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Jan Makela, president and CEO of imaging at GE Healthcare, joins us for this episode of Let's Talk Medtech to discuss how the company is taking the industry by storm.

Omar Ford

September 13, 2023

16 Min Read
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Image courtesy of GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare started off 2023 by becoming a fully independent company. The company then wasted little time making acquisitions. Most recently, GE Healthcare was in the spotlight because of developments in Alzheimer's treatments that could potentially drive up the demand for the firm's imaging equipment.

Jan Makela, President and CEO, of Imaging at GE Healthcare, joins us to talk about the company's success and how it plans to finish out the year, in this exciting new episode.

Here is a transcript of the episode: 

Omar: Well, Jan, hello and welcome to let's talk Medtech. Thanks for coming on.

Jan: Hey, well great to be here. Thanks for inviting know.

Omar: I want to take a minute to talk about all the latest news with GE Healthcare. Let's talk a bit about how there's a lot of attention being brought to GE's Imaging modalities in relation to Alzheimer's. That's in the news right now. That's a hot topic and I just want to dive into that from the get-go.

Jan: Yeah, look, I mean Alzheimer's, there's various numbers and figures, but directionally there's more than six and a half million Americans over 65 living with Alzheimer's today already. And there's probably close to a million, 900,000 new cases diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment each year in the US. And that's obviously an early stage that can lead towards Alzheimer's. Worldwide numbers even bigger, 55 million people every 3 seconds, someone in the world develops dementia. Huge cost in the world, probably more than a trillion dollars of cost to the world economy, in addition to obviously the personal angst difficulty which the sufferers and their families go through with this horrible disease. Now there have been a couple of therapeutics a long time ago, but there's a lot more recently. Now of course, these are advanced drugs.

They have effects. They need to be used with the right patients at the right time. And imaging really is central to how these drugs can be deployed. How can you find the patients who need these drugs? How can you be sure that they are able to take these drugs? How can you be sure that the side effects are in control? How do you do all of that Non-invasively? All of this comes back to imaging. So, for us it's really about MRI scanners and it's about the Pet CT scanners. So, with the PET CTS, probably there's going to be half a million more scans a year going forward in the Western world to image where the amyloid plaque is. Once you've started the treatment, you need MRI scans, the baseline of how your brain is. And with these products, the question about microbleeds and swellings in your brain, tracking that with the MRI, this could be 400,000 a million extra scans per year. So, to your point, Omar, the great news is, finally there's some drugs coming. These drugs offer great hope. We need to use them with the right patients and make sure that they continue to get the benefits that they expect from those. It's a huge topic for us and of course, for our healthcare partners across the world.

Omar: And it doesn't just stop there, right? I mean, there are all these catalysts going on. And I was reading something about the US. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposing a broader coverage for brain scans used in identifying the key Alzheimer's disease protein to determine patients' eligibility for the treatment. Could you talk a little bit about that, Reimbursement? And anything from CMS is golden.

Jan: Yeah, it's a rapidly developing area, and probably in four weeks from now, the story will have changed. So, I'll tell you where we are. But there's a couple of therapies there's a couple of different traces, there's a couple of different procedures. So, it's a little bit of a sort of a 3D cube here, right? But at the moment, we need to improve access to the Pet scans for the amyloid, as you say, on PET CPT machines. On petimal machines. And at the moment, the coverage policy since about a month ago is that CMS proposed to broaden the existing amyloid Pet coverage by lifting the once in a lifetime Pet scan rule. This is progress, but obviously we still need to work more on that. There's a 30-day common period, which began about a month ago for input to that. And obviously, we, with our industry partners, healthcare partners, are advocating for more access to cover those amyloid scans. But the fact the importance is recognized and talked about and is being debated, I think, is the great move forward, Omar.

Omar: Definitely. I want to switch gears a bit, and I want to talk about GE Healthcare and how it's had a phenomenal year so far. And I remember at the beginning of the year, the company wasted little time after becoming independent to get on the M&A trail. I think the company made some acquisitions, what, in January. And was it Imactus? I might be pronouncing it.

Jan: That's right.

Omar: I have to forgive my Southern drawl. But yeah, talk a little bit about that momentum during the deal, because that was really early on, and GE Healthcare was kind of just establishing itself as kind of the new kid on the block, so to speak.

Jan: Yeah, no, I mean, of course, we're a 125-year-old healthcare care company.

Omar: Yeah, the new old kid on the....

Jan: Block with the oldest baby. That's right.

Omar: That's right. Yeah.

