Cardiac device makers have struggled to reel in sales growth over the past few years as revenue from traditionally strong products such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemakers has slowed industrywide. That hasn't hurt the stocks of leading companies, however: Shares of top firms such as Medtronic (NYSE: MDT ) and Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX ) have soared over the past year, boosted by innovative new product drives and the market's own rally.
However, these med tech titans aren't giving up on traditional revenue generators like ICDs that quickly. Boston Scientific and Medtronic recently came out with successes that could shake up sluggish growth.
Looking to kick off growth
Boston Scientific notched a win when it pushed its subcutaneous ICD product, called the S-ICD, into Hong Kong in a report announced by the company on Wednesday. It's a start, and while Boston hasn't managed inroads into other leading Asian markets -- in particular China, the biggest prize of all and a medical device market that market intelligence firm Global Intelligence Alliance projects will grow to more than $53 billion by 2015 -- it's an important inroad for the company into gaining acceptance around the Asian medical community.
It's also a beacon of hope for Boston Scientific investors, who have grown frustrated by the company's sales as of late. Boston's ICD sales have tripped up in past years, with revenue falling around 2% year over year in 2013. That's not what investors want to hear for a business that made up around nearly 19% of the company's total revenue last year.
While the first implant of the S-ICD in Hong Kong won't improve the company's sales overnight, it's a key step for the firm to expand geographically. Market saturation has plagued sales of ICDs and other cardiac rhythm management products in Western markets, and gaining access to Asia and other emerging markets -- particularly if Boston can push into coveted China with the S-ICD -- would go a long way to turning around a business that the company relies heavily on.
Pushing into Asia would do wonders not just for Boston Scientific, but for many of the leaders in the cardiac device industry. Fellow med tech giant St. Jude Medical (NYSE: STJ ) , another leader in the CRM market and the ICD industry in particular, managed to reel in just over 18% of its total revenue from the Asia-Pacific region with the exception of Japan last year. With sales growth slow in the likes of Europe and the U.S., St. Jude -- which has seen ICD sales slip in each of the last two years -- is just as much in need of geographic diversification as Boston.
Rival Medtronic also relies substantially on CRM products, with overall sales from its Defibrillation Systems unit making up more than 15% of the company's total revenue in its most recent quarter. Unlike Boston and St. Jude, Medtronic's managed meager growth from the industry as of late, but the company and investors should be feeling a bit better after it won European regulatory approval for its Evera MRI SureScan ICD on Wednesday, according to a report from the company.
Europe's not the most appealing market for CRM products right now, but the Evera is the first MRI-compatible ICD of its type to win approval worldwide. That's a big step forward from most other ICDs, which previously restricted the use of MRIs for implanted patients. While Medtronic's still hunting for FDA approval, the company should open some eyes around the medical community with its latest device. According to the firm's release, more than 63% of ICD-implanted patients will have to undergo an MRI within 10 years of implantation. The Evera will make that a lot easier, and score one point for Medtronic in gaining first-mover advantage here. It won't turn around the company's sluggish ICD sales immediately, but in the long term, it's an important key to watch in generating growth.
Diversification the key to success
Cardiac leaders like Boston and Medtronic still need to rely on innovative new products and diversifying their portfolios in order to succeed in the long term. As the downturn in CRM sales growth has shown, a slump in a major niche can pull down sales across the fickle med tech industry, particularly during a time of tight hospital budgets. However, if these companies can turn around growth in some of their top lagging industries, it'll go a long way toward convincing investors that the med tech's stock rise over the past year isn't just a mirage.
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