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Swiss company leads Europe in hearing aid technology

Phonak has found success with a new digital hearing device

(Keystone)

Switzerland has long been known as a world leader in life sciences and pharmaceuticals with companies like Novartis and Roche among the world leaders.

But smaller companies in the field of medical technology are also leading the way in the development of improved treatments for a range of disabilities.

Phonak is a leading producer of hearing aid instruments and has seen its share price more than double this year.

First half profit until the end of September trebled and it expects full-year sales of around SFr450 million ($271 million). The company, based near Zurich, was founded in 1985 and produces hearing instruments and related products.

The reason for its spectacular take-off this year is put down to the launch of a new state of the art device.

"Our main success has been our new fully digital product, Claro, launched last October," says company spokesman, Michael Dürringer, "It's been selling really well for the first six months of the business year."

Phonak wasn't the first company to introduce a digital hearing device but Dürringer says the first ones were little better than the previous generation of instruments.

"Product improvements are very important for us," he says. "Hearing aid products are not yet consistent in all situations and when we began work on Claro we set ourselves definite goals to really improve performance."

Claro's success has been enabling Phonak to expand by buying up a Canadian competitor, Unitron.

When the SFr160 million deal goes through it will propel Phonak from fifth to second in the global sector rankings.

"We already have around seven to eight per cent market share in North America," says Dürringer. "Together with Unitron we'll have about 15 per cent in the US and 20 per cent in Canada."

For a small country, it may be surprising that Switzerland produces some of the world's leading players in the medical technology sector but Dürringer says this success is based on solid foundations.

"We have an excellent knowledge base here in Switzerland," he says. "We have excellent universities and schools and well-trained engineers. The whole situation is favourable to us."

by Michael Hollingdale


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