While the Valley may be waiting for its drug discovery success stories to emerge, it’s hardly missing from the medical technology industry. In Valencia, one of the world’s leading ear implant companies is fine-tuning its spinal treatment for chronic pain sufferers. A Northridge-based medical imaging company is making waves in the fields of breast cancer detection and pharmaceutical research, and a Chatsworth specimen testing company is recording record revenue and has watched is stock price double this year. As part of its biotechnology special report, The Business Journal examined three medical device firms that are looking toward a bright future. Advanced Bionics Why It’s Successful: Valencia-based Advanced Bionics, founded in 1993 by combining two companies, is the only company in the country that develops cochlear ear implants. Its Clarion implants were developed after Alfred E. Mann signed a license agreement with University of California at San Francisco which allowed his scientists to manufacture and sell the inventions at the university. The implants, which can restore hearing in some people, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in some adults, and in 1997 were approved for use in children. In 2003, the company released its HiResolution Bionic Ear System, a technology leader in the industry. What the Future Holds: Last year, Advanced Bionics received FDA approval of its spinal cord stimulation device, which is implanted in patients with chronic pain. “We believe that pain management itself is an under-penetrated area, especially treating pain with spinal cord stimulation,” said Mona Patel, Advanced Bionics’ vice president of marketing. “In this country, 50 million people have chronic pain. About 4 million people go to see a pain specialist, and about 2.5 million have moderate to severe neuropathic pain. Those are the kind of patients that would be acceptable for spinal cord stimulation.” Only 25,000 implants have been completed worldwide, Patel said, and 1,500 of those have been done by Advanced Bionics. Over the past year, the company has hired close to 200 people, hoping to increase manufacturing capabilities and start a wider clinical trial that will attract the attention of more doctors who treat patients with chronic pain. Photon Imaging, Inc. Why It’s Successful: Photon Imaging’s technology in the molecular imaging field has powered machines that are being used to detect breast cancer and by pharmaceutical companies that need a better method with which to monitor the effect a drug has on animals used for testing. One of Photon’s spinoffs, Gamma Medica, was formed to develop commercial applications for Photon’s medical technology. The company has developed the LumaGEM, gamma camera which is being used in breast imaging for early cancer detection, and its Flex pre-clinical imaging services are used in drug development and medical research. They allow drug discovery firms to monitor the function of a drug in a live animal without having to wait for autopsy results. What the Future Holds: Gamma Medica purchased Ideas ASA out of Oslo, Norway earlier this year. Ideas manufactures the chips that power Gamma’s equipment and the acquisition gives Gamma access to its former partner’s client base. The company will continue to market its LumaGEM camera, which is installed in about a dozen medical centers, including the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego. The camera is also involved in a study underway at Harbor UCLA. The LumaGEM system is being studied with a typical mammogram to see if it can help with early cancer detection. Another Photon Spinoff, DxRay, Inc. recently won $10 million in National Institutes of Health grants to develop Gamma Medic’s products. DxRay is working to develop a digital x-ray detectors that could drastically lower x-ray doses in clinical exams. IRIS International Why It’s Successful: Iris has climbed to the top of a market that may not get a lot of attention, but it’s lucrative nonetheless. The Chatsworth-based company is leader in developing automated urinalysis technology. Its clients are situated among the major medical centers in the world, and it’s technology uses real time video to display microscopic images on a screen. What the Future Holds: Iris recently reported its sixth straight quarter of revenue and profit growth, and CEO Cesar Garcia pledged to keep costs under control while maintaining the company’s leadership position and looking for strategic acquisitions. As of last week, Iris’s stock was trading at over $17.00, more than double its value a year ago.
Medical Device Companies Flourish