The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected your drug manufacturing facility, Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., located at Coastal Industrial Zone, Chuannan No. 1 Branch No. 9, Donghai Fifth Avenue, Linhai, Taizhou Zhejiang, from July 23 to August 3, 2018.
This warning letter summarizes significant deviations from current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) for active pharmaceutical ingredients (API).
Because your methods, facilities, or controls for manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding do not conform to CGMP, your API are adulterated within the meaning of section 501(a)(2)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), 21 U.S.C. 351(a)(2)(B).
We reviewed your August 26, 2018, response in detail and acknowledge receipt of your subsequent correspondence.
During our inspection, our investigators observed specific deviations including, but not limited to, the following.
Failure of your quality unit to ensure that quality-related complaints are investigated and resolved.
Your firm received a complaint from a customer on June 6, 2018, after an unknown peak was detected during residual solvents testing for valsartan API manufactured at your facility. The unknown peak was identified as the probable human carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Your investigation (DCE-18001) determined that the presence of NDMA was caused by the convergence of three process-related factors, one factor being the use of the solvent (b)(4)). Your investigation concluded that only one valsartan manufacturing process (referred to as the (b)(4) process in your investigation) was impacted by the presence of NDMA.
However, FDA analyses of samples of your API, and finished drug product manufactured with your API, identified NDMA in multiple batches manufactured with a different process, namely the (b)(4) process, which did not use the solvent (b)(4). These data demonstrate that your investigation was inadequate and failed to resolve the control and presence of NDMA in valsartan API distributed to customers. Your investigation also failed:
To include other factors that may have contributed to the presence of NDMA. For example, your investigation lacked a comprehensive evaluation of all raw materials used during manufacturing, including (b)(4).
To assess factors that could put your API at risk for NDMA cross-contamination, including batch blending, solvent recovery and re-use, shared production lines, and cleaning procedures.
To evaluate the potential for other mutagenic impurities to form in your products.
Our investigators also noted other examples of your firm’s inadequate investigation of unknown peaks observed in chromatograms. For example, valsartan intermediates (b)(4) and (b)(4) failed testing for an unknown impurity (specification ≤ (b)(4)%) with results of (b)(4)% for both batches. Your action plan indicated that the impurity would be identified as part of the investigation; however, you failed to do this. In addition, no root cause was determined for the presence of the unknown impurity. You stated that you reprocessed the batches and released them for further production.
Your response states that NDMA was difficult to detect. However, if you had investigated further, you may have found indicators in your residual solvent chromatograms alerting you to the presence of NDMA. For example, you told our investigators you were aware of a peak that eluted after the (b)(4) peak in valsartan API residual solvent chromatograms where the presence of NDMA was suspected to elute. At the time of testing, you considered this unidentified peak to be noise and investigated no further. Additionally, residual solvent chromatograms for valsartan API validation batches manufactured using your (b)(4) process, with (b)(4) in 2012 ((b)(4), and (b)(4)) show at least one unidentified peak eluting after the (b)(4) peak in the area where the presence of NDMA was suspected to elute.
Your response also states that you were not the only firm to identify NDMA in valsartan API. In your case, FDA analyses of samples identified amounts of NDMA in valsartan API manufactured at your firm that were significantly higher than the NDMA levels in valsartan API manufactured by other firms. FDA has grave concerns about the potential presence of mutagenic impurities in all intermediates and API manufactured at your facility, both because of the data indicating the presence of impurities in API manufactured by multiple processes, and because of the significant inadequacies in your investigation.
In response to this letter:
Submit risk assessments for all APIs and intermediates manufactured at your facility for the potential presence of mutagenic impurities.
Provide an update on investigations and CAPA plans initiated to address the presence of NDMA and other potential mutagenic impurities in all APIs manufactured at your firm.
Provide a thorough, independent assessment of your overall system for investigating deviations, discrepancies, out-of-specification (OOS) results, complaints, and other failures. In addition, provide a retrospective review of all distributed batches within expiry to determine if your firm released batches that did not conform to established specifications or appropriate manufacturing standards.
Provide test results for all (b)(4)and intermediates for the presence of NDMA, N-Nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), and other potentially mutagenic impurities.
Your firm received a customer complaint on September 13, 2016, concerning (b)(4) API batches ((b)(4) and (b)(4)) that exceeded the specification for (b)(4) (≤ (b)(4)ppm). (b)(4) has been classified as a probable human carcinogen. Your customer’s test results conflicted with your (b)(4) test results, which showed the two batches meeting the specification upon release. Your complaint investigation (CC-16008) identified no clear laboratory error, and no anomalies were detected during the production of the batches. Your investigation failed to evaluate other (b)(4) API batches to determine if the presence of excess (b)(4) was an adverse trend. For example, (b)(4)batches (b)(4), and (b)(4) were OOS for (b)(4) because of production errors; however, they were not discussed in your complaint investigation.
Your response states that (b)(4) API batches (b)(4) and (b)(4) were returned, reprocessed, and released to customers in non-U.S. markets.
Your response also states that in August 2017 you implemented a new (b)(4) test method that uses a (b)(4) LC-MS/MS method, to replace the (b)(4) LC-MS method that was prone to erroneous OOS results. You failed to verify the reliability of the (b)(4) results for all (b)(4) API batches (including (b)(4) batch (b)(4)) originally released using your (b)(4) LC-MS method, which you indicated was inferior to your updated method.
In response to this letter, provide:
A risk assessment for all (b)(4) API batches manufactured within expiry.
A revised complaint handling procedure and details of any further controls your facility has implemented to ensure that all complaints are adequately documented and thoroughly investigated.
Procedures for accepting and reprocessing returned drugs.
Results of (b)(4) testing of all (b)(4)API batches released to the U.S. market using your updated (b)(4) LC-MS/MS (b)(4) test method.
Failure to evaluate the potential effect that changes in the manufacturing process may have on the quality of your API.
In November 2011 you approved a valsartan API process change (PCRC – 11025) that included the use of the solvent (b)(4). Your intention was to improve the manufacturing process, increase product yield, and lower production costs. However, you failed to adequately assess the potential formation of mutagenic impurities when you implemented the new process. Specifically, you did not consider the potential for mutagenic or other toxic impurities to form from (b)(4) degradants, including the primary (b)(4) degradant, (b)(4). According to your ongoing investigation, (b)(4) is required for the probable human carcinogen NDMA to form during the valsartan API manufacturing process. NDMA was identified in valsartan API manufactured at your facility.
You also failed to evaluate the need for additional analytical methods to ensure that unanticipated impurities were appropriately detected and controlled in your valsartan API before you approved the process change. You are responsible for developing and using suitable methods to detect impurities when developing, and making changes to, your manufacturing processes. If new or higher levels of impurities are detected, you should fully evaluate the impurities and take action to ensure the drug is safe for patients.
Your response states that predicting NDMA formation during the valsartan manufacturing process required an extra dimension over current industry practice, and that that your process development study was adequate. We disagree. We remind you that common industry practice may not always be consistent with CGMP requirements and that you are responsible for the quality of drugs you produce.
