GE HealthCare, Sinopharm plan joint venture to expand access to CT, ultrasound imaging

More than 30 years after GE HealthCare first joined forces with Sinopharm, China's state-run drugmaker, the partners are renewing their vows.

GE HealthCare, newly spun out from under the century-old umbrella of General Electric, is planning to form a new joint venture—through its Chinese subsidiary—with Sinopharm’s China National Medical Device Co., according to a Friday filing (PDF) with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Financial details of the team-up weren’t disclosed, nor did the duo give a timeline for the launch of the proposed joint venture. However, GE HealthCare did note in the SEC filing that the creation of a new company will be subject to regulatory sign-off in China.

The renewed collaboration between GE HealthCare and Sinopharm is aimed at developing and commercializing medical equipment that will best serve China’s healthcare needs. It’ll start with a focus on “non-premium CT and general imaging ultrasound solutions,” per the filing, tailoring those imaging devices to both regular primary care and rural health settings.

If all goes well through that initial phase, GE HealthCare wrote, “The product scope may be further expanded by agreement of the two parties.”

The new joint venture’s initial focus on imaging reflects that of GE and Sinopharm’s last collaboration, which began in 1991 and still continues on today. That agreement resulted in the creation of Hangwei, another China-based medical equipment manufacturer that kicked off with an eye toward building CT and ultrasound devices in the country.

According to a report from Diagnostic Imaging at the time, GE teamed up with Sinopharm largely to help boost production of CT scanners in China, where imports of the devices were restricted by quota and only one domestic manufacturer was then producing the scanners.

Hangwei has since expanded into other imaging technologies, including MRI—though in 1991, the company’s founders weren’t sure they’d reach that point. As the late David Wang, then the VP for China projects at GE, told Diagnostic Imaging, MRI was not only much more expensive than other imaging tools, but was also “still in the very early stages” in the country, with only 10 to 15 of the scanners installed in China at the time.

Since going solo at the start of this year, GE HealthCare has been on a major growth spurt. In addition to lining up the new joint venture with Sinopharm, the company has also already racked up its first two acquisitions.

The first came only a few days after the spinout was complete and saw GE HealthCare put down an offer to scoop up CT imaging tech maker Imactis. Then, earlier this month, the company set its sights on expanding its imaging portfolio even further with a bid for Caption Health, the maker of artificial-intelligence-powered ultrasound guidance technology. GE HealthCare didn’t disclose the financial details of either acquisition.