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Siemens, Esaote, and Lunar join to sell open extremity MRI scanner


Companies hope for boom in dedicated MR salesA sleek, open-style MRI scanner is about to join the ranks of systems dedicated to orthopedic studies, thanks to a collaboration between Siemens, Lunar, and Esaote. The result could be a dramatically

Companies hope for boom in dedicated MR sales

A sleek, open-style MRI scanner is about to join the ranks of systems dedicated to orthopedic studies, thanks to a collaboration between Siemens, Lunar, and Esaote. The result could be a dramatically improved market for dedicated MRI sales.

The new scanner incorporates a swiveling patient table that is sandwiched between 0.2-tesla permanent magnets. In addition to its novel design, the new scanner will have unprecedented sales coverage. Both Siemens Medical Systems of Iselin, NJ, and Lunar of Madison, WI, are planning to sell the unit in the U.S. A third vendor, Esaote of Genoa, Italy, will manufacture and supply the product to Siemens and Lunar. Both Siemens and Esaote will sell the system outside the U.S.

Dedicated MRI scanners have been considered the poor relations of more glamorous general-purpose scanners, and several companies have entered and exited the business. The interest by Siemens in the new system vindicates the long-standing belief by Esaote and Lunar that the market for dedicated MR scanners would eventually catch on.

"We were the only ones shouting that dedicated MRI was valid," said Wim van Kemenade, Esaote's marketing manager. "The Siemens adoption of the product is like a stamp of approval. It gives this technology credibility, because some customers don't trust products from small companies."

The new scanner will begin shipping in the first quarter of 1999. The biggest difference among units sold by the three vendors will be in the user interface. Scanners sold by Lunar and Esaote will be called E-Scan and will have the same interface as the systems sold by Esaote. This user interface is similar to that of Artoscan, another Esaote-manufactured MRI scanner that Lunar sells in the U.S. Siemens, meanwhile, has migrated its Magnetom interface to its version of the scanner, which it will sell as Magnetom Jazz.

"There will be no concerns about retraining technologists or having to worry about which interface covers which system," said John Pavlidis, division manager for Siemens' MR department.

Jazz and E-Scan will have wider appeal than Artoscan by virtue of their greater clinical flexibility. The magnet design allows scanning of the shoulder and, in some cases, even the hip. Artoscan cannot image either body area. William Conn, marketing manager of Lunar's orthopedic imaging division, is not worried, however, that the new product will cannibalize Artoscan sales.

"They are at different price points. The new system is a half-million dollars; Artoscan is under $300,000," he said. "E-Scan requires more space, about 200 square feet compared with 100 square feet for Artoscan. And it weighs about 4500 pounds compared with about 2400 pounds for Artoscan, which means structural modifications may be needed to install an E-Scan."

Growing interest in open MR systems and increasing demand for orthopedic studies are fueling hopes that customers will embrace the new scanners. Jazz/E-Scan allows patient access from three sides and has the flexibility to do all extremities: shoulder, knee, ankle, wrist, and elbow. Siemens estimates that these studies make up 20% of MR imaging.

Key U.S. market segments for the new technology will be orthopedics, trauma, sports medicine, and rheumatology. Radiologists have traditionally shied away from purchasing dedicated scanners, but that could change.

"The main goal for Magnetom Jazz is to take the load off some existing units on the orthopedic side with much less investment than would be necessary to buy a new (general-purpose) system," Pavlidis said. "We see many opportunities for this system in multiple markets, but our strength has historically been in the hospital-based market."

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