Your response does not describe sufficient corrective actions to ensure that your firm has adequate change management procedures in place: (1) to thoroughly evaluate your API manufacturing processes, including changes to those processes; and (2) to detect any unsafe impurities, including potentially mutagenic impurities. For FDA’s current thinking on control of potentially mutagenic impurities, see FDA’s guidance document M7(R1) Assessment and Control of DNA Reactive (Mutagenic) Impurities in Pharmaceuticals To Limit Potential Carcinogenic Risk for approaches that FDA considers appropriate for evaluating mutagenic impurities, at https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/UCM347725.pdf.
In response to this letter, provide:
Detailed revised change management procedures describing how your firm will assess and control all impurities, including mutagenic impurities, in API and intermediates manufactured at your facility.
Detailed procedures describing how your firm establishes impurity profiles for products manufactured at your firm. These procedures should contain instructions for comparing at appropriate intervals against the impurity profile in the regulatory submission, or for comparing against historical data, to detect changes to the API resulting from modifications in raw materials, equipment operating parameters, or the production process.
A retrospective analysis of other API and intermediates manufactured at your firm to determine if they were adequately evaluated for anticipated and unanticipated impurities, including potentially mutagenic impurities.
CGMP Consultant Recommended
Based upon the nature of the deviations we identified at your firm, we strongly recommend engaging a consultant qualified to evaluate your operations and assist your firm in meeting CGMP requirements. Your use of a consultant does not relieve your firm’s obligation to comply with CGMP. Your firm’s executive management remains responsible for fully resolving all deficiencies and ensuring ongoing CGMP compliance.
FDA considers the expectations outlined in ICH Q7 in determining whether API are manufactured in conformance with CGMP. See FDA’s guidance document Q7 Good Manufacturing Practice Guidance for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients for guidance regarding CGMP for the manufacture of API, at https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/…/Guidances/ucm073497.pdf.
Deviations cited in this letter are not intended as an all-inclusive list. You are responsible for investigating these deviations, for determining the causes, for preventing their recurrence, and for preventing other deviations.
If you are considering an action that is likely to lead to a disruption in the supply of drugs produced at your facility, FDA requests that you contact CDER’s Drug Shortages Staff immediately, at email@example.com, so that FDA can work with you on the most effective way to bring your operations into compliance with the law. Contacting the Drug Shortages Staff also allows you to meet any obligations you may have to report discontinuances or interruptions in your drug manufacture under 21 U.S.C. 356C(b) and allows FDA to consider, as soon as possible, what actions, if any, may be needed to avoid shortages and protect the health of patients who depend on your products.
FDA placed your firm on Import Alert 66-40 on September 28, 2018.
Until you correct all deviations completely and we confirm your compliance with CGMP, FDA may withhold approval of any new applications or supplements listing your firm as a drug manufacturer.
Failure to correct these deviations may also result in FDA continuing to refuse admission of articles manufactured at Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., located at Coastal Industrial Zone, Chuannan No. 1 Branch No. 9, Donghai Fifth Avenue, Linhai, Taizhou Zhejiang, into the United States under section 801(a)(3) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 381(a)(3). Under the same authority, articles may be subject to refusal of admission, in that the methods and controls used in their manufacture do not appear to conform to CGMP within the meaning of section 501(a)(2)(B) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 351(a)(2)(B).
After you receive this letter, respond to this office in writing within 15 working days. Specify what you have done since our inspection to correct your deviations and to prevent their recurrence. If you cannot complete corrective actions within 15 working days, state your reasons for delay and your schedule for completion.
Florida, Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Massachusetts and others have started their own Opioid Litigation in state courts across the country
By Mark A. York (December 10, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Opioid abuse has been steadily increasing in the United States, and now state courts are becoming the legal venue of choice for filing lawsuits against the “opioid industry” and there may be a need for partnerships with other organizations to confront this epidemic. Lawsuits have already been filed in federal courts and by 22 U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Opiate Big Pharma.
The pharmaceutical industry spent a vast $6.4 billion in “direct-to-consumer” advertisements to hype new drugs in 2016, according tracking firm Kantar Media. That figure has gone up by 62% since 2012, Kantar Media says. This number may seem large at first but compared to the multi-billions in yearly profits just by opioid manufacturers over the last 15 years, the numbers is small. Corporate earnings have risen every year since the push to increase opioid prescriptions in every way possible, to became an accepted business model in Big Pharma boardrooms across the country.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky, one of the nation’s hardest-hit states, lost more than 1,400 people to drug overdoses that year.
A NEW INFANT NAS MDL 2872
Kevin Thompson of the Opioid Justice Team, has filed a motion for a new prescription opiate related multidistrict litigation, which was heard in front of the JPML panel on November 28, 2018 in New York City, where the panel was requested to designate MDL No. 2872 (INFANTS BORN OPIOID-DEPENDENT PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION) as a new and separate litigation focused on infants born addicted to opiates and suffering from what’s commonly knows as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and numerous other long-term medical issues.
The current Opiate MDL 2804 is not moving litigation related to individuals forward in any way. Thompson’s team is requesting that the infant cases be carved out from the sprawling lawsuit in Cleveland and transferred to a federal judge in West Virginia, one of the hardest hit states where roughly 5 percent of all babies are born dependent on opioids. The overall Infant NAS MDL 2872 docket can be viewed here MDL 2872 Infant NAS Re-infants-born-opioid-dependent-products-liability-litigation docket.
The misuse of opioids starting with the flood of prescription pain medicines, which has cast a wide net to now include heroin, fentanyl, morphine, and other drugs both legal and illegal is a serious national problem. In 2015 one in ten Americans reported using an illicit drug in the past 30 days. Marijuana use and the misuse of prescription pain relievers account for the majority of illicit drug use. Of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older who had a substance-use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance-use disorder involving prescription pain relievers, and 586,000 had a substance-use disorder involving heroin.
Widespread use of opioids has had a devastating impact on many communities. In 2014, more people died from drug overdoses than in any year on record, with 78 Americans dying every day from an opioid overdose. Drug overdose now surpasses motor-vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Most opioid-related overdoses involve prescription painkillers, but a growing number are the result of a powerful combination of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often packaged and sold as heroin. Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest, according to county-level estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One contributing factor behind the opioid epidemic is the increase in the use of prescription painkillers nationally. From 1991 to 2011, the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by U.S. pharmacies tripled from 76 million to 219 million. This increase in the use of opioids is unique to America. The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioid drugs. There is also wide variation from one state to another in opioid-prescribing rates. In 2012 twelve states had more opioid prescriptions than people: Alabama (142.9 per 100 people), Tennessee (142.8), West Virginia (137.6), Kentucky (128.4), Oklahoma (127.8), Mississippi (120.3), Louisiana (118), Arkansas (115.8), Indiana (109.1), Michigan (107), South Carolina (101.8), and Ohio (100.1).
