Saturday, November 30, 2002

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Sunrise Medical has launched its grandest play yet to make a name for itself in the sleep disordered breathing market.

The play? Its sponsorship of the National Sleep Foundation's National Summit to Prevent Drowsy Driving, held Nov. 20-21 in Washington. But it's more than that. The company is funding research now underway by the so-called 'Father of Sleep Medicine,' William Dement, M.D.

At the 2002 Associated Professional Sleep Societies Show, Sunrise marketed its DeVilbiss brand more prominently than ever before. And it's rolling out sleep products like never before. Over the last year, DeVilbiss has launched 13-14 new sleep products. In a typical year previously, Devilbiss might roll out two or three.

"In R&D, we easily doubled our spending in the past year," said Rich Kocinski, vice president and general manager of respiratory products.

Part of the responsibility for this infusion climbs back up to Sunrise Medical CEO Mike Hammes who, by all accounts, has made the sleep market a priority. And partly of course, the responsibility is the market's.

Nearly one in five drivers dozed off at the wheel last year, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. One of every two adults has driven while drowsy. People who fall sleep while driving injure about 71,000 people per year.

"You almost have to equate it to drunk driving," said Kocinski. "If you look at the way we view drunk driving today versus 15 years ago, it's enormous."

When it comes to treating drowsy driving, especially the most susceptible demographic group - middle-aged males - there's a problem. Some truck drivers who are diagnosed with sleep apnea are pulled off the road for 30 days, during which time they're expected to become compliant with therapy.

Since 30-day work stoppages are costly, there's a disincentive to make inroads. Hence the research now being conducted by Dement. Part of what he's trying to determine, according to Kocinski, is the dose of therapy needed before a driver with sleep disordered breathing can get back on the road. Is it 30 days, or 10, or five? HME