ConvaTec is a giant in the medical device industry, with hundreds of different products. With over 8,000 employees, 11 manufacturing sites, and business in more than 100 countries, they have annual sales upwards of $100 billion. The company focus is in the areas of ostomy care, wound therapeutics and continence, and critical care.

“Adhesives are absolutely core technologies to us, particularly in ostomy care and therapeutic franchises. This is where most of our adhesive technology is utilized. We expand into other therapeutic areas as well, but prime research takes place in those two areas,” said Steve Bishop, vice president of R&D for ConvaTec, based in Deeside, UK, at the ConvaTec R&D center.

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During his 24 years with the company, Bishop has worked on a range of product developments including adhesives, absorbent materials, and whole assembly concepts. Today, he is responsible for research and development across all major business areas.

Bishop explained that ConvaTec’s approach in choosing what new development avenue to follow is based on knowing what prime clinical needs are not being met. “ConvaTec is very much about unique technologies. We are always looking at what the next step is to advance medical practice--to improve, for example, infection control and infection rates in surgical wounds. We have a lot of contact with end users in over 100 countries. We also receive excellent user feedback by staying in close contact with clinicians and universities that are working on innovations in various fields,” he said.

Adhesives for Ostomy Care

The ConvaTec moldable technology is unique in the ostomy care area. This technology consists of a very particular form of adhesives that are in three layers; there are two layers of adhesives, and between those two layers is a polyethylene film.

Bishop explained that this trilaminate construct is very important in terms in terms of both adhesive formulations and the way that the construct is put together. “The adhesives we are using here are very important," he said. "They are hydrocolloid adhesives, which are absorbent powders that are disbursed in an elastomeric base."     

He added, “The powders are there to retain fluid and the elastomeric, or polymer base, is there to provide structure. It is very important to get that balance right in any hydrocolloid adhesive, but particularly in this adhesive, because in this application which is primarily for ostomy (colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy) applications, sweat comes out of the skin, and more types of effluents can contact the adhesive, which is secured around a surgically created opening in the body--known as a stoma. The device then adheres to the body and around the stoma, which then attaches to a collection device.”

Since the adhesive can easily come into contact with sweat and stoma effluent, it is important that while the absorbent powders take care of that function, the rest of the adhesive retains its structure. ConvaTec researchers observed that the range of other adhesive products on the market for this application were not able to retain their structure. Therefore, they saw an opportunity to make a difference.

This is particularly true for long-term or permanent stoma patients. In this case, it is extremely important to protect the patient’s skin from becoming too wet and macerated, and from the damaging enzymes contained in the stoma effluent. Moreover, the ability of an adhesive to remain secured to the skin is extremely important to the long-term ostomy patient, who should be able to function normally with no accidents or subsequent embarrassment. For ostomy patients, the ability to lead a normal life free from shame is crucial--and ConvaTec has integrated that knowledge into its product design.

Bishop spotlighted the balance of fluid output with skin adhesives as a major challenge in developing these types of products. “The skin is a very complex structure. It’s a living organ. It changes all the time as far as output of sweat, sedums, and oily fluids. Plus we have to consider that the skin has a residential microbial flora, a balance that you don’t want to disrupt, which could risk skin infection and skin damage,” he said.

Another factor of importance in trilaminate technology is the structure’s malleability. It needs to be able to provide what is known as a “rebound memory.” If the adhesive becomes stretched, because the body shape can change over time, it has the ability to bounce back to the area where it feels the least resistance. So, for example, if it’s pulled too far away from the stoma, it taps into its "memory" to connect with its original contact, and will very gently rebound and approximate its original positioning at the edge of the stoma.

“We’ve got mechanisms in place which ensure we always have that intimate contact and a personalized fit around the stoma. This functionality is unique to this type of technology: other adhesives either have to be cut to fit around the stoma, or they will need to be pre-cut by the supplier to fit specific ostomy configuration. Our multiple technologies can be molded to the approximate fit, and then the adhesive does the rest,” said Bishop.

Because a stoma is attached to the intestines, it is subject to peristalsis--the internal movement of the body that is always changing shape. Other versions of ostomy technology need help to circumvent this and maintain tight contact at all times, but ConvaTec's multiple-layer technology cuts through all of that. As the stoma changes shape over time, it will continue to maintain close contact.

When a stoma adhesive does need to be removed, ConvaTec has a range of sprays and wipes that enable its release. These do not contain alcohol, which can dry out and irritate the skin.

