Siemens/Imatron R&D agreement portends good times ahead in CT

March 27, 1991

Imatron, a pioneer in ultrafast computed tomography scanning,signed on Siemens as a product development and marketing partnerthis month. The Siemens relationship involves future CT products and willnot impact Imatron's distribution contracts with

Imatron, a pioneer in ultrafast computed tomography scanning,signed on Siemens as a product development and marketing partnerthis month.

The Siemens relationship involves future CT products and willnot impact Imatron's distribution contracts with Picker Internationalin North America, Italimprese in Europe and Mitsui in Japan. Imatronhopes, however, that Siemens' marketing strength will help thesmall R&D firm pull out of its continuing losses, accordingto Douglas P. Boyd, chairman.

Siemens expects the relationship with Imatron to help improveits high-end CT technology, said Peter H. Grassmann, head of Siemens'worldwide Imaging Systems division. The German company was thefirst multimodality medical imaging vendor to introduce a spiral(or helical) CT product of its own last year.

Helical scanning makes use of continuously rotating slip-ringCT technology to rapidly scan along the length of a patient ratherthan imaging slices step by step. While Siemens and other vendorshave adapted helical scanning to standard CT systems, Imatronuses a unique electron-beam scanning system.

This technology has not been fully accepted by the clinicalcommunity, however. There are 40 Imatron ultrafast CT systemsinstalled worldwide, but the firm had to trim prices to achievethose sales.

Picker, a major medical imaging vendor enlisted as a distributorin the U.S. two and a half years ago (SCAN 8/31/88), has had tosell the Imatron system at a heavy discount. Little emphasis isplaced on marketing a product that is sold at a loss, Boyd noted.

"We have seen a strong market for our product in Japan.One of the reasons for this is that the scanner sells for $2 million.Users in the U.S. have been buying the scanner for $1.4 millionto $1.5 million, and there has not been money in the budget formarketing," he said.

Although 25 Imatron scanners are installed in the U.S. versus12 in Japan, Imatron sold more scanners last year in Japan thanin its home market, Boyd said.

"With expanded resources from more than one company, wehope to have more support in the marketing area. If our storygets out to a wider audience, sales should pick up quite a bit,"he said.

Medical imaging vendors are beginning to invest more resourcesin the development of CT, which was once thought to be destinedfor extinction under the competitive pressure of magnetic resonanceimaging. But advances in CT technology and widespread use of contrastimaging are opening up new applications for the modality, he said.

"Coronary screening, for instance, is a fast emergingapplication that is not only diagnostic but also the key to successfultreatment of cardiac disease," Boyd said.

A major advantage of helical CT scanning is that it improvesthe performance of contrast imaging. "The faster you cando the complete examinations, the more benefits you can get fromthe contrast media," he said.

Helical scanning also allows for single-breath-hold lung studies,said Gerald D. Daviess, CT business unit manager for ToshibaAmerica Medical Systems. Helical CT scanners can image the average300-mm length of the lung in a single 10-second sweep, he said

Toshiba plans to introduce helical scanning on its high-end900S CT scanner in June. The option will add about $100,000 tothe system price, Daviess said.

Step-by-step scanning was implemented in CT because of thetechnological difficulties involved with continuous rotation.As these difficulties are overcome, helical scanning should becomethe norm rather than the exception in CT imaging, he said.

"I don't see it (helical CT) as a niche product, but asthe way CT is going to evolve," Daviess said.