Putting A Stop To Bleeding Is Big Business.
The following article appeared on June 1, 2014 in the Sarasota Herald Tribune and other media.
By Michael Pollick
Locally based Biolife LLC is betting its blood-clotting product will hit it big with the nation’s growing population of thin-skinned, aging people.
Biolife’s WoundSeal stops bleeding and helps the body’s own blood proteins create scabs that can ward off infections and, in some cases, save lives. Though the company has had success with retailers such as Walgreen, it expects its growth to accelerate when sales of a new product line aimed at hospitals begins later this year. To that end, Biolife has arranged for nearly 80 independent sales reps nationwide to offer its new line to hospitals, clinics and home-care agencies. The company believes procedures involving catheters and needles could be improved with its product.
“I think this company has incredible growth potential,” said Stuart Jones, who became its president and chief executive a year ago. “The market to stop bleeding is enormous.” He contends that his biggest challenge is picking his targets wisely.
The 35-employee company has been around since 1999 and has grown gradually. At first, Biolife sold its wound-sealing packets of powder through Cintas Corp. and Zee Medical, two large medical distributors. In 2010, Biolife introduced WoundSeal to 50 Sarasota County Walgreens drug stores.
“It created a buzz among the Walgreens managers,” said Andrew McFall, Biolife’s vice president of marketing.
Four years later, WoundSeal is sold in 25,000 retail outlets in the United States, including most Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid stores. But with StatSeal, it’s aiming at the professional and institutional health care market. A StatSeal disc won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July 2013. StatSeal Disc uses the same chemical compound as WoundSeal, but compresses it into a wafer that is attached to medical-grade foam. The nickel-sized disc, in turn, is used over catheters during procedures to prevent bleeding.
Biolife claims the device reduces cardiac catheterization-related infections by 40 percent and eliminates some dressing changes. By early next year, Biolife hopes to have its expanded sales force in place to sell the new product, thanks to a deal with a Texas company. “Biolife is in what we call the IV therapy space, and that is our forte,” said Gary Brown, president and chief operating officer at Alliance Medical, an Austin, Texas-based consortium of 11 distributors that do a combined $100 million a year in sales.
“We sell into 10,000 accounts, which include hospitals, home-care companies, ambulatory-surgery centers, oncology centers,” Brown said. The two companies began exploring ways to work together in September, at a trade show in Nashville.
“It was just bang-bang. It is moving forward very quickly,” Brown said.
Biolife will retain its own team of clinical development managers, registered nurses who provide training in using the new product to hospital personnel and who answer questions.
“But we don’t have any direct-sales people in health care. We are doing it all through distribution. That is quite a change for us,” Jones said.
WoundSeal, made at the company’s plant off U.S. 301 in South Manatee County, looks like rust that has been ground up.
It is a powder made of potassium ferrate and a polymer that latches onto water. After packaging, it is shipped for sterilization by gamma radiation. WoundSeal and StatSeal’s key compound was invented by accident by two Sarasota scientists — Dr. James Patterson and John “Alf” Thompson.
In 1999, Patterson, who took a blood thinner, cut his hand in a lab and spilled the iron compound he was working with onto the wound as well. Because the cut was fairly deep, he assumed he’d have to visit a hospital emergency room. But he was shocked, instead, to see the powder form an instant scab that stopped the bleeding.
Eventually, the pair approached Charles Entenmann, Thompson’s father-in-law, who had retired to Florida after selling his family’s cake-and-pastry company.
Sarasota, with one of the oldest populations in the nation, has proved to be an ideal testing place. That’s because as people age, they are more likely to take anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin or Pradaxa, or drugs that keep blood platelets from sticking together, such as Plavix. In addition, as people age, their skin becomes thinner and more fragile. That combination can turn minor mishaps into medical emergencies.
“A simple cut or wound can take hours or days to solve,” McFall said. “That is the power of having WoundSeal at home. You can stop the bleeding in 30 seconds, and then you can leave it in place until it falls off naturally.” Hemophiliacs and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy also can benefit.
“There are 52 million people we define as bleeding easily,” he noted. “And it is frankly bigger than that.”The professional health care market is also substantial — and comes with even higher potential profit margins.
About seven million catheters are inserted into patients each year in the United States alone, according to a study by iData Research Inc. And Biolife is already looking beyond the nation’s borders for future growth. Specifically, the company is working to crack Canadian, European and Latin American markets, Jones said. Canada could be especially huge, because the Ontario Health Care System is about to conclude a lengthy evaluation of health care products.
“Almost every week we are getting somebody approaching us from overseas,” Jones said.