Taking a “measured” risk: how Opsens broke into the medical industry

- Quebec, Quebec

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more people die each year from cardiovascular disease than from any other cause.

That’s why innovation in medical technology—specifically, the field of interventional cardiology—is so critical.

Generally speaking, when a patient has a blockage around or near the heart, physicians will choose from three types of treatment: medication, bypass surgery, or stents.

While stents are a popular option, they come with a risk. If implemented unnecessarily, stents can increase a patient's risk of experiencing damaging and even fatal cardiovascular events such as a stroke or heart attack.

That's where Opsens and its groundbreaking sensory technology come in.

Optimizing heart patient outcomes

OptoWire is a tiny guidewire, equivalent to the size of a hair, that is used to measure blood pressure and flow in a coronary artery before and after a blockage.

Established in 2004, Opsens has always had a reputation as an expert in measurement using sensor technology.

Originally, its technology was used in oil and gas, some industrial applications, and by some medical device manufacturers to measure temperature, pressure and displacement.

But in 2009, Opsens decided to expand into the global medical industry—more specifically, the fractional flow reserve (FFR) market—to directly address cardiologists' need for more sophisticated instruments to measure, document and evaluate their work and their patients.

Put simply, Opsens' product, OptoWire, is an optical guidewire that is used to measure blood pressure and flow around a blockage. The information provided by the OptoWire helps physicians decide whether a stent should be implanted into a patient's body to resolve blood circulation issues.

"Our technology measures blood pressure in coronary arteries, helping cardiologists diagnose and optimize treatment of any lesions," says Marie-Claude Poitras, Opsens Communications. "You can measure blood pressure during a diagnostic procedure, then place a stent over the OptoWire to resolve blood circulation issues and, ultimately, improve the clinical outcome for the patient."

Before Opsens, hospitals used electrical guidewires to measure blood pressure; however, this older technology was not always reliable and was oftentimes frustrating for physicians.

"Electrical guidewires are often disrupted by blood, and that results in doctors losing connection and not being able to measure accurately during procedures," adds Poitras.

Today, Opsens' OptoWire represents the evolution of measurement technology in interventional cardiology worldwide.

Changing business models

Louis Laflamme, President and CEO, Opsens

Much of Opsens' recent success is due to a major business move it made in 2009—in which the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) played a part.

Originally, Opsens' sensor technology was used by international OEM (original equipment manufacturer) clients in the medical instrument industry.

But Opsens had bigger plans.

"We wanted to build and capitalize on the success of our technology, plus we felt we could do much more than selling sensors to medical device companies—we wanted to become a full medical device technology corporation," says Louis Laflamme, CEO of Opsens.

That said, developing Opsens' sensors further required much technical and business risk. The company sought support from NRC IRAP to help make this monumental shift.

A risk worth taking

NRC IRAP provided Opsens with financial support and, with the help of Industrial Technology Advisor Paul-Émile Fournier, strategic advice, technical expertise and networking opportunities with key industry contacts.

"NRC IRAP truly helped us become a real player in this field of technology. Not only did they help us build expertise in developing medical devices, but in the future you can expect to see other projects emerging from that expertise we built during the development stage."

Louis Laflamme, President and CEO, Opsens

"The new business model, with support from NRC IRAP, has been a huge value creator for Opsens," says Laflamme. Whereas the company used to sell to other corporations, it now sells directly to hospitals and "cath labs." And just last year, the company sold more than $14 million in FFR in more than 500 hospitals, representing about two-thirds of Opsens' consolidated revenues.

Today, Opsens is developing more products to assist cardiologists in measuring their work and improving patient outcomes.

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