The impact of the opioid epidemic touches every aspect of our public safety and judicial system. Drug-related arrests involving opioids are skyrocketing. In many communities, court dockets and probation caseloads are filled with individuals with opioid-use disorders. Access to treatment, particularly medication-assisted treatment combined with cognitive behavioral interventions, is limited—particularly in rural communities. This epidemic also comes at a price. In 2015 the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services began providing substance-abuse treatment in Ohio’s prisons, spending an estimated $30 million per year on drug treatment in prisons, $4 million on housing for individuals in recovery, and $1 million over two years for naloxone to reverse drug overdoses. The Ohio State Highway Patrol spent over $2 million to expand and improve their crime lab to keep up with substance testing.
In addition to the impact of opioid abuse on the criminal courts, the nation’s family courts and child welfare system are being deeply impacted. A recent report by the Administration for Children and Families shows that after years of decline, the number of children in foster care is rising. Nearly three-quarters of all states reported an increase in the number of children entering foster care from 2014 to 2015. The largest increases occurred in Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona, and Minnesota. From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of removals nationally due to parental substance abuse increased 13 percent to 32.2 percent.
In addition to hundreds of cases consolidated in federal court in Opiate MDL 2804, the defendants face a wave of litigation in state courts as well as civil and criminal investigations by numerous state attorneys general and the federal government. Any settlement would have to protect the defendant companies from future lawsuits over the same issue and that may be difficult to negotiate given all the concurrent litigation in different courts.
The primary federal litigation involving many cities and counties was consolidated by the JPML in December 2017 in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, in front of Judge Daniel Polster. The defendants include Purdue, J&J, Teva, Endo, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. The federal litigation is growing daily see, Opiate Prescription MDL 2804, US District Court of Ohio link.
The time has now arrived for Opioid Big Pharma, in all forms to face the facts that for close to 20 years they have flooded the mainstream commerce of America with massive amounts of opiates with little to no oversight, which whether caused by a catastrophic systemic failure on many levels, or simple greed, the time has now come for the opiate industry to face the music of complex litigation in state and federal court venues across the country.
The judiciary can play a critical role in addressing the opioid epidemic. In August 2016, representatives from the Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia courts convened for the first-ever Regional Judicial Opioid (RJOI) Summit. The judicial summit brought together multidisciplinary delegates from each state to develop a regional action plan and consider regional strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. RJOI member states continue to work both within their home states and regionally to share promising practices, as well as to implement the objectives of the regional action plan. Courts are encouraged to work with partners in similar ways to:
Invest in local, state, and regional multidisciplinary, system-level strategic planning to identify policies or practice changes that can improve treatment engagement and reduce the risk of overdose death. Judges are particularly effective at using their convening power to bring together a variety of agencies and community stakeholders. The sequential intercept model is an effective approach to identifying gaps and opportunities for diverting criminal-justice-involved people to treatment. Communities are encouraged to not focus singularly on heroin use but to focus on substance-use disorders in general. A recent CDC study found that nearly all people who used heroin also used at least one other drug; most used at least three other drugs.
Implement law-enforcement diversion programs, prosecutor diversion programs, or both to deflect or divert individuals with substance-use disorders from the criminal justice system into treatment at the earliest possible point.
Expand court diversion and sentencing options that provide substance-abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Problem-solving courts, such as adult drug courts or veterans treatment courts, are the most notable examples of effective approaches.
Incorporate strategic screening questions designed to identify criminal-justice-involved individuals at high-risk for overdose death into all criminal-justice-agency intake forms. Specifically, research suggests that individuals with a history of non-fatal overdoses, individuals with a history of opioids in combination with benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam) and Soma (Carisoprodol), and individuals with an opioid-use disorder recently released from a confined environment (e.g., residential treatment or incarceration) are at particular risk for overdose death. This population should be prioritized for treatment and overdose-prevention services, such as naloxone access.
On January 24, 2017, the Bureau of Justice Assistance released funding for a “Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program.” Through this solicitation, courts and their partners may implement overdose outreach projects, technology-assisted treatment programs, and diversion and alternatives to incarceration.
What remains to be seen is where and how the directly affected “individuals” who were prescribed millions of addictive opiates and subsequently became addicted and where thousands more overdosed and died, remains to be seen.
Who will be the advocate to make sure that these individuals as well as their children, families and communities as a whole are placed on the road to recovery. Historically, Big Pharma is not an industry to put the best interests of the paying consumer at the forefront of their agendas.
 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health” (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51), report prepared for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, Maryland, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/.
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015).
 L. M. Rossen, B. Bastian, M. Warner, D. Khan, and Y. Chong, “Drug Poisoning Mortality: United States, 1999–2014,” National Center for Health Statistics, 2016.
 L. Manchikanti and A. Singh, “Therapeutic Opioids: A Ten-Year Perspective on the Complexities and Complications of Escalating Use, Abuse, and Nonmedical Use of Opioids,” Pain Physician 11, 2nd supp. (2008): S63-S88.
 L. J. Paulozzi, K. A. Mack, and J. M. Hockenberry, “Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines—United States,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, 2014.
 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2011-2013.
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) On November 26, 2018 the FDA announced an overhaul of the 510(k) system that is meant to prompt manufacturers to base new products on technologies that are 10 years old or less. Almost 20% of the products currently cleared by the system were based on devices older than 10 years. For consumer safety, the FDA is considering whether to publicize the manufacturers and their devices that are based on older products.
The FDA is supposed to protect the interests of the general public and ensure that new devices, as well as existing ones are functioning as designed. More often that is not the case, as the FDA either fails to review medical device failures or simply ignores them.
Pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers, collectively Big Pharma, spend far more than any other industry to influence politicians. Big Pharma has poured close to $2.5 billion into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade.
Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to lobbyists and politicians on Capitol Hill each year to shape laws and policies that keep drug company profits growing. The pharmaceutical industry, which has about two lobbyists for every member of Congress, spent $152 million on influencing legislation in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Drug companies also contributed more than $20m directly to political campaigns last year. About 60% went to Republicans. Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the House of Representatives was the single largest beneficiary, with donations from the industry totaling $228,670.
Over the past decade, manufacturers have also paid out at least $1.6 billion to settle charges of regulatory violations, including corruption and fraud, around the world, according to the consortium, which published its report findings on November 26, 2018.
The new FDA rule, which had been sought by medical device manufacturers, opens the door for a decrease in reported information for nearly 9 out of 10 device categories, a recent review found. It could allow manufacturers to submit quarterly summarized reports for similar incidents, rather than individual reports every time malfunctions occur, meaning there will be much less detail about individual cases.
As part of the worldwide scrutiny of medical devices and at times, the affiliated dangers, a massive investigation known as “The Implant Files” was undertaken by a group of journalists around the world. Led by editors and reporters from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, it took a year to plan and another year to complete
ICIJ partnered with more than 250 journalists in 36 countries to examine how devices are tested, approved, marketed and monitored. This included an analysis of more than 8 million device-related health records, including death and injury reports and recalls.
