Sleep vendors engage in pillow fight

Sunday, January 28, 2007

MURRYSVILLE, Pa., and IRVINE, Calif.- Respironics and Fisher & Paykel came out swinging this month when they both debuted nasal pillow masks designed to meet market demand and go head-to-head with ResMed's Mirage Swift II.

During a teleconference last week and in marketing material, Respironics went so far as to call the new OptiLife its easiest to use mask, a great fit for side sleepers and a money-maker for providers.

"Just saying that one mask is what you need is not the way we approach business, but if their needs are in the pillows area-and exclusively pillows- then I think this mask would clearly be our flagship," said Don Spence, president of the company's sleep and home respiratory group, during the Jan. 23 teleconference

OptiLife is the first offering from the company's new My Life series of masks, a line characterized by ease of use, few parts and a wide range of fittings.

Fisher & Paykel's new nasal pillow mask, the Opus, was scheduled to begin shipping in early to mid-February. The Opus comes with three pillow sizes: small, medium and large. The OptiLife comes with four pillow sizes: petite, small, medium and large. By making the masks easy to use and capable of fitting a wide range of patients, officials at both companies have catered to provider demand for products that help reduce inventory and, in turn, preserve cash flow.

"Providers want something that is hassle free and that works," Spence said. "Time is money."

The $76 million nasal pillow market accounts for about 20% of the $380 million mask market, according to Wachovia Capital Markets Equity Research Department.

"The fact that Respironics and F&P are chasing this segment speaks to how popular this type of mask is," said Hillary Theakston, ResMed's director of communications.

In a month or so, ResMed plans to come out with an improved version of its Swift II, she said.

A nasal pillow mask provides an alternative to an over-the-nose mask, said Christian Kiely, Fisher & Paykel's homecare product manager.

"The difference between a nasal pillow and over-the-nose mask is more of a patient preference issue," he said. "Some prefer a less intrusive style mask, which most nasal pillow masks would be."

While Respironics officials are very high on the OptiLife, the company will continue to offer its popular Comfort Series of masks, which also includes a nasal pillow mask, the ComfortLite 2.

Barbara Rogers, president of the National Emphysema/COPD Association, applauded that decision.

"It's not always a question of either or," said Rogers, who listened to the teleconference. "Sometimes it's nice to have more than one mask so you can trade off based on pressure points or how you feel."