You know a marketing battle is brewing when the federal government approves a new medical device and the first two Wall Street reports acknowledging the event use the same headline: "Off To The Races."

The race commenced late Thursday afternoon when the Food and Drug Administration approved the Taxus drug-coated stent made by Boston Scientific ( BSX).

The company will immediately begin shipping the device, which is inserted into arteries to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Taxus will take on the only other drug-coated stent, Cypher, from Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ) in the U.S. market. (Both Cypher and Taxus already are available in many overseas markets).

Cypher has been on the U.S. market since last April, but the excitement on Wall Street about Taxus has been so great that many medical device analysts believe Taxus will grab a majority of market share by year-end. Boston Scientific hasn't discouraged such speculation: it predicts it will take 70% of the U.S. drug-coated stent market in 70 days.

"We believe Boston Scientific is poised for impressive growth in both 2004 and 2005 based on the strength of the Taxus offering and sales team," said Lynn C. Pieper, of Thomas Weisel Partners, in one of the "off to the races" research reports issued Thursday evening. "Our physician feedback has consistently favored Taxus over Cypher, citing a superior delivery system" and greater ease in inserting Taxus through twisting, difficult-to-navigate arteries.

Pieper, who rates the stock as outperform, said Taxus should also help Boston Scientific sell other cardiac care products to hospitals using stents. (Pieper's firm expects to receive or intends to seek investment-banking compensation from Boston Scientific in the next three months, although Pieper doesn't own shares.)

The FDA approved "an impressive array of stent sizes" for Taxus, said Wade H. King of Wells Fargo Securities, the other author of an "off to the races" research report on Thursday. King has a buy recommendation on the stock.

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