This leadless pacemaker is incredible technology. Not only did the company, Nanostim, reduce the size of the pacemaker by about 90% but it eliminated the often troublesome leads that are required in traditional pacemakers.
The stealthy company, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, was recently acquired by St. Jude Medical for $123-200 million (depending on milestones).
The new pacemaker has received European regulatory clearance but not FDA approval yet although it has received an FDA Investigational Device Exemption (IDE). A pivotal clinical trial is expected to begin soon in the U.S. while sales will begin in selected European countries very soon.
The device, about as big as a AAA battery, is implanted directly into the interior of the right ventricle of the heart. Electrodes on the exterior of the pacemaker provide electrical stimulation to the heart muscle. The device is implanted via a catheter inserted in the femoral artery. Removal occurs via the same route, only in reverse. Battery life is 9-13 years. The device has wireless communication capability so it can be programmed remotely.
Given the negative publicity and adverse events involving pacemaker lead fractures over the past years, leadless pacemakers appear to be an idea whose time has arrived. Of course, the idea has occurred to more than one inventor.
Here’s Medtronic’s take on the concept:
Medtronic’s product concept is much smaller than a penny. Medtronic announced the device three years ago and said it would take 3-5 years before beginning human implants. They also said that the product concept included the ability to be programmed via a smartphone application.
Critics have pointed out that the Nanostim product and Medtronic device concept provide only single chamber pacing and are not rate-responsive – the most basic form of pacemaker.
It seems to me that the Nanostim device is classic disruptive technology. It provides a single function compared to the elaborate features of traditional pacemakers. It’s probably priced at a fraction of the price of complex pacemakers. As with other disruptive technologies, competitors ignore new entrants with low cost/performance at their peril. Given sufficient demand, I’m sure clinicians and engineers will figure out ways to make these “simple” devices perform all the functions of their bigger, older “brothers”.
On the positive side, no surgery is needed for implantation – a big plus with patients. And there are no potentially problematic leads to route. Other benefits from the patient’s standpoint are no activity restrictions, no surgical “pocket” for potential infections and no telltale bulge of the device under the collarbone. This could be one of those disruptive technologies where patient demand changes market dynamics.
The implantable pacemaker/defibrillator market is large, with 4 million active implants and 700,000 new implants occurring each year worldwide.
Takeaways: A leadless pacemaker is an obvious innovation to anyone who has worked in the cardiac stimulation field. Nanostim took the concept and ran with it while Medtronic took its time with what might be a technically superior solution.
While achieving lasting market share is more important than being first to market, Nanostim may be able to achieve both. Because they negotiated a strategic partnership with St. Jude Medical while the device was still in development, the company gained access to substantial resources, enhanced its credibility, and was able to reduce risk for investors by showing a clear path to exit. Nanostim also pursued the faster CE marking before FDA approval so that it could start selling the device sooner.