A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

International consulting firm Frost & Sullivan (F&S; London) said the European market for key medical imaging modalitieswith the exception of the UK, where strong government commitment to healthcare is funding investment in new equipment – is witnessing what it referred to as "capital constraints."

Noting that purchasing mechanisms in the medical imaging industry are undergoing "drastic changes," with "a significant rise in the [issuance] of large public tenders by healthcare providers," F&S said such price competition means there is "immense pressure on research and development departments to produce cost-effective, high-performance products."

Martin Bryant, research analyst with Frost & Sullivan, said there is "a shift in market trends across key imaging modalities," adding that "ultrasound is presently the largest market segment, but is shrinking due to market maturity and the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) segment is emerging as the best potential market sector."

While public healthcare institutions are dependent on government funding for new equipment, Frost & Sullivan added that imaging service providers in the private sector have to invest their own capital, "and therefore they tend to be highly price-sensitive."

Noting that providers "are looking to upgrade their services with a complete range of advanced diagnostic solutions," F&S said this has led to growth in both multi-modality deals as well as product bundling that encompasses the whole scope of a modality. "Providers value the security of being supplied everything they require by the same vendor."

Vendors stand to gain high-volume contracts, it said, by offering a comprehensive solution with the necessary peripherals, software and connectivity.

Bryant said, "In an increasingly unstable healthcare market, the challenge for vendors is to have the right financial tools to facilitate deals that do not severely constrict their margins. While offering the best specifications at competitive prices along with attractive financing options, it is essential to harmonize the communications process between the sales and finance departments to ensure significantly shorter sales cycles."

As for market locales, he said that Germany "continues to be the largest and most stable regional market."

The report said that growth of competition in the medical imaging modalities market has seen vendors increasingly seek to "differentiate themselves by means of financial, training and asset management services," a tendency that reflects the mature stage of the western European market. "Products offering the best workflow-proven outcomes will succeed in this market," Frost & Sullivan said.

Bryant said the European imaging market will experience "modes overall growth," given that many modalities are at the mature stage. In the short term, the market will be driven by the initiatives shown by regional and national health authorities such as those in the UK.

German market entry for Fonar

Fonar (Melville, New York) has reported the sale of its first Upright MRI in Germany, marking the company's entry into that country, the largest market for medical devices in Europe.

Raymond Damadian, company president and founder, said, "With the increasing recognition of Fonar's Upright MRI as the most advanced MRI technology for optimal pathology and patient care, competitive markets such as Germany are ideal for our enhanced sales initiatives. We intend to leverage our technological edge and our entry into Germany to capitalize on this market, with its installed base of approximately 1,200 MRI units."

Fonar has been increasing its marketing efforts in the European market this year, selling four Upright MRIS there during FY05 compared to a total of just two prior to that. Its latest Upright MRI customer is a radiology medical practice based in Cologne, Germany. The company said the customer selected the Fonar unit after extensive research, with particular focus on the diagnostic advantages of Position imaging (pMRI), which is available only on the Upright MRI.

Fonar is a pioneer in MRI, incorporating in 1978 and introducing the world's first commercial MRI in 1980. Its Upright MRI, also known as the Stand-Up MRI, can scan patients in a variety of weight-bearing positions, including standing, sitting, in flexion and extension, as well as the conventional lie-down position.

Chilean contract for GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) said it has received a contract award from the Chilean Health Ministry to make the company's advanced imaging technology available to thousands of patients in that country.

The company said its wide variety of "breakthrough" healthcare technologies would help physicians diagnose a broad range of diseases throughout Latin America.

GE Healthcare said that under the terms of the long-term sales and service agreement, it will provide Chilean hospitals with technologies and services that simplify workflow, enhance diagnostic certainty, and improve outcomes.

The GE technologies that will help Chilean physicians provide better care for patients with Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer and heart disease include:

Three 1.5T ExciteXC HD MR systems, advanced MRI systems that offer patients more sophisticated exams, such as functional imaging and spectroscopy.

Four Lightspeed Ultra systems, computed tomography systems that provide clinicians with a feature called variable speed scanning, which offers greater flexibility to customize patient procedures and perform new types of patient exams.

The first Innova 2100 in Latin America, which will help physicians view and treat potential coronary artery blockages that could cause heart attacks or other serious cardiovascular damage.

In other GE Healthcare news, the company and Daiichi Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo) have executed a collaboration agreement for the research and development of non-nuclear contrast media.

The Japanese firm launched Omnipaque, a contrast media for X-ray and computed tomography (CT) examinations, under license from GE Healthcare in 1987. It also has marketed in Japan the Omniscan MRI contrast media, launched in 1996, and Visipaque, a X-ray contrast media launched in 2000.

In addition to these licensed products, Daiichi has collaborated with GE Healthcare since 1988 on the R&D of non-nuclear contrast media to obtain development candidates. It submitted Sonazoid, an ultrasound contrast media, for regulatory approval in Japan in May 2004.

Peter Loescher, president and CEO of GE Healthcare BioSciences, said, "With this agreement, GE Healthcare will continue to explore opportunities for the development of new contrast media for the Japanese market, where our strategic partner Daiichi Pharmaceuticals has a very strong foothold. Daiichi will simultaneously have rights to new products and can continue utilizing its core skills in clinical development, manufacturing, marketing and sales of imaging products in Japan."

VRI system gets CE mark

Deep Breeze (Or-Akiva, Israel) said it has received the CE mark for its VRI(XP) system, allowing the company to market the technology to physicians in European Union countries.

Referring to the Vibration Response Imaging (VRI) technology as "one of the most innovative technologies in medicine," the company said the system provides physicians with a dynamic image of the lungs, delivering both structural and functional information to aid in assessing lung condition.

"We are introducing a new imaging technology for the human body, which is radiation-free and organ-oriented," said Igal Kushnir, MD, CEO and founder of Deep Breeze. "Unlike MRI, X-ray or ultrasound, VRI utilizes passive vibration energy that is naturally created in organs to produce a dynamic image of the organ."

Kushnir said the development of the first VRI for the lungs was based on the finding that lung vibration energy directly correlates to the lung airflow. "Vibration Response Imaging displays for the first time a dynamic image of the lungs as they function," he said. "The VRI(XP) images expand the physician's understanding of the condition of the lungs, hence improving patient management and outcome."

Professor Mordechai Kramer of the Pulmonary Institute at Rabin Medical Center (Petah-Tikva, Israel), said, "The VRI(XP) system adds a new dimension to interventional pulmonology and evaluation of patients with lung transplants. We will be able to assess lung function much more effectively and non-invasively."

Kramer is performing clinical trials at the institute, which is affiliated with Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine.

The VRI(XP) system received the CE mark after an audit that found the device safe and effective to use. It was approved as a lung diagnostic device.

The system is currently being used at sites in Europe, Israel and the U.S. It was on display for the first time in Europe at the recent European Respiratory Society meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The first commercial shipments of the VRI(XP) system are expected to occur in 4Q05, the company said.

Distribution set for nucleic acid labeling

Kreatech Biotechnology (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and BioCat GmbH (Heidelberg, Germany) have reported a distribution partnership whereby BioCat will exclusively supply Kreatech's ULS (Universal Linkage System) solutions to laboratories in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The companies said the partnership would expand access to non-enzymatic nucleic acid labeling solutions for life science investigators in those countries. The ULS system allows for the rapid attachment of a variety of labels directly to DNA, RNA and proteins. The products are centered around a platinum-based system that produces highly stable labels under a wide variety of conditions.

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