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Lehigh Valley Poised to Benefit from Medical Device Industry Growth

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on May 11, 2021

Tyber Medical, a medical device manufacturer, relocated in 2015 from New Jersey to Hanover Township in Northampton County. (photo courtesy Journal Communications)

Tyber Medical, which moved to Lehigh Valley six years ago, received FDA clearance for a new line of foot and ankle plating systems and launched a clinical study on titanium implants for the spine. (photo courtesy Journal Communications)

The global market for medical device industry is poised for expansion as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s good news for Lehigh Valley where many of those devices are made.

In the last year, companies invested in not only life-saving innovations to fight the pandemic but life-enhancing technologies for when the pandemic passes.

Consider CryoConcepts, which makes products that freeze off “lumps and bumps” at its south Bethlehem facility. Even as demand cooled for elective procedures amid the pandemic, CryoConcepts hired three more employees and delivered the first new medical device to the trusted Histofreezer brand in nearly 30 years. The device delivers colder, environmentally friendly cryogen, making it easier for physicians to remove warts and skin tags.

“You had to take that risk and expect this is not going to go on forever,” Niedbala said. “The pandemic gave us a pause in daily activities and refocused everybody. We put sales [employees] on the production floor. We didn’t lose a single person but repurposed them and got ready for when this finally passes.”

His assessment is reinforced by industry forecasts.

The global market for medical devices, ranging from surgical instruments to diagnostic devices, grew by 5% to $472 billion in 2020 as demand increased for personal protection equipment and other COVID-related products, according to new data in the Global Market for Medical Devices, the latest report by leading medical market research firm Kalorama Information. As sales cool down next year and the market stabilizes, the industry is expected to grow by 3% annually through 2025, according to Kalorama’s news release.

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) review of the nearly 3,000 medical devices receiving market approval in 2020 by the Food and Drug Administration showed many of the investments are in improvements to catheters, syringes and implants.

“It was a tale of two economies for medical device companies, with demand soaring for COVID-fighting products and softening for others. We saw instances of innovation continue in all segments because the long-term forecast for the industry is positive,” LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham said. “With an aging population that expects to stay active long into retirement and more health care spending amid scientific breakthroughs, the medical device industry is on firm footing because the fundamentals are there.”

Lehigh Valley provides a window into the innovation. Its employment concentration among manufacturers of diagnostic devices and medical equipment is more than twice the size of the typical U.S. region, according to Chmura Economics JobsEQ.

And a specialized segment – surgical instrument production by companies like CryoConcepts – is nearly five times as large.  At an average salary of $87,500, the jobs are among the best paid in the medical equipment cluster, according to labor data analyzed on Chmura Economics’ JobsEQ platform.

Companies in the Lehigh Valley, which is home to industry leaders, made national headlines for their work.

OraSure Technologies, a diagnostic device company in south Bethlehem, made Time magazine’s list of top 100 inventions of the year for its work on a rapid COVID-19 test.

Braun delivered a life-saving advance early in the pandemic when personal protection equipment was scarce: an extension set so that infusion pumps could be placed in the hallway outside a patient’s room, limiting patients’ contact with health care workers.

“Seeing the difference that we made and how we helped New York, the West Coast everywhere we had a hot-spots was an amazing and humbling experience,” B. Braun CEO Jean-Claude Dubacher said in April during the National Museum of Industrial History virtual lecture series that Cunningham moderated.

The medical device innovation went well beyond COVID-19 in Lehigh Valley in 2020:

  • Saladax BioMedical at TechVentures in Bethlehem hired eight more people as it ramped up production for its new test for Clozapine, a key medication in the treatment of schizophrenia. The test got the FDA’s market authorization in April 2020.
  • BioMed Sciences moved to a larger facility in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, and increased production of existing products and research a new second-generation burn treatment and wrinkle reduction technology.
  • Thread BioSciences received $100,000 from Ben Franklin Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania to support the development of a prototype production facility and R&D laboratory for a new urinary tract infection diagnostic test.
  • Tyber Medical, which moved to Lehigh Valley six years ago and has since expanded its Hanover Township location, received FDA clearance for a new line of foot and ankle plating systems and launched a clinical study on titanium implants for the spine.

Tyber Human Resources Director Toby Borcoman credited the company’s success in Lehigh Valley to its diverse talent.

“Lehigh Valley has a gamut of professions and people who know the technical part,” he said. “There is a skilled work force. The vocational schools here are like no other in the country.”

The region’s network of 11 colleges and universities and its technical schools provide a steady pipeline of talent for an array of manufacturers. Lehigh Valley, with a proud industrial past, also has the the 52nd largest manufacturing economy in the country, fueled by iconic brands from Mack Trucks to Crayola.

Lehigh Valley’s medical device industry has a history that stretches back decades. The German-based B. Braun landed in the Lehigh Valley in 1979 when it acquired Burron Medical, a specialty plastics manufacturer that began in 1957.

B. Braun now has a headquarters, production facilities and subsidiaries in the region. In recent years, B. Braun brought research and development operations to Lehigh Valley in a company-wide effort to be more agile, a decision Dubacher recently said paid off during the pandemic.

Among the more high-profile resources is Ben Franklin, which has helped launch many life sciences companies including CryoConcepts.

“Ben Franklin’s investments, introductions, and links to resources are a crucial part of the support the region’s medical equipment companies receive for R&D and commercialization as they launch and continue to innovate,” said Laura Eppler, Chief Marketing Officer for the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. “In addition, our new Ben Franklin Life Sciences Technology Network brings together clients and alumni, hospitals and other healthcare organizations, college and university resources, and economic development colleagues including LVEDC to create synergies and accelerate the growth of this key sector.”

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