Privately held Cook Inc. has added a seventh business unit in a bid to strengthen its presence in the growing market for gender-specific health care products, a move that could bring jobs to southern Indiana.
The Bloomington-based medicaldevice maker will unveil its Women's Health unit May 8 in Spencer.
The unit actually started operating last September, initially taking on a combination of products pulled from the company's urological unit, also in Spencer. But Women's Health leader Christina AnnÃ© said it plans to start rolling out new products by summer.
"The market is so big, we still have to learn a lot," she said. "We still can explore a lot of solutions for diseases that are existing."
Cook is far from the first company to sharpen its women's health focus. Care providers and medical-device makers began jumping into the area after the Society for Women's Health Research launched in 1990, said Phyllis Greenberger, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based organization.
"We've seen this more and more," said Greenberger, who added that Cook and many other companies contribute to her society. "It is a big market."
Cook's Women's Health unit employs 100 people so far, most of them in Spencer.
It could add sales representative and manufacturing jobs through steady growth. AnnÃ© said it's difficult to predict how much growth the unit might see, but, over time, "it's definitely going to be a huge amount of people.
"If we're growing, if we bring all those new products to market, we have to extend our manufacturing plant," she added.
Cook employs about 5,500 worldwide, including 3,000 in Indiana. It makes more than 30,000 products and rang up more than $600 million in sales last year, spokesman David McCarty said.
Other business units include surgical, endovascular and critical care. The product lineup encompasses catheters, wire guides and stents.
Last fall, Cook announced another new unit, Cook Pharmica, which contracts to manufacture drugs for research firms and large pharmaceutical companies.
Cook officials declined to say how much the company invested in its Women's Health unit. AnnÃ©, a native of Belgium and 16-year company veteran, started planning for it in early 2005.
"It's been in the thinking and planning stages for quite a while, and everything's all come together, and that's why it's being introduced," said Gail McDaniel, Cook communications specialist for urology and women's health.
The new unit will focus product development on categories like assisted reproduction, high-risk obstetrics, gynecology and urinary incontinence.
The company already makes 50 to 60 women's health products. Those include a balloon catheter that helps stem postpartum bleeding in the uterus.
Cook has more than 20 years of experience in infertility treatments and touts solutions "from diagnosis to delivery," AnnÃ© said.
New areas to explore include products that help diagnose pelvic pain, McDaniel said.
Greenberger said women's health encompasses conditions that affect women differently, disproportionately or exclusively. She counts osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases and depression in those categories.
"For the most part, most cancers and most diseases affect women disproportionately," she said, noting that researchers also see differences in how women respond to treatment.
Companies are realizing this and that some products-like hip and knee replacements-must be built according to gender.
"I mean, men's and women's anatomies are different, and you have to have products that are appropriate for each," she said.
Indianapolis drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. recognized this nearly a decade ago. The company launched a women's health business unit in 1997.
That unit never produced a product. Instead, its mission was to get areas of the company like marketing and research and development "thinking about gender as part of their daily activities," spokeswoman Joan Todd said.
Lilly disbanded the unit a few years ago. Mission accomplished, according to Todd.
"It was successful, and it is now part of the fabric and the fiber of the various functional areas, as it should be," she said.