Irish research team delivers stent breakthrough for Medtronic

Galway will be global manufacturing base for stent that enables surgeons to treat patients with more difficult to access coronary blockages

Medtronic’s Galway research team has developed a new-generation stent that will allow surgeons to tackle heart blockages that were inaccessible until now through non-invasive methods.

The Onyx Frontier was used for the first time in Ireland on Thursday by Prof Briain MacNeill in a procedure at University Hospital Galway. The consultant cardiologist has been one of a number of doctors around the world involved in the development of the product.

Drug-eluting stents are used to treat patients with coronary artery disease, which is caused by plaque build-up on the inside of blood vessels. The plaque deposits narrow or clog the inside of the arteries, slowing or blocking the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Ronan Rogers, senior R&D director at Medtronic’s Parkmore plant in Galway, said the company had managed to deliver “significant incremental improvement” in performance, “primarily in the deliverability of the product, the ability to get the payload to the location of the blockage”.


More flexible

“We have made it more flexible and reduced the profile,” Mr Rogers said. “For standard cases, it’s an ease-of-use improvement so surgeons can do their standard cases much more easily. But it also allows them to treat those more difficult cases where they can get the technology to a location where previous offerings could not get to. So they can treat more patients and treat more difficult patients, which is a very exciting development for us.”

The new-generation stent was primarily developed in Galway and the global supply of the product is manufactured exclusively at the company’s manufacturing base in the city in what is a coup for the 500-strong Irish R&D team of the medtech giant that has had a presence here for 40 years.

Ireland manufactures about 80 per cent of all stents globally, with Medtronic one of the main players in the business with market share of about 30 per cent. Mr Rogers says the Galway plant produces some 10,000 stents per day or about two million annually. Less than 2 per cent of this is used in Ireland, with the rest exported worldwide.

The new-generation stent will effectively see the phasing-out of previous generations of the product.

Price pressure

“We have a market-leading product already so this gives us another jump forward. Deliverability is the last remaining area to compete on and we have certainly found some really sophisticated enabling tech to produce that improved flexibility and improved profile,” says Mr Rogers.

Stent revenue dropped last year at Medtronic as under-pressure healthcare payers put a squeeze on prices.

“The number of procedures is increasing by 5 per cent year on year but, over the past decade, government and healthcare systems are really focusing on cost and there is significant pressure on the prices we get for the product,” Mr Rogers says. “Back in 2004/2005, they were about $3,200 and now it is less than $1,000 for the same product.

“We are obviously getting less revenue for each procedure but it is still an underpenetrated space.”

He says about three to four million patients undergo stent surgery annually but nine million people die of coronary artery disease, making it one of the biggest killers among chronic diseases, and about 125 million people worldwide have some form of the condition.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times