CDU Associate

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana At the American College of Cardiology (Bethesda, Maryland) scientific sessions in early March at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the sprawling exhibit floor was, as usual, a bustling center of activity. Perhaps no company embodied the spirit of constant on-the-go activity more than GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin), the new umbrella moniker for all of General Electric's (Fairfield, Connecticut) healthcare-related companies. The company, formerly known as GE Medical Systems, exhibited a comprehensive line of products for the cardiology sector.

GE Healthcare, as a comprehensive entity, is a $10 billion global leader in medical imaging, point-of-care systems, healthcare services and information technology. Its offerings include networking and productivity tools, clinical information systems, patient monitoring systems, anesthesia and respiratory care, maternal-infant care systems, surgery and vascular imaging, conventional and digital X-ray, dental imaging, computed tomography (CT), electron beam tomography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and bone mineral densitometry, positron emission tomography (PET), nuclear medicine and a comprehensive portfolio of clinical and business services. GE has been on a virtual buying spree for the past several years, with recent blockbuster buys such as the recently completed union with UK's largest lifescience company, Amersham (Little Chalfont, UK) for $9.5 billion and last October's $2 billion buy of Instrumentarium (Helsinki, Finland), as well as a slew of more modest, but no less important purchases.

Aside from this obvious play for added market share, the company has made a conscious shift towards marketing all of its offerings in the respective healthcare markets in one comprehensive platform, with a particular emphasis on the expanding cardiology sector. According to David Handler, the heightened focus on the cardiology market is a relatively new phenomenon "We've really [only] had a big focus on cardiology for the last six years," said Handler, general manager of marketing for cardiology. He explained the rationale for the consolidation of all the various sectors under one name to Cardiovascular Device Update, saying there are two primary reasons for the move. First, he said, "it's all-encompassing. It will be our one company providing one solution to all our customers," whether that be IT, imaging or services. "It's one-stop shopping focused on what you need as a customer."

The second reason for the move, according to Handler, revolves around the company's April closing of the mammoth Amersham buy. "That really leads us to whole other areas of personalized medicine, genetics, pharmaceutical development and so forth." He said a way to visualize the company's new strategy is to look at all the equipment viewed in the exhibitor space as GE's hardware for healthcare and all the technology that the company is developing with Amersham, such as contrast agents, as the healthcare software. "Really, the future of imaging [GE's forte] is going to be very much at the molecular level," Handler said, "and all of these other kinds of biology and chemistry technologies are going to be important to get the most out of imaging technology."

While he acknowledged that some of the technologies being exhibited at the ACC meeting could be used in both the cardiology and radiology sectors, "we really do approach [these respective customers] differently because the customers are different. We're the only company here from the big imaging companies that focus sales and marketing teams on cardiology," he said. While GE Healthcare is a large entity, Handler said the company has been careful not to lose its smaller niche focus. The company has focused teams in cardiology, radiology and oncology, as well as other areas. "We're trying to look small and [still] have the resources of a large company."

In conjunction with the meeting, GE Healthcare announced a commitment of more than half a million dollars to the ACC through the ACC Foundation (ACCF) to fund and support a new ACC Fellowship Research Awards program. The goal of the three-year, $530,000 contribution will be to offer financial support through research grants to cardiologists who have recently completed their training. GE is the first medical equipment manufacturer to partner with ACC on an awards program of this kind. "We're the first non-pharmaceutical company to do anything like this with ACC," Handler noted.

Also at the meeting, the company introduced a host of new products to its imaging arsenal, particularly diagnostic tools for fighting cardiovascular disease. GE's Discovery PET/CT system was optimized specifically for non-invasive cardiac imaging. It provides physicians with a comprehensive, non-invasive assessment of coronary artery disease. With a single Discovery PET/CT exam, GE Healthcare said physicians can gain access to essential metabolic and anatomical data including a heart perfusion map at rest and stress, a CT angiography and a cardiac calcium score. This information can help physicians more accurately diagnose cardiac patients, improve the overall course of treatment, and help eliminate unnecessary invasive procedures.

The company said these systems apply a new advanced application called HeartFusion that maximizes the benefits of the exam by aligning the vascular coronary tree created by CT images on the 3-D functional data from PET images. Together, Discovery PET/CT with HeartFusion allows physicians to quantify and analyze the impact of the atherosclerotic lesions on the heart muscle. HeartFusion was developed in collaboration with Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) and is offered exclusively from GE Healthcare through a licensing agreement with Syntermed (also Atlanta).

The company also unveiled an imaging system designed to perform both cardiac and peripheral studies in a single lab. This system, called the Innova 3100, applies GE's flat-panel detector technology to allow physicians to see the vessels and anatomy of the heart, as well as the finest vessels all the way to the fingertips in minute detail. The images produced by Innova 3100 are so detailed that physicians can more clearly see and safely maneuver the smallest medical devices such as catheters, stents and guidewires.

GE Healthcare also discussed an interesting collaborative product that allows cardiologists to perform electrophysiology studies more efficiently from a single workstation that automatically integrates heart monitoring and three-dimensional mapping information. The CardioLab IT electrophysiology monitoring system includes a bi-directional interface with the CARTO XP Navigation and Ablation System. The device is part of a collaborative marketing agreement between the company and Biosense Webster (Diamond Bar, California), a Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, New Jersey) company, and manufacturer of the CARTO XP System. That agreement was first disclosed at the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology (Natick, Massachusetts) annual scientific sessions in Washington a year ago. Until now, clinicians conducting electrophysiology studies had to work with separate and electronically isolated systems for cardiac monitoring and 3-D mapping. To review cases, they had to shuttle back and forth between workstations.

The bi-directional interface improves productivity by letting the two systems share information automatically in real time. Clinicians enter all necessary data only once at a single workstation, reducing the potential for data entry errors. Simultaneous control of both systems means cardiologists can view mapping in the complete context of case events, with all waveforms, data and maps synchronized for clinical accuracy.