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Becton Dickinson Votes for Biology

Executive Summary

Becton Dickinson, with huge shares in its core markets, has turned increasingly to research-intensive, high-payoff projects for its future growth. Its most ambitious program is in genetic diagnostics, where recent deals with The Institute for Genomic Research and Millennium Predictive Medicine have made it the diagnostics industry's highest-flying dealmaker. Its hope is to find the rarest and most valuable of all diagnostic products: a patented disease marker.

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BD's Challenge: Making Everything Old New Again

Recent legislation requiring hospitals to convert to safety devices to prevent needle-stick injuries has come as a kind of validation for Becton, Dickinson, the market leader in needles and syringes, whose efforts to develop safety products began well before customers or the government required them. Critics have charged that like all big companies with strong market share positions, BD has lagged in technology innovation, preferring to spend its time and energy defending its existing products. BD officials insist that just the opposite is true. But creating meaningful innovation is difficult in the kinds of high volume, low margin product lines that needles and syringes became over the 1980s and 1990s. For one thing, clinician input into new technology designs is rare; at the same time, the statistical data to back the importance of safety product conversions is scant. Perhaps most daunting, in a cost-constrained hospital market, the economic pay-off is still small, at least relative to other medical device innovation. Still, BD officials say, they persevered, leading the way in safety device innovation at a time when the company's interests, arguably, would have been better served defending its core line of conventional devices.

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