Fresenius Medical Care is committed to enhancing the quality of life of people suffering from kidney disease. Achieving advances in dialysis and providing patients with the best possible dialysis products and services has been the driving force during the company’s first 20 years – and it remains so today. Now established as the technology and market leader, Fresenius Medical is stepping up investment in dialysis-related areas to build further on its medical expertise.
A few figures show how Fresenius Medical Care has continually risen to the challenge of helping patients since its founding exactly two decades ago: Dialyzer production has increased tenfold, net income more than elevenfold, and sales nearly twelvefold. The company currently operates around 3,500 dialysis centers in over 45 countries and treats some 300,000 patients, starting a dialysis treatment for a patient somewhere in the world every 0.7 seconds. All this would have been impossible without the 100,000-plus employees who demonstrate great courage and energy in driving the company forward every day.
Courage and energy were also required in 1996 when Gerd Krick, then Chief Executive Officer of Fresenius AG, had the idea of taking over the far larger U.S. dialysis specialist National Medical Care. Krick’s technical flair, commercial vision and strategic skill quickly won him allies, and he worked closely with the Fresenius executive Ben Lipps on the takeover. When it succeeded, Fresenius Medical Care was born. In 1999, Lipps became its CEO.
Erwin Franiek, who has been with Fresenius for 36 years and now heads quality control at the St. Wendel, Germany dialyzer plant, remembers those days well. “We had regular visitors to the company during this period – from bankers to delegations from the U.S.,” he recalls. “They all wanted to get an idea of what our work involved and how the site operated. In fact, we were already the technology leader.”Key advances that had already been made included the company’s 1983 introduction of the polysulfone filter, which remains the standard in dialyzers, and the fine-tuning of the dialysis system – the dialyzer, pump and balancing chamber. It is vital for these three components to work together in perfect harmony to keep the patient’s circulation stable.
Continuous equipment improvements ultimately paved the way for market leadership, and 100,000 dialysis machines had been produced in Schweinfurt by 1999. Just four years later Fresenius Medical Care was treating well over 100,000 patients a year and annual dialyzer production had surpassed 50 million. The company produced its 500 millionth dialyzer in 2007 and, in 2013, its billionth.
The defining characteristic of Fresenius Medical Care is continuity, reflected in the company’s strong growth and ongoing, frequently incremental improvements to the dialysis machine, which is highly sophisticated: It includes around 8,000 components, some of them made from highly specialized materials – to be biocompatible, for example, or to withstand high temperatures, acids, and alkalis. The valves are a critical component and must work with absolute precision and reliability over their lengthy operating period of around 5,000 hours per year, with an average service life of 10 to 12 years.
This precision and reliability is essential to ensure that during dialysis the blood’s parameters and circulation remain stable, its composition does not change too rapidly, and clotting is prevented. “The big challenge is reproducing the complexities of renal function as effectively as possible,” Spickermann says. “Our mastery of this complex challenge makes us stand out from the crowd.”
There is constant focus on improving product compatibility and automating control processes. Moreover, Fresenius Medical Care has always handled the entire value-added chain – from production of the filter membrane and the entire machine to software development, dialysis-related services, and accompanying treatments. This concentrates all the expertise in-house, and the company’s developers obtain valuable information and tips in their day-to-day dealings with patients, doctors and experts. With this in mind the company started moving into the hospital and service sectors in the 1990s and has been gradually expanding these activities ever since. Examples of this include the acquisitions of the Renal Care Group in 2005, a majority stake in Taiwanese dialysis service provider Jiate Excelsior in 2007, Asia Renal Care in 2010, Euromedic in 2011, and Liberty Dialysis Holdings of the U.S. a year later.
”We can’t afford to compromise on patient health and safety.” (Erwin Franiek, St. Wendel)
“Despite all our efforts and constant improvements, even we have certain limits,” says Professor Bernard Canaud, Chief Medical Officer for the region Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Dialysis prevents the certain death of people with kidney disease and huge progress has been made over the past 50 years, but it’s a Herculean task to precisely reproduce the way the kidney works. It’s not the effectiveness of the method that restricts us, but the time limits of dialysis.”
Human kidneys purify 1,500 liters of blood each day, but a dialysis machine transports and purifies only 120 liters of blood per four-hour session, three times a week. Professor Canaud, therefore, is calling for other treatment approaches to be considered in addition to dialysis. “We need to look at patients’ overall situations and grasp every opportunity to improve their quality of life,” he says, adding that this also includes early detection and prevention of kidney disease.