Nobel Biocare gives investors reason to smile
The dynamic growth of dental implant maker Nobel Biocare is set to continue, driven by a market that is full of potential and largely untapped.
Since Heliane Canepa took over as chief executive in 2001, Nobel Biocare has cemented its position as the world's undisputed leader in the sector.
This year's turnover of €484.5 million (SFr 754 million) was up by 24.8 per cent over 2004 and a confident Canepa says revenues should increase by 24 per cent in local currencies this year.
The market as a whole is forecast to grow between 18 and 20 per cent, so the firm has plenty of room for expansion.
Canepa told swissinfo after a presentation in Zurich on Thursday that people did not realise how dentistry had moved on.
"Growth can continue because there are so many people out there who have no clue what is possible today, and that an implant does not have to involve a surgeon."
She said people did not have to be afraid of going to the dentist any more, adding that she was well aware that patients wanted to avoid pain, to limit how often they went to the dentist and to have more long-lasting aesthetics.
"You don't have to go eight times any more, just once or twice. You do not have to be afraid of pain, swollen faces, looking like a hamster for a week and not being able to work. Implant is a part of a restoration.
"You can look beautiful. You can have individualised teeth. You look like you are feeling fit because teeth can make you younger – ten years at least," she said.
Canepa added that in many cases, treatment for implants lasted an hour at the most and was relatively painless.
She argued that dental implants were here to stay and offered long-lasting solutions. "No one should die today with his teeth in a glass of water next to his bed," she said.
But while the company has been a darling of investors for the past few years, there have been one or two hiccoughs along the way.
Late last year, the share price stumbled after two Swedish professors claimed that one of the company's products, NobelDirect, could cause excessive jaw-bone loss.
But the Swedish Medical Products Agency said on Tuesday it found no reason for the product to be withdrawn from the market.
The firm has also refuted another study, as yet unpublished, which claims another product NobelPerfect, may cause greater than normal bone loss.
Analyst Yasemin Ersan at the Zurich cantonal bank said that although NobelDirect only accounted for about two per cent of sales, the company had to remain on guard.
"The criticism has to be taken very seriously. It's not a question of how much it will affect the results. Reputation is very important in this respect," she told swissinfo.
"For us it seems the issue is solved for now but we will continue to look at it very closely," she added.
Ersan commented that she does not expect growth at rival Straumann in Basel, which reports its 2005 figures next week, to have been as fast as at Nobel Biocare.
"Straumann is not that established in the United States. They are building up the market there... [and the result] should start to show in 2006."
Ersan says dental implants at present represent a good sector for investors, despite the issues raised over NobelDirect.
"The risk actually is lower than, for example, orthopaedics or cardiology technology markets, so it's a nice market to be in from a risk/return perspective."
swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Zurich
Nobel Biocare is the world leader in dental implants.
It has about 1,650 employees and recorded revenue of €484.5 million in 2005.
The company is domiciled in Zurich, with headquarters in Zurich and Gothenburg, Sweden.
The market for dental implants is seen as having huge potential, given the ageing population and growing awareness of implants as an alternative to false teeth.
The two market leaders – Nobel Biocare and Straumann - are based in Switzerland.
Growth in the sector depends in part on training dentists to perform implant operations.
In 2006, Nobel Biocare is introducing a new post-graduate education programme for dentists in a series of 17 training and educational conferences around the world.
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