The Implant Files review encompassed more than 1.7 million injuries and nearly 83,000 deaths suspected of being linked to medical devices over 10 years, and reported to the U.S. alone.
Like the rest of Big Pharma, the medical device manufacturers have created an intricate web of corporate and political influence including at the Federal Drug Administration, where the FDA is charged with oversight of medical devices.
The new rule is one of several regulatory changes favoring the medical device industry that have been proposed and enacted since the beginning of the Trump administration. They are part of a decades-long campaign to decrease U.S. regulation of the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, which is a massive global business that has existed for years with minimal international scrutiny.
A recent analysis of the 10 largest publicly traded medical device companies in the U.S. found that since the start of the Trump administration, the companies have spent more than $36.5 million on efforts to influence rules and legislation. Some of these companies manufacture a variety of medical products, including pharmaceuticals and lab equipment, but four of the 10 exclusively manufacture devices and lobbying disclosures for all 10 emphasize efforts to influence policy around devices.
BUYING A PRESENCE IN WASHINGTON
The medical device industry was worth $405 billion worldwide in 2017, according to an Accenture market analysis. Despite its size, the medical device industry has only a patchwork of international oversight, even though when things go wrong with a device, the consequences can be serious.
But the single largest medical device market in the world is the U.S., worth an estimated $156 billion in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. As the medical device market has boomed over the past several decades, the industry has built a sizable presence in Washington, D.C.
Many medical device companies have built sophisticated lobbying arms, often employing their own team of lobbyists in addition to hiring outside firms for specific issues. Several of the largest companies used between 15 and 50 lobbyists in 2017 alone, an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) found.
There are also two main trade groups for the industry to which device makers contribute membership fees to, both of which pack a hefty lobbying punch on their own. Since the start of 2017, the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), the older and larger group, has spent more than $6 million and the Medical Device Manufacturers Association (MDMA) has spent nearly $2.6 million. The groups’ policy goals echo those that individual companies list on their lobbying disclosures, among them: decreasing taxes on devices, increasing insurance coverage and reimbursement and the FDA’s approval process for bringing a device to market.
The medical device lobbying effort is vast, with lobbyists seeking to be heard on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement codes, device purchasing policies at the Veterans Administration, even cybersecurity and trade issues. Companies regularly lobby Congress and target agencies and offices across the executive branches in D.C., from the FDA to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid and the National Security Council.
Altogether, the industry has spent more than $20 million per year for the past five years lobbying the federal government, according to an analysis of campaign finance and lobbying data from CRP.
With the change in administration in 2017, that spending increased to more than $26 million, $2.2 million more than its highest level in any of the previous four years. Based on disclosures from the first three quarters of the year, medical device lobbying in 2018 is on pace to exceed 2017 levels.
An industry spokesperson noted that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends more heavily on lobbying than the device industry. Big Pharma-pharmaceuticals, which was worth more than $453 billion in the U.S. in 2017, spent more than $171 million the same year, more than six times as much as the device industry, according to a Statista market analysis.
The lobbying resources of the device industry far outweigh those of consumer and patient advocates, which are often on the other side of regulatory debates on Capitol Hill.
Very few advocacy groups spend time lobbying on devices, said Dr. Diana Zuckerman, a former HHS official under Obama and president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington.
“When we’ve talked to congressional staff about this,” she said, “they say things like, ‘Well, we’re getting calls every day, all day long from various device companies or their lawyers,’ and the nonprofits are basically going to the Hill for visits a few hours a year.”
Zuckerman’s group is one of about a half dozen to lobby on devices over the past few years. Each of the largest spends no more than a few-hundred-thousand dollars annually to lobby on devices and all other consumer issues, according to their federal lobbying disclosures.
Trial lawyer groups, which the device industry spokesperson noted often sue device makers, also spent less than one third of what the device industry did in 2017, a CRP analysis found.
Three companies that spent the most on lobbying in the past five years were ask about their lobbying efforts. Baxter International and Abbott Laboratories did not comment. Medtronic said, “Despite the company nearly doubling in size, our lobbying-related efforts over the last 10 years have remained relatively stable.”
Previously, Abbott, Medtronic and a half-dozen other international device makers told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that they conduct business with the highest ethical standards, adhere to all laws and have rigorous programs to prevent employee misconduct.
In a statement, Mark Leahey, president of MDMA, said, “As millions of Americans benefit daily from the more than 190,000 different medical devices available and in use in the United States, our members continue to work with patient groups and policy makers to advance policies that promote improved access for patients and providers. This dynamic innovation ecosystem remains committed to developing the cures and therapies of tomorrow, while reducing adverse events and learning from ongoing research and each patient’s experience.”
OBAMA – TRUMP COMPARISON
During its eight-year tenure, the Obama administration permitted some deregulation but also instituted the first FDA product ban since the 1980s.
Beginning in 2014, warning letters to industry began to drop steeply and approval of new devices to rise. By 2017, the number of FDA warning letters to device manufacturers about product safety had dropped to nearly 80 percent less than those issued in 2010, while approval numbers for new devices were more than three times as high as at the beginning of the decade. The FDA says the decrease in warning letters is due to a more interactive approach to working with violative companies, and the uptick in approvals is due to an increase in staffing and efficiency.
Under Obama, some FDA regulators responsible for overseeing the device industry pushed for deregulation. Administrators largely kept it in check, said Peter Lurie, an FDA associate commissioner during the Obama administration.
“It was accompanied by very heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill as well,” said Lurie. Priorities included faster device approval times and decreasing taxes.
During Obama’s final year in office, the FDA banned its first device in more than 30 years, a type of surgical glove and proposed a ban on a home shock collar for behavior modification. That ban is still pending.
The industry successfully pushed for changes in a proposed regulation on unique device identifiers, the identification codes for individual devices, similar to automotive vehicle identification numbers, and won the suspension of a tax on medical devices created to help fund the Affordable Care Act.
“Now with the advent of the Trump administration,” said Lurie, “the deregulatory gloves are off and we’re seeing a number of the device industry’s most desired objectives come to fruition.”
President Trump vowed to cut regulations across the government by 75 percent when he came into office.
In 2002, Congress instituted a program in which the device industry pays “user fees” to fund the FDA office that oversees it, amounts which are agreed upon in negotiations between industry and the regulator every five years. In its first year, the fees provided 10 percent of funding for the device center, but by 2018, the fees brought in more than $153 million, providing more than 35 percent of the center’s budget.
“It’s carefully negotiated for weeks and months at a time,” said Jack Mitchell, former director of Special Investigations for the FDA. “And there’s a laundry list of things that the industry gets FDA to agree to and that they’re paying for.”
If the most recent agreement, negotiated in 2017, had not gone through by the deadline, the agency would have legally been required to temporarily layoff at least one third of its device center staff. The final agreement included a decrease in approval time for certain devices.
“We do not believe user fee funding has influenced our decision making,” the FDA said in a statement, noting that other parts of the FDA are also funded by user fees.
