FMD's top web stories of 2013 reflect the industry at its best and worst

As we near the end of 2013, one thing is clear: The FierceMedicalDevices stories that propelled the highest levels of web traffic this year reflect the med tech industry at its best and worst.

For example, reports of thousands of all-metal hip implants causing injury to patients have dogged the industry for years. So it's not surprising that large numbers of readers clicked on a story about how Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) DePuy division settled a metal hip lawsuit in California. It's big news when a conglomerate of J&J's size and clout resolves any liability lawsuit without a trial, and the action preceded an offer a month later to settle 8,000 of 12,000 remaining metal hip lawsuits against the company for $2.5 billion-plus. News that Covidien ($COV) disclosed it will be slashing jobs, closing facilities and boosting outsourcing to save as much as $300 million annually drew immense interest. Many turned to our story about how Israel became a hotbed for medical devices. Readers also avidly tracked the race to develop an artificial pancreas, and how Medtronic ($MDT) emerged in the lead with an early version of such a device.

Why did these stories generate so much interest above all the others? The reasons are many.

News about defective med tech products draws tremendous reader interest because of the wide fallout. Beyond hurting patients, medical device mishaps also damage an industry's reputation, and the J&J hip recall and legal aftermath will haunt the company and its competitors for years to come.

Covidien's planned job cuts and plant closures compelled people to pay attention as much as car accidents do: Passersby can't help but watch. But med tech readers following Covidien's reorganization saga can also relate to its struggles to address sluggish med device and medical product sales. Equally, the quest to launch game-changing products is a huge reader draw because they can relate to the issues involved. The push to be first in innovation elicits fierce competition among med tech rivals, plus patent lawsuits and other dust-ups along the way. It's often a messy, dramatic process. An artificial pancreas has been the holy grail for some time for a number of medical device companies, and some are likely cheering Medtronic on or are more than a bit envious about its progress.

Finally, the medical device and diagnostics industries are increasingly becoming global in terms of their quest for new technology. Israel has become a fertile place that has spawned new med tech, and the industry knows it. Simply put, FMD co-editor Damian Garde's coverage of the issue gave readers vital information they needed to help understand the trend and take advantage of it.

Here are FMD's top 5 stories on the web for 2013:

1. J&J's DePuy settles CA metal hip lawsuit
By late summer, reports began to surface that J&J was considering a massive settlement that could surpass $3 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits over the company's recalled ASR metal hip implants. In early October, another clue dropped that J&J was less inclined to fight. The company settled a lawsuit filed by Robert Eugene Ottman, who had sued over alleged side effects he faced from the implant, which he said failed and needed to be replaced in a second surgery. A month later, J&J submitted an offer to settle 8,000 lawsuits for more than $2.5 billion, though it remains to be seen if enough plaintiffs will sign on for the agreement to become final.

2. Covidien plots job cuts, plant closures to save $300M
In September, readers took notice when Covidien disclosed in a regulatory filing that it would slash jobs, close facilities and accelerate a push toward outsourcing in a move to save $250 million to $300 million a year. The company was pretty cryptic about the details, simply stating that it would release specifics as those decisions became official. Still, a few things were known. The reorganization starts this year and will wrap up by 2018. And the company itself said it needed to take steps to adjust the company's expenses now that it is a smaller operation. In June, Covidien spun its drug business out into a new company called Mallinckrodt ($MNK), and without that added revenue, its sluggish device sales and flat growth in its medical supplies arm became a issue.

3. How did Israel become a hotbed for medical devices?
Readers were drawn to this simple reality: The word is out that Israel is now a hotbed for med tech development. The tiny country is home to nearly 700 medical device operations, it leads the world in medical device patents per capita, and its venture capital investments are rising in both dollars and deals. What's more, many of Israel's promising companies are focused on major emerging areas in the med tech space, such as renal denervation, ultrasound therapy and deep brain stimulation. Some of the sparks for this began through Israel's defense spending. But today, new growth is focused by Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist, an arm of the Ministry of Economy that focuses on nurturing R&D growth in the country.

4. Medtronic, J&J race toward artificial pancreas
An artificial pancreas would be a major accomplishment for the medical device industry, and readers were drawn in droves to a story about the race between major players including Medtronic, Tandem ($TNDM) and Johnson & Johnson. Medtronic at the time was going through the FDA approval process with its Paradigm Veo, a closed-loop insulin pump that can detect blood glucose content and suspend glucose delivery when it reaches unhealthy levels. J&J's Animas arm is advancing strong with a combination insulin pump-blood glucose monitor with Dexcom ($DXCM). At the time Animas was leading the way and had begun a second feasibility study for its external device. Tandem and Medtronic are partnering with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to progress to where they have a fully automated monitor-pump combination.

5. Medtronic's auto-adjust insulin pump on cusp of FDA approval
In July, Medtronic broke from the pack with news that a trial involving its MiniMed sensor-integrated insulin pump had performed quite well in its 247-patient ASPIRE In-Home study. Results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the device, with its Threshold Suspend feature, worked well in slashing nighttime hypoglycemia by nearly 32%, and lowered the degree and duration of hypoglycemic events by 37.5%, all without serious adverse events. The device is a game-changer because it is designed to detect dangerous levels of blood sugar and then automatically adjust or shut off to correct the problem. In September, the company's MiniMed 530G device with Threshold Suspend technology won FDA approval. It's not quite a fully automated, closed-loop artificial pancreas, but it qualifies as an early-generation artificial pancreas and is now the closest thing to an artificial pancreas with FDA approval. -- Mark Hollmer (email | Twitter)

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