Sopha builds support for drive into low-field MRI

January 29, 1992

Sopha Medical of Buc, France, has positioned itself to reproducein other medical imaging modalities the targeted R&D and marketingapproach that has proved successful in nuclear medicine, saidDr. Maurice Soustiel, president and CEO. The industrial

Sopha Medical of Buc, France, has positioned itself to reproducein other medical imaging modalities the targeted R&D and marketingapproach that has proved successful in nuclear medicine, saidDr. Maurice Soustiel, president and CEO.

The industrial division of France's Atomic Energy Commission(CEA-I) increased its equity stake in the smaller French firmto 32% in December. CEA-I was already a partner with Sopha indeveloping nuclear technology as well as that used in the vendor'snew L-XRA bone densitometry system.

The $5.6 billion French national firm will provide the fundsand R&D assistance to help support Sopha's drive into low-fieldMRI and other markets, Soustiel said.

About 90% of CEA-I's business is in the nuclear power industry,but it has been given a charter to diversify into new fields.Biomedical is one target area and advanced electronics is another,said Randy Weatherhead, Sopha vice president of marketing in theU.S.

"They have an active interest in helping French companiesgrow and develop technologies that will result in France exportingproducts worldwide," he said.

Sopha debuted in the U.S. with the provision of nuclear medicinecomputer systems. The vendor introduced its first Sophy nuclearcamera at the 1988 Society of Nuclear Medicine meeting. Worldwidesales grew 10-fold to $30 million from 1987 to 1989 (SCAN 4/12/89).

Since then, the firm has been quick to jump on the multiple-detectornuclear medicine bandwagon. Worldwide sales of $80 million areexpected for 1991. Sopha has also entered the Japanese marketwith the assistance of Aloka as distributor, Soustiel said.

"We have achieved an important position in nuclear medicine,"Soustiel told SCAN. "That was first. Our success (with nuclearmedicine) in the U.S. and Japan has led us to consider what weshould do to become more diversified. Our main ambition, however,continues to be progress in nuclear medicine."

Sopha purchased a 51% share last year in Magnetech, a smallFrench MRI developer (SCAN 5/22/91). The vendor showed MR imagesat the Radiological Society of North America meeting last monthfrom the 0.1-tesla resistive system obtained through the acquisition.

Sopha is evaluating the Magnetech system relative to U.S.clinical requirements and expects to apply for Food and Drug Administrationcertification this year, Weatherhead said.

"Our speculation is that the low-field market, which representsonly about 2% of the (U.S.) market, will gradually increase asbetter performance is achieved on these systems," Weatherheadsaid.

Late last year, the Magnetech engineering team moved in withSopha's existing staff at its expanded French plant. The nuclearand MRI development teams will be maintained as separate entities,he said.

Sopha anticipates strong growth of MRI generally and low-fieldimaging in particular, Soustiel said.

Proliferation of low-field MRI in Europe will vary accordingto the professional--and political--climates in the differentnational markets. The spread of low-field MRI, which is led byJapanese vendors, may be slowed in some instances by strugglesover clinical turf.

Some European radiologists are wary that they will lose controlof MRI to specialists, as has been the case with low-cost ultrasoundimaging, he said.