Biomet Inc. has pledged its total corporate assets in order to buy material to make plastic medical implants. The Warsaw, Ind., company inked a deal with Montell North America Inc. for ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, according to Dane Miller, Biomet's chief executive officer.
Biomet makes plastic hip and knee replacement components.
Montell and its predecessor, Himont Corp., had supplied UHMW PE to Biomet since Biomet's founding in 1978. But in 1995 Montell suspended its supply, citing the possibility of legal exposure under current laws governing liability, despite supplying only ``a few thousand pounds'' of the material to Biomet, Miller said.
Miller said the agreement with Montell is designed to help limit that liability.
No official at Montell's Wilmington, Del., headquarters office was available for comment.
``We fully understand their position,'' Miller said. However, he added, ``the disappearance of that material would severely affect our ability to participate in 60 percent of our business'' - total joint replacement.
Miller saluted Montell and said, ``We should recognize the interest of Montell in the American orthopedic patient by staying in the market - maybe staying in against a lot of business odds.''
According to Miller, only Montell and Hoechst Celanese Corp., headquartered in Summit, N.J., are original manufacturers of UHMW PE.
``We believe the Montell material is better for our process,'' Miller said.
Other material suppliers have pulled their resins from the implant market because of legal concern, including DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co.
Some suppliers have called for passage of a federal biomaterials access law that would distance these suppliers from the parts made from their patented plastics. A bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. George Gekas, R.-Pa. is not expected to see action in the waning days of the 104th Congress.
The California Healthcare Institute, lobbying for such a bill, said in a letter to California's Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein that lack of legislation ``may eventually shift basic biomaterial research overseas.''
Critics note that even passage of a new bill protecting resin suppliers is no guarantee they will return to the North American market.
Biomet also has two California operations that use a variety of resins, but not for implant applications.