Ernest Waaser, new CEO of global wound care company Systagenix, talks to Medtech Business about the importance of helping clinicians to address the challenge of wound healing across a range of care environments.
Ernest Waaser is the recently appointed CEO of wound care company Systagenix, based in the UK. Formed in 2008 through a buyout of Johnson & Johnson’s advanced wound care business, Systagenix supplies wound dressings to over 100 countries. The recent launch of its ‘Let’s Heal’ brand shows the company addressing the wound management and healing process proactively across primary, secondary and home-based care environments.
What prompted the launch of Systagenix in 2008: what opportunity did the company’s founders identify?
When our investors looked at the business back in 2008 they saw a strong existing business that, with the right focus and strategic investments, had a terrific opportunity to grow. The business had a 75-year heritage, a world-class R&D capability, and a strong reputation in wound care – a clinical area that’s continuing to grow with the ageing population and the increase in diabetes and obesity. It was part of a very large diversified company where it had to fight for investment and resources against other businesses. So by creating a stand-alone company that’s solely focused on wound care, we can be much more responsive to the needs of the market, make those strategic investments and bring real innovation to the world of wound care.
What is the thinking behind the ‘Let’s Heal’ brand?
What has it achieved for the company and for the industry? There are two basic beliefs behind the brand. First, we believe passionately that the goal is wound healing, not wound management. And in today’s practice, too often companies focus on managing individual symptoms in isolation from each other, rather than tackling the whole wound healing process as a continuum. Second, we recognise that there’s no single product or device that will heal every wound. Each patient and each wound is different, and there may be many reasons why a wound is not healing: the patient may have an infection or a high protease level, or a venous insufficiency, or any one of several other underlying illnesses or complications.
So our objective is to take a more holistic approach, to put a system in place, starting with diagnostic tools and leading on to the proper treatment for that wound in that patient. ‘Let’s Heal’ is our approach to providing a range of treatment options and a systematic approach to when to use each product. The huge innovation here is to start that whole process with point of care diagnostics that will provide immediate feedback on the status of the wound, which the clinician then uses to help select the appropriate treatment. ‘Let’s Test’ is our Systagenix umbrella for future wound diagnostics and assessment products, and that’s the entry point for our overall system of care.
Systagenix has particularly focused on treating hard to heal acute and chronic wounds. How are you trying to change the way these wounds are perceived?
The first perception we’re trying to change is that some patients must live with a wound. Our objective is that every wound should be healed, and we think every patient deserves that. Managing life with a wound is not in our vocabulary.
The second thing we’re trying to bring visibility to is that hard to heal wounds are not only affecting the patient’s quality of life, but are very expensive for the healthcare system. In many countries wound care is done partly in hospital, partly in an outpatient setting and partly at home, so the costs are spread around and the total cost tends not to be visible to healthcare administrators. The product that’s used to treat the wound is a small part of the cost: there’s hospitalisation, physician time, multiple home nurse visits, and the very real cost of complications ranging from infections to amputation.
There haven’t been many large-scale economic studies, but the evidence is pretty clear that the faster you get a wound healed, the lower the overall cost to the health system. That really is the focus of our ‘Let’s Heal’ approach: to eliminate trial and error, using point of care diagnostics to get the right treatment started immediately and shorten the overall healing time and cost.
How does that strategy work at the sales and marketing level?
Wound care is a clinical process that is spread not only across different care settings – hospital, home, clinic – but also across a number of clinical specialties that treat wounds: vascular surgeons, podiatrists, general surgeons and others. One leading international clinician told me that wound care is a team sport. So part of what we do from a sales and marketing point of view is to try and bring these various clinical specialties and different types of clinicians together, to take a look at how the overall care process can be improved.
For example, we recently brought an international group of key opinion leaders together who issued an international consensus document on the use of a diagnostic in wound care to detect high protease levels, which are a known inhibitor to wound healing. They are putting the ground work in place to establish the need for that diagnostic test and determine how it should be used in clinical practice. This element of bringing the clinical community together to look holistically at how we can help them and provide them with the right tools to diagnose and heal wounds is an important part of the marketing effort for us.
How are current changes in the NHS landscape affecting the UK market for wound care companies?
We really haven’t seen the major impacts just yet. Obviously the NHS will be incredibly focused on delivering high-quality care at the lowest possible cost. I think our challenge as a sector is to demonstrate very clearly that our products and services can materially lower the cost of wound care: faster healing, fewer visits and fewer complications. I think as we go forward and the landscape continues to change, we’ll monitor that carefully and adjust as we need to.
What are the major business challenges facing UK wound care companies seeking to export to global markets?
I’d point out three challenges. The first is regulatory. Our products are covered under medical device and/or pharmaceutical regulations in every country they’re sold in, and once you get outside the EU they’re all different. The second is reimbursement. Just because you have regulatory approval doesn’t necessarily mean you can get paid for the product. The reimbursement systems are different in literally every country in the word. So those two issues, regulatory and reimbursement, require the combination of a fairly sophisticated infrastructure with the right skills and expertise and good local partners in your export markets. And finally, you really have to tailor your offering to local needs, taking into account local clinical practice and pricing expectations.
What do wound care companies need to do to address the clinical and commercial challenges of healthcare in the 21st century?
21st-century healthcare is all about finding more cost-effective ways to deliver high-quality care to a growing population of patients. As an industry we need to help clinicians in wound care get the right treatment to the right patient quickly and avoid much of the costly trial and error process that exists today. That requires thinking about innovation in a different way, looking not only at your product but at the overall process for treating a patient.