|Trends & Perspectives|
GE Healthcare purchased Clarient Inc. (Aliso Viejo, CA) late last year. The acquisition was announced in October; U.S. regulators approved the transaction the following month.
GE, a well-known player in diagnostic imaging, is looking to lengthen its reach into molecular diagnostics (MDx), particularly in the oncology realm. With its acquisition of Clarient, it gains the potential for playing a large, comprehensive role in diagnosing and treating cancer. “Clarient is a clear leader in molecular diagnostics,” says Pascale Witz, President and CEO of GE Healthcare Medical Diagnostics. “By combining the information from in vitro molecular diagnostics with in vivo imaging, we really feel that we’re going to design more complete and comprehensive diagnostic solutions that will be key in helping to define a better adjusted treatment for patients.”
Clarient CEO Ron Andrews admits he wasn’t necessarily expecting his molecular diagnostics company to be acquired by the likes of GE. “Honestly, the call from GE was a little bit of a surprise for us,” he says. “They’re generally not a traditional player in our space; they really don’t have any companies in our space today.” Andrews points to Clarient’s proprietary cancer markers and gene signatures as capabilities of interest to GE. The corporation “realized that having the ability to develop those types of gene signatures that can triage cancer patients to more imaging and more appropriate use of imaging was something very important” for its own growth and evolution, Andrews says.
GE’s Witz provides some background for GE’s foray into MDx, which was originally limited to GE’s work with imaging agents: “We did take a pretty big change of course when we acquired [former life-sciences company] Amersham plc a couple of years ago, which had the imaging agent side of it. As part of these imaging agents, we do have molecular diagnostics. All of these agents that are developed for molecular diagnostics in nuclear medicine or PET are actually molecular diagnostics themselves. The future of PET very much relies on the development of highly specific PET molecular imaging agents.” Now, with the Clarient purchase, GE will pursue MDx as it relates directly to cancerpatient diagnosis, monitoring, and therapy adjustment. “We have the ability to integrate the in vitro and in vivo information to bring more and more relevant information to the doctor and patient. This is where we can enable a bigger step forward in cancer treatment,” Witz says.
Two Complementary Visions for Cancer Treatment
GE and Clarient share similar visions of progress in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Says Clarient’s Ron Andrews, “Our desire is to help transition cancer to a chronic disorder. The only way to really do that is to monitor the therapy efficacy once a patient goes on a therapy cocktail. And then once you’ve monitored the therapy and you’ve deemed that that first event is taken care of, it’s really monitoring for reoccurrence.”
GE’s Witz makes a similar point: “Where we used to define cancer by geography (breast cancer, lung cancer, et cetera), we now define it by its molecular profile. So it really depends on the molecular fingerprint of the tumor to decide which type of therapy the patient will be given. It also defines the prognosis for the patient.” And as therapies become more and more complex and patient-specific, she says, it becomes more and more important to “understand this cancer fingerprint to create better diagnostics that will help in making these therapeutic decisions.”
When asked about GE’s interest in diagnostic tests used in conjunction with a therapy, Witz says her company wants to pursue diagnostic tests that can be used to adjust existing cancer therapies. She says also that Clarient “does have great expertise that is currently used in collaboration with some pharma [companies] in developing and validating companion diagnostics for drugs that are in development.”
Clarient CEO Andrews confirms that his company has “a very deep and rich pipeline of molecular tests” that it has been working on with pharmaceutical companies for quite a while now. “And some of those are starting to really get to a point where the therapeutics we developed them for are ready to go to market or at least to go through phase-3 [clinical] trials.”
As of mid-December, Andrews predicted the acquisition would officially close within the month, or possibly in very early 2011. In terms of Clarient’s day-to-day operation, it will remain “business as usual for a very long time,” he said.