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Covidien plc (COV - Analyst Report) recently announced results from its SURF (SUrveillance vs. RadioFrequency ablation) clinical trial, reporting that its Barrx RF Ablation System proved effective in treating patients with Barrett’s esophagus. The results of the study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Shares of Covidien have been on an uptrend since it reported better-than-expected fiscal first-quarter 2014 results on Jan 24. Following this recent announcement, the stock climbed 5.5% till the last reported session.

In fact, shares of this Ireland-based medical products company attained a new 52-week high of $73.68 during intraday trading on Mar 31, finally closing a notch lower at $73.66. The stock represented a strong one-year return of 24.7%.

About Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-cancerous condition that involves abnormal changes in the esophagus cells. The healthy esophagus tissue wears away and is replaced with abnormal cells, which may develop into dysplasia and thereafter cancer. It develops as a result of chronic injury from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an effective treatment for Barrett’s esophagus which involves the process of applying heat through an endoscope to destroy cells. However, benefits of RFA have largely been restricted to patients with high-grade dysplasia (precancerous changes more likely to progress quickly toward cancer) as compared to low-grade dysplasia (precancerous changes that progress more slowly toward cancer).

Covidien’s Barrx RF Ablation System is used as part of an endoscopic (non-surgical) procedure to ablate and remove the abnormal cells. Researchers had previously shown that the therapy was effective in patients with high-grade dysplasia, but the new study approaches the disease even earlier in its development stage.

SURF Trial

The SURF trial was a randomized clinical trial of the Covidien Barrx RF Ablation System versus endoscopic surveillance in patients with a confirmed diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus and low-grade dysplasia. The researchers assessed the rate of progression to high-grade dysplasia and esophageal cancer.

The study enrolled 136 patients at nine European sites between Jun 2007 and Jun 2011. It was supported, in part, by a grant from Covidien GI Solutions and the Maag Lever Darm Stichting grant from the Dutch Digestive Diseases Foundation.

Outcome

The trial results showed that endoscopic ablation proved better than surveillance alone in helping to curb disease progression in patients with Barrett's esophagus with confirmed low-grade dysplasia.

The trial reported a 25% reduction in the risk of the disease progressing toward high-grade dysplasia or cancer and a 7.4% reduced absolute risk of progression toward cancer.

In fact, patients who received ablation treatment fared so much better than the control group that the trial was halted midway and ablation was offered to all patients.

While the SURF trial did confirm the investigators' expectations that endoscopic RF ablation is more effective in treating Barrett’s esophagus, the diagnosis of low-grade dysplasia still remains in the gray areas due to its highly subjective nature.

Zacks Rank

Covidien currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Better-placed stocks worth a look in the medical industry are Enzymotec Ltd. (ENZY - Snapshot Report), SurModics, Inc. (SRDX - Analyst Report) and Meridian Bioscience, Inc. (VIVO - Snapshot Report). While Enzymotec carries a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), SurModics and Meridian hold a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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