Breast MR vendor clings to growing demand for units

March 19, 2003

Future growth depends on improved educationAurora Imaging Technology is on the rebound. The North Andover, MA, company installed five dedicated MR mammography scanners over the last six months, according to Steven James, Aurora's

Future growth depends on improved education

Aurora Imaging Technology is on the rebound. The North Andover, MA, company installed five dedicated MR mammography scanners over the last six months, according to Steven James, Aurora's executive vice president and CFO.

Less than a year ago, Aurora Imaging was struggling to survive. Layoffs in spring and summer, followed by an infusion of capital by investors, pumped new life into the company.

"Money was tight, but we were never out of cash," James said.

Now MR mammography seems to be gaining momentum. Aurora is in discussions with several interested sites, James said. Early adopters of the Aurora Dedicated Breast MR scanner are starting to show positive cash flow. Revenues may not be enough to establish MR mammography as a profit leader, but they have demonstrated the potential for this modality to put mammography in the black.

"Hospitals have become accustomed to thinking of mammography as a loss leader," he said. "We're finding that MR mammography can actually establish a positive cash flow."

MR breast examination is typically done as an adjunct to x-ray mammography. There are about a half-dozen accepted clinical applications, including the characterization of cancer or assessment of breast implants suspected of leaking. Exams typically are done with contrast media, and reimbursement from third-party payers runs as high as $800, James said.

The company targets women's health clinics rather than radiology departments. Mammographers are quick to train in MR, he said. They see exactly the kind of patients suited to the technology, and they understand breast anatomy and pathology.

Aurora is pressing forward with a new peripheral technology, an MR-guided interventional system that cleared the FDA in January (SCAN 3/5/03). It will make the biopsy capability part of the basic product. The newly cleared technology will ship with new systems; the company is also making it available to units already operating.

Continued sales of dedicated MR mammography systems will depend on educating prospective customers about when and how the technology should be applied. But that task is easier said than done. While the applications have been established, the actual utilization of MR mammography differs among sites, depending on individual circumstances and needs.

"Each of our sites finds a different way of using it," James said. "Mammographers at women's health centers have different tools at their disposal, which they use as they see fit."