A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

General Electric (GE; Fairfield, Connecticut) and USP Hospitales (Barcelona, Spain), Spain’s largest hospital company, signed a strategic agreement last week to join forces and resources for the next 10 years in order to achieve what the companies referred to as “maximum efficiency and optimum quality of service.”

GE said this is the first time it has signed an agreement of this type outside the U.S., one that establishes collaboration in all spheres in which the company operates. Although most of the projects will be with GE Healthcare (Chalfont St. Giles, UK), the agreement involves all of GE’s sprawling list of businesses.

“This collaboration will evoke within this industry less of a push for finding a single cure for illnesses as they appear but rather embrace a more holistic, long-term and personalized approach in order to predict, diagnose, inform and treat,” the companies said.

GE’s expertise in diagnostic imaging, information technologies, medical diagnosis, patient monitoring systems, research into disease, and R&D in medicines and biopharmaceuticals, is focused toward detecting illnesses at an early stage and to treating those diseases with treatment tailored to each patient.

USP Hospitales has 23 health centers located in the cities of Barcelona, La Coru a, Madrid, Marbella, Murcia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Seville and Vitoria. With 1,800 employees and 1,350 doctors, the company’s facilities treat more than 1 million patients (including 180,000 inpatients) each year. Some 70,000 surgical procedures, 8,500 births and 200,000 emergency cases are treated at those facilities annually.

Under the agreement, which the companies said is the only one of its type in Europe, GE Healthcare will provide equipment, technology and services, best practices for clinical excellence and financing solutions. The company said that with more firsthand information available to it from USP Hospitales, it would be able to anticipate forthcoming needs and provide customized solutions to the hospital sector, thereby allowing USP’s facilities to benefit from the latest innovations.

The companies said their strategic partnership would make possible improved technological, industrial and financial planning, “by optimizing resources and anticipating the needs” of all USP Hospitales facilities.

“We believe that healthcare must be personalized,” said Miguel Eslava, president of GE Healthcare’s Spain business unit. “One day we will be able to use genetic information to ascertain the genetic antecedents of each person and his or her predisposition to a disease.” He said the company’s objective is “to detect the disease before it appears. We want to provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.”

The agreement emphasizes clinical and technological excellence. GE Healthcare will collaborate with USP Hospitales in strategy and technological implementation, with particular emphasis on the areas of cardiology, oncology and diagnostic imaging. The companies will work together to develop a healthcare model for the future utilizing the best equipment and technology available and under development.

In other areas of focus, the companies will exchange management expertise and best practices in terms of productivity and service solutions, and GE Healthcare Financial Services will offer innovative financial solutions.

The first center in which all the terms of the agreement will fully apply will be the USP Institut Universitari Dexeus (Barcelona), which is under construction and due to open in 2007. The new hospital will become the most technologically advanced center in Spain, the companies said, including equipment for diagnosis and treatment or research.

Two other USP Hospitales centers currently under construction – a new building attached to USP San Jos Hospital (Madrid) and a new outpatient surgical center of USP Sagrado Coraz n Clinic (Seville) – also will benefit from the agreement.

GE Healthcare also said last week that it plans to invest $37.5 million to expand its production facility in Shanghai in order to meet what it said is increasing customer demand for its contrast imaging products in China and other global markets.

The company’s plant in Shanghai is currently undergoing a review process to be the first site in China approved by the U.S. FDA for contrast media. Upon approval, the plant will be able to supply product beyond China to the U.S. and other markets throughout the world, GE said.

Peter Loescher, president and CEO of GE Healthcare Biosciences, said, “This investment underscores our belief in growth in China and the broader Asia-Pacific region, a strategic market for us. It also allows us to fulfill one of our chief business priorities – to get as close to the healthcare providers there as possible.”

According to GE Healthcare, the Shanghai plant already plays a critical role in the company’s global contrast media supply chain. But it said that over the next five years the demand for contrast media in China alone is expected to grow in double digits. “In order to meet this increased demand the company is making provisions today for an increase in production capacity,” GE said in a statement.

The Shanghai facility manufactures close to 5 million units annually of GE Healthcare’s X-ray and MRI contrast media products Visipaque, Omnipaque and Omniscan, the company said.

The investment reported last week will fund a two-year expansion project to increase production capacity to 15 million units.

The company said the plant is designed with future expansion in mind to be capable of manufacturing up to 30 million units annually. It said the planned investment adds mixing and preparation, filling, sterilization, inspection, packaging and associated utility equipment, and expands the on-site storage capability for both raw materials and product.

GE Healthcare has been active in China since 1991 and has some 3,000 employees in more than 25 locations across the country, with principal sites in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuxi & Guangzhou. The Shanghai plant has more than 430 employees working on the manufacture of diagnostic contrast media and licensed production of calcium supplement tablets, as well as marketing and sales in China.

Zimbabwe okays Calypte HIV test

Calypte Biomedical (Lake Oswego, Oregon) said the Medical Laboratory & Clinical Scientists Council of Zimbabwe has issued notification that the Calypte Aware HIV-1/2 BSP rapid blood test has been successfully evaluated and cleared for commercial sale in that country.

Aware BSP is a 20-minute rapid test designed to detect HIV antibodies in whole blood, serum or plasma. The test was evaluated on more than 1,000 samples, about half of them archived samples from the national reference panel and the other half collected prospectively from clinical patients, blood donors and attendees at voluntary testing and counseling sites.

The trial of the test showed 100% sensitivity, specificity and accuracy on boh archived and prospective samples.

Calypte said it and its distributor, National Diagnostics, are now working with authorities on a process by which the company’s Aware HIV-1/2 OMT (oral fluid) and HIV-1/2 U (urine) rapid assays can be evaluated.

In the meantime, the company will work with National Diagnostics to get the Aware BSP kit launched commercially.

Zimbabwe, with a population of just under 13 million, has an estimated 1.8 million HIV infections, ranking as the third-largest prevalence in Africa.

MedCap test kits progress in China

MedCap (Toronto) said the distributor of its AccuScan drugs-of-abuse test kits in Beijing, China, has received a letter of intent that indicates that the testing of the AccuScan products “went very well” and that law enforcement agencies will continue to buy the test kits for drug rehabilitation centers.

The company said sale of the kits would continue on experimental status until full regulatory approval is received, but that, based on the success of the testing and the response received during market studies, the distributor has revised its anticipated yearly volume from 125,000 AccuScan kits a year to 250,000 test kits.

MedCap said it is continuing to negotiate with distributors in different parts of the world, with testing of its products going on in eight countries.

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