Jan: No, look, I mean, we have a huge business with CT scanners, and there's always sort of procedures sort of moving between CTs and MRIs and CTs and cat labs and ultrasound. There's always sort of things moving around with the developments, changes in procedures, changes in outcomes, changes in guidelines, changes in reimbursement. And something that we see is more sort of interventional volume sort of coming onto the CT. It could be giving more patients access. It could be moving procedures from somewhere else. So specifically, to get to your point, what Emacus is about is about guiding the biopsy process after a CT. So, I've had a CT, they've imaged sort of especially under my rib cage. They want to deliver either a therapeutic drug or they want to take a biopsy. And how can we do that? In a very accurate, guided way. So, we're going to stick a long needle in through your ribs. We want you to admit organs at risk and make sure we get to the target position to then take the biopsy or send the drugs. What Imactis does is it does that in a very effective way, very quick procedure.

These types of procedures are going at a huge volume, and it means that the technologist or the radiologist isn't exposed to X rays either, because now, obviously the image is taken, the CT goes off, the patient comes out on the table, I take the biopsy, I get it right first time save lots of time, lower cost, more access. So, it's something we feel excited about.

The deal closed in April, I think, in our CT business. We made an acquisition again a couple of years ago. We bought a Swedish company which was to work with us on the photon counting space. So, I think for us as a company, there's a lot we can do internally with our own R&D teams, but equally, where we see external people who've done some of the early lifting and have proven it works, it's great for us to be able to acquire those companies. And I would say that's getting probably more easy as time goes by here.

Omar: Actually, you brought up an interesting point about the company being the oldest baby right now on the market or in the space. And I remember having a conversation with Vaffa Jamali's, Zimvie’s CEO for the 13th episode, season two of Let's Talk Medtech. And I remember having the conversation with him about really establishing ZimVie as a brand separate from or independent company separate from Zimmer BioMed, where it was spun out from. I'm wondering, how do you establish the GE Healthcare brand? How do you kind of internally become that independent company because there's such a strong connection to GE and there's so much history there? How do you kind of branch out and become that new company?

Jan: It's a big topic. So, I'll sort of try and keep it short. But no, look, we were really part of GE for more than a century. And during those years, great industry, firsts, first full body CT, handheld ultrasound, a whole range of firsts. So, we're all hugely proud of the fact that we were part of GE and had a long heritage. But when we left, I mean, we've spent a lot of time here with Pete's leadership and the board really saying to our people, we are now independent. We have a board of people with healthcare backgrounds, healthcare It backgrounds, finance backgrounds, who are dedicated to GE Healthcare. We have analysts and investors who are looking at us as a medtech company with a medtech focus and investments and growth, as opposed to an industrial set of investors and analysts. And so, for all of us, the leadership team, all of the colleagues around the world, we're all part of this together. We are part of the newest big startup, a dedicated team, and it's in our hands, right?

It's up to us how we drive to go forward, and we start to hear our customers saying they can see it from us. So, it boils down, of course, to things like the decisions we make and the way we execute them. So, it boils down to how we think about investments, both from the board the analysts are excited in that our customers see excitement about how we execute to that in the high value areas across the hospital networks, in the alternate care settings across the world, and how we really invest well, get the returns we expect and really move faster. I think the last thing I would say is all of us think and hope we can move much faster. So, I talked before about the Imactus acquisition. Those sorts of things now are going to be much closer to the wheelhouse and faster to get through than before. So, we all feel very excited about it, as I'm sure you can tell.

Omar: Definitely. I look at GE Healthcare and I remember looking at the first earnings report when the company spun off and it was amazing. And to quote my colleague Amanda Peterson and frequent host of Let’s Talk Medtech GE healthcare was killing it. I saw all the analyst reports, too. Everyone was touting just how quickly you were moving, how well the company was performing. And it just seems like there is such an excitement surrounding GE Healthcare and there's so much energy right now. That being said,can you talk about some of the innovation that's occurring right now? We've talked obviously about the imaging modalities, but can you talk a little bit more about some other things that are going on in the company?

Jan: Yeah, our heritage is hardware. And always in this industry, hardware breakthroughs will be important. Always there'll be imaging breakthroughs to be had. But kind of to your point, it's more than that. And the language we use internally, and we use externally as well. We talk about D Three just to make it easy and snappy. So, when we say D Three, what do we mean? Yeah.

Omar: What is D three?

Jan: The first D is for devices, as I said, so letting breakthrough devices, investing in things like much lower X ray dose and so on, better image quality. The next D is really about digital and data. So, there's a massive amount of data generated in hospitals and imaging devices in all the care pathways. How do we get all the data and maximize the use? How do we get the right data at the right place at the right time in the workflow? For AI, which I'll talk about some more, how do we help the customers use all this data from these great devices? And then the third one is disease pathways or care pathways. So if you or I need to go into the primary care physician to get a checkup for some pain, we have or some Ailment. And then we go for some imaging and maybe a stress test. And then we go maybe to a hospital, and they take a CT, and they do some lab tests for us as patients. It's a journey. I've got a journey that ends up in me having a stent, right?

