Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. And, cardiology departments are the largest spenders within the health care world. Because of the huge patient population, many medical device manufacturers focus their attention on cardiovascular products.

The cardiovascular market is expected to grow even larger in the next decade, as more patients are treated using technologically advanced devices. According to Business Communications Co. (Norwalk, CT), the combined worldwide market for products such as angiogenesis-stimulating agents and gene therapies; cardiac markers; cardiac resynchronization therapies; drug-eluting stents; and portable automated external defibrillators is projected to increase 29 percent annually over the next 4 years.

Drug-eluting stents are expected to drive most of that growth. Indeed, demand for those devices is growing 38 percent annually, as drug-eluting stents replace traditional bare metal stents in the marketplace. A drug-eluting stent is used for the minimally invasive treatment of coronary artery obstruction. The device is inserted into the artery with a catheter. Once in place, the stent expands to keep the artery open. The device is coated with an antiproliferative drug, which is released gradually into the arterial wall to suppress scar tissue formation within the stent and adjacent areas.

Nearly 1 million angioplasties are performed in the U.S. each year, and at least 80 percent of those procedures involve the use of a stent. Typically, 15 percent of the patients treated with traditional stents need a second procedure within 6 months because the blood vessel gets reclogged with scar tissue. Drug-eluting stents are popular because they reduce the need for repeat procedures to less than 5 percent of cases. The worldwide market for drug-eluting stents is expected to top $8 billion by 2008. This dramatic growth is almost unprecedented in the health care market, especially since the first drug-eluting stents were only unveiled in 2003.