Barco focuses on angiography workflow with latest CT and MR software releases

July 18, 2005

Barco’s purchase of software specialist Voxar raised eyebrows last year. Some observers puzzled over the deal when the purveyor of display monitors picked up a company that had prided itself on selling hardware-independent 3D medical imaging products (DI SCAN 9/29/05). They questioned whether the software would become specific to certain platforms. Nine months down the line, Barco, based in Kortrijk, Belgium, has answered those questions with the release of new 3D software that, like its predecessors, is free from the shackles of dedicated workstations.

Barco's purchase of software specialist Voxar raised eyebrows last year. Some observers puzzled over the deal when the purveyor of display monitors picked up a company that had prided itself on selling hardware-independent 3D medical imaging products (DI SCAN 9/29/05). They questioned whether the software would become specific to certain platforms. Nine months down the line, Barco, based in Kortrijk, Belgium, has answered those questions with the release of new 3D software that, like its predecessors, is free from the shackles of dedicated workstations.

Barco's launch of VesselMetrix signals a decisive step into the potentially lucrative cardiovascular imaging market. This dedicated vessel analysis module has been designed to aid quantitative assessment of contrast-enhanced CT and MR angiography data. Intended applications include measurement of stenoses and stent-graft planning or monitoring. Its functions include automatic centerline finding, can be performed on all major vessels from the carotids to the aorta and down through the pelvic bifurcation.

Barco has also released further upgrades to its core 3D visualization and analysis package. Voxar 3D 5.1 is up to 40% faster than earlier versions of the software and can work with larger data sets. Addition of so-called specular lighting lets operators illuminate structures of interest, enhancing the view of surface details and aiding the diagnosis of observed surface irregularities. A number of shortcuts have been added to speed up users' own interaction with the software.

Existing Voxar 3D users will need to upgrade to version 5.1 if they also want to run the VesselMetrix module. Any sites holding an extended service agreement will have the cost of this upgrade covered, but they must still pay for the add-on clinical application.

"The upgrade to include VesselMetrix in these site licenses is an additional charge, but it will be relatively nominal," said Carter Yates, senior director of strategic marketing for Barco. "I think most centers will find that this is something on which they could easily justify their return on investment."

Voxar had already been planning to launch a dedicated vessel analysis package prior its acquisition by Barco in September 2004, Yates said. A cash infusion from the new Belgian owners speeded up the process of getting VesselMetrix out on the market. The merging of the two companies' sales teams has also enabled the marketing of Voxar 3D and associated clinical modules, such as Colonscreen and now VesselMetrix, in Asia as well as throughout Europe and North America.

Barco's foray into cardiovascular imaging applications is not surprising, given the potential size of the market. Advances in CT and MR technology, coupled with a desire to avoid invasive procedures, have prompted a rise in CT and MR angiography studies. VesselMetrix is being released into a ready market.

"We know of sites right now where CTA and MRA may represent half of the total study load for CT and MR," Yates said. "This is only going to increase with the further adoption of 64-slice CT scanners."

Barco's other clinical applications module, Voxar Colonscreen, faces a dirrerent scenario. Although the virtual colonography package received FDA approval in March (DI SCAN 4/4/05), sales success will depend on greater assimilation of multislice CT for colon exams in future years.

"As a company, we need to plan on having products that have a quick acceptance in the market, and products for which acceptance takes a while longer," said Piet Candeel, vice president of BarcoView Medical Imaging Systems. "We prefer to have a balanced portfolio, rather than to bet on one particular application."

In terms of absolute numbers of studies performed, cardiovascular work wins hands down over virtual colonography at present, Yates said. But the pendulum could easily swing the other way, should CT be adopted as the preferred tool for colon cancer screening.

"The trick for us is to predict what the market might look like in two or three years," he said. "We have to make some educated guesses."

The firm's prime focus is to continue building relationships with the PACS partner companies that enable Barco to bring its 3D medical imaging analysis tools to radiologists' desktops, Yates said. This will include improving the integration between Barco's software and partner companies' PACS archives by optimizing data flow and making the 3D tools even more attractive to end users.

"What we're trying to do right now is leverage a tremendous amount of experience with our early adopters," Yates said. "So that as this market moves mainstream, we will have the kind of product that a mainstream radiologist or cardiologist would want to use."