Becton Dickinson's Ventures
This article was originally published in Start Up
Becton Dickinson doesn't want any technology surprises blindsiding its businesses, so it's set up both a $40 million venture fund and a technology incubator. The latter offers space and facilities to North Carolina-based start-ups, the former funding for start-ups anywhere. The only condition in both cases: common strategic interests, at least in the long-term.
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Recent legislation requiring hospitals to convert to safety devices to prevent needle-stick injuries has come as a kind of validation for Becton, Dickinson, the market leader in needles and syringes, whose efforts to develop safety products began well before customers or the government required them. Critics have charged that like all big companies with strong market share positions, BD has lagged in technology innovation, preferring to spend its time and energy defending its existing products. BD officials insist that just the opposite is true. But creating meaningful innovation is difficult in the kinds of high volume, low margin product lines that needles and syringes became over the 1980s and 1990s. For one thing, clinician input into new technology designs is rare; at the same time, the statistical data to back the importance of safety product conversions is scant. Perhaps most daunting, in a cost-constrained hospital market, the economic pay-off is still small, at least relative to other medical device innovation. Still, BD officials say, they persevered, leading the way in safety device innovation at a time when the company's interests, arguably, would have been better served defending its core line of conventional devices.
Becton Dickinson's spin-off, Vyteris, has big plans for its iontophoresis transdermal drug delivery system, which actively pressures molecules to go into the body over time. Vyteris has chosen to seek approval of its use first with lidocaine, a powerful, fast-acting local anesthetic, which has been on the market for years. While it works well to desensitize skin prior to minor surgery or injection, its use is limited because it takes too long to be effective for widespread applications and doesn't go deep enough under the skin. Vyteris' transdermal lidocaine system addresses these shortcomings and has the potential to expand substantially lidocaine's market.
It is a world, at least the US corner of it, in which any common understanding of drug value is confused by opposing incentives – to opacity and transparency, to looking at benefit broadly or narrowly, long-term or short-term: value, in short, to whom?