Abbott Laboratories has decided to end the development of its ZoMaxx drug-eluting stent and focus its energies instead on the Xience V stent, acquired from Guidant after Boston Scientific bought the latter earlier this year.

The company also said that it had launched Xience V (paclitaxel) in the European Union, a little earlier than expected, providing the first major competition to current market leaders Taxus (paclitaxel) from Boston Scientific and Cypher (sirolimus) from Johnson & Johnson.

Between them, these two products dominate the $5.5 billion global coated stent market, with roughly a half-share a piece, although next-generation products such as Xience V and Medtronic's Endeavour (zotarolimus) are expected to make inroads into their market share.

Last month, Abbott reported clinical data suggesting that Xience V was superior to Taxus Express 2 in preventing in-stent late loss - a measure of the change in the vessel diameter between the time immediately following stent placement and at six months, although the data was somewhat over-shadowed by emerging debate about the safety of drug-eluting stents as a class.

Two meta-analyses presented at the World Congress of Cardiology in Barcelona, Spain, last month suggested that drug-eluting stents may lead to an increased risk of death and cardiac events compared with their bare metal counterparts.

"We have conducted a thorough analysis of all available clinical data for both Xience V and ZoMaxx, and have concluded that Xience V is a significantly better product," said Richard Gonzalez, Abbott’s chief operating officer, in a statement.

Approval of the product is pending in the USA and Japan, said Abbott, which also announced it is ramping up manufacturing capacity for the product in Ireland to meet the expected demand in Europe.

“We remain confident in our ability to achieve a leadership position in the drug-eluting stent market with the Xience V platform, said Gonzalez.

Biocompatibles rocked

The news played havoc with the share price of Biocompatibles, a UK firm which developed the coating used to deliver the active drug in the ZoMaxx stent.

Shares in the UK firm lost more than a quarter of their value on the announcement, bottoming out at 127 pence on the news but rallied to 141 pence, after it issued a statement noting that it had sold the stent business in 2002 for cash and royalties of between 1% and 5%. It said Abbott’s decision would have a limited impact on its 2006 and 2007 sales and no impact on cash in either year.