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Fuji seeks market perception as major imaging company


PACS and CR offerings combine to provide growthStamford, CT, is a long way from Tokyo, but Fujifilm Medical USA has spanned the gap philosophically as well as geographically. The U.S. subsidiary has forged a strategy focused on the

PACS and CR offerings combine to provide growth

Stamford, CT, is a long way from Tokyo, but Fujifilm Medical USA has spanned the gap philosophically as well as geographically. The U.S. subsidiary has forged a strategy focused on the U.S. marketplace, yet it maintains a corporate link strong enough to leverage its parent's mammoth financial strength. This is no small accomplishment.

Corporate headquarters usually keep a tight rein on foreign operations. This has been especially true of European and Japanese companies with operations in the U.S. Corporate leaders at Tokyo-based Fuji Photo Film, however, have adopted a different attitude.

"It's taken some time, but there has been a wholesale shift," said Clay Larsen, Fujifilm Medical USA's vice president of marketing and network development. "They are very concerned about meeting the U.S. market needs. Consequently, we have a lower frustration quotient than other companies, as far as dealing with our parent."

Fuji entered the U.S. market decades ago as a provider of radiographic film and a pioneer in computed radiography. The development and introduction in 1997 of the company's PACS product, Synapse, signaled a new emphasis on PACS as a core technology and a surprising reliance on U.S. engineering. The PACS technology evolved from a primordial soup of PC-based workstations and software dished up at an R&D center created at the Stamford headquarters of U.S. operations for just this purpose. The addition of a PACS product was a critical step in the development of Fuji's U.S. strategy, which has refused to include digital--or as Larsen calls it, cassetteless--radiography products, opting instead to remain dedicated to CR.

"The flat-panel market is going to grow with the rate of x-ray room replacements," Larsen said. "CR is going to grow with the rate of PACS, which is on a much faster track."

Fuji's extensive offerings in CR are compatible with virtually any PACS, but they are integral parts of Synapse, which has established a high-profile position within the imaging community. Specific numbers are proprietary, but Fuji executives acknowledge that the installed base of Synapse is well over 100 sites. Hoping to boost the appeal of this system, Fuji engineers have added advanced features such as new shortcuts, image annotating tools, volumetric data navigation for large cross-sectional data sets, a new patient-centric display, and speech recognition. An advanced cross-sectional navigational system introduced in May allows users to examine stacks of axial, coronal, and sagittal CT or MR slices as a volume.

Demand for Synapse and CR is being handled by Fujifilm Medical USA's direct sales force. CR has the added advantage of additional distribution channels run by dealers and OEMs that do not have access to this technology. Alternative distribution can be highly complementary, as in the case of MedStrat, a Downers Grove, IL, company that sells low-cost Fuji CR products to orthopedic practices. The Fuji direct sales operation cannot address this niche market, Larsen said.

"Our account mangers have been so busy that they drive by these medical office buildings," he said. "They barely have enough time to hit all the exits for blue 'H' signs on the highway. Yet there is a big orthopedic private-office x-ray market out there that would love to take advantage of digital technology."

Satisfying demand from distributors--and especially OEMs--however, can present a quandary. Fuji executives must strike a balance between selling through alternative channels and their own.

"You have to be careful that you don't screw up your own distribution," Larsen said. "We don't want to get into being a supplier to distributors. To be considered one of the major imaging companies, you need to have a strong direct sales operation."

Achieving the status of major imaging company is a critical element of Fuji's strategy in the U.S. Fuji must be taken seriously in order to win individual orders, as well as group purchasing contracts. Its parent's strength in the global marketplace and its financial stability are big pluses (Fuji generates revenues of $20 billion annually). Consolidation within the industry has also reduced the number of highly visible players. CR, in concert with Synapse, allows Fujifilm Medical USA to cross over to the imaging side of the marketplace, rather than being perceived as just another film company, Larsen said.

CR may buff the corporate image even more, if CR mammography comes through as Larsen expects. As of late July, the company had sold 200 of its full-field digital mammography systems, the FCR 5000MA. Sales thus far have been to customers outside the U.S., but that could change. Clinical trials of the FCR 5000MA are under way in the U.S. A premarket approval application, based on these data, could lead to FDA approval in the latter half of 2003, according to the company. The optimism is based partly on the success other companies, including GE, Hologic, and Fischer Imaging, have had getting their own digital mammography systems through the FDA.

"The bar we need to jump over is much better defined than when other vendors had to deal with it," Larsen said. "We know exactly how many studies have to be done, the statistical power we need, and the image quality we have to meet. Now it's just a matter of doing the work."

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