As Baxter celebrates its 80th anniversary, the company is poised to build on its legacy of innovation in healthcare. From the first intravenous solutions to the latest treatments for kidney disease, hemophilia and other life-threatening conditions, Baxter is a pioneer focused on the future.
In 1931, America was mired in the Great Depression - not a good time to start a business. But there was a great need for safe intravenous (IV) solutions in hospitals. IV therapy - the process by which fluids are delivered to patients through the veins - was a fledgling field. Few hospitals were equipped to safely prepare their own solutions.
Two doctors - Ralph Falk, a surgeon from Boise, Idaho, and Donald E. Baxter, a California physician - found a way to meet this need. They devised a method for producing large batches of IV solutions in a factory under carefully controlled conditions, bottling them in glass vacuum containers and shipping them to hospitals ready for use. The commercial IV business was born.
On October 19, 1931, Falk, Baxter and Falk's brother Harry, a venture capitalist, founded the Don Baxter Intravenous Products Corporation. Over the next eight decades, the company now known as Baxter International, headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, went on to pioneer other medical firsts. These included the first flexible, plastic IV containers; the first commercially produced artificial kidney; the first concentrated clotting factor to treat hemophilia, and many others.
Today, innovation remains at Baxter's core. Virtually all of the company's products are used to save and sustain lives. The critical nature of its products and its combined expertise in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology differentiate Baxter from others in healthcare. With nearly 50,000 employees and business in more than 100 countries, Baxter is poised to build on its history of innovation.
From Glass to Plastic and Beyond
After the first IV solutions were introduced, Baxter's next innovation was the first sterile, vacuum-type blood-collection container in 1939. The product extended the time blood could be stored from a few hours to 21 days, making blood banking practical for the first time.
Two decades later, Baxter acquired Fenwal Laboratories, whose co-founder, Dr. Carl Walter, had invented a non-breakable plastic blood-collection container. Baxter commercialized and built on the technology, introducing a series of tubing and additional bags that allowed for the separation of whole blood into its components within a closed system, creating the field of blood component therapy.
In the 1960s, Baxter adapted the technology to create the first flexible, closed-system plastic IV containers, which dramatically reduced the rates of infection and quickly became the gold standard worldwide, enabling Baxter to again revolutionize IV therapy. In the 1970s, Baxter became the first company to partner with other pharmaceutical firms to premix their drugs into IV solutions and pre-filled syringes for safe and efficient delivery to patients.
Today, Baxter's portfolio of IV solutions and premixed drugs remains the broadest in the industry. Baxter has extended its expertise in drug delivery beyond IV solutions to include electronic infusion pumps, IV nutrition products, inhalation anesthetics for general anesthesia, and other products and technologies to administer fluids and drugs safely and efficiently to patients.
Pioneer in Kidney Dialysis
The kidneys are the body's sanitation system, cleansing the blood of toxins, waste and excess fluid. Before the 1950s, there was no treatment for kidney failure, which essentially was a death sentence without some other way to rid the body of waste products.
In 1954, a Dutch physician named Willem Kolff was searching for a way to use dialysis - the process by which particles pass through a membrane - to treat patients with kidney failure. He'd developed a crude contraption made from an orange juice can and washing machine parts, and was looking for a company to turn his dream of an artificial kidney into a practical working product.
Kolff met William B. Graham, then president of Baxter, who would go on to become Baxter's chief executive officer and preside over a quarter century of unprecedented growth. As a former chemist, Graham was familiar with the principles underlying Kolff's technology and intrigued by the opportunities it offered. Baxter invested in the development of Kolff's device and in 1956 introduced the first commercially produced artificial kidney, making life-saving hemodialysis available for the first time.
In the 1970s, Baxter applied its flexible, plastic container technology to commercialize another form of dialysis therapy: peritoneal dialysis (PD). Unlike hemodialysis, in which the patient's blood is pumped outside the body and run through an external filter, or dialyzer, to filter waste, PD patients infuse a solution into their peritoneal cavity. The solution draws waste across the peritoneal membrane, which serves as a natural filter. Also unlike hemodialysis, which is generally conducted in a hospital or clinic, PD is a self-administered therapy that is generally performed at home.
