Picker enters high-end MRI arena with acquisition of Surrey Medical

September 15, 1999

3-tesla system expected to be ready for market within 15 monthsPicker International is preparing a commercial assault on the upper reaches of MR imaging. The Cleveland-based company has acquired the medical imaging assets of British high field MRI

3-tesla system expected to be ready for market within 15 months

Picker International is preparing a commercial assault on the upper reaches of MR imaging. The Cleveland-based company has acquired the medical imaging assets of British high field MRI developer Surrey Medical Imaging Systems. The move promises to make Picker a major player in what company executives describe as a swiftly emerging marketplace.

“Our parent company (GEC in England) wants us to double the value of the Picker business in the next three years,” said Robert Gylling, vice president of Picker’s Global Magnetic Resonance Business Center. “Getting into 3T, which is the state-of-the-art area of MR imaging, is a strategic move towards that goal.”

The offspring of this acquisition will be a new Picker product with a field strength of 3 tesla, according to Gylling. The as-yet-unnamed scanner will be groomed for neurologic and vascular imaging, two areas for which very high field imaging seems most appropriate, he said. Expanded applications for the scanner will depend on clinical tests to determine the physiologic limits of the technology, Gylling noted, as well as attitudes of government regulators at the Food and Drug Administration regarding such applications.

The company plans to describe its program for developing this product at the upcoming RSNA meeting, but probably will not have a prototype ready for exhibit. Gylling expects product development to progress rapidly, however, with a 3-tesla system available for shipping within 15 months.

Gylling declined to comment about the price that Picker paid for the SMIS resources and intellectual properties. Other SMIS business units, including the one focused on developing small-bore MR systems for biomedical research and another charged with making industrial products, remain with SMIS.

The company, which is based in Surrey, U.K., has earned an international reputation for custom-made MRI products with field strengths above 1.5 tesla. Most of these systems were built with magnets offering field strengths between 3 and 4.7 tesla.

Picker hopes to keep all the employees involved in developing these products. The business unit, Gylling said, will operate as a division of Picker International Ltd. of the U.K., under the name Picker VHF (very high field). Picker plans to integrate future efforts of SMIS engineers into those of its core R&D staff in Cleveland.

“We will not try to relocate people unless they really want to relocate and few of them are interested in doing so,” he said. “Driving this engineering project on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously, therefore, will be the big challenge.”

Leading this effort will be British native Linda Eastwood, a 14-year Picker veteran. As manager of the Picker VHF program, Eastwood will guide the R&D process and position the resulting product in the marketplace. She is stepping down from her current role as Picker MR marketing manager, which she has held for the past five years. Her replacement has not yet been named.

The current Picker product line includes offerings from 0.23 to 1.5 tesla. Gylling noted that lower field systems have led Picker MRI sales in recent years, but the market is turning increasingly toward higher field systems. The fledgling 3-tesla system is expected to fill an important niche in the future marketplace.

“This is going to become the area of MR imaging where the best images will be produced in a clinical setting,” Gylling said. “Getting into this is a clear step for us to get more involved and committed to the leading institutions and leading universities, which, to us, is the prime segment of the market.”