UPDATE 1-US panel backs Abbott's drug-coated heart stent

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GAITHERSBURG, Md., Nov 29 (Reuters) - Abbott Laboratories Inc ABT.N won a U.S. advisory panel's support on Thursday for an experimental drug-coated stent for heart patients.

A committee of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted 9-1 to recommend approval of the device, called Xience. The FDA usually follows panel recommendations.

Stents are tiny mesh tubes that doctors insert to prop open arteries after clearing them of blockages. Some versions have a drug coating meant to keep the vessels from reclogging.

At the moment, Johnson & Johnson's JNJ.N Cypher and Boston Scientific's BSX.N Taxus are the only two U.S.-approved drug-coated stents. Abbott and Medtronic Inc MDT.N, with its Endeavor stent, are seeking to join the field.

“I think (Xience) represents a step forward,” said Dr. Richard Page, a panel member and cardiologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Annual sales of drug-coated stents once hit $6 billion but have been hurt by concerns about blood clots that may develop later in some patients. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)