Angiotech Pharmaceuticals (Vancouver, British Columbia) has certainly benefited from the drug-eluting stent via its relationship with Boston Scientific's wildly successful Taxus Cypher product. Bill Hunter, president and CEO, noted that while Angiotech is primarily known at this time for its role with the Taxus stent, licensing the paclitaxel coating to Boston Sci, it does have a number of different programs, including divisions in bio-coatings, polymers and orthopedics implants. That being said, Hunter acknowledged that the Taxus program has been the catalyst for the company's drive to expand into other areas. "Taxus has been a fabulous program for us. It has grown at a rate that I think has exceeded anybody's expectations." He added that the product's sales have outperformed so-called "blockbuster" pharmaceutical products, with more than $2.2 billion in sales in less than a year.

Where does his company go from here? How about more drug/device combinations? "We started to believe that there was a business to be had here in combining drugs with medical devices and biomaterials," he said, "and what we have put together in our business is a comprehensive look at drug screening, trying to find the right drug for the right medical device problems [and] combining that with a diverse biomaterial platform that allows us to deliver drugs in very complicated ways in very specific places."

By putting together such drug-based medical device delivery systems, Angiotech has turned out to be a pharmaceutical company that really operates in the med-tech space.

The rationale behind this approach is quite straightforward, Hunter said, noting that while there are literally tens of thousands of different medical devices, they're all constructed from the same basic building blocks. What one finds, he said, is that there are not 200 different devices with 200 distinct problems. "You probably have three or four recurrent problems that occur over and over again every time you try to do a surgical intervention and try to introduce a foreign body into the area."

What Angiotech discovered was that nine out of 10 devices ultimately failed because of inflammation, infection or tissue overgrowth. "And here was an entire industry [pharmaceutical sciences] that was spending billions of dollars a year making anti-inflamatories, anti-infectives and anti-cancer drugs," Hunter said. The problem with putting together a comprehensive program was that there were several sophisticated technologies needed to deliver the drug compounds. "Sometimes we need a suture, sometimes we need a gel, sometimes we need a biomaterial," he said.

The company decided to build its program through an intensive series of acquisitions over the past 16 months. It acquired adhesion barrier and hemostat technology through its Cohesion Technologies (Palo Alto, California) buy. The company added lubricious coatings and neuroguidewires with its STS Biopolymers (Henrietta, New York) acquisition. Additionally, the NeuColl (Los Gatos, California) buy provided a collagen implant that got Angiotech into the field of orthopedics.

Another investment that the company made with Orthovita (Malvern, Pennsylvania) came to fruition in January with the commercial launch of Vitagel, a surgical hemostat that is designed for use in cardiovascular, orthopedic, urologic and general surgery indications to control bleeding. Vitagel differs from other competitors in that it uses a patient's own blood as opposed to products from pooled donor blood, thus re-ducing the risk of transmission of diseases associated with donor blood.

Holland Johnson, Associate Managing Editor