Medtronic to focus on smaller acquisitions, expand diabetes business

By Jonah Comstock
Medtronic's Guardian Mobile CGM app, yet to be released in the US. Medtronic's Guardian Mobile CGM app, yet to be released in the US.

Despite speculations to the contrary from analysts last year, it looks like Medtronic will continue to acquire early-stage health companies even after its Covidien acquisition. On a fourth quarter earnings call, Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak told analysts that the company would use new cash from the Covidien deal to invest in early technologies in new areas for the company.

"Using extra access we have to that cash, we've stated that we’re going to look at early technologies, in the US primarily, where there may be opportunities which we haven't been able to participate in to the degree that we’d like to, to create a long-term technology pipeline of early stage technologies that we think can make a difference," Ishrak said during the Q&A.

When Medtronic acquired Covidien last year, Glenn Novarro, a financial analyst with RBC Capital Markets who follows the companies closely said it would likely lead to a slowdown in smaller medtech acquisitions, such as those that both Medtronic and Covidien had been involved in shortly before the acquisition.

Last Spring MobiHealthNews exclusively reported that Medtronic had acquired peel-and-stick wearable heart monitor company Corventis for about $150 million. A few weeks before that MobiHealthNews also broke the news that Covidien had snapped up wearable medical device maker Zephyr Technologies for an undisclosed sum. And in 2013 Medtronic acquired home health monitoring company Cardiocom, too. But in the recent call, Ishrak said Medtronic would follow Covidien's lead in continuing to acquire small companies.

"We’ve already kind of executed on some of these and we’ve got a good pipeline of other activities that we’re looking at closely," he said. "But beyond that, the Covidien or the MITG business has had a history of doing acquisitions to supplement their business with regularity and we’ll certainly continue to encourage that process and in fact focus it even more according to the way in which we’ve organized overall business."

He said that the company would look at bigger deals opportunistically, but the main focus would be on smaller operations. In the call, Medtronic Chief Financial Officer Gary Ellis also drew attention to some of Medtronic's recent moves in the diabetes space, and spoke about how they signaled a transition in Medtronic's diabetes business.

"First, we made a minority investment in Glooko, a developer of a unified platform for diabetes management," he said. "Second, we announced a partnership with IBM Watson Health to develop a new generation of personalized diabetes management solutions. And third, we acquired Diabeter, the Netherlands-based diabetes clinic and research center, which has developed a truly unique, integrated care model for people with diabetes that we intend to expand globally over time. Taken together, these announcements signify that we're focused on transforming our diabetes group from a market-leading pump and sensor company into a holistic diabetes management company focused on making a real difference in outcomes and costs."