Spine Market: A Perfect Storm
While most Wall Street analysts predict that the current economic crisis will have little effect on the spine industry over the long haul, there are storm clouds on the horizon that should put spine product manufacturers on guard. With crackdowns by the Department of Justice tipping over into the spine arena and whistleblower lawsuits regarding surgeon/industry relationships in the news, along with several important bills before Congress designed to change how the business of spine surgery is done, current financial constraints may be only the tip of the iceberg in terms of things to come.
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Once considered the high flying segment of the musculoskeletal industry, the spine industry has finally hit a wall as procedure volumes stall, implant prices tumble, and payors push back on authorizing expensive operations for back pain such as spinal fusion. As economic woes heighten, hand in hand with persistent unemployment just as health care and regulatory reforms kick in, many left the North American Spine Society meeting in early October wondering where the bright spots are in this industry.
The artificial disc market, at least in the US, has yet to take off. In 2009, sales of artificial discs reached close to $150 million a far cry from the $1+ billion projected in 2005. So what happened and what does the future hold?
Injectable products that can alleviate pain and even reverse the disease process are on the horizon for treating degenerative orthopedic and spinal conditions, such as damaged articular joint cartilage and deteriorated spinal discs. With no available long-term treatment options for these conditions short of invasive surgical procedures like joint replacement or spinal fusion, injectable technologies that offer the possibility of being used upstream in the continuum of care are potential billion-dollar market opportunities. In fact, in a post health care reform environment, injectable therapies may prove to be the most cost-effective way for treating many degenerative conditions.