We are at work for a healthier India

Updated: Feb 27 2012, 06:03am hrs
GE Healthcare, the worlds leading medical equipment maker, is betting big on India. It sees immense potential in the country due to the rise in chronic diseases where the companys products can play the role of a catalyst in curing them. With its local team, GE Healthcare is focusing on providing more India-specific equipment such as low-cost magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), portable x-ray systems and monitoring systems. We are betting big on innovation from emerging markets such as India to cater to global markets, says John Dineen, president and CEO of GE Healthcare. With expertise in diagnostic imaging, healthcare IT and life sciences, GE Healthcares broad range of products and services enable healthcare providers to better diagnose and treat cancer, heart disease, neurological diseases, and other conditions earlier. The GE Healthcare CEO candidly talks to BV Mahalakshmi about the companys growth plan and efforts to improve patient care in India. Excerpts:

How important is the Indian market for GE Healthcare

Last year when I visited India, we committed an investment of $50 million for bringing out 50 new products over a period of three to five years that meets the healthcare needs in India. We spend an average of $50 million every year on R&D for healthcare solutions in India. There is an imminent need to innovate which could be cost-effective or one-tenth of the cost. A digital

future is the next wave of innovation which can manage both cost and quality. For the developing markets, it would be made in India and for India.

We have earmarked $1billion of our total R&D budget through 2020 for the development of oncology solutions. This funding will enable us to expand in advanced cancer diagnostics and molecular imaging capabilities, as well as technologies used in cancer research and for the manufacture of bio-pharmaceuticals. In India, we are developing a low-cost positron emission tomography/computer tomography (PET/CT) system that will bring down the cost of

advanced PET/CT systems by 40% and will

enable access of this accurate early detection technology to more people.

How many more new products will be designed from India for emerging and global markets

We need a large number of varied solutions to meet India needs. We tried to address cardiac and maternal infant care needs over the past few years. While we continue to do that, we are also enhancing our focus to early detection of cancer by designing a PET/CT in India, for India. Similarly, we are looking to produce 50-odd solutions to meet the growing healthcare needs in India. Many of them are usable in developing and developed markets as well.

We will also be investing another $300 million in low-dose radiation technologies. The investment brings our low-dose radiation investment to more than $800 million over 15 years. We have rolled out a series of technologies to better manage radiation exposure during CT scans and X-rays, which include DoseWatch which tracks radiation doses and reports them; Detective Quantum Efficiency (DQE) tools to optimise the radiation dose to minimise impact on the patient and get the best image; and Veo, a CT technology that produces high image quality at low radiation levels.

What is the future roadmap in terms of reach and localisation

We are at work for a healthier India. We would truly like to be a partner in improving healthcare with the government, healthcare providers and NGOs. It calls for more understanding of local needs, innovations that meets local needs, partnerships with like-minded parties, enhancing our footprint in healthcare IT and life sciences and working with bio-pharmaceutical industry. We need to enhance our reach, both direct and indirect. We are working on number of new areas like digital pathology, etc. which can become a critical game changer in delivering healthcare. We are chalking out plans to improve our localisation and be a major player by reaching our target of $1 billion sales in the India market.

Tell us something about your R&D focus in India.

We have invested in India consistently by building a world class R&D centre with 1,200 engineers and scientists working towards appropriate technologies for India and the world. Our next target is addressing the emergence of oncology diseases. We are working on sophisticated solutions like PET/CT imaging that can non invasively detect cancer and help guide treatment at 40% of todays technology costs.

We also focus on parallel needs in healthcare delivery; the scarcity of affordable capital, digitisation for networking urban centres of excellence with tier-II and tier-III towns, and key partnerships with local suppliers, medical colleges and state governments.

How will molecular imaging impact the way medicine is practiced today

Molecular imaging is a combination of fields such as biology, medicine, pharmaceutics, physics, chemistry and engineering that allows physicians to detect, treat and monitor disease at the bodys cellular levels. It can diagnose health problems, such as cancer/tumours, coronary artery disease, and neurological diseases in patients with no clear symptoms.

For years, we have had CT and MRI that can help us find the tumour. But these days thats not enough as we need to know what kind of tumour it is; what are the metabolic pathways driving it; and whether its responding to therapy. The key is not simply detection but detection of differentiation in a patients response to therapy.

Beyond the conventional medicine, molecular diagnostics can benefit in personalised medicine. We are working on sophisticated diagnostic tools that help determine at a molecular level which treatment is appropriate for a particular patient and whether they are responding to it.