The 2011 meeting of the International Neuromodulation Society, which took place in London, England in May 2011, featured a large number of oral and poster presentations offering updated technical and clinical information on neuromodulation topics. There was also a full day of sessions devoted to commercialization, investment, and industry issues affecting neuromodulation startup firms.
But as is the case with many meetings that draw attendance from different fields of endeavor, there was as much to learn from the informal scuttlebutt going on between sessions as there was from the posters and oral presentations themselves. We offer here some of our observations based on random comments from attendees.
After the Sunday session on future innovations in neuromodulation, some attendees were perplexed by Greatbatch Inc.’s efforts to launch a new spinal cord stimulation device company, called Algostim LLC. Given that Greatbatch supplies components such as batteries and leads to many manufacturers of implanted neurostimulation systems, it raised the question as to why Greatbatch would want to compete with its customers. Greatbatch CEO Tom Hook made the case that by incubating new device startups that will eventually be spun off, Greatbatch will cultivate a greater customer base in the future. It will be interesting to see how that situation plays out.
That controversy might have presented an opportunity for component supplier Cirtec Medical to drum up business, had they have more of a presence at the event. But that company has been hit by the departure of some key staff members, including its former president Barry Smith.
There was also some discussion on the competitive positioning of new entrants in the spinal cord stimulation business such as Nevro, Spinal Modulation, and Neuros Medical. Several attendees thought that Neuros has a sound technology base, though probably the smallest market opportunity of the three. There was speculation that Nevro and Spinal Modulation might be ripe targets for acquisition by existing players in the SCS market. It will be interesting to see if either firm makes it to the market approval stage, let alone profitability, before being snapped up by one of the big three.
Speaking of spinal cord stimulation, perhaps the most profound observation we heard at the conference was by Robert Levy of Northwestern University, who noted that the SCS systems that existed five to 10 years ago, which serve as the basis for many long-term pain studies, represent the worst case scenario. Today’s SCS systems, with their greater specificity, targeting capabilities, and control over stimulation parameters, offer a far better outcome for patients and vendors alike.
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