St. Jude Medical unveils next-gen stent imaging tech in Japan

For the latest salvo in the global battle for cardiac stent supremacy, we turn to Japan and St. Jude Medical ($STJ). The Minnesota device company sees the country's enormous cardiac device and medical device market as ripe for its next-generation imaging system for stent placement, and the launch is now under way.

In rolling out Ilumien Optis, this is the statistic St. Jude salivates over: Surgeons perform 245,000 percutaneous coronary intervention procedures in Japan to treat cardiovascular disease each year, and 80% of those require imaging technology. Enter St. Jude, which wants to grab a big piece of that market and attract lots of new customers with its latest coronary stent-imaging tech. But name a device or stent company and many offer technology in the space, so St. Jude must make its own offering as distinct as possible to stand out.

To be sure, Ilumien Optis has plenty of bells and whistles. St. Jude bills the product's Dragonfly JP Imaging Catheter, for example, as being able to capture near-infrared light imaging so it can measure vessel details other, older intracoronary imaging tools can't. Compared to rivals, St. Jude asserts Ilumien Optis can rely on a higher image resolution so surgeons can analyze challenging anatomies, and assist in both sizing and placing a stent in the most appropriate spot.  There's also 360-degree panoramic vessel viewing, and the system's fractional flow reserve and intravascular optical coherence tomography imaging tech; St. Jude clearly hopes it has a market-changing option on hand.

St. Jude could use a major market win. Shareholders are beginning to sue the company, for example, alleging that it tried to downplay risks behind its Durata defibrillator leads, which themselves replaced the now-recalled Riata leads (killed by various production flaws). Analysts also see Durata as being at serious risk for a recall as reports of problems persist.

Meanwhile, St. Jude has been working hard to draw attention to other products, including its Amplatzer Cardiac Plug, a product designed to prevent stroke-causing blood clots from pumping out of the left atrial appendage, which is now in the midst of a pivotal trial. There's also renal denervation. St. Jude has committed plenty of resources to developing its version of the provocative hypertension treatment, and launched a pivotal trial in January to see if it can also help reduce risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

- read the release

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