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* Co will now seek import license, reimbursement
* Shrs down 77 cents to $277.91
By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Intuitive Surgical Inc (ISRG.O) said on Friday it received long-awaited approval to market its flagship da Vinci surgical robot systems in Japan, giving it a lucrative new outlet for its expensive products.
The company will now turn its attention to satisfying trade and importation requirements and gaining reimbursement for da Vinci procedures that will open the Japanese market to Intuitive at a time when capital spending for big ticket items such as the da Vinci systems has been severely constrained.
Les Funtleyder, analyst for Miller Tabak & Co., said the approval was expected and that the real work of securing an importation license and reimbursement now begins.
"We're very optimistic about the market for Intuitive in Japan," Funtleyder said, calling Japan the world's second biggest market for medical technology after the United States.
"We're thinking late 2010, or 2011 before we really start to see a material impact, but it will be material and it will be impactful," Funtleyder said.
The da Vinci "is a game changer and it will change the game in Japan," he added.
The da Vinci robot systems are used in delicate prostate and gynecological procedures and have been shown to shorten hospital stays.
At the end of the third quarter, Intuitive said it had placed a total of 1,308 da Vinci systems worldwide. It said the average price per system sold in the third quarter was $1.4 million.
"This approval has been a long process for Intuitive, and we are happy to be one step closer to bringing our products to market in Japan," Gary Guthart, president and chief operating officer of Intuitive, who is set to become CEO next year, said in a statement.
Intuitive shares were off 77 cents at $277.91 in afternoon trade on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot, editing by Dave Zimmerman)