An upside to the European PIP breast implant scandal?

breast implants

Far from chilling the breast aesthetics market, the widespread breast implant recall in Europe may have an upside for device makers as patients opt to replace their potentially rupture-prone implants.

When French breast modification company Poly Implant Prosthèse was caught filling its breast implants with substandard silicone, rival implant makers took pains to distance themselves from the scandal for fear of being tangled in a PR nightmare.

Both Allergan (NYSE:AGN) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) subsidiary Mentor Worldwide issued statements ensuring doctors and patients that their products were not part of the investigation and that the companies have no affiliation with PIP.

"Silicone gel-filled breast implants are among the most studied medical devices in existence, with more than 3,000 peer-reviewed and published reports on studies, including robust epidemiological studies, supporting their safe use," according to a December 2011 Allergan press release. "Gel-filled breast implants are safe and effective when used as intended."

News of the recall and the subsequent uproar led to criminal investigations, clinical studies and, apparently, a slew of revision surgeries. By the time the news made it to the U.S. late last year, surgeons had already explanted 523 PIP breast implants and 2,000 woman had filed complaints.

Those revision surgeries may have had a part to play in Allergan’s recent breast aesthetics sales spike, chairman, president & CEO David Pyott told investors during a conference call this week.

The company’s breast devices revenues jumped 17% in the 3 months ended March 31, with "particularly strong performance" in Europe and Latin America, Pyott said.

"Allergan implants have been chosen for revision surgery in the wake of the PIP scandal, which had its greatest impact in France and the U.K.," he told investors.

The company benefited from shift to higher-quality breast implant makers for 1st-time augmentation surgery patients as well.

"Given that we are by far the market leader in breast implants in Europe, we benefited, sadly, from patients where revision surgery had to be conducted," Pyott said. "A PIP implant was explanted and a new one was put in. But I think that only explains part of it. I think the second part is that plastic surgeons making their choice had a real move to the quality makers. And, of course, one of the biggest stamps of quality in the European market is who is approved in the United States."

At the time of the scandal only Mentor and Allergan had won FDA permission to sell breast implants in the U.S.

Santa Barbara, Calif.-based became the 3rd, over consumer group protests, when it landed FDA approval in March.

Calls to Mentor and Allergan were not returned.

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