iBot revving for fall debut

Sunday, August 31, 2003

WARREN, N.J. - As Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Independence Technologies, waits on marketing clearance from the FDA for its state-of-the-art iBot wheelchair, the price tag for development of the stair-climbing power chair has topped $150 million, said a company spokesman.

The company expects word from the FDA “any day now,” the spokesman said July 30, and doesn’t anticipate the FDA will require further modification before clearing the chair for market.

Last November, an advisory panel to the FDA unanimously recommended approval of the new technology. At that time, Independence expected FDA approval in the March to May time-frame. The company also expected the iBot would come to market at $25,000 - $29,000. The new price is firmly $29,000.

Critics contend the market for $29,000 power wheelchairs, even one equipped with an array of gyroscopes, sensors and lift mechanisms that enable users to climb stairs and elevate themselves to a standing position, is prohibitively priced.

Independence is not daunted by the criticism.

“I was with a quad yesterday, and his chair cost $22,000 four years ago, and it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles,” said Independence spokesman, Jay Van Vechten. “A high-end motorized wheelchair costs in that vicinity, so we’re not out of the ballpark at all.”

Van Vechten said the iBots should start hitting the streets and stairways this fall.

The company declined to reveal marketing plans. Van Vechten couldn’t say whether Independence has completed assembling its sales force. Last year, Independence began hiring 24 regional sales reps to market the chair direct to rehab centers and end-users.

Before rolling out the iBot, Independence will have to forge relationships with rehab centers. The centers will have to dedicate space to train end-users on the chair, train the trainers and acquire training materials that will be peculiar to the use of the iBot, such as stairs. HME