The Incredible Technology Saving Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients

One of the starkest lessons of the global novel coronavirus pandemic is the need for medicine to start looking at existing drugs and procedures in a new way.

We've already seen the benefits of such an approach. The discovery that remdesivir and dexamethasone - an antiviral and a steroid - could both help save severely ill COVID-19 patients' lives springs right to mind.

But adapting the old to fight the new isn't just limited to drugs. Existing medical technology ("medtech") is being used in entirely new ways, or in situations that would've been unthinkable just 10 or 12 months ago.

That's why today I want to talk to you about two compelling companies behind a radical, aggressive therapy that can deliver a "one-two punch" for coronavirus patients who might've otherwise died...

On His Deathbed in May, Back to Work in July

So, right up front, this story has a happy ending... but you wouldn't have known that this past spring.

That's when 42-year-old warehouse worker Devan Smith was fighting for his life - and losing.

Like so many other Americans, Smith was hospitalized with COVID-19 back in May; his health had taken a terrifying turn for the worse.

The COVID-19 illness had sent him into respiratory and multi-organ failure. He was suffering from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, as well.

Any one of these three conditions could have easily killed Devan Smith, who was at that point far beyond the ability of a ventilator to save him.

But Mercy Catholic Medical Center doctors were able to deploy two existing technologies rolled into one therapy to fight off the relentless viral assault on his body.

They ultimately saved Smith's life. More than that, he was able to leave the hospital and, incredibly, go back to work - with normal heart function - in July.

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Smith's doctors employed an aggressive, and, for COVID-19 patients, decidedly "last-ditch" therapy...

I'm talking about extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, and a type of heart pump.

In simple English, his heart and lungs were essentially taken "offline" to allow them to heal. Meanwhile, Smith's blood was pumped out and oxygenated outside of his body and then pumped back in.

In conjunction with ECMO, Smith's doctors also used a tiny device called the Impella Heart Pump. Normally used during stent procedures, the Impella takes care of the work that a healthy left ventricle normally would.

It's installed on the heart itself. It draws blood in, and sends it along its usual route through the upper aorta. It's then removed when doctors deem the patient's heart strong or healthy enough to do that on its own.

So you can see why "ECPella," as it's called for short, might save the life of a patient with a stricken heart. ECMO machines have been around since the 1970s; the Impella device was approved in the mid-2000s.

Of course, no one imagined they'd be used to fight the worst effects of a deadly new virus. Both ECMO and Impella have only recently been given emergency-use authorization for COVID-19 patients.

GlobalData estimates that as many as 32,000 novel coronavirus patients in the United States could end up needing ECMO/ECPella. That's around six times more than would, absent a pandemic, normally require such an aggressive therapy.

On the other hand, every year, cardiac doctors perform as many as 2 million stent procedures in the United States alone.

That means there's a lot more here than just a feel-good feature story...

This Company Is One of Few with ECMO Tech

The medical device market, even accounting for the novel coronavirus, is set to grow 44% through 2025 to more than $612 billion. As Devan Smith's story clearly illustrates, some technologies, like ECMO, that were "niche" before will experience more demand. And some widely used technologies, like the Impella, will be used even more.

Medtronic Plc. (NYSE: MDT) is a leading manufacturer of ECMO machines and equipment not unlike that which saved Devan Smith's life. Like many companies, Medtronic is "domiciled" in Ireland, but has extensive operations in, and derives extensive profits from, the United States.

Medtronics works across a huge spectrum of medicine - neurology, endocrinology (diabetes), imaging, and spinal and orthopedics to name just a few.

But cardiac medicine, like ECMO, is Medtronic's oldest and indeed biggest business. Its cardiac and vascular division brought in $10.5 billion of Medtronic's total $28.9 billion in revenue last year.

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Since the pandemic, Medtronics has thrown itself into the fight. The company freely shared a proprietary ventilator design so that any organization with the capacity to do so could manufacture them at a time when ventilators were in critically short supply. There's no data on how many patients have received ECMO from one of Medtronic's Nautilus ECMO units, but the company is one of only three that currently makes the technology.

Of course, in Devan Smith's case, and for countless other COVID-19 patients at death's door, ECMO was used in concert with the Impella Heart Pump from ABIOMED Inc. (NASDAQ: ABMD).

Abiomed is used to being out on the cutting edge - it's been there for nearly 40 years.

This Goes Way Beyond COVID-19

Founded in 1981, the company worked with the Texas Heart Institute to develop the first-ever fully implantable artificial heart. This was a radical idea at the time, enabling patients and doctors to dispense with the array of tubes and battery packs that had to be kept outside the body.

In 2001, this device was the first artificial heart ever to be successfully implanted into a human being. Then in 2006, the FDA granted the company approval for this artificial heart for patients who couldn't qualify for a heart transplant.

So its Impella pump is really just the latest in a long line of cardiac innovations. Abiomed quite understandably published Devan Smith's story to show the potential of its technology.

As I alluded earlier, Impella isn't quite like a full heart transplant, and it's not an artificial heart. Unlike those, you can't take the Impella home with you.

In fact, it's not even open-heart surgery. The Impella is inserted through an incision in the patient's groin, guided up the body through a vein, and then placed on the heart.

It is that small. And depending on the model, an Impella can remain in the body for up to six days.

Abiomed keeps finding new uses and regulatory approvals for its main product. It currently boasts five in the United States alone. It's grown earnings by 43% a year for the past three years. At that rate, the stock should double every 20 months or so.

Abiomed and Medtronics find themselves smack in the middle of the fight to save thousands of critically ill COVID-19 patients' lives.

In time, the pandemic, and the need for aggressive therapies to fight it, will come to an end. But other unstoppable health trends, like the obesity epidemic, or the "Graying of America" and the 44% increase of the over-65 population by 2030 show no signs of stopping.

There will continue to be an outsized place for effective cardiac therapies, and the companies that provide them, for decades to come. And that means endless profit opportunities for us.

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About the Author

Michael A. Robinson is a 36-year Silicon Valley veteran and one of the top tech and biotech financial analysts working today. That's because, as a consultant, senior adviser, and board member for Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Michael enjoys privileged access to pioneering CEOs, scientists, and high-profile players. And he brings this entire world of Silicon Valley "insiders" right to you...

  • He was one of five people involved in early meetings for the $160 billion "cloud" computing phenomenon.
  • He was there as Lee Iacocca and Roger Smith, the CEOs of Chrysler and GM, led the robotics revolution that saved the U.S. automotive industry.
  • As cyber-security was becoming a focus of national security, Michael was with Dave DeWalt, the CEO of McAfee, right before Intel acquired his company for $7.8 billion.

This all means the entire world is constantly seeking Michael's insight.

In addition to being a regular guest and panelist on CNBC and Fox Business, he is also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter. His first book Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings warned people about the coming financial collapse - years before the word "bailout" became a household word.

Silicon Valley defense publications vie for his analysis. He's worked for Defense Media Network and Signal Magazine, as well as The New York Times, American Enterprise, and The Wall Street Journal.

And even with decades of experience, Michael believes there has never been a moment in time quite like this.

Right now, medical breakthroughs that once took years to develop are moving at a record speed. And that means we are going to see highly lucrative biotech investment opportunities come in fast and furious.

To help you navigate the historic opportunity in biotech, Michael launched the Bio-Tech Profit Alliance.

His other publications include: Strategic Tech Investor, The Nova-X Report, Bio-Technology Profit Alliance and Nexus-9 Network.

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