Salvaged From Bankruptcy, TranS1 Medical Device Finds New Life

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real-world evidence of better patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs.

Some physicians have taken the initiative to move the needle on insurance coverage. John Glaser, an orthopedic surgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina, co-chaired a committee for the North American Spine Society that spent three years developing reimbursement recommendations. Glaser says the effort was spurred by coverage denials received by a growing number of the group’s 8,000 members. The evidence-based recommendations are rooted in peer-reviewed studies examined by the committee.

The coverage recommendations include spinal fusion, but not minimally invasive spinal fusion, which Glaser expects will be addressed in future recommendations. The document makes no references to particular devices. Glaser, who has experience performing spinal fusion using AxiaLIF, does not recall receiving any coverage denials for the procedure. But he says AxiaLIF presents an additional reimbursement hurdle.

“The doctor has to show that spinal fusion is indicated,” Glaser explains. “Then the doctor has to show it’s worthwhile doing it with AxiaLIF.”

TranS1’s need to grow sales was one of the drivers for its 2013 acquisition of San Jose, CA-based Baxano Surgical in a stock deal valued at $23.6 million. Baxano brought to TranS1 surgical instruments used in spinal surgeries, which broadened the TranS1 product portfolio. But the combined company, which took the Baxano name, ran out of cash. In September 2014, Baxano disclosed that it had hired an investment bank to explore “strategic alternatives” for its spine business. Two months later, Baxano filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Baxano completed the auction of its assets in February. Pieces of the company were acquired by Marietta, GA-based Amendia; Choice Spine in Knoxville, TN; and San Francisco-based City Surgical. Schell, through his Denver company Quandary Medical, bought Baxano’s highest profile asset—AxiaLIF. Quandary also acquired a second Baxano product, the Vectre facet screw system. The company paid just $860,000 total for both.

Schell did not originally come from the medical device industry. A patent attorney, Schell’s experience includes work on intellectual property matters for startups—some in healthcare. He also founded Quandary, a medical device company developing spinal products. The new TranS1’s main marketing strategy is to let spine surgeons know that AxiaLIF is still available. Schell says he renamed his company TranS1 because that was the name most surgeons associate with AxiaLIF. The company’s vice president of sales is a former sales executive with the old TranS1. In addition to selling the device through its own sales force, Schell says, TranS1 is exploring sales partnerships in Europe.

Ten years after the old TranS1 secured FDA clearance for AxiaLIF, Schell now says payers are coming around on reimbursement. The Department of Health and Human Services no longer considers AxiaLIF experimental, and Medicare covers the device. Schell adds that some private payers are following Medicare’s lead. He won’t disclose specific sales figures but says that sales have doubled the company’s initial projections over the last six months. Nor will Schell disclose details about his company’s financial backing, other than to say that privately held TranS1 has multi-million dollar debt financing from a third party.

The new TranS1 is building a product portfolio beyond AxiaLIF. Schell won’t go into detail about those devices, but he says that the key problem with spine surgery is the trauma it produces, which can exceed the injury that called for surgery in the first place. He sees AxiaLIF as “a foundational procedure that can be built upon.” Since acquiring the former Baxano products, Trans1 has filed 14 patent applications that Schell says involve minimizing tissue trauma in spinal surgery.

More than 14,000 procedures have been performed in the United States to date using AxiaLIF, according to Schell. He also points to growing awareness of improved outcomes, along with cost savings associated with the device. A report published a year ago in the Journal of Managed Care Medicine concluded that AxiaLIF surgeries cost about $3,500 less than traditional lumbar fusion, and also result in shorter hospital stays, which further reduces healthcare costs.

An emphasis on real-world data is changing how insurance companies structure reimbursement agreements with companies. As an example, Quintiles’ Doyle points to Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s recent deal with Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) for the cholesterol-lowering drug evolocumab (Repatha). The pay-for-performance pact grants the insurer a discount if the drug’s cholesterol reduction is less than what was observed in clinical trials. Doyle expects that medical device companies will strike similar deals with payers. He adds that medical technology companies that make the effort to understand and gather the information that payers are looking for will “get a better return on innovation for their devices.”

“You have to start very early,” Doyle says. “You have to understand what are the hot buttons in the customer base to improve outcomes, save money.”

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