By Michelle Said

An Interview With Eric Bouvier, president & CEO, North America

 Eric BouvierEric Bouvier

The seeds of in vitro diagnostic specialty company bioMérieux were planted when Louis Pasteur’s assistant, Marcel Mérieux, founded Institut Mérieux in France circa 1897. Over the years, the company has seen many faces. The company as it is today, bioMérieux, was founded in 1963 when Mérieux’s grandson, Alain, transformed the diagnostics division to focus on the in vitro field. CLP talked to Eric Bouvier, president and CEO of the North American division of the company, about its past, present, and future impact on the clinical lab industry.

CLP: What impact has bioMérieux had on the industry since it was founded?
: bioMérieux has had a strong influence on the clinical lab industry with a steady flow of innovative products and new instruments that provide hospitals and medical facilities with the means to deliver the most accurate and timely patient treatment. Our research continues to broaden the scope of infectious-disease diagnostics.

New products have helped our customers decrease turnaround time and increase automation in the laboratory. bioMérieux has had a huge impact on the industry with the introduction of VITEK® technology, which offers rapid and advanced bacterial-identification and antibiotic-susceptibility testing (ID/AST). Our BacT/ALERT® technology enables continuous monitoring for blood culture, and we launched the first Expert system to help labs of all sizes increase their pathogen-identification ability. More importantly, we are now delivering a lot more than lab results. With the recent introduction of Stellara™ software, we are delivering valuable information to clinicians, pharmacists, and the lab.

CLP: What changes have you observed in the industry since the company’s founding?
: The field of microbiology has become much more challenging over the past 40 years. I have seen an increased demand for testing due to new pathogens and bacterial resistances that now exist. There is an increased demand for automation and widespread use of expert systems to assist the microbiologist in decision-making. It has proven to be quite a challenge for industry professionals to keep pace with information and new product development to meet new demands, and as expected, there is an increased demand for a high level of customer service.

We have also seen a strong demand for integrated functionality and consolidation. Years ago, the typical lab would house several large machines that performed one function each. Now, it is necessary for one instrument to perform all of the tasks that a lab full of equipment used to do, and it must take up less space. bioMérieux has introduced a number of products that meet and exceed the demand for multitasking in the lab, and every machine does more to help the lab technician than its predecessor.

CLP: Discuss some of the bioMérieux products you feel have made or will make a big impact on the market.
: bioMérieux is a leader in the field of in vitro diagnostics when it comes to introducing innovative products to the market. The VITEK family revolutionized the microbiology field with the availability of rapid ID/AST, which compresses turnaround time from 18–24 hours to 4–6 hours. We recently introduced the VITEK 2 Compact, which offers the benefits of the full-size VITEK but in a compact footprint, making it ideal for small- to midsized hospitals.

In response to customer demands, we introduced the miniVIDAS®, a smaller version of the VIDAS system for the physicians’ office labs market. Moreover, we are extremely proud of our VIDAS D-Dimer Exclusion™, the first and only d-dimer assay to be cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration for the exclusion of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

Another popular product used in the clinical lab is our BacT/ALERT 3D, a state-of-the-art continuous blood culture and monitoring system. bioMérieux offers the only plastic blood-culture bottles available in the industry. These were designed to help our customers achieve compliance with the US Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and other regulatory mandates. These are just a few examples of how bioMérieux has already made a significant impact on the market, and there is more to share about new products that will also be very important. We are expanding our line of molecular products that offer simplicity and automation. The NucliSens® easyMAG™ system was recently introduced at the 2005 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) General Meeting in Atlanta. The easyMAG system performs automated nucleic acid isolation and produces state-of-the-art sample extraction.

CLP: What sets bioMérieux apart from the competition?
: Our dedication to R&D and superior customer service sets us apart. bioMérieux devotes around 13% of its annual revenues to research and development every year, and we invest in nine R&D facilities around the world. Our customer support personnel are dedicated to helping customers make a smooth transition to bioMérieux products and to get the maximum value from their systems. This dedication shows our commitment to innovation to our customers and the need to help the clinical lab evolve with new tools and instruments.

Such innovation is deeply embedded in the company. bioMérieux has roots in the Institut Mérieux, founded in 1897 by Marcel Mérieux, who worked with Louis Pasteur. Innovation in diagnosing and treating infectious diseases grew over the last 40 years and since the creation of bioMérieux in 1963.

CLP: What are major trends impacting the clinical lab market? How is bioMérieux adapting to market changes?
: Nearly all medical laboratories are facing a number of challenges that impede an effective and productive work flow, including increasing workloads, a decline in skilled laboratory personnel, and the loss of established and knowledgeable personnel to retirement. In addition, the technical complexity of the clinical laboratory is growing exponentially as it relates to increasing test menus, antibiotic resistance, and various resistance mechanisms.

Also, hospital admissions are increasing, and there are new pathologies and strains to combat. Current efforts and mandates around both patient safety and quality improvements continue to grow. The 1999 Institute of Medicine report, “To Err is Human,” discussed in great detail the potential impact of medical errors, both in costs as well as increased mortality. Errors or complications, such as a nosocomial acquired septicemia or a postoperative infection, have been shown to increase both cost of stay and length of stay, thus adversely impacting outcomes.

One consequence of both the increased concern regarding patient safety, as well as the rise in medical costs, is the new Pay for Performance initiative. Those hospitals that perform better will earn more reimbursement. Those that do not, will not. Such initiatives could actually increase the value of the clinical lab, because results, information, accuracy, and turnaround time all become more critical factors.

With shortages in almost every health care profession, it is important that clinicians utilize the appropriate diagnostic testing procedures in conjunction with clinical decision support tools, which effectively integrate the pertinent patient data, bringing the right information to the right person, at the right time.

How do we adapt? In addition to our steep investment in R&D, bioMérieux is pursuing innovation through alliances with other companies. For instance, we recently signed a licensing agreement with Roche Diagnostics for technology that detects a key cardiac marker of congestive heart failure and acute coronary syndrome.

We started partnering with other companies several years ago, but we have recently reinforced this strategy. Our world is so complex that we cannot develop or invent everything; we need to look to other companies.

CLP: Where do you see the company in 5 years?
: We expect to see continued growth as we strive to develop innovative products that keep up with customer needs. We want to do our part in improving the value of the lab and lab data. We do this by investing in R&D, integrating the functionality of lab instruments, and introducing innovative products for clinical and industrial diagnostics. As always, we plan to maintain our good reputation for leading customer support and services.

CLP: What would you like CLP readers to know about bioMérieux?
: They should know about our heritage, our level of innovation, and our alignment with customers. bioMérieux’s unique history and heritage set us apart from other companies in the industry. We have ties to the microbiology field dating back to the early 1900s, and we have a strong dedication to making advances in the diagnostic industry. Additionally, the Mérieux family remains involved with humanitarian efforts on behalf of developing countries by devoting time and money to research and the treatment of infectious diseases.

Michelle Said is associate editor of Clinical Lab Products.