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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
GE and Amersham 'will save lives'
By Hugh Fraser
BBC World Service business reporter

Sir William Castell
Sir William wants to make medical procedures more accurate
When Sir William Castell, the chief executive of the medical research firm Amersham, describes his vision of "personalised medicine", he speaks from experience.

Just two weeks ago he underwent an operation to have stones removed from his kidney, but he soon returned to work.

The timing was significant, and so was the procedure used during the operation.

A scanner was able to identify the precise location of the stones, and the operation was therefore carried out "practically as outpatient surgery", Sir William says.

No pain, no gain?

Sir William immediately went back to work on the deal of his life: the takeover of his company by the American industrial colossus GE.

We can catch the cancers earlier.
Sir William
Chief executive
It "would probably have gone ahead anyway", even if it had been done without the advances in diagnostic science, "but it would have been a lot more painful", Sir Williams quips.

The men in charge of both companies, Sir William and his new boss, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt, insist they have a common vision.

Their ambitions go well beyond reducing the pain for kidney stone patients.

Instead, they want to enhance medical research to make it possible to spot killer diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's earlier.

And they want to create drugs, procedures and equipment that will make it easier to tailor treatment to individual circumstances.

"Today, we have the average dose for the average patient," Sir William said.

"In the future, we're going to have the right dose of therapy for a specific patient."

Like hand in glove?

Both men insist it is a match made in heaven.

As I travel the world, I see health care becoming increasingly more consumerised
Jeffrey Immelt
GE boss
GE's medical division makes the MRI and CT scanners which take images of patients bodies and help identify problems such as cancerous growths.

Amersham makes the contrasting agents which are injected into the patient's body to enable the scanners to look inside the body and create images of organs and growths.

Amersham also serves the biotechnology industry, and Sir William firmly believes that better understanding of genes is another sure way to earlier and better diagnosis.

Saving money

Together, Amersham and GE want to "change the economics of health care" Sir William insists.

Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive, GE
Mr Immelt expects the healthcare and diagnostic sector to grow fast in the future
The idea is simple.

It costs a fortune to treat a cancer patient, partly because the drugs and machinery used for the treatment itself is expensive, but also because patients generally need looking after for long periods of time.

And then there is the absence from work which costs society a great deal of money too.

"We can catch the cancers earlier," Sir William says, and as a consequence costs to society can be dramatically reduced.

A better understanding of people's genetic makeup should also help by making it easier for doctors to prescribe the right drugs, thereby reducing spending on the inappropriate ones.

Making money

In taking over Amersham, GE has made it clear that it expects the health care and diagnosis industry to continue to grow fast in the years ahead.

"As I travel the world, I see health care becoming increasingly more consumerised," says Mr Immelt.

"People are smarter about their health and understand how treatments can be done."

GE's hope is that savvy consumers put ever more pressure on their national healthcare systems.

As tax payers, the patients are the ultimate customers, so the argument that early diagnosis could give them more bang for their buck may well be one both healthcare providers and health ministries across the world will be forced to accept.


But before Sir Williams and Mr Immelt's ambitions can be realised, the takeover must be completed.

For unlike Sir Williams' operation, the deal is not over yet.

Company shareholders and competition authorities on both sides of the pond must approve the deal.

Only then can the two groups begin to merge their two corporate cultures into one.

Amersham chief executive Sir William Castell
"In the future, we're going to have the right does of therapy for a specific patient."

General Electric buys Amersham
10 Oct 03  |  Business
Amersham is takeover target
08 Oct 03  |  Business
Amersham slashes jobs to cut costs
26 Feb 03  |  England

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