PARIS — Jean-Fran ois Cazaubon, responsible for the hospital market in France for Air Liquide (Paris), said his unit was seeing an 8% annual growth rate, and in a move that would seem to buck the trend for cost-cutting, was introducing at SFAR the Felix Dual, an anesthesia workstation designed to administer the inhalant branded as LENOXe by Air Liquide, which is based on the rare gas xenon.

Xenon gas costs between five and 10 times more than the inhalants used today in general, yet offers benefits that Air Liquide believes justify the expense, such as greater patient safety, quicker recovery and far more environmentally friendly attributes than traditional anesthetic agents.

Xenon is an inert and non-soluable gas, meaning the human body does not absorb the chemical properties, which enables patients to recover almost immediately after the gas is cut off, as opposed to 15 minutes or more with traditional agents, which are also absorbed and can lead to various side effects.

A byproduct of oxygen and nitrogen, xenon is produced by a fractional distillation of liquefied air and as a natural gas is dispersed after use into the atmosphere, in contrast to conventional inhalational anesthetics which are artificial synthetics with an ozone-depleting potential.

The Felix Dual workstation, developed and manufactured by Air Liquide's medical equipment division, Taema (Antony, France), administers both conventional inhalants for general anesthesia and the newly introduced LENOXe.

Manufactured by Air Liquide Deutschland (Düsseldorf, Germany), LENOXe in March 2007 received the approval of the regulatory commission for drugs, which is mutually recognized by 12 western European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK).

Sixty procedures using this xenon-based anesthesia and the Felix Dual have been performed in Germany and France, with what the company called "nearly unanimous satisfaction." Approved for use in Russia in 1999, xenon has proven safe and effective in 650 procedures there.

The open question is whether Air Liquide can make a market for this product innovation with its high price point while hospitals are aggressively seeking to cut costs.

Cazaubon said clinical studies are underway to provide proof of the cost-effectiveness of patient safety and faster recovery times, as well as refining the stratification of patients appropriate for xenon.

He said Air Liquide also is seeking to penetrate a share of the general anesthesia market and not to replace all conventional agents.

The Felix Dual is being sold in Germany, being introduced in France and Italy, and will be rolled out in 2009 in Portugal and Spain, he said.

— John Brosky, European Editor