli Lilly (Indianapolis) andF. Hoffmann-La Roche (Basel, Switzerland), to see if any of their drugs reduce it.

The challenge of chronic disease is to move from treating the later stages to controlling it earlier on. Novel diagnostics will enable a paradigm of prediction and prevention to take hold, he said.

A good example is breast cancer, where mammograms currently fail to detect a high percentage of tumors, while many recalls and biopsies are negative and late diagnosis leads to higher costs and lower survival.

“Healthcare has got to get its timing right,“ Castell said.

Giving the speech was a swansong moment for Castell, who is retiring from GE Healthcare shortly and will take his vision to the Wellcome Trust (London), the world's largest medical charity, where he joins up as chairman in July.

BioWales was a swansong also for the conference sponsor, the Welsh Development Agency (WDA; Cardiff), which since 1983 has been working to attract inward investment. Among the companies it lured to Wales was Amersham (Little Chalfont, UK) – now part of the GE Healthcare empire.

The WDA today ends its life as an independent entity, becoming part of a new Department of Enterprise, Innovation and Networks within the Welsh Assembly Government.

Saliva changes name to StatSure Diagnostic

Saliva Diagnostic Systems (Framingham, Massachusetts) reported that the company has changed its name to StatSure Diagnostic Systems , and its new Nasdaq ticker symbol is SSUR.

The new name reflects the company's focus on its flagship product, StatSure HIV, a rapid, point-of-care test to detect HIV. The company is actively engaged in establishing a series of applications for its patented format.