Or I have a journey that ends up in me having a suspicious mass investigated. And I go through many different stages to get there. Imaging stages, diagnosis stages. Let's design our products, thinking about that disease pathway. Let's think about the chest pain pathway. Let's think about the prostate cancer pathway. So, let's get great devices that give breakthroughs and really see things which are relevant in that pathway. Let's make sure we get all the data joined up across the network and the different sites, and let's design it to give better outcomes for people and patients who, at the end of the day, have a specific problem which takes multiple stages to fix. So that's the mantra we have. It resonates fantastically with customers. It drives our investment decisions. Our sales teams talk about it, and it's something that, you know, is a good growth driver for us here.

Omar: To jump into this topic now, and it's one of the hottest topics not only in medtech, not only in healthcare, but just in general. And that's AI. And I want to talk a little bit about GE's AI strategy, artificial intelligence, and some of the company's artificial intelligence offerings. Can you discuss that a bit?

Jan: So, this is a huge topic for us and our customers. It's something that really always comes up first. I'll give you sort of an imaging guys answer here, which is we sort of think about AI. You're going to come in for your scan, you're going to come in for your CT scan or your MRI scan. So, there's like pre scan, like, which CT you're going to go to, when should you be scheduled? What if you don't show up? How do we set the protocol up? How do we know the right settings on the machine? A lot of sort of scheduling work there which you can do lots of AI application there to take the data from all the different systems, especially like between maybe the emergency department and the ambulance coming in and the ward for you, your patient, your inpatient, your outpatient to schedule you effectively.

Especially for large healthcare networks with like dozens of sites, dozens of MRI Scanners. Lots of complexity there. So pre scan is a big one, the other one is of course, post scan. So, after I've taken the scan, I've got the image, I've got Jan's medical history, I've got his lab tests, I've got his image. How do I bring all that together? As I said before, on the disease pathway, how do I do sort of clinical insights and support the clinicians in their decision making with the data from that great scan? And the middle one is the scan itself. And this really is something, I think that GE healthcare we've really focused on hard for the last few years, which is, if you think about it, all of our machines are taking a picture of your insides from the outside and trying to get the data to make the signal and trying to make the machine as low cost as possible, the side effects as small as possible, the image as quickly as possible, and the patient experience as easy as possible is the tradeoff between having a great image and having a sustainable growable thing that customers and patients enjoy will come back for. And AI helps there a lot. So just to give you a specific example, we've worked a lot in the MRI space. MRI scans typically take 30, 40 minutes.

We've really worked a lot on the AI, so the MRI machine can basically collect less data, taking less time, but give a better image. So, the machine maybe doesn't need to be quite so high spec, the patient doesn't need to stay quite so long, but the image you get is better at the end. And this is a great application of AI, and we've used that same application across our x ray business, our mammal business, our pet business, and of course, in the ionizing and the radiation-based systems, having less dose and less time is a great benefit for patients as well. So, we have a big focus around this sort of pre-scan scan, post scan. This is something obviously FDA regulates. These products often are medical devices. And we're kind of proud to say in GE Healthcare that we have in at least a few months ago, 42 enabled medical devices on FDA's list, which is really the most of any supplier right now. That's how we do it, I think with AI, if you can embed it into the existing system like you embed it in the Mr. It's easy to learn, easy to use. If you start changing the patient during the workflow, obviously, then the question is how it works with the physicians, how it works with them in their daily process, how we build proof of success and all of that. A very important thing as we think about the broader AI stories. Omar?

Omar: Yeah, I think that you bring up an excellent point and there's always this concern and this fear when it comes to AI, just broadly speaking about it, is that it will replace or it will displace a system that's already been established. And we're not finding that in medical devices or in medical. It's more of an enhancement. It's adding on, it's adding value. And if it's doing anything, if it's taking away anything, it's taking away time. It's lessening the amount of time to sort through all the data or to go through all of these images and making the process much faster.

Jan: That's right. The AI can't work without the radiologist, but the radiologist can work with the absolute.

Omar: Exactly. Well, GE Healthcare has been moving at a rapid pace. And I've got to tell you, we've been watching here at Let's Talk Medtech, we've been watching the company's success, and I can't wait to see where you are, where you finish at the end of the year and going into 2024 as well.

Jan: Thank you for your support and trust. It means a lot to us to know that you're out there rooting for our success. Absolutely. Thank you for that.

 

About the Author(s)

Omar Ford

Omar Ford is MD+DI's Editor-in-Chief. You can reach him at [email protected].

 

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