Mid-field MRI develops premium end

February 16, 1994

Sluggish results in the high-field segment of the U.S. MRI marketlast year vindicated Toshiba's decision to focus on developmentof a premium mid-field scanner, according to Bill Carrano, directorof MRI marketing for Toshiba America Medical Systems. This

Sluggish results in the high-field segment of the U.S. MRI marketlast year vindicated Toshiba's decision to focus on developmentof a premium mid-field scanner, according to Bill Carrano, directorof MRI marketing for Toshiba America Medical Systems. This doesn'timply, however, that the performance of mid-field MRI last yearwas stellar.

"Two years ago, people would have said, `You are developingthe wrong product. You should develop the next generation high-fieldunit.' But we stuck to our guns," Carrano told SCAN. "Asit turns out--with what is happening in health-care economics--thelargest opportunity for potential purchasers and manufacturerswill be in the mid-field market."

Market-wide sales of 1-tesla-and-above scanners in the U.S.softened considerably last year, said Ravi D. Sharma, TAMS vicepresident of marketing. Sales did not rise for systems below 1tesla, but that segment held closer to its prior-year level thandid the high end of the market. Toshiba markets MRI systems at1.5, 0.5, 0.35 and 0.064 tesla.

Rather than providing mid-field economics for high-field scanners,Toshiba has focused on expanding mid-field MRI capabilities. Theresult is Flexart, a 0.5-tesla works-in-progress shown by Tustin,CA-based TAMS at the December Radiological Society of North Americameeting(SCAN 11/17/93).

Flexart evolved out of a four-year partnership with computervendor Silicon Graphics, Carrano said. The SGI engine in Flexartenhances the multitasking capabilities of the scanner, which addsto patient throughput, he said. The MRI system also offers easeof use with icon-based software controls.

Toshiba also developed a new MRI pulse sequence called Quadscan,which boosts the coverage of T1-weighted spin-echo imaging. Quadscanexcites four slices simultaneously. With all other parametersthe same, this allows for four times the anatomical coverage,Carrano said.

While the Silicon Graphics relationship with Toshiba is well-established,the computer firm will also be supplying an MRI engine for Elscint,although the results of this agreement are not likely to be shownuntil the next RSNA meeting, according to June Ruszkowski, ElscintMRI marketing manager.

FURTHER SEGMENTATION HAS DEVELOPED in the mid-field MRI market,Carrano said. Premium mid-fields, which encroach on the capabilitiesof 1-tesla systems, have maintained price levels of $1 millionto $1.3 million. The lower mid-field tier has been under extremeprice pressures, however, with prices declining in some casesto $800,000 or less.

Throughput improvements in the premium mid-field tier helpjustify the higher price, he said. Flexart, for instance, hastrimmed 15 to 20 minutes off a typical mid-field MRI exam, whichallows system time for additional patients in a day.

Turnover is under way in the 0.5-tesla installed base, Sharmanoted. Older technology is being replaced despite the pressuresand uncertainty of health-care reform.

"There are a lot of older MRs out there. The replacementmarket is going to keep the mid-field segment stable," hesaid.

The price of Toshiba's low-field Access system has held up surprisinglywell considering that some mid-field systems are now being soldat near its price level, Sharma said.

Last year's introduction of MRI systems with niche interventionalapplications by competitors GE and Siemens is a good sign forAccess, he said.

"The Access is holding its value. The validity of theopen MRI concept is being supported. There is a need for openMRIs that allow you to perform therapeutic procedures," Sharmasaid.

Access was introduced four years ago by Diasonics, which subsequentlysold its MRI business to Toshiba. Over 100 systems have been soldworldwide, Carrano said. About 70% of the Access installed baseis in the U.S.