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Edwards Lifesciences: united in fighting cardiovascular diseases

Edwards Lifesciences, which has its EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Headquarters and training centre in Nyon, traces its roots back to 1958, when it was established by Miles “Lowell” Edwards.   More than 50 years on, the company is the global leader in the science of heart valves and hemodynamic monitoring.

Lowell Edwards was a 60-year-old recently retired engineer with 63 patents in an array of industries, an entrepreneurial spirit and dreams of helping patients with heart disease.  His fascination with healing the heart started in his teens, when he suffered two bouts of rheumatic fever.  This rare but potentially life-threatening disease can damage the heart by scarring its valves and eventually can cause the organ to fail.

With a background in hydraulics and fuel pump operations, Edwards believed the human heart could be mechanised, but his idea was met with hesitation when he presented the concept to Dr. Albert Starr, a young surgeon at the University of Oregon Medical School.  Instead, Starr encouraged Edwards to focus first on developing an artificial heart valve, for which there was an immediate need.  After only two years, the first Starr-Edwards mitral valve was designed, developed, tested and successfully implanted in a patient.A tradition of innovations

The first valve implant was performed on 21 September 1960, at the University of Oregon Medical School.  The patient, a 52-year-old farmer named Philip Amundson, had a scarred and deformed heart valve as a result of childhood rheumatic fever.  The procedure went well and newspapers throughout the world reported the success of the “miraculous” heart surgery.  Amundson enjoyed a healthy and productive life until his death from an unrelated cause a decade later.

Less than 12 months after introducing the world’s first commercially available replacement mitral heart valve, Edwards and Starr introduced the first mechanical aortic replacement valve. These innovations spawned a company, Edwards Laboratories, which set up shop in Santa Ana, California, USA; not far from where Edwards Lifesciences’ global headquarters are today. In 1966, Edwards Laboratories was purchased by American Hospital Supply Corp. and became American Edwards Laboratories and was later acquired by Baxter International Inc. in 1985.  In early 2000, the company was spun off as the independent, publicly-held corporation named Edwards Lifesciences and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “EW.”

Throughout its long history, the company has continued its legacy of heart valve innovation.  Today, the company’s line of tissue heart valves, provided under the Carpentier-Edwards brand name, have become the choice of surgeons worldwide due to their durability, performance and positive quality-of-life benefits for patients, making Edwards Lifesciences the world leader in heart valves. Tissue heart valves provide an important benefit compared with mechanical valves, as patients avoid the need associated with mechanical valves of having the lifelong prescription of blood thinners, its associated risks and the impact of needing to carefully manage diet and daily routines.

From its success in replacement valve therapies, Edwards Lifesciences applied this experience to developing products for heart valve repair.  Today, the company is the world’s leading manufacturers of products for the surgical repair procedure – called annuloplasty – and its Carpentier-Edwards annuloplasty product is among the most sought-after by surgeons around the globe. In addition to its heart valve therapies, the Edwards organisation is credited with pioneering many other medical innovations, including the Swan-Ganz catheter, the first technology ever used for haemodynamic monitoring of critically ill patients, and the Fogarty line of embolectomy catheters, the first catheter-based technology used to remove blood clots from  arms and legs.Doctors’ training at the forefront

Since 2007, Edwards in Europe has been pioneering the introduction of the revolutionary transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) through its Edwards SAPIEN valve.  This tissue valve is indicated for high risk patients, who are usually elderly and with other co-morbidities.  The TAVI procedure avoids the need for traditional open heart surgery.  The valve is instead implanted either via the femoral artery using the NovaFlex transfemoral delivery system or via the apex using the Ascendra 2 transapical delivery systems.

It is important for Edwards to work closely with doctors to train them to use their products effectively to ensure the highest level of procedural success.  The company’s Nyon facility hosts a state-of-the-art training centre including simulators, wetlab and an auditorium which can accommodate live satellite transmission.  Here healthcare professionals are trained by other leading physicians in valve implantation and repair.  Edwards moved to Nyon from Saint-Prex in June 2009 specifically to establish the training centre and to accommodate its growing team, which now numbers in excess of 130 people.Across the whole of Europe, the company employs more than 730 people.  This includes in excess of 200 at its manufacturing plant in Horw, Lucerne, where most of the Edwards heart valves used in Europe are manufactured.

Edwards continues to invest heavily in research and development in its search for new generation products to improve the lives of patients. Between 2000 and 2009, annual investments in R&D rose from 50 million dollars to around 179 million dollars, representing more than 13% of sales.  The company is continuing to develop in its familiar tried and trusted territory – heart valves. Its aim is to make further progress in heart surgery products that are used to repair and replace heart valves, and to work on techniques for making surgery less invasive and traumatic for the patient.

Prior to his death in 1982, Lowell Edwards was only the sixth person in history to receive the American Medical Association’s Layman’s Citation for Distinguished Service.  The citation describes Edwards as “a man of honour and courage whose inventive genius brought about the development of the artificial heart valve and whose long devotion to human welfare in the science of medicine has given new life and hope to victims of heart disease throughout the world.” The original vision of Lowell Edwards continues today. Edwards Lifesciences is a global company with annual revenue in 2009 exceeding 1,3 billion dollars and more than 6500 employees dedicated to furthering Lowell Edwards’ original vision to help clinicians, patients and their families work together as a united community fighting cardiovascular diseases.

By Patrick

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