Imatron subsidiary plans expansion of center network for CT cardiac screening

Scanner vendor holds cost advantage for equipment supplyHeartScanImaging, a subsidiary of ultrafast CT developer Imatron, expectsto begin building a chain of CT imaging centers this year, usingImatron electron beam scanners to screen for

Scanner vendor holds cost advantage for equipment supply

HeartScanImaging, a subsidiary of ultrafast CT developer Imatron, expectsto begin building a chain of CT imaging centers this year, usingImatron electron beam scanners to screen for coronary artery disease.Three centers should open in 1994, in addition to a prototypefacility already operating at Imatron's South San Francisco headquarters,said HeartScan president Dale Grant.

Equipment vendors don't normally venture into the direct provisionof imaging services. There are advantages and disadvantages tothis strategy, according to Grant. An equipment manufacturer quacenter developer can operate with a better cost structure thana third party, since scanners make up a large portion of centercapital expense. Most vendors, however, are uneasy about settingup centers that would compete with their own scanner customers.

Imatron's limited U.S. installed base of about two dozen ofits $2 million CT systems, including those sold by partner Siemens,may be a mixed blessing for the firm. While the small number ofsites limits service and upgrade revenue for Imatron, HeartScancenters have plenty of room to expand without bumping into thebusiness of its parent's users.

HeartScan, which was formed in 1993 (SCAN 4/21/93), has runa test marketing campaign this year involving billboard and radioadvertisements for CAD screening services in the San FranciscoBay area. But, because there are Imatron sites in California,HeartScan plans to open new centers outside the state, Grant said.Screening exams will cost around $400.

While HeartScan's test marketing campaign is aimed directlyat potential CAD screening patients, the company wants to be consideredlegitimate by the medical community. Patients for its centersare expected to come from a mix of referral and non-referral sources.The firm has a physician advisory board comprising both radiologistsand cardiologists and is working hard to build legitimacy forits screening effort.

"The idea that Imatron is thinking of dropping coronaryartery screening clinics all over street corners is incorrect,"Grant said.

Imatron is also assisting its scanner research sites in theU.S. and abroad to help verify that the use of ultrafast CT inevaluating coronary artery calcification can help predict CAD.Papers evaluating the role of ultrafast CT in predicting coronaryarteriosclerosis, including positive research results from Japan,were presented at the American College of Cardiology conferencelast month in Atlanta.

Last year, the American Heart Association issued a scienceadvisory stating that ultrafast CT was not yet justified clinicallyfor use in screening for CAD.

While Siemens now functions as Imatron's distributor in NorthAmerica, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia,the small U.S. firm is active on its own in the booming Asia-Pacificregion. It sells scanners through a new joint venture in Japanand distributors in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong andThailand. Malaysia and Vietnam are targeted national markets.

Japan has a relatively large installed base of 10 Imatron scanners,Grant said. Three more C150 systems are being installed this spring,while Imatron Japan has placed orders for another five units thisyear.

Although Imatron had a net loss of nearly $3 million in fiscal1993 (end-December), scanner sales did pick up. The vendor earned$25.1 million in revenue last year, up 76% from $14.2 millionin 1992.