It's been a good year for Boston franchises. The Red Sox thumped the Yankees, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, and cardiology company Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX ) is once again dominating the market for drug-coated stents.
Following a difficult summer that saw product recalls of the Taxus drug-coated stent, Boston Scientific has come roaring back. (The problem was not with the stents themselves, but with the catheter-based delivery systems used to implant them.) Sales in the fourth quarter climbed to $1.6 billion-plus. That's 70% growth over the prior December quarter, and 8% sequential growth.
There's no question about what drove the growth in the fourth quarter, as stent sales were up 374% to $730 million. While Boston Scientific has a wide range of products in markets like electrophysiology, urology, and neurology, the company's fortunes are largely tied at present to the Taxus stent. Stent sales make up nearly half of all sales, and the growth in the stent business was responsible for nearly 90% of the growth seen in the fourth-quarter results.
Locked in a head-to-head battle with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) and that company's Cypher drug-coated stent, this is a case of David beating up on Goliath. Despite the fact that J&J dwarfs Boston Scientific, the Taxus stent holds roughly two-thirds of the market for drug-coated stents.
Better still, it's a market that is likely to stay just between the two of them for some time. J&J is buying rival stent-maker Guidant (NYSE: GDT ) and Boston Scientific -- together with Taxus partner Angiotech Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ANPI ) -- is about to launch an aggressive lawsuit against potential rival Conor Medsystms (Nasdaq: CONR ) to prevent them from commercializing their own paclitaxel-coated stent. As such, only Medtronic (NYSE: MDT ) remains on the horizon and it's not likely to be a force until 2006 at the earliest.
While Boston Scientific won't be able to reproduce this sort of growth indefinitely, the overall market for stents should stay strong for a long time to come. Baby boomers continue to age and the dietary habits of the average American should guarantee an ongoing demand for these life-sparing devices. Ongoing competitive pressure from a combined JNJ-Guidant and an eventual launch from Medtronic will no doubt chip away at that market share, but if the past is any indication, Boston Scientific won't concede a single account without a fight.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson, CFA, owns shares of J&J, but none of the other companies mentioned.