Expanding on the process of developing ostomy technology, Bishop explained, "We went through very extensive trials in a range of countries to get where we are today and have since continued to improve on the technology. Traditionally, stoma-care devices tend to be two-piece systems, so there’s a specific adhesive that’s put on the body side and then the stoma is attached to it using an attachment system. We have just launched a line of products that utilizes a one-piece system, called Esteem moldable technology. This features a one-piece pouch with a moldable, elastic-like seal that 'rebounds' to fit any stoma size and shape, providing an incredibly secure, snug fit.”

Adhesives for Wound and Surgical Care

In ConvaTec’s wound-care areas, there is a broad range of hydrocolloid and other adhesives, but Bishop said that AQUACEL foam is its most innovative product.

“What we’ve looked at more recently is a silicone adhesive," he said. "Wound care is a very interesting challenge. You want strong adhesion, but you want it to be also easily removable without using a strong adhesive remover on the skin, because of the frequency of changes needed. Essentially, it can’t be traumatic: The adhesive shouldn't cause the patient any pain or skin damage because of dressing removal or any changes.” 

ConvaTec studied various formulations of absorbent cover dressings that could deal with the exudate that comes out of wounds. Exudate is a biochemical matrix that includes a mix of enzymes and reactive oxygen metabolites that can easily damage skin. The goal was to absorb these properties into a dressing construct. To achieve that, ConvaTec developed a range of products based on AQUACEL, an absorbent fiber. When contacting any fluid, it forms a gel and absorbs fluids inside fibers and around it.

Bishop noted, “We’ve built this technology into a dressing construct with a layer above it, which is polyurethane foam that absorbs fluid as well. It provides softness and also a nice cosmetic look and feel. When someone is healing from a wound, they want it to be protected, but at the same time to look as invisible as possible. That was a design challenge for us, because what's most crucial is that the clinician is using something that they can apply easily--a sleek look is not the top priority. Furthermore, the bandage must provide an infection control barrier, so the top of the dressing is a viral and bacterial barrier as well.”

The AQUACEL technology also contains a silicone adhesive around the edge of the bandage so only the hydro-fiber contacts the wound surface. Bishop said that silicone adhesives are excellent because they are a soft gel, so the adhesive molds into all the cracks and crevices of the skin. It does not require a high degree of attention because it spreads across a high surface area. Bishop added that they also have a low removal force. "You can remove it with minimal force or pain," he said. "We had to find the exact grade of silicone that had the exact grade of adhesion we wanted, the security in terms of wear time, coupled with painless, easy removal.”

This dressing is used on a broad range of wounds including acute wounds, surgical sites, and chronic wounds that are caused by internal physiological problems including venous insufficiency causing leg ulcers, pressure damage causing a pressure ulcer, or diabetic foot and leg ulcers.

Specifically for surgical use, Bishop spotlights AQUACEL Ag Foam and AQUACEL Ag. Those two products contain silver, which helps kill bacteria after surgical procedures, along with the same absorbent formulation to absorb liquids from the site.

“The AQUACEL foam is a short-term-use product. It tends to be used on wounds where the nurse is monitoring the wound continually and changing the dressing often,” explained Bishop. “But for a dressing that needs to stay in place for a longer period and continue fighting infection, we used a hydrocolloid adhesive. We chose this because this type of adhesive does not stick very tightly to the skin, which is important because the body can change quite a bit after surgery. This is particularly true with laparoscopic surgery or when a new joint or limb is involved where it is imperative that the patient start moving as soon as possible.”

This type of adhesive is key because it is able to flow with the skin--it doesn’t stay stuck to a point too tightly. Other forms of adhesive bandages can stick too closely, and when the body changes it can actually shear the skin, causing blisters that can open and provide a perfect entryway for an infection to start.

Bishop notes that in many cases, post-operative healing issues have not been caused by internal lack of healing, but rather because the dressing on the surgical areas have actually caused more issues than protection. "This is why we are focused on providing solutions for the total healthcare needs of patients and medical providers. We just don’t slap a bandage on something,” he remarked, with a bit of irony.

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Company contact information

Steve Bishop VP, R&D


GDC Building
First Avenue
Deeside Industrial Park
Tel - 01244 584 300 (main)

O11-44-1244-584328 (direct)



CenterPointe II
1160 Route 22 East; Suite 201
Bridgewater, NJ 08807
Tel: 908-904-2500



General information: +1-800-422-8811

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