Today, Baxter is the world's leading provider of products for PD, the world's leading home dialysis therapy. Baxter also is developing a new home hemodialysis platform, currently in clinical trials, which would build on the company's leadership in home dialysis.
Concentrating on Hemophilia
Hemophilia was a known and dreaded hereditary disease for centuries before specific treatment finally became available in the late 1930s, when the link between "factor VIII" deficiency and clotting abnormalities was determined. The groundbreaking therapy: transfusions of whole blood to combat bleeding episodes. This became the accepted treatment for nearly 30 years.
Whole blood infusions as a therapy for hemophilia had its limitations. In addition to its availability and safety being directly dependent on blood donors, whole blood contains just small amounts of factor VIII, the clotting protein missing from the blood of most people with hemophilia. In 1952, Baxter acquired Hyland Laboratories, the first company to market human blood plasma, which contains higher concentrations of factor VIII than whole blood. Still, hemophilia patients with severe bleeds would require larger infusions of plasma than their circulatory systems would allow.
Over the next decade, Baxter applied advances in freezing and slow-thawing plasma to produce "cryoprecipitate," from which large concentrations of factor VIII could be obtained. Further advances in purification and freeze-drying techniques led to factor VIII in concentrations 400 times greater than that found in plasma, resulting in the first commercially produced factor VIII concentrate in 1968.
Baxter would go on to develop the first treatment for patients with inhibitors, or antibodies, to factor VIII; the first heat-treated factor VIII, reducing the risk of contamination by blood-borne viruses at a time when HIV transmission through blood products was a real threat to the hemophilia community; the first factor VIII concentrate purified by chemical and monoclonal techniques, providing an additional measure of safety; and the first recombinant factor VIII concentrate, produced genetically in cell culture rather than derived from plasma.
Today, Baxter remains the leading developer of clotting factors to treat hemophilia. The company also has a number of research-and-development (R&D) initiatives aimed at improving treatment of hemophilia and other bleeding disorders. These include new recombinant therapies for factor IX deficiency (hemophilia B) and von Willebrand disease; longer-acting forms of clotting factor, which would increase convenience for patients by requiring fewer infusions; and potential non-IV therapies.
Innovation: Link to the Past, Key to the Future
As Baxter celebrates its 80th birthday, science and innovation continue to drive the company's performance. Then, as now, Baxter's success is rooted in its mission of applying innovative science to advance patient care worldwide.
In addition to hemophilia, Baxter's expertise in plasma-derived therapies has led to leading treatments for primary immunodeficiency, providing antibody replacement for patients whose immune systems don't produce enough antibodies to fight infections. Current research initiatives are aimed at new modes of administration, such as subcutaneous, as a more patient-friendly alternative to IV infusion.
In 2011, Baxter received approval in Europe for use of immune globulin as a treatment for multifocal motor neuropathy, a neurological disease that attacks the peripheral nerves, resulting in progressive limb weakness. Baxter also is in clinical trials exploring the use of immune globulin as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
In recent years, Baxter has attained technological leadership in the development of "biosurgery" products - biological products used to promote hemostasis and wound-sealing in surgery - and technologies to facilitate tissue-regeneration. Baxter's "vero cell" technology has become a leading platform for producing vaccines, while the company's stem cell technologies are being explored for their potential to restore blood flow in patients with cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease.
Baxter must continue to innovate to meet the ever-evolving needs of customers and patients in an industry where change, competition and economic challenges continue to mount. Like its founders, today's Baxter employees are focused on meeting these needs in order to expand access to healthcare and improve the lives of patients and their families. Eighty years later, the entrepreneurial spirit commitment to patients and drive for innovation are still alive. In this way, Baxter's legacy of innovation remains the key to its future.