The agency also noted that it held meetings with patient stakeholders in addition to industry when negotiating the user fee agreement, saying, “Patients are a critical part of the user fee process.”
The FDA emphasized that it does not always agree with the industry, citing as examples its support of legislation that makers of reusable devices provide instruction on how to prevent bacterial contamination, and including device identifier codes in insurance claims forms.
MAKING FDA APPROVAL EASIER FOR BIG PHARMA
The changes to how adverse events are reported was seen as an overwhelming industry success.
The FDA database in which surgical complications are entered is known as the Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience Database (MAUDE), which includes more than 750,000 incidents per year. The adverse events range from minor malfunctions to patient deaths linked to products being used around the world.
Despite its size, it’s widely accepted that the database is only a rather limited record of the full scale of medical device complications and adverse events.
The rule went into effect in August. The FDA said in a statement in November that though the reports are valuable, they were never meant to be sole source for determining if a device is causing harm.
“This type of reporting system has notable limitations,” said the FDA, “including the potential submission of incomplete, inaccurate, untimely, unverified, or biased data.”
Patients are able to report adverse events to the database themselves, but few know to do so. Companies are required to report the events, once they are notified., which they don’t always do. The FDA said thirty-three percent (33%) of all FDA warning letters to device makers were to companies that failed to meet rules for reporting complications with devices.
The more companies that fail to file properly, the less the database accurately reflects what is happening to patients with devices.
Under the rule change, companies could be allowed to submit quarterly summarized reports for similar incidents, rather than individual reports each time malfunctions occur. Previously, qualified manufacturers could submit summarized reports if they filed a request with the agency. Now they can do so without making a request.
“[The database] is the way we’ve learned about some very serious health issues,” said Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of San Francisco who studies adverse events like Hershey’s. “It’s the most widespread and publicly available database for adverse events, which is extremely important for patient safety.”
In a public comment in support of the rule change, AdvaMed called the change a “commonsense approach” that will reduce the volume of reports manufacturers need to submit to the FDA and streamline the information the FDA receives about malfunctions.
“This process will actually make it easier for third parties to assess the malfunction data in [the database],” said Greg Crist, a spokesperson for AdvaMed. “Comparing the old alternative summary reporting program to this new initiative is comparing apples to oranges.”
In response to public comments that critical report information would be lost with the change in reporting, the FDA wrote in the published rule that, “We do not believe there will be an adverse impact on the content of information provided to FDA.”
In a statement, the agency said the new program “streamlines the process for reporting of device malfunctions and allows us to more efficiently detect potential safety issues and identify trends. It also frees up resources to better focus on addressing the highest risks.”
But Redberg, is worried that the new rule change will make searching an already unwieldy database more difficult, decreasing the ability of researchers and the public to search for misfiled reports or see accurate numbers of adverse events.
“It makes things easier for industry, it makes things worse for patients,” she said. “I really think it’s a public health crisis. We have more and more devices in use, and for many of them we really have no idea how safe they are because we don’t have accurate reporting.”
How these changes are affecting medical care in the US, and more importantly the publics right to be informed of adverse events and problems with medical devices, their approval process and who’s lobbying who and for what in the FDA should be open and transparent.
(Certain images and text excerpts in this article were reprinted from third party media sources)
WILL BIG PHARMA LOBBYING EFFORTS BE PAYING DIVIDENDS IN 2019?
By Mark A. York (December 7, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in June to hear Merck & Co.’s appeal in the long running Fosamax liability litigation, (MDL No. 2243, District Judge: Honorable Joel A. Pisano, USDC New Jersey) where plaintiffs are suing Merck & Co over its osteoporosis drug Fosamax, (see Fosamax [Merck] Appeal U.S. Court of Appeals 3rd Circuit).
The plaintiffs have requested the U.S. Supreme Court uphold a federal appeals court ruling that allowed their cases to move forward, however acting U.S. Solicitor General Jefferey Wall asked for permission to present oral arguments. It would be a plus for Merck, because Wall has been a major supporter of the Big Pharma position on the issue of preemption, which revolves around the question of whether FDA decisions protect pharma companies from state legal challenges.
How the Court answers this question will no doubt shape the drug and device industry for years to come. Levine provided that a drug manufacturer could not be held liable under a failure-to-warn theory if the FDA had previously considered—and rejected—a proposed amendment to the product’s warning label. But Levine did not clearly define when preemption would apply in these circumstances, and as a result, lower courts have struggled to uniformly apply this rule. With Albrecht, the Court now has an opportunity to clear up the ambiguities left in Levine’s wake.
On December 3, 2018 the Supreme Court agreed to let the Solicitor General’s office participate in the oral arguments, which probably caused the executive suites at Big Pharma to raise a toast to Jeffrey Wall.
The pre-emption question dates back to the original Fosamax case, which was filed by patients who suffered femoral fractures while taking the osteoporosis drug. Merck added language to the product’s label about the risk in 2011, but more than 500 patients claimed that their injuries occurred before then, and Merck should have warned them sooner.
In January 2019, the full Supreme Court will hear arguments in Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht, a case arising out of the In Re: Fosamax (Alendronate Sodium) Products Liability Litigation. Fosamax is a drug used to treat osteoporosis, with a cited adverse evenet bieng that it may inhibit bone repair, which could result in an atypical femoral fracture.
The central claim at issue concerns the Fosamax warning label, which initially did not warn of the risk of an atypical femoral fracture. Plaintiffs contend that the label should have included such a warning, while Merck counters that it tried to add language addressing the risk of a “Low-Energy Femoral Shaft Fracture,” but was prevented from doing so by the FDA, who affirmatively told Merck to “hold off” on adding any such language until the FDA could decide on “atypical fracture language, if it is warranted.” Ultimately, the FDA rejected Merck’s proposed warning label, stating that the justification for such language was “inadequate.” The FDA reversed course the following year, and Merck then added a risk of atypical femoral fracture to Fosamax’s label.
Based on these facts, Merck moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s failure-to-warn claims, arguing that such claims were preempted under Wyeth v. Levine because “clear evidence” demonstrated that the FDA would not—and did not—approve of the proposed label change. The District Court agreed, but the Third Circuit did not, holding instead that: (1) Levine’s reference to “‘clear evidence’ referr[ed] solely to the applicable standard of proof,” which Merck failed to satisfy; and (2) the issue of whether the FDA would have rejected the label change was a fact question for the jury.
Merck said it tried to update the label earlier, but failed because the FDA rejected its proposed wording. Because it was the FDA’s call, pre-emption should apply, Merck claimed and Wall concurred. Now, the Supreme Court will offer 10 minutes for the U.S. to make its case.
At least three court members (Thomas, Gorsuch, and Roberts) appear likely to support preemption under this set of facts, and it would not be unreasonable for Kagan, Ginsburg, and/or Breyer to hold similarly, given that the latter two were both part of the Levine majority, which stated that preemption would apply if there existed “clear evidence that the FDA would not have approved a change[.]” Wyethv. Levine, 555 U.S. 555, 571 (2009). The odds of a five-justice majority favoring preemption could be buttressed if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Regardless, all one can truly hope for is that the Court avoids a plurality decision, since such an outcome would leave the Third Circuit’s opinion intact and muddy the waters further.
