Cardiovascular MRI pushes contrast injector market

May 24, 2000

MR angiography and cardiac scanning drive growth "A lot of scanners now have software capabilities that allow contrast-enhanced MR angiography and perfusion," said Bonnie Cowan, product manager for MRI contrast injectors at Medrad, the

MR angiography and cardiac scanning drive growth

"A lot of scanners now have software capabilities that allow contrast-enhanced MR angiography and perfusion," said Bonnie Cowan, product manager for MRI contrast injectors at Medrad, the Schering subsidiary that engineers the company's Spectris injector. "This is really opening up the market."

The timing is also proving beneficial for Mallinckrodt and its Optistar power injector product. In the first four months of this year, the company sold about 50 units, according to Thomas A. Coogan, Ph.D., Mallinckrodt's marketing manager for MR contrast media. The $35,000 price tag for Optistar sometimes meets resistance from prospective buyers who have grown accustomed to administering contrast by squeezing the plastic bag surrounding the agent. But Coogan has a comeback.

"This is a necessary piece of equipment," he said. "Not an expensive piece."

Mallinckrodt launched its Optistar delivery system commercially in January, following FDA clearance (SCAN 3/1/00). It is only the second such power injector developed specifically for MR contrast. Until then, Schering AG of Germany had a lock on the market, going back to the March 1996 introduction of its Spectris product.

Over the past four years, Schering has sold about 2000 of these injectors worldwide. The company's installed base may soon expand further, Cowan said. It expects increased competition to help push its sales.

"It helps increase awareness," she said.

The introduction of Optistar also marks a new chapter in the rivalry between Mallinckrodt and Schering. The companies have been butting heads for years with competing contrast agents, some designed for use with MRI, others for x-ray-based equipment. Extending the playing field to include injectors has heightened the competition.

"Customers can see significant advantages with our product," Coogan said. "Ease of use is number one."

The Mallinckrodt screen is "colorful," he said, allowing easier reading and data input, compared to "the competition." Coogan said Optistar is also more flexible, allowing "drop in" syringe loading and dose triggering either remotely, in the control room, or at the patient table.

"With the competition, you have to tilt (the machine up), spike a bottle, and then draw it in," Coogan said, "so you're taking scan time. We're hoping (Optistar) will speed up procedures."

Whatever advantages Optistar has over the competition, they may not be long-lived. Cowan noted that a next generation system is in the works at Medrad. She declined to comment on when this new system might be released, but said that a product was not far from commercialization.

"I hate to commit to dates, but we are looking at having something available next year," Cowan said.

Neither of the drug giants developed injector technology themselves, but rather obtained it through corporate acquisitions--Mallinckrodt in January 1996 with its purchase of Liebel-Flarsheim, and Schering in August 1995 with its acquisition of Medrad.

Injectors complement the main product lines of both companies, adding a degree of certainty in administration that can otherwise be achieved only by a skilled technologist. The advantage of contrast injectors, Coogan said, is that they provide reproducibility regardless of the staffperson doing the procedure.

As the popularity of MR angiography grows, he said, so will demand for mechanical injectors. On this point, Cowan and Coogan agree.

Correction: Imageon Solution's chief technical officer Gary York was misidentified in the May 10, 2000, issue.