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Who's Winning This Med Tech Race?

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What news could make your blood pressure rise -- and fall? A race is under way between medical technology companies that could accomplish both. The contest involves a relatively new method of treating hypertension that could help lower blood pressure for many people across the world.

Some predict the market could reach $5 billion in annual sales. Others say the market could be $30 billion. If you're an investor, that's the kind of news that can get your blood pressure kicking into overdrive. Here's the information you need to profit from this high-stakes hypertension race.

The race
The World Heart Foundation estimates that 970 million people have hypertension. That number could increase to more than 1.5 billion people by 2025, according to the World Health Organization. The good news is that many of these individuals can make lifestyle changes or take medication to treat the disease. The bad news, however, is that these options aren't effective for everyone.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2008 showed that nearly 9% of U.S. adults with hypertension still had high blood pressure levels despite taking at least three medications to treat hypertension.Renal denervation holds promise for these individuals and others around the world with treatment-resistant hypertension.

With renal denervation, a catheter is used to deliver radiofrequency energy to disable nerves in the renal arteries. This reduces the sympathetic nervous system drive. Studies have found that the procedure can result in significantly lower blood pressure.

The race under way is to establish dominance in the emerging renal denervation market. Nearly 100 million people worldwide are estimated to have treatment-resistant hypertension, with more than 6 million of those in the U.S. The stakes in the renal denervation race loom large.   

The runners
Medtronic (NYSE: MDT  ) currently leads the pack of runners in this race to market. The major medical device company bought privately held Ardian in early 2011, picking up Ardian's Symplicity renal denervation system in the process.

Symplicity received the CE Mark in Europe in 2010 and Canadian approval in 2012. The system also obtained Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration listing. Medtronic hopes to receive FDA clearance in the U.S. by 2015.

St. Jude Medical (NYSE: STJ  ) isn't far behind with its EnligHTN renal denervation system. The company received the CE Mark for the system earlier this year.St. Jude touts study results that show the EnligHTN system reduces blood pressure after 30 days by twice the amount that Medtronic's system does.

Covidien (NYSE: COV  ) also jumped into the race this year. The company bought Maya Medical in April. Maya's OneShot renal denervation system obtained the CE Mark for Europe a couple of months prior to the acquisition.  

Refusing to be left in the dust, Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX  ) scooped up Vessix Vascular only a few weeks ago. Vessix received the European CE Mark in May for its V2 renal denervation system. It also received Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration approval in September.

Then there is privately held ReCor Medical Technology. Its PARADISE system uses ultrasound for renal denervation, which the company claims gives it an edge over rivals. The system received European CE Mark approval in February.ReCor is backed by Sofinnova Partners, a large European venture capital firm that has helped several biotech firms go public. 

Finish line
Which of these companies is most likely to win the race? It's still too soon to know for sure. It's possible that there could be multiple winners.

The runners with the most attractive valuations right now are St. Jude and Covidien. St. Jude has a forward P/E below 9, while Covidien's forward P/E stands just shy of 12. Medtronic's forward P/E of 11 looks better on the surface than Covidien's, but analysts expect lower growth for the company. Boston Scientific is the priciest of the group with a forward P/E over 13.

St. Jude's stock has been clobbered over the past couple of months after some product problems. I suspect that shares have been a bit oversold. The company appears to have a good shot at emerging as one of the winners in the promising renal denervation market.

My prediction is that St. Jude Medical shares will rise considerably over the next couple of years. And blood pressures across the world will fall.

While you can certainly make huge gains in biotech and pharmaceuticals, the best investing approach is to choose great companies and stick with them for the long term. In our free report "3 Stocks That Will Help You Retire Rich," we name stocks that could help you build long-term wealth and retire well, along with some winning wealth-building strategies that every investor should be aware of. Click here now to keep reading.

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