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OEC takes control of fluoro products at GE's plant in Buc, France


Move reflects broad targeting of interventional marketOne-time x-ray maverick OEC Medical, now a component of GE Medical Systems, has taken responsibility for worldwide production of large digital fluoroscopy systems at its

Move reflects broad targeting of interventional market

One-time x-ray maverick OEC Medical, now a component of GE Medical Systems, has taken responsibility for worldwide production of large digital fluoroscopy systems at its parent's facility in Buc, France. Among the fixed-room digital fluoro products now under its control are cardiac cath labs, radiology special procedures, and diagnostic catheterization equipment. The move is part of a redefinition and expansion of OEC's market focus to target a wide range of interventional imaging applications, according to Ruben C. Berumen, president and CEO of GE OEC Medical Systems and general manager of GE's global surgery and vascular imaging business.

"We see a blurring in the interventional field (among various clinical specialties) that some of the other companies in this industry have not responded to," he said. "We have married surgical and interventional (technologies) into what we call SAVI for surgical and vascular imaging."

The combination of GE's fixed digital fluoro products with OEC's surgical C-arms illustrates this stretch of similar technologies across specialties and clinical applications, said Larry Harrawood, vice president of clinical and market development for GE OEC.

"There has been a melting together of intraoperative imaging and interventional imaging done in cath labs and rad special rooms," Harrawood said. "Vascular surgeons are fighting interventional radiologists who are fighting interventional cardiologists for the same patients and same procedures. We build machines for all of them."

Among the products with the highest profile now under OEC's control is the Innova 2000, the industry's first cath lab based on a flat-panel detector. Product managers claim the digital technology, released in a cardiac cath configuration some two years ago, allows better visualization of blood vessels and interventional devices such as stents. New developments to be announced March 17 at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology include enhanced imaging capabilities and dose reduction technology.

A central tenet of the reorganization that thrust OEC into its new position of power is separation of the digital fluoro business from general radiography products produced in Buc, including mammography, even though these products are based on the same amorphous silicon technology that underlies the Innova 2000. The digital fluoro equipment in the Buc facility is now part of GE OEC. The digital radiography and mammography equipment is part of the larger GEMS organization, Harrawood said.

Mobile C-arm production is done at OEC's old headquarters in Salt Lake City, as well as at facilities in Germany, India, and China. Premium digital fluoroscopy components developed by OEC for its mobile C-arms will be integrated into fixed-room fluoro products, allowing for more compact and less expensive systems, he said.

"Quite frankly, some of the high-end mobile C-arms that we developed for neuroradiology and interventional cardiology in the OR can outperform a lot of fixed rooms," Harrawood said.

Since the acquisition of OEC Medical in 1999, GE has nurtured this assertiveness, which helped OEC dominate the mobile C-arm market in the U.S. and brought the company to the attention of GE. Combining this attitude and small-company focus with the product development strengths inherent in a multimodality vendor has allowed GEMS to bring out a wider range of products at a faster pace, Berumen said.

"OEC took two to three years to launch new products," he said. "We are driving technology faster so that we can respond faster to customer needs."

GE has provided the SAVI business unit with the autonomy necessary to maintain market focus while offering engineering and product quality support, Berumen said. A separate service force and applications team have been created to address the interventional market. New interventional products have also moved beyond pure imaging, as shown by the planned acquisition of the surgical navigation products of Visualization Technology (SCAN 2/20/02).

"The biggest challenge is how to grow yet stay agile like a small company," Berumen said. "We believe this is best accomplished through a focus on applications and customers and by driving technology. Small companies in the past have brought in new technology that the big companies weren't moving."

The decision to put GE OEC in charge of digital fluoro products coming out of Buc also reflects the enhanced international strength provided to this interventional imaging business by its new parent, Harrawood said. Prior to the GE acquisition, OEC had close to a 70% position in the U.S. intraoperative imaging market, while its international market share against the same competitors was around 15%. This ratio has gained better balance under GE, he said.

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