Monday, 15 December 2014

GE India Could Save U.S. PET/CT Scan Patients $7.5 Billion Per Year

Cancer is abnormal cell growth with the potential to spread to other parts of the body and disrupt normal functions, resulting in illness or death. Claiming over half a million lives per year, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease. There are over 100 known cancers effecting humans, some being more lethal than others. In all cases, early detection is crucial for improving the chances of successful treatment.

Cancer Cells, from WebMD

Cancer detection typically involves a range of methods and tests but is broken into two stages: Screening and diagnosis. Researchers have provided cancer screening guidelines to encourage regular screenings for potential symptoms of cancer, which differ for each type. Cancer symptoms might include heightened levels of proteins or other byproducts of cancer in the blood, abnormal growths, pain, bleeding, or discoloration of tissue. If potential symptoms appear, the doctor will move towards diagnosis, ordering additional tests to gather more data. These tests can be numerous and costly, and might include PET/CT scans, ultrasound, endoscopy, and MRI for imaging; lab testing on bodily fluids to detect tell-tale biomarkers; and biopsy to collect cell samples for microscopic evaluation by a Pathologist. Using data from these tests, doctors attempt to provide a definitive diagnosis and prognosis to the patient.

Many of the tests above are very expensive, but entrepreneurs in India are working on addressing an enormous and unmet domestic need for early cancer detection through innovative, low-cost product design. For example, GE Healthcare has developed the gorgeous Discovery IQ PET/CT, representing $15 million and 3 years of R&D at its center in Bangalore. Innovating within the constraints of India, they have succeeded in creating a scanner that's 40% more affordable than comparable alternatives, is modular and scalable to allow for price discrimination, offers a unified service of detection, planning, and assessment through state of the art hardware and software, and is a beautiful machine. The cost savings have come from conducting R&D in India, from redesigning a more cost-effective machine from the ground up, and from manufacturing the machine in India.

Discovery IQ PET/CT Scanner, from GE Healthcare

Currently, India only has about 120 PET/CTs operational in the country, whereas the required number of units to adequately address patient demand is over 1,000. Judging from the CEO & President of GE South Asia Terri Bresenham's remarks on Discovery IQ, GE hopes that the price elasticity of demand for PET/CT scanners in India is flexible enough that a 40% price reduction will help to fill this gap. I hope so, but it may be that more disruptive technologies like CellMax Life may ultimately be what brings early stage cancer detection to the masses of India.

Even if the Discovery IQ does not realize substantial financial returns or market share gains in India, GE and the world can still benefit tremendously because GE has created a superior, low-cost product. Producing 50-slice equivalent CT speed imaging, the highest PET axial view available on the market, the Q.SUITE platform for improved PET quantitation, and the Q.CLEAR platform for up to 2x image improvement (SNR) + 2x improvement in PET quantitation accuracy, Discovery IQ is a PET/CT that gets the job done. Certainly there are PET/CTs that may perform better on any one of these dimensions, but does it matter? For example, some PET/CTs are now capable of taking 512 slices, but since no meaningful diagnosis accuracy improvement was found from the jump between 64-slice and 128-slice scanners, 64-slice scanners generally make for the best value. In fact, according to Niharika Midha at GlobalData, the PET/CT "Hardware has reached this plateau . . . There is only so much that can be changed to the machine."

If GE India has tightly engineered Discovery IQ for maximum value (ROI), then this device may sit at the very rim of the performance plateau, including all of the right features, but not overloaded with cutting edge technology and experimental features that price it out value-conscious procurement networks.

GE Logo and Slogan from Inroads

Given that most PET/CTs cost between $2 and $3 million, the 40% price reduction for Discovery IQ puts it between $1.2 and $2.8 million for cost of acquisition. The median prices for CT scans charged by providers hover between $700 and $900, and the U.S. government estimates that 80 million scans are performed annually. The price for PET scans is about $5,000, but only 2 million are performed annually for Oncology diagnostics. Adding these up, approximately $75 billion is spent on PET/CT imaging per year in the U.S.

Of course, only a minor portion of this total spend could be chalked up to equipment cost, so if we instead look at the lowest PET/CT scan costs, and assume the imaging centers offering such low prices are highly efficient so that the overhead and profit margins per procedure are small, we might say that the 40% equipment cost savings generated by Discovery IQ could be passed on rather directly to the end payer. The lowest prices charged for CT scans seem to be around $200, and the lowest for PET scans around $1,200. Reducing these costs by 40% and multiplying by the yearly number of procedures shows a potential costs savings of nearly $7.5 billion per year.

This begs many questions. Could GE keep the cost this low in selling to PET/CT providers in the U.S.? If not, how much of the 40% cost saving be eaten up, and by what? Would GE even want to disrupt their home PET/CT market by importing Discovery IQ? Certainly short-term financial analysts held captive by Wall Streets valuation process would balk, as would the sales force taking lower per sale commissions. On the other hand, volume can make up for decreased unit margins, and such a move may gain GE significant additional market share. Also, the modularity of Discovery IQ might result in natural price discrimination, where the highest-end clients are able to pay for additional functionality, and could widen the base of the market by making a basic PET/CT available to clinics previously unable to afford one.

What Do You Think?
  • Should GE disrupt themselves by importing and commercializing Discovery IQ in the U.S.? If so, what main barriers would they face? 


  1. Interesting article. As to whether this new product can save billions per year, I'm not that familiar with the current PET/CT scan market, reimbursement, etc.

    I suspect, though, that this lower cost tech will gain more market opportunities in parts of the world where healthcare is quickly emerging, such as Indian.

  2. One of the major problems w/ PET/CT as a commonly-used early stage cancer detection method is the radiation, or the public perception of radiation poisoning. Other technologies may mitigate this, such as microwaves for breast cancer detection:

    1. Amount of radiation is typical to the yearly dose from your surroundings. Flying can increase your exposure to higher levels of radiation, and 1 flight could be said to be the equivalent dose of 1 CT which is definitely higher of the 2. Also, PET FDG has a half life of roughly half hr.

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  6. This is BS, was NOT developed in India.It was a handful of engineers brought into the US, and were mentored from some of the best minds in the PET/CT business IN AMERICA WAUKESHA WI, by AMERICANS!! The product is manufactured in America, and the detectors themselves were designed by Americans. Don't give up hope on the American Worker / Engineers.

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