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* Potential market size for closed syringes almost $1 bln a year
* Closed syringes can cost 100 times more than regular syringes
By Tova Cohen
TEL AVIV, April 17 (Reuters) - Israeli medical device maker Equashield expects its sales to grow by more than 60 percent a year as more hospitals invest in its sealed syringes to protect healthcare workers from hazardous drugs and avoid lawsuits.
Equashield's products are used mainly in cancer or oncology facilities to administer chemotherapy drugs.
"It started in the last decade when hospitals became aware of problems and started looking for ways to protect themselves," Equashield's Georgian-born founder Marino Kriheli told Reuters. "Using regular syringes or needles to transfer drugs from vials to infusion bags and administer in regular ways left a lot of drug residuals and exposures to leaks which are all very toxic."
The market for these closed system transfer devices began to take off in 2011 when medical technology company Becton Dickinson bought Carmel Pharma of Sweden and started marketing its PhaSeal systems.
The potential market size for closed systems for hazardous chemicals is close to $1 billion a year, Kriheli said.
The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has said exposure to hazardous drug residue and vapours puts healthcare workers at risk for skin rashes, miscarriage and possibly cancer.
Industry magazine Pharmacy Practice News last month estimated less than a third of hospitals use these closed syringes, which can cost 100 times more than regular ones. But the magazine said this year may be the tipping point for the systems to gain more traction in U.S. hospitals.
Equashield began selling its system in 2010, which Kriheli said "covers more roots of exposure" and prevents contamination of the syringe plunger. It is now marketing a second-generation product, described by Kriheli as more "idiot-proof" and easier to use.
He said he expects company sales to reach $20-$30 million in 2014.
"Sales are growing by over 60 percent a year, and with our second-generation product we believe the growth rate will be even higher," Kriheli said.
Equashield is profitable and half its customers switched from other systems, he added. Customers include the Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Hospital and The Animal Medical Center in New York and the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.
Equashield is a spin-off of Plastmed, which manufactures transfer devices for customers such as Johnson & Johnson.
The company plans to remain independent for now, said Kriheli, who added: "At the moment, with the success we have, we want to establish ourselves a little bit better". (Reporting by Tova Cohen)