Triggered by health concerns and efforts to reduce plastics waste, the intravenous container market - which shifted from glass to plastics in the 1970s - could be shifting away from PVC to other plastics.
The two companies that control 90 percent of the market - Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., and Baxter Healthcare Inc. of Deer Park, Ill. — both introduced non-PVC IV bags last week.
Hospira, the second-largest manufacturer of IV bags, with a 35-40 percent share of the U.S. market, stole some thunder from market leader Baxter. Hospira said its Austin, Texas, plant will begin production next month of a broad-based, next-generation, non-PVC product that has the potential to reduce waste from IV bags by 40-60 percent and reduce the risk of infections and contamination for both caregivers and patients.
Baxter, meanwhile, introduced a bag made from polypropylene geared to niche markets that will be available to limited pilot sites this year.
Both firms said their products will cost more than PVC bags, although Hospira said the total cost to hospitals of its product will be lower, because of lower disposal costs.
Hospitals have been looking for alternatives to PVC medical devices, which can release dioxins when burned and because some studies have shown the plasticizer used to soften PVC — di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate - is linked to health hazards and can leach into bloodstreams in certain applications. Additionally, PVC bags typically are not compatible with new biotechnology therapies, solutions containing lipids and some oncology medications.
About 300 million IV bags are used annually in the U.S., according to Hospira. Some 90 percent of all hospital patients receive some form of IV therapy, and U.S hospitals spend about $1.2 billion annually on IV solutions and bags, the company said.
The new VISIV line from Hospira is made from a multilayer thermoplastic film that includes polypropylene. Hospira spokesman Jason Hodges said the thermal characteristics, moisture barrier and inertness of the materials eliminate the need for the overwrap used in PVC IV bags.
The company said that if the entire industry moved to eliminate overwrap, it would cut more than 20 million pounds of hospital waste on an annual basis. On average, U.S. hospitals generate 800 tons of plastics waste daily, Hospira said.
Hospira said its VISIV line initially will be available in 250- and 500-milliliter sizes and will be offered for use in 70 percent of the most common IV applications, with production expected to increase steadily through 2007 and 2008. Hodges said that when market demand is appropriate, Hospira will consider also making the new PVC-free bags at its Rocky Mount, N.C., plant.
Baxter said its new AVIVA premium line is targeted for use with newer therapies and lipid-containing nutrition products, and in neonatal, pediatric and oncology applications.
Baxter said the line will be premium-priced because of higher costs for raw materials and higher manufacturing costs. Hospira said its VISIV products will cost more than existing lines, but will be competitive, and the total cost to hospitals will be lower because of reduced disposal costs and greater caregiver efficiency.
Hospira said it eventually expects VISIV bags to replace those made with PVC and DEHP, but Baxter spokeswoman Erin Gardiner disagreed with the view that PVC bags are going away.
``We see [non-PVC bags] as a niche market'' when there is potential for leaching, when there are drug-compatibility issues and for newer therapies or cancer-therapy drugs,'' she said.
She declined to estimate what percentage of the market PVC-free and DEHP-free bags may take, she said.
An environmental group that has been pushing hospitals to drop PVC said it is pleased with the developments.
``This is only a beginning,'' said Stacy Malkan, spokeswoman for Health Care Without Harm, a Washington-based environmental group. ``We see a huge demand for non-PVC materials, not just in IV bags, but in tubing, blood bags and other medical devices.''
``Companies will tend to gravitate toward products that are more environmentally safe,'' said Matt Miksic, an analyst with Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. in New York.