Otsuka builds staff for U.S. sales drive

February 10, 1993

Otsuka Electronics is gearing up for growth in sales of its low-cost,high-field MRI scanner this year. The MRI developer, based inFort Collins, CO, started selling the OE 1.5 SL system in 1992,bringing on the first two sites: De Kalb Magnetic Resonance

Otsuka Electronics is gearing up for growth in sales of its low-cost,high-field MRI scanner this year. The MRI developer, based inFort Collins, CO, started selling the OE 1.5 SL system in 1992,bringing on the first two sites: De Kalb Magnetic Resonance Centerin De Kalb, IL, and Barnes West County Hospital in St. Louis,an affiliate of the Mallinckrodt Institute.

Otsuka, a subsidiary of Otsuka Pharmaceutical of Japan, buildsits MRI system in the U.S. The firm increased staff from 90 toover 170 positions in the year since the unit debuted at the 1991Radiological Society of North America meeting (SCAN 12/25/91),according to Kenneth S. Denison, product manager of clinical systems.New staff include personnel in sales, scientific development andmanufacturing.

Denison left his position as MR product manager at Picker Internationalto join Otsuka late last year.

The product objective behind Otsuka's 1.5-tesla MRI systemis to provide the performance of other high-field units, in particularGE's Signa system, while maintaining the unit's price of approximately$1.25 million. The firm's effort to add features is ongoing. Otsukahopes to reach the point of equivalence by the time of the 1993RSNA meeting in December.

A key works-in-progress feature of the scanner showed at lastyear's meeting is echo-planar imaging, which Otsuka intends tooffer as a standard feature for no additional cost.

"With GE you might have to pay up to $500,000 to get thatcapability," Denison said.

One distinction between Otsuka's MRI and other standard systemsis that the unit is not equipped for whole-body scanning. Thisis a deliberate distinction, however. Otsuka actually developeda wraparound gradient coil within the system bore for spine imagingafter it proved not feasible to build a modular flat coil forthis application.

While the wraparound coil could be used for whole-body applications,Otsuka has not developed an RF coil for this purpose, and hasnot placed a high priority on doing so.

"If the market tells us there is a need--say if a contrastagent is developed that shifts liver imaging from CT to MR exclusively--wecould go into high gear to develop a coil to image livers,"he said.

Until that point, Otsuka will continue to emphasize head, neck,spine and extremity scans, which currently make up the bulk ofMRI applications.

Having to use a wraparound gradient coil for imaging spinesand some extremities, such as knees, forced Otsuka to shrink thesize of its bore diameter from 62 cm, as originally planned, to56 cm. This is still slightly larger than other standard systems,he said.

The Otsuka system continues to use its innovative modular gradientcoils in addition to the fixed wraparound gradient. However, oneof the original selling points of these removable, application-specificcoils was that they enabled the vendor to do without whole-bodygradients.

Sticking to a niche applications strategy enables Otsuka tokeep its price down while satisfying the imaging needs of mostcustomers. In a tight MRI market, cost advantages are becomingmore important for customers, Denison said.

"This system was designed for when times get tough andit is hard to afford a $2 million machine," he told SCAN."Many people who were ready to compromise with low-field(MRI systems) because of the cost have found that we can deliverhigh field. They are willing to take a chance with us to get highfield, quality and low price all in one."

As Otsuka begins to build its U.S. base, the vendor has alsotaken initial steps to enter Europe. Leonard Fass, a former GEmanager, was hired as European general manager of clinical operationslate last year, Denison said.

BRIEFLY NOTED:

  • Philips Medical Systems continued its policy of formingtechnical partnerships in imaging last month through the signingof an agreement with intraluminal ultrasound supplier Endosonicsof Pleasanton, CA. The two firms plan to spend 18 months developinga system that will display both Philips angiography and Endosonicsintraluminal images on the same screen.

The application-specific agreement follows shortly after Philips'cooperative venture with Hewlett-Packard in general ultrasounddevelopment, which was initiated late last year (SCAN 11/18/92).HP formed an unrelated intraluminal sales relationship with Endosonicscompetitor Boston Scientific in July (SCAN 10/7/92).

Separately, Endosonics reported last week that the Food andDrug Administration has approved a monorail version of its Visionintraluminal catheter for coronary applications. Coronary monorailcatheters are growing in popularity, making up about 25% of interventionalcoronary procedures in the U.S. and almost half of such proceduresin Europe, the company said.

  • Independent Scintillation Imaging Systems (ISIS) of Lachine,Quebec, received 510(k) U.S. marketing approval from the Foodand Drug Administration this month for its non-Anger nuclear medicinecamera, now dubbed First.

The First camera converts analog nuclear signals to digitalform within individual photomultiplier tubes, thus enhancing itsability to position and measure the nuclear event (SCAN 9/23/92).Hitachi and its U.S. partner Summit Nuclear will likely debatethe naming of this device. They have developed and marketed acamera in the U.S. based on similar principals (SCAN 10/7/92).

ISIS has 10 cameras under production and expects to set upbeta sites in the U.S. and Canada soon, the firm said. Commercialorders will be accepted beginning in mid-1993. ISIS is 39% ownedby venture firm Park Meditech of Toronto.