People with all manner of injuries sustained on the battlefield, in a hospital, or in their daily lives can now find relief in an innovative wound dressing engineered and sold by a company based here in San Antonio.

Acelity L.P. Inc., a biomedical technology company with 1,500 employees in San Antonio and 5,800 worldwide, recently released its newest product, BIOSORB, a felt-like dressing that converts to gel when it comes into contact with an open wound. The new technology can be used to treat gunshot wounds, diabetic/pressure ulcers, and post-operative oncology wounds.

Exudate, or wound drainage, is absorbed by the dressing. After placing the dressing in the wound, it would then be covered by another Acelity product, such as the TIELLE dressing. TIELLE is a foam-like material that takes the shape of the open wound to prevent leakage from touching healthy skin.

Cindy Miller, R.N., Acelity senior director for clinical science and education, explained that the BIOSORB dressing is designed for vertical absorption, which means that as exudate touches the dressing, the liquid is not spread across the dressing by its fibers. And, according to company research, BIOSORB has a 43% greater absorbency than the leading competitor.

“It’s vertically wicking, so it won’t creep across the material and it won’t cause exudate to spread onto healthy skin, which can cause further damage,” Miller said. “The greater absorbency also means that it won’t shrink as much as our competitor’s product when it come into contact with the exudate, so the wound edges are still protected.”

TIELLE dressing, another one of Acelity's products which can be used with BIOSORB, conforms to fit the wound. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
TIELLE dressing, another one of Acelity’s products which can be used with BIOSORB, conforms to fit the wound. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Miller said that BIOSORB will give the 60,000 patients who die from pressure-related wounds a better chance at full recovery.

The gel, which Miller said cannot be easily pulled apart like other products, can be more easily changed out by medical personnel. This means that one of the main issues associated with wound dressings, pain of removal and replacement, is lessened because the gel remains intact. BIOSORB also feels cool to the touch in a wound, so patients suffering from inflamed wounds experience an immediate benefit from the gel.

The company, originally named KCI, was founded in San Antonio in 1976 by emergency room doctor Dr. Jim Leininger. In 1995, KCI produced the first commercial negative pressure wound therapy technology system, V.A.C. Therapy.

V.A.C. Therapy consists of a wound dressing over which an adhesive plastic sheet is placed. There is a small flexible plastic tube that runs from the wound through the plastic sheet to a machine that removes wound exudate and encourages the drawing together of wound edges to speed healing.

Laurel Harper, Acelity spokeswoman, said that to date, V.A.C. Therapy has treated more than 10 million wounds.

The company’s long history in San Antonio has generated a commitment to providing the best tools for recovery to military servicemembers recovering from trauma wounds.

“We have a national agreement to supply our V.A.C. Therapy technology to the Department of Veterans Affairs through 2020,” Harper said. “For the last decade (since 2006), our V.A.C. Freedom Therapy has been approved for use in-flight through a Joint Airworthiness Certification issued by the U.S. Military.”

A practice room at the Acelity headquarters. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
A practice room at the Acelity headquarters.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

The V.A.C. Freedom is the only negative pressure wound therapy device that has been certified as “safe-to-fly,” which means that soldiers can begin receiving wound treatment in the field immediately after an injury, during their flight out of the war zone, and throughout their treatment at a hospital such as the San Antonio Military Medical Center Burn Center.

“The certification enables us to continue providing advanced wound treatment to service men and women injured in the line of duty while they are being transported long distances to continental U.S. hospitals,” Harper said.

Employees, who work 16 hours of paid volunteer time each year, volunteer at San Antonio-area Fisher House locations where families can stay at no cost when a military service member is receiving intensive medical care. The company also partners with MVPVets, an organization that helps veterans look for employment at biotech and medtech companies like Acelity.

President and CEO Joe Woody joined KCI in 2011 and led the effort to combine two complementary biomedical companies with KCI: LifeCell, which engineers tissue repair products, and Systagenix, which was formerly the wound-care segment of Johnson & Johnson. KCI, LifeCell and Systagenix integrated under the umbrella of Acelity in 2014.

These mergers, Miller said, allowed each company to provide its products as part of a package of wound care.

“It just didn’t make sense that patients would use our V.A.C. Therapy and then we would have to refer them to another company for their wound dressings,” Miller said on a recent tour of the San Antonio Innovation Center on the city’s Northwest side. “As (one of my colleagues) said, we want to be there from soup to nuts. We want our clients and patients to deal with one company for all of their issues.”

BIOSORB is a felt-like dressing that converts to gel when it comes into contact with an open wound. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
BIOSORB is a felt-like dressing that converts to gel when it comes into contact with an open wound. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Acelity has seen seven consecutive quarters of organic revenue growth on a constant-currency basis, year-over-year for the second quarter of 2016. Acelity reports on a constant currency basis due to the company’s major operations in both the U.S. and the U.K. The revenue this quarter was $472.4 million, a growth of 2.8% compared to revenue from the second quarter last year.

The net loss for the company in the second quarter was $20.1 million, up from $17.6 million in the prior-year period. Harper said this is a result of the 2011 leveraged buyout of Acelity by the private equity firm APAX Partners, LLP. This financial profile is typical of private equity-owned companies.

Acelity has remained committed to helping communities in distress by donating V.A.C. units and supplies.

After the attacks of 9/11, San Bernardino, Paris, Orlando, Nice, and natural disasters such as the tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in Haiti, Acelity field service operations personnel were empowered to react quickly and the responsibility to decide how to aid medical teams.

In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting in June, Harper said that Brian Shol, senior territory manager for Acelity in Orlando, mobilized his local team early that morning to deliver the company’s ABTHERA and INFOV.A.C. wound-therapy products to the Orlando Regional Medical Center. The ABTHERA system aids surgeons in the early management of open-abdomen wound treatment, a technology desperately needed for the people wounded during the shooting.

Harper said that this kind of employee-driven action is at the heart of Acelity’s company culture.

“Our leadership team called the Orlando field team and said, ‘Go with your gut. Make the call. Do what you think is right.’”

Miller said that whether an employee works on the biology, engineering or administrative side, the patients always come first. Hearing from patients whose lives improved because of Acelity products is just the icing on the cake.

Miller installed a V.A.C. system to treat a woman’s diabetic foot ulcer in Sacramento. One of her legs had been amputated a couple years before due to complications from diabetes and she was trying to save her other leg from the same fate.

“When she saw the V.A.C. Therapy begin to work, she had tears in her eyes. She told me, ‘If I had met you two years ago, I’d still have my leg,’” Miller said. “That really meant so much to me because our company motto is: ‘A patient is waiting.’ They are waiting to heal, and I get to be a part of that.”

Top image: Acelity’s newest product, BIOSORB, can we trimmed to fit the wound.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.


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Sarah Talaat

Former Rivard Report intern Sarah Talaat graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2016. You can find her in Beijing, China where she is pursuing a business journalism master's at Tsinghua...