Canon revs up MA med tech R&D operation

Japanese camera giant Canon ($CAJ) is launching a research and development operation in Massachusetts that will focus on developing cutting edge medical device imaging tools.

Canon's U.S. division said the Cambridge, MA, operation will focus on areas including robotic-assisted surgery, miniature endoscopy tools, brain imaging and cardiovascular disease detection--all under the umbrella of "healthcare optics." It will also be relatively small--just 13,600 square feet. But the move has large implications down the line for both Canon and the med tech/device industries at large.

Beyond tapping into the talent that the Massachusetts life sciences mega-cluster has to offer, Canon is the latest Japanese consumer electronics giant focused on beefing up its med tech product development in order to pursue new growth. Consumer electronics sales for these companies are stagnant or on the decline, but medical devices such as surgical tools, endoscopy and other imaging equipment are surging in the marketplace, pointing to massive new sources of revenue.

Panasonic, for example, is actively trying to raise as much as $1 billion in new investment in order to grow its med tech offerings. Sony ($SNE) recently disclosed it was investing $10 million in Rainbow Medical, an Israeli incubator whose portfolio companies make devices like stents and stimulators. And Sony recently agreed to sink $645 million into rival Japanese consumer electronic giant Olympus ($OCPNY); both will partner to develop and make new endoscopes and other medical devices.

Joe Adachi, Canon U.S.A.'s president and CEO, said in a statement that the new Cambridge operation "will be a symbol of Canon's dedication to the new research and development of innovative technologies that help solve clinical challenges facing healthcare communities." It is also a small but strategic step to help expand the company's med tech offerings down the line.

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