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Health costs these days are high not just for patients - they are high for everybody, including the people who research health care. If you're a researcher working at a big university or hospital, you're covered; most institutions promote research, which may lead to a new breakthrough device or procedure.
If you don't have a big institution backing you up, though, you may have a problem. You may be sitting on the next breakthrough in cardiology or ultrasound technology, but in order to perfect your invention, you need a place to do research development, which costs money.
Thanks to a new deal between the Chief Scientist's Office and GE Healthcare, those deserving but needy researchers working on their medical startup ideas now have someone to turn to. If you think "mixer" and "microwave" when you hear the name General Electric, you are lacking behind the times. The company's healthcare division, which employs nearly 50,000 people worldwide, has a broad range of products and services that include medical imaging and information technologies, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, performance improvement solutions, drug discovery, and biopharmaceutical manufacturing technologies.
The company has been active in Israel for several years, merging several operations in 2002 into a single entity. It's thanks to GE Healthcare that Ashdod, for example, is set to get its own medical emergency center in the coming months (http://www.gehealthcare.com/ilen/index.html). Once the building is completed, GE Healthcare will stock it with GE-made equipment, turning it into a ready to go, "off the shelf" operation.
Not one to miss an opportunity, the company has also decided to begin scouting out promising Israeli startups working in the medical industry.
GE Healthcare signed a deal recently with the Chief Scientist's Office to provide material assistance to companies that are part of the office's incubator programs. Under the terms of the deal, companies that get their funding from the Chief Scientist can take advantage of GE facilities and personnel to help them along with their development, hopefully saving them money, and cutting down the time to market for important innovations that can help save lives.
And it's not just a "sink or swim" form of assistance, says Dr. Toby Bachar of GE Healthcare. "We will help startups with not just development, but with marketing and ensuring that their product can qualify for approval by governments, always a major issue for startups," said Dr. Bachar.
Bachar added that the company was seeking to find startups in areas such as "molecular imaging, genetics, nuclear medicine and pure science products." GE Healthcare Israel has about 400 employees and has been very active in the Israeli health care industry. The company's R&D center was set up using resources from Elscint and Elbit, both venerable names in Israeli technology. Just this year, the company acquired Israeli ventilator maker VersaMed (http://www.versamed.com/). And in 2004, GE Healthcare's InSightec got FDA approval for ExAblate 2000, a product that integrates Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) with focused ultrasound energy. So, the company has its bona fides when it comes to innovation.
And, Dr. Bachar believes, there's much more out there for GE Healthcare to discover.
"There are many small startups working in the areas we are directly involved in, and we would love to be the ones to find the next big thing," said Dr. Bachar
To that end GE Healthcare will provide whatever material assistance it can, as well as advice and guidance - everything except money, which is what the Chief Scientist's Office will provide.
So what's in it for GE Healthcare?
Dr. Bachar explaines that by researching and working with the most promising companies, "we get a chance to know them and help them to avoid pitfalls and problems, thus encouraging even more research and innovation." And, maybe, because the companies have already worked with GE Healthcare and gotten to know its culture, they might want to continue working with the organization, thus enhancing GE Healthcare's portfolio of innovations. However, the companies Dr. Bachar's company will work with have no obligation to sign on with GE, whether marketing or profit sharing, he says.
And while GE Healthcare has development programs in many countries, it knows that Israel is unique when it comes to startups and innovative research.
"We are especially happy to be able to work with the Chief Scientist's office, because of its unique programs to discover new, innovative technology. While there are seed programs in other countries for high tech development, the programs offered by the Chief Scientist's Office are probably more extensive - and successful - than the programs elsewhere. We're proud to be working with the office, and we know we will be able to bring some good ideas to market."