SCOTUS Docket: Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht
Issue: Whether a state-law failure-to-warn claim is pre-empted when the Food and Drug Administration rejected the drug manufacturer’s proposal to warn about the risk after being provided with the relevant scientific data, or whether such a case must go to a jury for conjecture as to why the FDA rejected the proposed warning. CVSG: 05/22/2018.
Waiver of right of respondents Affronti, Joanne, et al. to respond filed.
Sep 11 2017
Blanket Consent filed by Petitioner, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. on 09/12/2017
Sep 19 2017
Waiver of right of respondents Esther Parker & Pamela Paralikis to respond filed.
Sep 20 2017
Blanket Consent filed by Respondents, Albrecht, Doris, et al. on 09/21/2017
Sep 21 2017
Order extending time to file response to petition to and including October 25, 2017, for all respondents.
Sep 22 2017
Because Justice Alito now realizes that he should have recused himself from consideration of this application, the order of June 27, 2017, is vacated. Pursuant to Rule 22.2, the application (16A1264) to extend the time to file a petition for a writ of certiorari from July 23, 2017 to August 22, 2017, has been submitted to Justice Sotomayor.
Sep 22 2017
Application (16A1264) granted by Justice Sotomayor extending the time to file until August 22, 2017. (Justice Alito is recused)
Petition GRANTED. Justice Alito took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition.
Jul 27 2018
Motion for an extension of time to file the opening briefs on the merits granted. The time to file the joint appendix and petitioner’s brief on the merits is extended to and including September 13, 2018. The time to file respondents’ brief on the merits is extended to and including November 14, 2018.
The SCOTUS ability to resolve the preemption question could have a ripple effect on the entire pharma industry. The issue generated heated debate a few years back, when a liability case raised questions about whether generics makers can be held responsible for patients’ injuries, given that they must use label language the FDA approved for branded versions of the drugs.
In a close 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that generics makers could not be held liable in those cases.
Initially, it looked as if Merck would prevail in its preemption argument, too, as the defense had won two bellwether lawsuits filed over alleged Fosamax injuries. Then, in 2014, a federal judge tossed out 5,000 lawsuits from patients who claimed their fractures were caused by Fosamax, followed by a federal appeals court reviving those cases by over-ruling that dismissal.
Lawyers representing the patients in this case have argued that Merck’s preemption argument is faulty because it’s largely based on an internal memo recounting a phone conversation one of its employees had with the FDA.
“Respondents are aware of no other preemption case in which the manufacturer relied on hearsay accounts of informal FDA communications,” the lawyers said in a recent brief.
Merck developed Fosamax to strengthen bones and reduce the risk of fractures from osteoporosis. However, numerous studies have linked the medication to an elevated risk of abnormal femur fractures. Furthermore, plaintiffs in the litigation argue that Merck had an intrinsic obligation to its consumers to provide stronger warnings that users could experience femur fractures from little or no trauma while taking the medication. This includes falling from standing height or less.
Merck introduced Fosamax in 1995, and the company didn’t add a thigh bone fracture risk warning label to the drug until 2011. Plaintiffs claim Merck knew about the risk for years but concealed it to maximize sales and profits.
Fosamax was a blockbuster drug with annual sales of over $3 billion, until the company lost its exclusive patent rights in 2008, even then the brand name drug still brought in $284 million in sales in 2016.
Both Merck and the Solicitor General contend that if the FDA believed there was scientific reasoning to support a labeling change, the agency would have added the warning, because federal laws require it to do so.
As SCOTUS gets set to hear the case, many individuals and organizations have filed briefs in support, urging the justices to uphold the lower court ruling that would allow those thousands of Fosamax suits to go forward. Consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, for example, filed a brief earlier this month suggesting that Merck’s pre-emption argument is invalid because federal statutes do not support the idea that “the FDA’s rejection of a particular proposed warning constitutes a determination ‘that no new labeling language is warranted.’”
Besides, Public Citizen argued (PDF), SCOTUS should preserve patients’ rights to pursue drug liability claims in state courts, and by siding with Merck, the judges might make it much harder for those suits to be filed.
“Allowing patients to pursue tort claims against pharmaceutical manufacturers for injuries caused by inadequate warnings is important as both an incentive for manufacturers to be vigilant about product safety and a means to provide remedies to patients,” Public Citizen wrote. “For this reason, the case has important implications that go well beyond the interests of the parties.”
How Big Pharma’s cadre of lobbyists and congressional insiders appears to be paying major dividends as we approach 2019 remaons to be seen, but considering the wide-open lack of federal oversight for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers by the current administration, it would appear that Big Pharma investments in the FDA and related oversight agencies is apying off very well.
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WHY THE MOTTO OF “PROFITS BEFORE PATIENTS” IS STILL THE BANNER:
HERE’S A FULL REPORT
By Mark A. York (November 26, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) For years, medical device companies have stated that the products they are developing and placing into the marketplace are safe and helping patients in the USA and worldwide. That is often not the case and people around the world are suffering.
Medical device makers and compensated doctors have touted FDA approved implants and other devices as the surgical cure for millions of patients suffering from a wide range of pain disorders, making them one of the fastest-growing products in the $400 billion medical device industry. Companies and doctors aggressively push them as a safe antidote to the deadly opioid crisis in the U.S. and as a treatment for an aging population in need of chronic pain relief and many other afflictions.
Manufacturer headlines like these instill consumer confidence that medical devices are safe and effective. After all, they have the FDA’s stamp of approval, right? NO!
The reality is, the FDA seldom requires rigorous evidence that a device works well–and safely–before allowing it onto the market. Medical devices are the diverse array of non-drug products used to diagnosis and treat medical conditions, from bandages to MRI scanners to smartphone apps to artificial hips.
This low standard of evidence applies to even the highest risk devices such as those that are implanted in a person’s body. Surgical mesh, pacemakers and gastric weight loss balloons are just a few examples of devices that have had serious safety problems.
Devices are subject to weaker standards than drugs because they’re regulated under a different law. The Medical Device Amendments of 1976 was intended to encourage innovation while allowing for a range of review standards based on risk, according to legal expert Richard A. Merrill. An array of corporate lobbying has since prompted Congress to ease regulations and make it easier for devices to get the FDA’s approval.
In 2011, an Institute of Medicine panel recommended that the “flawed” system be replaced, because it does not actually establish safety and effectiveness. At the time the FDA said it disagreed with the group’s recommendations.
Defective devices cleared through this system have included hip replacements that failed prematurely, surgical mesh linked to pain and bleeding and a surgical instrument that inadvertently spread uterine cancer.
When makers of medical devices learn that one of their products has malfunctioned in a way that could kill or seriously injure people, they are required to file a report with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The reports are meant to alert regulators that patients may be in danger.
