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Medical Device Makers Battle Out In Implantable Systems Market

Medical device makers are battling in the fast-growing market for implantable systems that manage debilitating pain in patients for whom medical alternatives, such as drugs or spine surgery have failed.

The devices, about the size of a pager, are typically, implanted in the abdomen or buttocks and block the sensation of pain by sending electricity via an insulated wire to the spinal cord.

Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Advanced Neuromodulation Systems all have recently launched products that improve on earlier models because their rechargeable batteries mean that a patient can go longer before replacement surgery is needed, in some cases as long as seven to nine years.

The latest generation of devices also allow patients, using a remote control programmed by the physician, to have more control over how much and when the pain-blocking electrical pulses are delivered.

Medtronic, which pioneered pain management technology a decade ago, remains the largest competitor in the sector but has conceded some ground as rivals stepped up production of rechargeable devices in recent quarters.

"We continue to be the market leader, but we didn't have competition before, so obviously we have lost some (share)," said Jake Vander Zanden, Medtronic's General Manager of pain management.

The stakes are high. Sales of the stimulation devices now top $500 million and could exceed $ one billion in a few years, company executives said.

The segment's smallest player, Advanced Neuromodulation products, saw sales of its neuromodulation products, including spinal cord stimulation systems, leap 26 percent in the second quarter when it rolled out its rechargeable Eon pain device.

The Dallas based company said it would boost manufacturing capacity after early sales of the product significantly exceeded expectations.

Boston Scientific believes its rechargeable spinal cord stimulation device, called Precision, launched in April, is also taking market share from Medtronic, said Jeff Greiner, President and Co-Chief executive officer of the company's Advanced Bionics unit.

"When you have a monopolist that dominates the field for many years, there is an underlying feeling that competition is good for patients," Greiner said.

Analysts said that a shortcoming of Medtronic's Restore product is that it lacks technology that would allow it to be used as a replacement device for patients who need an older model removed, but the wires leading to the spine kept in place.

"I think Boston Scientific and ANSI have the better technology now, especially with the rechargeable," said Jeff Jonas, analyst with Gabelli Asset Management, which owns less than one percent of Medtronic's shares.

Vander Zanden said that Medtronic offers the widest range of pain management devices on the market and said the company is working on two products, and extension and an adapter, that will help solve the replacement issue.

The extension product is expected to receive regulatory approval any day allowing the company to batter compete in the replacement market, which he estimated at 10 to 30 percent of all procedures. He said that the adapter is in the design phase.

The three rivals also are studying a host of potential new applications for devices in hopes of eventually adapting the technology to treat conditions such as migraine headache.

(Ref : Express Pharma Pulse September 22, 2005)