ANAHEIM, CALIF. — One company is trying to carve its niche in the medical component business by making products using alternative materials to latex to help those allergic to natural rubber.
Apex Medical Technologies Inc. was incorporated in 1985 for the sole purpose of developing nonlatex condoms and gloves, according to President Mark W. McGlothlin. ``And we ended up doing exactly that,'' he said.
The male polyurethane condom that Apex developed is on the market, but the San Diego-based company is not selling it. The firm sold the technology to a major condom and glove firm in 1990 and set out for new territory.
What Apex attempted to do was use a similar technology to replace latex components in medical devices, according to McGlothlin. The firm targeted such components as latex balloons on catheters, covers for ultrasonic probes and other medical instruments, male external catheters and cuffs for endotracheal tubes.
``We looked at basically anything made out of latex that was dip molded,'' he said.
The company looked at making end medical devices but decided to concentrate on producing components because the firm's expertise lies in dip molding. Apex uses thermoplastic polyurethane as its material of choice because of its strength, tear resistance and biocompatibility, the company president said.
``The copolymers don't have quite the strength as polyurethane, but they have exceptional elongation, in some cases more than 1,000 percent,'' McGlothlin said.
In addition to making nonlatex components, Apex is working on developing a synthetic replacement for latex.
``There's demand for an exact replacement for latex — not something that's similar or better, and something that does not contain the protein associated with natural rubber,'' he said.
The protein causes the allergic reactions that are continuing to be a problem, especially for health-care workers. Some hospitals now state on the purchase order that latex content must be disclosed and it must be noted if an alternative is available, McGlothlin said.
The Apex president's personal guess is that latex will be phased out of more products during the next 10 years, but a lot will depend on whether a reliable replacement evolves.
One problem is cost. The nonlatex alternatives can cost double or more, as both the cost of processing and the price or raw materials is higher, he said.
``That scares some customers off,'' McGlothlin said. ``Some people demand price and will keep latex if they can't get an alternative at the same price. If they demand we compete directly on price, we must turn down that business.''
Over time, Apex will strive to bring down the cost by producing higher volumes.
The San Diego company has received an excellent response and is getting a lot of requests for prototypes, McGlothlin said. The recent Medical Design & Manufacturing show in Anaheim, Calif., was Apex's first exposition — it is just now actively seeking outside business.
Apex employs 10 at its 5,000-square-foot facility, but expansion may be in the near future if business keeps improving, he said. McGlothlin declined to release sales figures for the privately held firm.
As for the future, the Apex president has relatively simple goals: ``A bigger facility, more employees and higher volume of production.''