GE joins forces with Varian to integrate imaging, radiotherapy

January 19, 2000

Citing the lure of integrating diagnostic imaging modalities with radiotherapy systems, GE Medical Systems and Varian Medical Systems have formed a North American marketing, sales, and product development alliance. The two vendors plan to supply a

Citing the lure of integrating diagnostic imaging modalities with radiotherapy systems, GE Medical Systems and Varian Medical Systems have formed a North American marketing, sales, and product development alliance. The two vendors plan to supply a combined package of diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy systems for treating cancer. Financial terms of the four-year agreement were not disclosed.

As part of the alliance, GE’s CT, nuclear medicine, and PET systems will be available to North American radiation oncology customers exclusively through Varian’s marketing and sales channels. The firms will also collaborate on information technology and product development to integrate imaging and radiotherapy systems. Both companies hope that the relationship will lead to incremental growth in business from the radiation oncology market following the initial start-up period that commences in February.

“Customers and patients in the area of cancer treatment have really been asking for the harmonization of diagnostic imaging and various therapy treatments to be delivered in a seamless way,” said Jeffrey Immelt, president and CEO of GE Medical Systems.

Varian hopes the deal will accelerate implementation of its new technology, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which allows customized high doses of radiation to be directed at small volumes of cancer, according to Richard Levy, president and CEO of Palo Alto, CA-based Varian Medical Systems.

In addition to the initial marketing relationship, the firms will participate jointly in product development. One of the projects they are discussing is the integration of Waukesha, WI-based GE’s Advantage Sim and Varian’s SomaVision system into one product, he said. The firms also plan to work together on content for a Web site dedicated to oncology and cancer treatment information.

The deal formalizes ties between firms that have been collaborating recently. GE sold its radiotherapy support and service operation to then Varian Associates at the end of 1997 in order to focus more closely on its core medical imaging, services, and information technology businesses (SCAN 10/15/97). In mid-1998, the two firms announced that they had agreed to offer a suite of products for radiation oncology in North America. Under the terms of that agreement, GE had offered SomaVision for planning cancer therapy treatments.

While the deal represents a closer bond between GE and Varian, it will also impact Varian’s longstanding radiotherapy relationship with Marconi Medical Systems. In July 1998, Varian expanded its strategic partnership agreement with the firm (then Picker International), which was established in 1993 and allowed Varian to offer Picker’s CT simulation systems with Acqsim for radiation therapy. With the expanded agreement, Varian also offered Picker’s CT scanners in conjunction with SomaVision and CAD Plan, a 3-D treatment planning system. That relationship will now cease after 30 days. Marconi declined to immediately comment on the news.

The GE/Varian deal comes as clinical studies are reporting favorable results using IMRT. At the 1999 American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology meeting, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Emory University, and McGill University reported that high-resolution IMRT improves outcomes in cancer patients by increasing radiation doses in tumors. This permits physicians to avoid nearby healthy tissue, reducing complications and improving patient comfort, according to Varian.