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Medtronic sells unit that made implant for snorers

  • Article by: James Walsh
  • Star Tribune
  • February 13, 2014 - 9:48 PM

Medtronic Inc. of Fridley has sold off its operations that manufactured and marketed the Pillar Palatal Implant System, a procedure in which thin polyester implants are inserted into a patient’s soft palate to lessen the vibrations that result in snoring.

Medtronic sold the business in January to the Snoring Center based in Dallas, which has formed Pillar Palatal LLC. Dr. Craig Schwimmer is founder and CEO of the Snoring Center, and David Kaysen, a Minnesota resident, is president and CEO of Pillar Palatal. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. The Snoring Center has offices in Dallas, Houston, Austin, Atlanta and Beverly Hills and Newport Beach in California.

The deal means that the nation’s leading provider of the technology is now the owner of the technology.

In a twist, the device was once manufactured in the Twin Cities — before Medtronic bought the technology and moved operations to Jacksonville, Fla. Now Pillar Palatal will be once again manufactured in Minnesota. Innovize, a contract manufacturer with 120 employees based in St. Paul, will produce the system for Pillar. Innovize partners with more than 100 medical device companies.

Innovize officials were in Jacksonville on Thursday, working on the transfer of manufacturing operations back to Minnesota.

“We think it’s pretty neat that we are back in about the same neighborhood,” Kaysen said.

Said David Kerr, business development manager for Innovize: “Our company’s purpose is creating a culture of products that improve people’s lives. This year’s theme is ‘Let’s make it better.’ We think Pillar fits with that very well.”

Medtronic officials declined to comment on the deal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved the device for use to treat snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in 2004. In 2012, the FDA approved a more expanded use of the device. More than 45,000 patients worldwide have used the Pillar procedure — one of many snoring remedies, from special beds to mouth guards to nasal strips to surgery.

Doctors can implant the device in about 20 minutes, using local anesthetic. A doctor inserts the tiny strips into the palate with a tool that looks a little like a toy gun with a long metal tip at the end. The device has been available through local physicians for about 10 years.

“The Pillar procedure is the cornerstone of minimally invasive, office-based treatment of snoring and sleep apnea. Particularly when combined with other targeted treatments, it is an extremely compelling and attractive option for many patients,” Schwimmer said in a statement. “With the acquisition of the Pillar technology, we now have the opportunity to increase awareness of this treatment option, and to help otolaryngologists across the country incorporate it into their treatment models.”

Kaysen said there is a lot of competition in the fight to alleviate snoring. Few providers have been willing to use a comprehensive suite of products. Pillar will, he said — ranging from the Pillar strips to mouth guards to surgery.

“Nobody has ever really tried to package it or present it as a complete approach,” he said, adding that Pillar is willing to partner with the makers of other approaches.

The next step is getting boots on the ground, Kaysen said, building a sales force and creating a network of customers beyond the base that Medtronic had developed. “We are creating a new brand entity,” he said of a new website and social media efforts.

Pillar’s system costs from $1,500 to $2,500, depending on how many of the implants are used and the number of follow-up visits. Insurance does not yet reimburse for the procedure, which has dampened sales over the years, officials acknowledge.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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