Abbott returns to pre-pandemic growth, clocking 11% sales bump from 2019 sans COVID testing revenues

Even more than widespread vaccinations and the rolling back of public health precautions, one of the surest signs of a return to normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic could be seeing diagnostic developers finally able to shift their focus beyond coronavirus testing.

Case in point: After more than a year spent devoting much of its attention to developing COVID tests, Abbott saw double-digit sales growth across its entire business in the second quarter of 2021, even without the inclusion of COVID-related earnings.

In total, Abbott raked in global sales of about $10.2 billion during the quarter, representing a 35% jump in organic growth from the same period in 2020. The diagnostics and medical devices segments fared especially well, registering organic raises of 57% and 45% year over year, respectively.

That growth in the diagnostics business stayed strong even with the removal of the $1.3 billion that flooded into the segment from sales of Abbott’s BinaxNOW, Panbio and other COVID testing kits. Sans those revenues, the company still clocked year-over-year organic growth of just over 37%.

Maybe more indicative of the loosening of COVID testing’s stronghold on global medtech makers is the fact that, when compared to the second quarter of 2019 and with COVID sales excluded, Abbott still reported an 11.3% increase in worldwide sales, signifying a return to pre-pandemic levels of growth.

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Still, that growth doesn’t represent a total reversion to pre-COVID patterns. Abbott’s sales are now divided up among its core segments in different ways than before, as “the recovery is not uniform across all businesses,” CEO Robert Ford said in a call with investors.

Certain medical devices, for example, are taking their time returning to 2019 and early 2020 levels of popularity, still reeling from the past year’s halt of most elective and nonessential medical procedures.

“If you look at our device portfolio, one of the parts that we’ve seen a lagging recovery has been in neuromodulation. I’d characterize that as even a little more elective than some of the other procedures, and we’ve seen a little bit of a slower recovery trend in that business versus, say, for example, a structural heart, an [electrophysiology] or a diabetes business,” Ford said.

In diagnostics, meanwhile, as Abbott’s immunoassay and clinical chemistry businesses rebound from both early 2021 and pre-pandemic levels, its transfusion products have been slower to bounce back because of the continued shortage of blood donations, Ford explained.

That said, he added, “Those businesses that were more impacted by COVID in Q2 last year have recovered very well, very nicely, and we expect that trend to continue in the second half.”

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Though it has continued to seek out regulatory approvals for and broaden the global reach of its range of COVID-19 diagnostics, Abbott has also spent the last quarter rolling out and ramping up a host of products completely unrelated to the pandemic.

Earlier this month, for example, it scored a pair of regulatory nods for new additions to its longstanding line of Xience drug-eluting stents, which hold open blocked arteries and slowly release the chemotherapy drug everolimus to prevent blood clots from forming inside the stent.

Just a few weeks prior, Abbott stepped up to fill the void left by Medtronic’s discontinuation of the HeartWare implantable blood pump. After the faulty device was removed from the market, both Medtronic and the FDA tapped Abbott’s HeartMate 3 ventricular assist device as the primary alternative for patients initially slated to use the HeartWare device.

And while COVID cases are rising once again in the U.S. and around the world due to the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, Ford said Abbott doesn’t expect to need to bring its non-COVID-related businesses to yet another screeching halt.

Not only are we “not seeing the same kind of impact” with the cancellation of regular medical testing and procedures, he said, but with the steady proliferation of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID, it’s unlikely that another wave of the virus will be as all-consuming for medtech developers.