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  • OCT market on track despite recession

Jan 2009
Laura S. Marshall,

WESTFORD, Mass. – A year ago, Greg Smolka predicted that the market for optical coherence tomography (OCT) would keep growing, passing the $800 million mark by 2012.

And then the recession swooped in.

Not to worry, says Smolka, vice president of the industrial, military and space business unit at Vectron International in Hudson, N.H. He authored a comprehensive market report on OCT technology titled “Optical Coherence Tomography – Technology, Markets, and Applications: 2008-2012” in February 2008. But he doesn’t think today’s economic downward spiral will kill the OCT market.

“It probably has slowed it some,” he said, “but I don’t know that that would be the complete driver.”

Healthy competition was much of the basis for Smolka’s prediction: After Fourier-domain OCT was introduced in 2006, nearly 20 companies entered the market with products that ranged from the traditional OCT application of ophthalmology to cardiology and even dentistry.

“Ophthalmology was certainly the biggest, and that appears to be growing along the lines we predicted,” Smolka said.

“The big kicker in getting to $800 million in 2012 was the advent of a few new applications that were set to be released in the 2009-10 time frame: some of the big high-volume markets like dental and glucose monitoring, things like that,” he added.

And not every facet of the market must grow exponentially for Smolka’s prediction to come true. “When I put those numbers together, I didn’t think they would all take off,” he said. But as long as some do, the market will stay on track. “New applications were the driver of some of it. I don’t know that the recession is going to drive things as much as the release and acceptance of some of those products.”

One area that could expand considerably is cardiology.

“The big question there is, still, when does the approval in the US happen?” Smolka said. “We still don’t have anybody approved in the US. We have both LightLab [Imaging Inc.] working to get that approval and Volcano, who just acquired Axsun [Technologies Inc.] for some of their OCT tech.”

Smolka said Volcano Corp. had just announced that the company was looking to introduce products in the US and Europe in 2010, with a projected Japan release date of 2011. “But I think FDA approval is key there,” he added.

LightLab Imaging of Westford, Mass., is fairly recession-proof, according to Brad Cilley, vice president of sales and marketing. The company focuses on intravascular OCT systems for cardiology, and that’s what makes it special, according to Cilley, who noted that its device is the only intravascular OCT marketed in the world.

“We’re a bit recession-proof from the standpoint that our customers are ‘interventionalists,’ ” he said, “and their patients are patients with health issues that are not necessarily what you would call elective. In other words, it’s not what you’d put off treating and diagnosing for a time when the economy was doing better.”

“There’s no business that’s really recession-proof,” he added, “but the whole area of interventional cardiology is not recession-prone.”

Although the company’s technology has been used in more than 10,000 procedures around the world, LightLab is not resting on its laurels. “That is a very significant fact because it creates a body of knowledge,” Cilley said. “We are focused on our customers, and we’re very focused on continuing to develop the data that further integrates OCT imaging into interventional cardiology and intravascular imaging.”

Smolka’s 2008 report also stated that start-ups would get a boost from OCT systems developers looking for technology partners, and that there would be major merger and acquisition activity in the future. With the economy now doing so poorly, smaller companies might not get that boost. “I think it will be tougher for folks to get money for new start-ups, but ultimately what that may mean is a healthier environment for acquisitions, such as Volcano taking over Axsun.”

“People might find they can’t get new funding and have to put themselves up for sale,” Smolka said, “but that means developers could pick up the technology relatively inexpensively.”

optical coherence tomography (oct)
A noninvasive (typically medical) optical imaging acquisition technique that uses light waves to form distinct, three dimensional, layered cross-sectional images of an optical scattering media (i.e. biological tissue) such as a patient’s retina. In ophthalmology, OCT measurements allow an ophthalmologist to thoroughly map and measure the thickness of the retina as well as aide in the early detection, diagnosis and treatment for retina disease and other conditions.
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