21 Sep Barber at BIO Mid-America: GE keynoter talks up the future of medical imaging technology
Editor’s note: Wisconsin is putting its best foot forward to outside investors this week as Milwaukee hosts the annual BIO Mid-America VentureForum. In this Visions presentation, WTN interviewed keynote speaker Mike Barber, chief technology officer for GE Healthcare.
WTN: What do you plan to stress during your keynote?
Barber: It’s going to be a little bit about GE Healthcare, just to give them an overview of the business and where we stand. And then I’m going to talk about our vision for healthcare, what we call “Healthcare Re-imagined” and, as we term it, going from late disease to early health and the kinds of things that we see as necessary to make that a reality. These are things that have to do with technology, that have to do with information technology, product technology, collaboration with clinicians, discoveries that are going on in the life-sciences area, so a broad variety of things that we think need to come together.
We’re at a point where we’re ready for these things to come together to address both the quality and the cost that we see as part of the healthcare system.
WTN: The GE-Abbott deal was supposed to help advance GE’s early healthcare model. Now that the deal has been abandoned, where does that program stand?
Barber: The vision is still there from that perspective; it’s one that’s trying to develop and understand tests that may exist that could identify problems before there are symptoms. So screening mammography is one way to do that. Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) tests that men have as part of a physical examination is another way to do that.
There are other things that are in the pipeline, some in GE and some external to GE, but having the paradigm where you can identify pre-symptomatic patients that have disease at the earliest stages is a key part of what we believe is ready to happen in healthcare.
WTN: What about the role medical imaging and device products play in this? Is there a medical imaging device or advance that you’re working on that doesn’t also advance this understanding of early disease?
Barber: An imaging device can be used in terms of early health, but part of early health is also better monitoring when somebody does go through treatment. There is imaging that can be done as part of that as well, so all of our advances from that perspective are always trying to help clinicians treat patients better. So to that extent, that’s what we’re always trying to do.
WTN: Is there one product in particular that you’re very excited about that can bring this early-disease model to fruition?
Barber: It’s a range of products over a range of time frames. There are things that we are working on to provide better information and faster. Being able to see more in terms of resolution means that you can have more information and know more about what you’re trying to deal with, and doing that with less dose. That’s what our CT business is doing, and there are some key advances that we believe will have less dose and allow people to do that.
In MR, there are new things coming with respect to the functional MR capability where you cannot only look at the anatomy of what’s going on, where a tumor might be in the brain, but you can do functional imaging so that if somebody has a pain center that you can map that in MR, and then if somebody does have a brain tumor, you can avoid some of those key nerves as you’re going in and doing a surgical procedure. So having that available in MR is something that’s new and exciting for us.
Things in the ultrasound business or clinical systems business with monitoring – being able to make those devices smaller and smaller and more ubiquitous is key in terms of being patient-centric. Today, often times if you go from a surgical suite or to an ICU or to a normal ward in the hospital, you get connected and disconnected to monitors several times. Having a monitor small enough that it can stay with the patient and have that movement so you don’t have to do those extra steps in terms of disconnecting and reconnecting are among things that we’re working on.
In the life sciences area, some key technologies are looking at vaccines. We do a lot of cell and protein purification, looking at different ways of being able to do drug delivery and drug discovery in the area of vaccines, and we’re looking at cell therapy. There are products out there now for cord blood storage and how that can be done in terms of potentially using that for future treatments. These are all key things that we’re looking at and working on.
WTN: Regarding BIO Mid-America, given investors’ preference for investing close to home, what does Wisconsin need to do to capture even more outside venture investment?
Barber: I think conferences like this are helpful. I think it’s important to let it be known what’s going on in Wisconsin between the Milwaukee and Madison corridor with some of the companies, WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation), and what’s going on at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in terms of stem cell research and in terms of other spin offs and biotechs, which is something that’s key.
And having what I’ll call an anchor like GE Healthcare here from the perspective of all the things we’re involved with in the healthcare field is something that, from a human capital perspective, should be attractive with academic research and industry growing in this area – as well as the chance from a clinical perspective to be able to test out and prove out these things within the healthcare system and patient population that is available at UW-Madison and other places in the southeastern Wisconsin region.
WTN: What do you think this event means to Wisconsin to have these outside venture funds, given that we’ve tried venture fairs before?
Barber: Whenever you travel the world and you mention that you’re in southeastern Wisconsin, they first think of cheese, beer, or dairy cows. Now, conferences like this expose people to think about some of the high-tech kinds of things that are happening in this area as well.
WTN: We’re interested in any insights you have on electronic medical records and patient data exchange between hospitals. These are major thrusts here in Wisconsin, but there are barriers such as the release of mental health information, and there are also those who think it will fail. What do you make of these possibilities?
Barber: I think that when you start talking about healthcare system improvements, there are two things that we always talk about. It’s the efficacy of what has to happen in terms of diagnosing disease, and it’s also the healthcare system’s efficiency, and that efficiency has a lot to do with information technology. IT has transformed many other industries in terms of transparency of what’s going on, and it has made them more efficient in delivering their goods to their customers, and there’s no reason why the same can’t happen in the world of healthcare.
Clearly, there are safeguards and provisions that have to be made with respect to patient information and privacy information, who has access or who can get access to that type of information, but the same can be said about other personal information that people utilize IT for. So I think there are ways to overcome these barriers from a technology perspective, but there should be open discussion between government, between legislators, and between the private sector in terms of what should be necessary and what should be had.
Transparency to help quality and cost is something that’s key, and IT is the way to make that happen.