The Tin Man’s replacement heart was made of velvet and sawdust. Many early devices offered to real-life patients were almost as impractical. But a handful of companies have persevered with the dream of developing an artificial heart. Carmat, based near Paris, is one of them. On Wednesday its share price jumped by a tenth, on news it expected to make its first sales in Europe in the second quarter.
Growing numbers of people succumb to heart disease each year, far outstripping the supply of human donor hearts available for transplantation. Artificial hearts are an obvious, but technically challenging, solution.
Carmat’s device uses electronic sensors to regulate heart rate and blood flow. EU regulators have approved it as a “bridge” for patients waiting for a donor heart, of which there are at least 2,000 in five big European countries. If the heart can win approval as a long-term option, its potential market could be an order of magnitude bigger.
A hefty price tag — probably about €160,000 a device — will limit uptake. Carmat will also need to persuade surgeons it is better than alternatives. SynCardia of the US — now owned by private equity group Versa Capital Management — secured approval for its own totally artificial heart as long ago as 2004. Mechanically assisted pumps, known as ventricular assist devices, also help heart failure patients in a market worth about $2bn globally.
Carmat only has funds to get through to the third quarter. But the business, founded in 2008, should secure fresh financing. A risk-adjusted net present value calculation would justify a share price two-thirds higher than now, says Edison, a research firm that works for Carmat. That assumes sales of about 3,000 devices in Europe and the US in 2025.
Thoratec, a market leader in ventricular devices was acquired by St. Jude Medical, now a subsidiary of Abbott Labs, for a 40 per cent premium in 2015. If Carmat’s device succeeds commercially, it would bring new hope to heart patients and a similar deal would be possible.
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