However, in the future, under a deal the FDA has negotiated with industry lobbyists, manufacturers could generally wait three months before reporting malfunctions, and they could report malfunctions in “summary” form, according to an FDA document.
This 2017 deal apparently means that the government and the public could receive less detailed and less timely warnings.
Jim Taft listened intently as his pain management doctor described a medical device that could change his life, it wouldn’t fix the nerve damage in his mangled right arm, but a spinal-cord stimulator would cloak his pain, making him “good as new.”
Taft’s stimulator failed soon after it was surgically implanted. After an operation to repair it, he said the device shocked him so many times that he couldn’t sleep and even fell down a flight of stairs. Today, the 45-year-old Taft is virtually paralyzed.
“I thought I would have a wonderful life,” Taft said. “But look at me.” Taft is just one of the thousands of patients who have been injured by an implanted medical device, almost always by a device that was made in the USA.
A recent global investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of unsafe medical devices have been implanted in patients around the world and device failures are considered very normal.
A recent worldwide investigation was carried out by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in coordination with the British Medical Journal and various media outlets including the Guardian newspaper and BBC Panorama.
The probe found that pacemakers, artificial knees, hips and rods to support the spinal cord are among the faulty devices that were implanted in patients and that failed. These unsafe medical devices have resulted in thousands of injuries and deaths and quite often patients are forced to undergo removal or revision surgeries.
The investigation found that many of the unsafe medical devices did not complete patient trials before their commercial launch, adding that some of the pacemakers were implanted when the manufacturers were aware of the problems, while some devices were approved on the basis of a regulatory nod secured in other countries.
Poor regulations across countries, lenient testing standards and lack of clarity allowed these faulty medical devices to reach the market.
In the UK alone, the regulators received 62,000 “adverse incident” reports associated with medical devices between 2015 and 2018. About 1,004 of such cases even resulted in the death of patients.
In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been notified of 5.4 million ‘adverse events’ over the last ten years. Faulty devices were linked to approximately 1.7 million injuries and 83,000 deaths.
Even though these medical devices are made in the USA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not, and still has not, deemed them good enough for Americans. The FDA has permitted sales overseas of unproven devices and products via an obscure FDA provision in which products are registered as an “export only” device, requiring far less FDA scrutiny than for devices that are sold domestically.
An example is PyroTITAN, by Intergra LifeSciences of New Jersey, among the biggest medical device companies in the world and maker of more than a dozen export-only devices with troubled track records identified as “export only” which is a U.S.-made implant for losing weight that instead led to numerous emergency surgeries, stents that could cut into arteries and heart valves sold in Spain and Italy that, according to the FDA, caused severe infections and may have caused a five-year-old child to die. These items were found by analyzing and comparing databases in 10 countries, and a lack of international standards for identifying devices means it is difficult to know how many other troubled devices exist.
For U.S. companies, exporting medical devices is big business, valued last year at more than $41 billion. Currently about 4,600 devices are registered with the FDA as “export only” devices. Several executives for medical device makers said registering the devices is faster, less expensive and has involved less oversight than getting them approved for sale inside the U.S. The troubled devices identified by NBC News have been sold around the world. The destinations range from the Netherlands to Namibia, Chile to Canada, Japan to Germany.
Recently, NBC probed export-only devices as part of the same global project organized by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a news organization notable for its work on the Panama Papers, to examine the medical device industry. More than 250 reporters in 36 countries worked on stories that began publishing Sunday.
Worldwide US Device Exports are Often Substandard
Zimmer Biomet is one of the big medical device companies named in the investigation. The company has previously had to discontinue sales of a metal-on-metal hip implant system which was cause to flesh-rotting via metallosis poisoning. The company seems to have maintained the tried and true Big Pharma mantra of “we do what the FDA requires, therefor we are excluded from accepting responsibility for defective medical products” which is often pushed as a coverall statement by medical device makers when they are under scrutiny.
“We adhere to strict regulatory standard, and work closely with the FDA and all applicable regulatory agencies in each of our regions as part of our commitment to operating a first-rate quality management system across our global manufacturing network.
Abbott has also come under scrutiny for its Nanostim pacemaker, which has received complaints about implant battery failures and parts of the device falling off inside patients. The company released the following statement: “In accordance with the European CE Mark approval process, the Nanostim leadless pacing system was approved based on strong performance and safety data.”
Medical device companies and doctors tout spinal-cord stimulators to treat patients suffering from a wide range of pain disorders. But an investigation by AP found the devices rank third in injury reports to the FDA in 10 years.
But the stimulators — devices that use electrical currents to block pain signals before they reach the brain — are more dangerous than many patients know, an Associated Press investigation found. They account for the third-highest number of medical device injury reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with more than 80,000 incidents flagged since 2008.
Patients report that they have been shocked or burned or have suffered spinal-cord nerve damage ranging from muscle weakness to paraplegia, FDA data shows. Among the 4,000 types of devices tracked by the FDA, only metal hip replacements and insulin pumps have logged more injury reports.
The FDA data contains more than 500 reports of people with spinal-cord stimulators who died but details are scant, making it difficult to determine if the deaths were related to the stimulator or implant surgery.
An animated look at the spinal cord stimulator, its benefits and potential problems. (AP Animation/Peter Hamlin)
Medical device manufacturers insist spinal-cord stimulators are safe — some 60,000 are implanted annually — and doctors who specialize in these surgeries say they have helped reduce pain for many of their patients.
Most of these devices have been approved by the FDA with little clinical testing and the agency’s data shows that spinal-cord stimulators have a disproportionately higher number of injuries compared to hip implants, which are far more plentiful.
The AP reported on spinal stimulators as part of a year long joint investigation of the global medical devices industry that included NBC, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 50 other media partners around the world. Reporters collected and analyzed millions of medical records, recall notices and other product safety warnings, in addition to interviewing doctors, patients, researchers and company whistleblowers.
The media partners found that, across all types of medical devices, more than 1.7 million injuries and nearly 83,000 deaths were reported to the FDA over the last decade.
The investigation also found that the FDA — considered by other countries to be the gold standard in medical device oversight — puts people at risk by pushing devices through an abbreviated approval process, then responds slowly when it comes to forcing companies to correct sometimes life-threatening products.
Devices are rarely pulled from the market, even when major problems emerge, and the FDA does not disclose how many devices are implanted in the U.S. each year — critical information that could be used to calculate success and failure rates.
The FDA acknowledges its data has limitations, including mistakes, omissions and under-reporting that can make it difficult to determine whether a device directly caused an injury or death, but it rejects any suggestion of failed oversight.
“There are over 190,000 different devices on the U.S. market. We approve or clear about a dozen new or modified devices every single business day,” Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, the FDA’s medical device director said at an industry conference in May. “The few devices that get attention at any time in the press is fewer than the devices we may put on the market in a single business day. That to me doesn’t say that the system is failing. It’s remarkable that the system is working as it does.”
