The position we had in Thoratec (THOR) was closed out in July 2009 around $25 as the stock (and market) was in the dumps - that was really the only moment since March 2009 that it appeared the market could roll over (almost a head and shoulders for those who remember the time and are technically inclined). Then Goldman Sachs (GS) and Intel (INTC) beat estimates back to back and the rest was history - off to the races for almost every stock, charts be damned. While Thoratec joined the party, it has since come back to Earth and in fact is in the process of filling an early November 2009 gap in its chart; currenly trading at $28. The stock is always quite rich, but that has not been a disqualifier for almost any stock in the current environment...
Thoratec had sort of fallen off my radar, but this story in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of the unique story.
- Thousands of heart-failure patients die each year because they aren't able to get a transplanted organ. Now, many medical experts are touting the benefits of a new mechanical pump that gives a patient's own heart a new lease on life.
- Patients surgically implanted with the new pump, known as a left-ventricular assist device, or LVAD, had a survival rate of 58% after two years, according to a recent study. That's not as good as a heart transplant, which offers a survival rate of about 70% after 10 years. But it surpasses the life-saving abilities of many earlier technologies, including an older version of the LVAD that had a two-year survival rate of 24%. LVADs don't replace the heart but take over for its main pumping chamber.
- Another new LVAD is being developed by HeartWare International Inc., of Framingham, Mass. The device is on the market in Europe but analysts say it is probably at least a couple of years away from approval in the U.S.
- Recent improvements in surgery, drugs and devices mean many heart patients are surviving much longer than they were a decade or two ago, but when they get to the end of the line, all we've really had is a heart transplant, Dr. Starling says. Now we're going to see use of LVADs grow in the U.S.
- But Dr. Starling and other doctors say growth of LVADs will be gradual. The pumps are complex and costly—the Heartmate II device itself runs about $80,000, and with implant surgery the total cost is about $150,000, some doctors say, roughly the same as the cost of a heart transplant. Experts generally agree that more research is needed on how best to manage LVAD patients and to determine who is best suited for the machines. The Heartmate II is expected to last about five years before needing replacing.
- For patients, living with an LVAD presents a host of unique challenges. For one, Heartmate II doesn't create a pulse; instead, it pumps blood though the body in a continuous flow. That means the pulse of a patient's own heart can be hard to detect and it makes blood pressure difficult to measure. Some medical experts are concerned that a lack of a strong pulse could result in damage to the brain, kidneys and other organs. So far, those potential side effects haven't materialized, but doctors want to see how patients fare on the devices over several years.
- Truman Fallaw, a 74-year-old retired bank officer from Columbia, S.C., was unable to walk 60 feet to pick up his mail and back without pausing to catch his breath. Just over a year ago, his doctors recommended the LVAD. At that point I was so ill, that I knew that my life was short, Mr. Fallaw says. I was willing to do anything to extend my life. Less than two months after the procedure, he boarded a plane for a business trip to Dallas.