An Aussie fix for aortic aneurysms

Published: 
18 February 2016

Aortic aneurysms are one of the leading causes of death in many industrialised countries including Australia and the United States of America. They occur when a segment of the aorta, (the body's largest artery that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs) becomes weakened and bulges. If left untreated, the bulge could expand over time and even rupture - a potentially fatal event.

Before the invention of minimally-invasive stent-grafts (also known as endovascular grafts), the predominant treatment of aortic aneurysms was via major, open surgical repair involving a long incision in the patient's abdomen and/or chest, depending on where the aneurysm was located. The introduction of minimally invasive stent-grafts gave patients with aortic aneurysms a viable and less invasive option.

The inventors

The Zenith® Endovascular Graft incorporates design features developed at Western Australia’s Royal Perth Hospital by radiographer David Hartley and vascular surgeon Dr Michael Lawrence-Brown, who worked closely with the Cook Medical Australia R&D team. The initial version was first used in 1993.

Intellectual property

Cook Medical has approximately 160 aortic intervention patents in Australia, a number of which refer to the work of inventors Hartley and Lawrence-Brown.

Today, advanced Zenith® Endovascular Grafts are manufactured in Australia and marketed globally, with other models manufactured in the US and Europe.

Cook Medical Australia's Managing Director Barry Thomas says it’s important to protect the value of the company's IP.

"In today's competitive world where there is an increasing desire to manage cost, it is important we continue to make advances in healthcare, a time consuming and expensive process for which we need IP protection to recoup at least some of the associated upfront costs."

Did you know?

It wasn't until the late 1980s that the concept of repairing aortic aneurysms via an endovascular graft was considered a viable alternative. In the US, Doctors Cesare Gianturco, Juan Parodi and Julio Palmaz introduced the concept of gaining access to an aneurysm via a small incision in the leg and threading a stent-graft through the femoral artery into the aorta.

Key milestones

In March 1993 at Royal Perth Hospital , the first Zenith® Endovascular Graft, covered with polyester graft material, was used to treat an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

In 1997, three Cook Medical international research teams (including Hartley and Lawrence-Brown) met to share research about their different approaches to stent-grafts. They decided to focus further development and manufacturing efforts on a combined solution, the resultant design being largely based on Hartley's and Lawrence-Brown's work.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Zenith® Endovascular Graft for sale in the United States in May 2003.

Today, more than 100,000 Zenith® Endovascular Stent Grafts have been implanted worldwide.

Australian manufacturing

While many companies now manufacture overseas, Thomas says Cook Medical keeps its production in Australia.

'Australian manufacturers need to add value to the process and use the skills of management and leadership, as well as labour, to ensure our future. We have great knowledge and experience in bringing projects and products to market globally, skills which are highly valued.'

'It would be hard to define the actual value of Cook Medical’s IP but it would be in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars globally,' Thomas says.