Edwards Lifesciences Corporation (NYSE: EW) traces its roots back to 1958, when Miles “Lowell” Edwards set out to build the first artificial heart.
Edwards’ idea was met with hesitation when he presented the concept to Dr. Albert Starr, a young surgeon at the University of Oregon Medical School. Instead, Starr encouraged Edwards to focus first on developing an artificial heart valve, an innovation that patients around the world needed. Just two years later, on 21 September 1960, the first Starr-Edwards valve implant was performed at the Medical School.
The patient, a 52-year-old farmer named Philip Amundson, had a scarred and deformed heart valve as a result of childhood rheumatic fever. The procedure went well and newspapers throughout the world reported the success of the “miraculous” heart surgery.
Edwards and Starr had foreseen the strong need for heart valve replacement, since heart valve disease is a common condition of ageing - with up to 13% of over-75s suffering from some form of the disease. It is a serious, life-threatening condition; 50% of people suffering from severe symptomatic aortic stenosis die within two years. Yet, what Starr and Edwards showed the world was that heart valve disease can be effectively treated, saving lives and returning patients to a better quality of life.
The momentous first heart valve implant was the first step in Edwards’ 60 years history of patient-centred innovation and partnership. The company’s commitment to innovation is backed-up with significant investment in Research & Development – currently running at 16% of annual revenues.
Partnerships with physicians have placed Edwards at the forefront of major breakthroughs in the treatment of valve disease. In Europe, the company partnered with the French surgeon, Prof. Alain Carpentier, to develop replacement tissue heart valves, which unlike mechanical heart valves, do not require anti-coagulation medicine for life, thereby improving the quality-of-life benefits for patients.
More recently, Edwards joined with the French interventional cardiologist, Alain Cribier, to pioneer transcatheter valve implantation (TAVI). TAVI was originally conceived to allow people who were inoperable or at high risk for open heart surgery to receive a replacement valve via a less invasive route. Recent data demonstrated that TAVI is, indeed, superior to open heart surgery in intermediate risk patients, which is opening up the procedure to a wider range of patients.
In addition to heart valve therapies, Edwards is credited with pioneering many innovations in Critical Care medicine. This includes the Swan-Ganz catheter, the first technology ever used for haemodynamic monitoring of critically ill patients, the Fogarty line of embolectomy catheters, the first catheter-based technologies used to remove blood clots from the arms and legs and non-invasive monitoring via ClearSight.
As Edwards celebrates its 60th anniversary, its therapies are bringing considerable benefits to patients across the world. Last year, more than 1.3 million people benefitted from the company’s surgical valve replacement and repair therapies. Over the same period, 13.3 million patients were treated using Edwards’ Critical Care monitoring devices. And, since the launch of TAVI in 2007, 275,000 people have received valves from the Edwards SAPIEN family.
Yet, beyond the product numbers, the company focuses on three wider benefits for society – tackling life-threatening disease, enabling active and healthy ageing and transforming healthcare systems.
1. Tackling life-threatening disease – with the company’s annual investment in R&D running at 16% of revenues, Edwards is at the forefront of medical innovation to address structural heart diseases that are both life-threatening and life-limiting.
2. Enabling active and healthy ageing – with up to 13% of adults over the age of 75 being diagnosed with heart valve disease, the condition is strongly associated with ageing. In Europe, the over-65s group will double by 2060 and represent 30% of the population. Understandably, therefore, active and healthy ageing is a key focus for European governments. Edwards is committed to pioneering therapies for structural heart disease which will allow patients to reintegrate rapidly back into an active life. This approach will benefit economic growth and prosperity in Europe for two clear reasons: it will limit the strain on health and social care systems and it will allow people to remain active in society longer.
3. Transforming healthcare systems – Edwards provides medical technologies which can transform both the treatment of structural heart disease and healthcare systems. This transformation leads to shorter procedure times, the scope to treat more patients and ongoing reductions in hospital lengths of stays and re-hospitalization rates. In this way, Edwards’ transformational innovations contribute to delivering more efficient and cost-effective healthcare systems and reduce the burden of rehabilitation and homecare costs by rapidly returning patients back to an active life.
As Edwards Lifesciences sets out on the coming 60 years, the company is working in partnership with physicians on new breakthrough innovations. The impact of TAVI is inspiring similar developments to treat mitral and tricuspid valve conditions with minimally-invasive transcatheter procedures. Meanwhile, in Critical Care, the company is turning its attention from simply monitoring to allowing physicians to predict complications before they happen in order to improve outcomes in the operating room.
With Edwards’ 12,000 employees, the company’s commitment to innovation and its culture of partnership with the medical profession, the original vision of Lowell Edwards remains as strong today as it was 60 years ago.