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Abiomed’s pumps help hearts go on

“No one can make a product that’s as good as the heart,’’ said Michael Minogue, Abiomed’s chief executive. “No one can make a product that’s as good as the heart,’’ said Michael Minogue, Abiomed’s chief executive. (Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe)
By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / November 23, 2009

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DANVERS - The cardiac device company Abiomed Inc. captured attention in June when its AbioCor self-contained artificial heart was implanted in a patient for the first time outside of a clinical trial.

Despite that high-profile success, which showcased its technology, the Danvers company has been refocusing on a less flashy though potentially more durable product: cardiac-assist devices, known as recovery pumps, which are used in hospital settings to help critically ill patients’ hearts recover, rather than having to be replaced.

“No one can make a product that’s as good as the heart,’’ said Michael R. Minogue, Abiomed’s chief executive. “If you can help protect the heart during a heart procedure, it can allow the heart to recover. This is now the major part of our business.’’

In the three months ended Sept. 30, sales of the company’s Impella line of heart pumps accounted for $13.2 million of its $19.7 million in product revenue.

Abiomed has won four US regulatory approvals for its cardiac-assist devices over the past two years.

The premier product, called Impella 2.5, has been used in more than 1,200 patients in 320-plus hospitals since it won clearance from the Food and Drug Administration last year. It takes over the pumping action of the heart, enabling the muscle to rest and recover during procedures such as angioplasty and stent implantation.

Products such as Impella 2.5, and rivals from HeartWare International Inc., of Framingham, and Thoratec Corp., of Pleasanton, Calif., are known as left ventricular assist devices, or LVADs.

The devices have been gaining favor among doctors and patients at a time when there are not enough hearts available for transplants and artificial-heart technology is widely seen as a way of extending lives of gravely ill patients for relatively short periods.

For instance, the 76-year-old man who received an AbioCor in June at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Brunswick, N.J., died about three months later.

“There just aren’t enough hearts to go around, and the synthetic hearts just haven’t proven to work,’’ said Maria Shepherd, founder of Data Decision Group, a Belmont market research firm specializing in medical devices. “The heart is a very complex organ.’’

While the medical community waits for artificial-heart technology to improve, cardiac-assist devices could grow into a $1 billion-a-year industry, helping patients with congestive heart failure or waiting for transplants, Shepherd said. She cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting that heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 500,000 people each year.

Abiomed, a 27-year-old company that went public in 1994, initially was focused on artificial-heart technology. It acquired the Impella line from a German company in 2005, a year after Minogue, a former General Electric Co. executive, joined.

It currently does research and development for heart pumps in Danvers and Germany. About half of its 400 employees are in Danvers or elsewhere in Massachusetts.

Minogue said he’s proud of AbioCor and its ability to extend the lives of patients without other medical options. But for now, he sees the self-contained artificial heart as a niche market.

“I consider this thing the sports car you watch on television, but you can’t buy from your dealer,’’ he said, holding an AbioCor model.

“It’s a unique product.’’

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.