How Medtronic Made a Supplier a Better Partner

Chris Newmarker

October 29, 2013

2 Min Read
How Medtronic Made a Supplier a Better Partner

Medtronic product development teams in recent years were grappling with the fact that they knew they could improve their system for freezing tissue inside the heart to treat abnormal heart beat. But the supplier for the refrigerant spraying technology inside the catheter balloon had run out of options to improve it.

"When you've already reached to the limit of the technologies it became challenging," says said Dan Wittenberger, senior principal and R&D engineer at Medtronic CryoCath in Pointe-Claire, Quebec at MD&M Minneapolis.

So what did Medtronic do? It actually formed a stronger partnership with the supplier for its Arctic Front Cardiac CryoAblation Catheter system.

The story suggests that large device makers might be more willing to become development partners with their suppliers than they used to.

"We came to the conclusion that the only thing we can do is change our paradigm with our suppliers, to work with our suppliers. ... There were not many options. .. We had gone to the limit of the technology, and the supplier was saying, 'I can't do that,'" Wittenberger said Tuesday during a case study session at MD&M Minneapolis.

The FDA approved Arctic Front Advance last year, after approval of the original device in 2010.

First launched in Europe in the past decade, physicians found the first iteration of the product could be improved, Wittenberger says.

The balloon is delivered to the opening of each pulmonary vein in the heart by threading it over a guidewire from a puncture in the skin and vein at the groin. The balloon freezes the nearby heart tissue around the pulmonary vein, thereby blocking the abnormal electrical activity that causes PAF.

The original device, though, only cooled a portion of the front hemisphere of the balloon. Different people have different size of pulmonary veins, so some were not a fit.

"People come in different sizes, and we only had two sizes of balloons," Wittenberger said.

Through the stronger partnership with the supplier, Medtronic was able to take the way refrigerant was sprayed inside the balloon and double the number of spraying ports, engaging in detailed work that controlled ports' size and orientation to achieve better freezing uniformity.

Wittenberger acknowledged that hammering down of intellectual property, perhaps even negotiation of a development agreement, can create difficulty with a supplier until such processes are complete.

But Wittenberger found it worth it with Arctic Front.

"What started ... as a fringe technology... is now competing with the mainstream technologies for the last 20 years," Wittenberger said.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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