Philips to enter open MRI market

March 1, 2000

Philips Medical Systems missed out on the initial boom in open MRI sales, but the Netherlands-based company is catching up fast. By the second quarter of this year, Philips expects to have several open-style Gyroscan Panorama units installed and

Philips Medical Systems missed out on the initial boom in open MRI sales, but the Netherlands-based company is catching up fast. By the second quarter of this year, Philips expects to have several open-style Gyroscan Panorama units installed and operating in North America and Europe.

“We know that our installed base of Philips customers would have loved to have an open MRI system from us, if we had just offered one,” said Jacques J. Coumans, global MRI marketing manager. “Catering to that need has been one of the prime reasons for us to step into the open MRI market, even though it’s clear to everybody that the market has reached its peak, at least for the low-field segment.”

Philips’ new open scanner, which features a 0.23-tesla resistive magnet, is being built for the company by Finland-based Picker Nordstar, a subsidiary of Marconi Medical Systems. The C-shaped product is essentially the same unit that Marconi sells under the names Outlook ProView and Outlook OpenView.

The major difference between the Philips and Marconi versions will be in the sequences and interface. Panorama is built to be compatible with the rest of Philips’ Gyroscan line. The sequences are compliant with those on the Gyroscan Intera family, which offers scanners at 0.5, 1, and 1.5 tesla. Panorama will also be able to use the Synergy phased-array coils, which were designed for Intera.

“It would be incorrect to state, however, that we influenced the design to a large extent,” said Coumans. “At least, not to the degree we have always influenced our own Gyroscan superconducting product designs.”

Panorama, which is expected to debut at the European Congress of Radiology in Vienna March 5, completes Philips’ MRI product line. Its primary function will be to fill the need for customers buying package deals from Philips. Typically, these would include several MRI scanners, such as 1- and 1.5-tesla systems and a low-field open system, according to Coumans.

Gyroscan Panorama, which has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, will be available to customers in the U.S. and around the world by midsummer, according to Coumans. The price may vary, depending on product configuration, geographic market, and discounts for package deals involving several scanners. In all cases, however, Panorama will sell below the $1 million mark.

The inclusion of this open scanner represents a major change in Philips’ policy, which has emphasized high-performance, closed systems. The company was arguably the first to recognize patients’ claustrophobic concerns, however, in its design of MRI scanners. The Gyroscan NT family of closed scanners, introduced in the early 1990s, featured a short bore magnet, setting the standard for other companies to emulate as they refined their conventional systems. Later in the decade, as the market shifted decidedly to the sale of open low- and mid-field systems, major vendors of MRI scanners, with the exception of Philips, introduced open products.

“In a sense, it seems long overdue, because certainly the patient-driven or consumer-driven interest in open designs has accounted for much of the growth in the North American marketplace,” Coumans said. “But we have now reviewed the product portfolio, as well as looked into the future development of our product portfolio and decided that it is time to jump in with a low-field open MRI system.”

Pragmatism led Philips management to go with a supplier rather than develop its own proprietary low-field open system.

“It did not seem wise to start the low-field open development cycle all by ourselves at this late stage in the game,” Coumans said. “Certainly, the more advanced applications down the line would be captured by the mid field strength open systems based on superconducting magnets.”

The supply agreement with Picker Nordstar is part of a broader corporate strategy designed to make Philips a major player in open MRI. Philips has launched an in-house R&D project to develop higher field open scanners to satisfy customer comfort requirements in the future. The focus of this program is to develop superconducting systems operating at mid field strength. The time frame for introducing such systems may be as long as five to 10 years.

The goal, according to Coumans, is to compete head-on with higher field open scanners developed by GE and Siemens. He declined to provide details about the current status of this program, but indicated that such information will probably come out in the months ahead.

“The management team now in place at Philips has a less conservative attitude toward displaying works in progress than ever before in our history,” he said. “So I think the community at large might be surprised at what we will be showing in the next 12 to 18 months.”