October 3, 2008
Earlier this year, the Bartlett manufacturer of surgical products for ear, nose and throat specialists became part of Olympus, a Japanese conglomerate.
Jim Wolfe, manufacturing engineer for Gyrus ENT, assembles a PlasmaCision reusable handle that accepts Gyrus' new disposable instrument, the PlasmaKnife, which uses radio frequency to make incisions and can also control bleeding by sealing blood vessels.
Earlier devices were thrown away, wiring and all, after one use. The design of the PlasmaKnife and PlasmaCision handle saves everything for reuse except the blade.
With the integration process continuing, Gyrus ENT earlier this month introduced a new product whose design began before the purchase.
It's a disposable instrument called the PlasmaKnife, and it fits into another new instrument, the PlasmaCision reusable handle.
It uses radio-frequency energy to slice through flesh and can also control bleeding by sealing blood vessels, said Perry Mykleby, director of marketing. It is primarily for surgery on the tonsils that are swellings in the throat, or on the adenoids, clumps of tissue in the nasal passages.
There were an estimated 825,000 operations to remove tonsils or adenoids in the U.S. last year.
Gyrus ENT already makes radio-frequency knives, but about two years ago started the process of designing a new one. Early on, the company hired a group of doctors who specialize in ear, nose and throat procedures in children.
They gathered at a hotel in New York and were told to create an image of their ideal knife out of modeling clay, wood and other improvised materials.
They went to work, and some used a pencil grip in their models, Mykleby said.
Engineers then used that concept to make several prototypes of the surgical instrument, then sought more comments from doctors. This process continued through several rounds of prototypes.
Engineers considered roughly 100 prototypes in all, said Phil Ryan, a mechanical engineer who is vice president of research and development.
The resulting surgical knife looks like a heavy metal pen with a black tip that snaps into it. Tubes and wires run from the pen to a wall.
Earlier devices required doctors to throw away the device, wiring and all, after a single use. The new design only requires the doctor to throw away the tip, saving plastic, copper wiring and other materials, Mykleby said.
Ryan said he's excited to have finished the design process and hopes the product will do well on the market.
"So it's kind of a whole kind of variety of emotions that are both relief-based and anxiety-based at the same time," he said.
Gyrus ENT held 17 percent of the American ear, nose and throat market in 2007, and the combination with Olympus means the new company becomes the second-largest ear, nose and throat company behind medical device maker powerhouse Medtronic, according to consulting firm Millennium Research Group.
In addition to cutting products like the PlasmaKnife, Gyrus ENT makes a wide range of other products, including tiny tubes implanted in babies' ears that relieve infection-related pressure by allowing air and fluids to drain out.
The company was originally part of Richards Medical Co., the predecessor of Smith & Nephew.
Gyrus, a British company, later bought the ear, nose and throat business, and a merger led to the name, Gyrus ACMI.
Olympus purchased Gyrus ACMI this year for $2 billion, and the Bartlett company came with it.
Olympus is best known for its cameras, but it also makes medical equipment, including endoscopes, devices that allow doctors to peep into the human body through small openings.
The integration officially began July 1, and Olympus is reorganizing its sales force so representatives will market products from both predecessor companies, Olympus spokeswoman Elizabeth Sullivan said.
"Many other areas of the two companies have yet to be fully integrated, as it is a very complex and time-consuming process," she said.
Former Gyrus ENT president Bob Hoxie has left, and Olympus didn't make an executive available for an interview.
F. Mark Gumz, president and CEO of Olympus Corporation of the Americas, is also acting as president of the former Gyrus ACMI group.
The Bartlett company is now part of Olympus, a Japanese conglomerate.
It has 152 employees in the Memphis area and 67 sales representatives scattered throughout the U.S.
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