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Ethicon’s Secrets for a Successful Product Portfolio

The company’s vice president of R&D explains how it was able to turn a single technology into an entire platform of products.

September 6, 2013

4 Min Read
Ethicon’s Secrets for a Successful Product Portfolio

On Valentine’s Day 2003, surgical products maker Ethicon launched its Coated Vicryl Plus Antibacterial Suture. The absorbable wound closure product was the first to feature the company’s Plus antimicrobial technology aimed at reducing surgical site infections. Ten years and several product iterations later, more than 140 million strands of sutures incorporating Plus technology have been used in surgeries across the globe.


Ethicon's Vicryl Plus Antibacterial Sutures

Ethicon vice president of R&D Ed Dormier explains how the company was able to leverage that one innovative technology into an entire portfolio of successful products.

Find a Need

Back in 2003, surgical site infections were a big problem, impacting half a million people each year, according to an article in Infection Control Today. But it wasn’t a problem most people were aware of.

“Ten years ago, there wasn’t all that much talk about surgical site infections and hospital-acquired infections,” Dormier says. “Now, 10 years later, you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing articles related to this problem.”

Ethicon understood the need for products to reduce surgical site infections because its R&D team was plugged into the surgical space and received feedback from surgeons who experienced the problem first hand.

Plan for a Platform Early

As anyone working in medtech R&D will tell you, it takes years to bring a technology out of the lab and into a marketable medical device. When you finally do develop a viable concept, it pays to milk it for all it’s worth.


Ethicon's Monocryl Plus Antibacterial Sutures

Ethicon’s first Plus product, the Coated Vicryl Plus, was a broadly applicable suture. But early on, the company knew it wanted to develop other products based on the technology for more specific applications. “When we were first starting to talk about Plus technology, our vision was to provide this technology at all layers [of tissue],” Dormier says.

The company followed the Coated Vicryl Plus with PDS Plus Antibacterial Sutures, designed to secure deeper tissue, and Monocryl Plus Antibacterial Sutures, for superficial wounds.
“There’s a lot of invention involved the first time around, but now when you roll to next aspects of platform, it is going ahead and building on what you’ve already done, what we already know,” Dormier says.

Get User Feedback

Part of the reason Ethicon’s Plus portfolio has been so successful is, not surprisingly, because surgeons like using the products. One challenge the company has faced is rolling out new products based on the technology while retaining the characteristics surgeons find useful.

“That’s always a conundrum,” Dormier says. “These products are really extremely well loved by surgeons for things like their look, physical properties, and handling characteristics. When we seek to do something new with the technology, we have to try not to change anything that they really love.”

To do that, he says, the team gathers feedback from users and incorporates it into future products.

Combine Different Technologies

Stratafix Symmetric PDS Plus Knotless Tissue Control Device

Instead of reinventing the wheel, it pays to look for synergies between existing products. Combining two technologies can often result in a sum that’s greater than either of its parts.

For example, Ethicon’s most recent edition to the Plus portfolio is the Stratafix Symmetric PDS Plus Knotless Tissue Control Device. The product combines Plus antibacterial technology with the company’s existing Stratafix line of knotless tissue control devices designed to provide easier, more secure wound closure.

“It’s about matching up the attributes and features we can bring to the product,” Dormier says.

Prove Your Product’s Worth

A common complaint lobbied at the medical device industry by physicians is that device makers add frivolous bells and whistles to their products only to charge more for them.

Dormier says Ethicon works hard to ensure all the features added to its products are meaningful, but the challenge is often in convincing buyers.

“More and more, we’re asked to show the benefit,” he says.

In some cases, he says, the benefits are obvious. “What used to take four hands, now one surgeon can do on their own,” Dormier says.

In other cases, the proof is in the pudding. “They have to try it in their hands to see if a tactile aspect is a wow feature for them,” he says.

It’s also important to back up claims with plenty of data, Dormier adds. Plus technology, for example, has been studied in 27 clinical trials, evaluated in 11,000 patients, according to the company, and written up in scientific papers by both independent investigators and some affiliated with the company.

Jamie Hartford, managing editor, MD+DI
[email protected]


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