Medtronic-backed study supports greater use of CRT pacemakers

An advanced, pricier pacemaker designed to provide pacing on both sides of the heart is a better option for patients with a particular heart malfunction, a new study funded by Medtronic ($MDT) concludes. The data, presented at the American Heart Association meeting and summarized in a Bloomberg piece, could serve as a powerful tool to boost use of cardiac resynchronization therapy pacers made by the company, as well as rivals including Boston Scientific ($BSX) and St. Jude Medical ($STJ).

The findings tested Medtronic's CRT pacemakers in a study of 691 patients, one in four of whom were switched from a standard right heart pacing to the biventricular pacemakers. As Bloomberg reports, patients who received the newer devices boosted their survival rates, with a 26% decrease in the risk of death, heart failure-related hospitalization or heart enlargement. More than 800,000 patients in the U.S. with a condition known as heart block are the target population for the study, Bloomberg notes--a condition that includes a too-slow heart beat and clunky signals telling the heart to contract. And the newer CRT devices, approved for use since 2001, are designed to more closely mimic how a healthy heart functions.

"We've head reason to suspect this for years, but we never have had a large-scale study to show there is a benefit" of using the CRT devices, lead researcher Anne Curtis told Bloomberg. Curtis, chair of the department of medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, added in the news service interview that she sees the data as leading to "a change in the guidelines" to make CRT devices the standard of care.

Such research findings can help with that goal. But in an era where insurers and providers are increasingly turning to treatments that are both effective and cost-effective (and often cheaper), more data showing CRT devices work better might be necessary here to firmly establish that CRT devices reduce health care costs in the long run. Bloomberg reminds us that CRT pacers are pricey, at about $8,000 each, which nearly doubles the cost of older pacemakers. As well, patients with the weakest hearts already are given the newer devices, Mayo Clinic electrophysiologist Paul Friedman told Bloomberg (though he noted patients with stronger hearts may be more likely to receive the CRT devices based on the study).

Still, the $4 billion pacemaker market has been less than stellar in recent years, jostled by price drops and a declining number of implants, according to the story. And studies to support greater use of the more advanced devices in the space could easily improve sales and interest.

- read the Bloomberg story