For years and years, a reliable formula in the medical technology industry has been to find an unpleasant procedure and make it better. Few procedures are better candidates than back surgery, and interest in building better mousetraps for the spine has made this one of the hottest segments in orthopedics.
Not content to simply improve an old procedure, small-cap med-tech company Kyphon
The fractures in question are called vertebral compression fractures (VCF) and most often occur in those suffering from osteoporosis or certain types of cancerous tumors. Not only can this be exceptionally painful, but it often results in a pronounced stooping, as well.
Kyphon thinks that there are roughly 700,000 VCFs in the U.S. and Europe each year and as many as 400,000 additional fractures in the U.S. that go undiagnosed. Amazingly, the only treatment prescribed for many of these patients is bed rest.
For those who get more advanced care, the options include risky conventional spinal surgeries or vertebroplasty. While vertebroplasty is minimally invasive (it is performed through one or two needles placed in the vertebrae) and reduces a patient's pain, it does not restore the spinal anatomy.
With Kyphon's balloon kyphoplasty, a small balloon is inflated within the damaged vertebrae, and bone cement is used to fill the void. Not only does this relieve the pain, but also the process restores the normal spinal anatomy and the patient's normal posture.
Given that balloon kyphoplasty is a pretty big departure from normal procedures, Kyphon has had to spend aggressively on sales and marketing efforts. While the sales growth posted Monday suggests that that investment is paying off, Fools looking at these shares should assume that Kyphon will continue to spend money to build its position.
What's more, imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery. The company is presently engaged in patent litigation with an Israeli firm called Disc-O-Tech, and it is likely only a matter of time before Medtronic
Although I'm normally a stickler for P/Es, EV-to-cash flow, and other assorted value-investing flotsam, I don't believe they are necessarily so important with Kyphon. In some respects Kyphon is literally creating a new market, and it seems a little foolish (with the small "f") to overlook a strong grower in an emerging market just because the backward-looking numbers are high. What's more, a trailing price-to-sales of about 5 is not unreasonable, since med-tech companies carry a valuation of 6 or more times sales.
So while Kyphon shares are certainly risky and even the merest hint of slowing growth will hammer the shares, I'm keeping a close eye on these shares with the hopes of being able to buy on a dip.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson, CFA, has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.