In response to reporters’ questions, the FDA said last week that it was taking new action to create “a more robust medical device safety net for patients through better data.” ″Unfortunately, the FDA cannot always know the full extent of the benefits and risks of a device before it reaches the market,” the agency said. In the last 50 years, the medical device industry has revolutionized treatment for some of the deadliest scourges of modern medicine, introducing devices to treat or diagnose heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Medical device companies have “invested countless resources — both capital and human — in developing leading-edge compliance programs,” said Janet Trunzo, head of technology and regulatory affairs for AdvaMed, the industry’s main trade association.
At the same time, medical device makers also have spent billions to try to influence regulators, hospitals and doctors.
In the United States, where drug and device manufacturers are required to disclose payments to physicians, the 10 largest medical device companies paid nearly $600 million to doctors or their hospitals last year to cover consulting fees, research, travel and entertainment expenses, according to an AP and ICIJ analysis of data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. This figure doesn’t include payments from device manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Allergan, which also sell other products.
On top of that, lobbying records show that the top four spinal-cord stimulator manufacturers have spent more than $22 million combined since 2017 to try to influence legislation benefiting their overall business, which includes other medical devices.
Some companies have been fined for bribing physicians, illegally promoting products for unapproved uses and paying for studies that proclaim the safety and effectiveness of their products, according to the joint investigation.
In a 2016 case, Olympus Corp. of the Americas, the largest U.S. distributor of endoscopes and related medical equipment, agreed to pay $623.2 million “to resolve criminal charges and civil claims relating to a scheme to pay kickbacks to doctors and hospitals,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Olympus said that it “agreed to make various improvements to its compliance program.”
In a case the previous year involving spinal-cord stimulators, Medtronic,Inc. agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle Justice Department claims that the company had harmed patients and defrauded federal health care programs by providing physicians “powerful” financial inducements that turned them into “salesmen” for costly procedures. Medtronic denied wrongdoing. “As a matter of policy, Medtronic does not comment on specific litigation,” the company said in a statement. “We do stand behind the safety and efficacy of our Spinal Cord Stimulators and the strong benefits this technology provides to patients, many of whom have tried all other therapy options to no benefit.”
Some doctors enthusiastically promote spinal-cord stimulators without disclosing to patients they’ve received money from medical device manufacturers. Some experts say doctors are not legally required to disclose such payments, but they have an ethical obligation to do so. Sometimes the money goes to the doctors’ hospitals, and not directly to them.
As for Taft, he said he just wanted to get better, but he has lost hope. “This is my death sentence,” Taft said, stretched out beneath his bed’s wooden headboard on which he’s carved the words “death row.”
“I’ll die here,” he said.
Why Hasn’t The FDA Learned From Past Failures?
A generation ago, tens of thousands of women were injured by the Dalkon Shield, an intrauterine device that caused life-threatening infections. Consumer advocates demanded testing and pre-market approval of medical devices to prevent deaths and injuries associated with defective products.
So in 1976, Congress passed the Medical Device Amendment, a law meant to assure Americans that devices recommended by their doctors would do good and not harm.
“Until today, the American consumer could not be sure that a medical device used by his physician, his hospital or himself was as safe and effective as it could or should be,” President Gerald Ford said when he signed the bill into law.
Charged with carrying out the law, the FDA created three classes of medical devices. High-risk products like spinal-cord stimulators are designated to be held to the most rigorous clinical testing standards. But the vast majority of devices go through a less stringent review process that provides an easy path to market for devices deemed “substantially equivalent” to products already approved for use.
As designed by Congress, that process should have been phased out. Instead, it became the standard path to market for thousands of devices, including hip replacements implanted in tens of thousands of patients that would later be recalled because metal shavings from the devices made some people sick.
The AP found that the FDA has allowed some spinal-cord stimulators to reach the market without new clinical studies, approving them largely based on results from studies of earlier spinal stimulators.
Spinal stimulators are complex devices that send electrical currents through wires placed along the spine, using a battery implanted under the skin. An external remote controls the device.
The four biggest makers of spinal-cord stimulators are Boston Scientific Corp., based in Marlborough, Massachusetts; Medtronic, with headquarters in Ireland and the U.S.; Nevro, in Redwood City, California; and Illinois-based Abbott, which entered the market after its $23.6 billion purchase of St. Jude Medical, Inc.
St. Jude’s application to go to market with its first spinal stimulator contained no original patient data and was based on clinical results from other studies, while Boston Scientific’s application for its Precision spinal-cord stimulator was based largely on older data, though it did include a small, original study of 26 patients who were tracked for as little as two weeks.
Once approved, medical device companies can use countless supplementary requests to alter their products, even when the changes are substantial.
For example, there have been only six new spinal-cord stimulator devices approved since 1984, with 835 supplemental changes to those devices given the go-ahead through the middle of this year, the AP found. Medtronic alone has been granted 394 supplemental changes to its stimulator since 1984, covering everything from altering the sterilization process to updating the design.
“It’s kind of the story of FDA’s regulation of devices, where they’re just putting stuff on the market,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, who has studied medical devices for nearly 30 years.
Medical device manufacturers have cited multiple industry-funded studies showing the effectiveness of spinal-cord stimulation in the treatment of chronic pain. Experts say treatment is considered successful if pain is reduced by at least half, but not every patient experiences that much pain reduction.
A 2016 study looking at different stimulation systems found “significant evidence” that they were “a safe, clinical and cost-effective treatment for many chronic pain conditions.”
But Zuckerman noted that the more extensive studies came after the devices were being widely used on people. “These patients are guinea pigs,” she said.
FDA said in a statement that it approves, clears or grants marketing authorization to an average of 12 devices per business day and its decisions are “based on valid scientific evidence” that the devices are safe and effective.
Dr. Walter J. Koroshetz, director at the neurological disorders and stroke division at the National Institutes of Health, said trials for medical devices like spinal-cord stimulators are generally small and industry-sponsored, with a “substantial” placebo effect.
“I don’t know of anyone who is happy with spinal-cord technology as it stands,” Koroshetz said. “I think everybody thinks it can be better.”
Every time Jim Taft walked into his pain management doctor’s office, he would glance at the brochures touting spinal-cord stimulators — the ones with pictures of people swimming, biking and fishing.
Inside the exam room, Taft said, his doctor told him the device had been successful for his other patients and would improve his quality of life.
On lifetime worker’s compensation after his right arm was crushed as he was hauling materials for an architectural engineering company, Taft had been seeing the doctor for five years before he decided to get a stimulator in 2014. What finally swayed him, he said, was the doctor’s plan to wean him off painkillers.
Taft said his pain management doctor praised the technology, saying stimulators had improved the quality of life for his patients. But four years later, Taft is unable to walk more than a few steps.
Taft is one of 40 patients interviewed by the AP who said they had problems with spinal-cord stimulators. The AP found them through online forums for people with medical devices. Twenty-eight of them said their spinal-cord stimulators not only failed to alleviate pain but left them worse off than before their surgeries.
Zuckerman, who has worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as a senior policy adviser to then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, said no doctor wants to think they’re harming patients.
“But there’s a tremendous financial incentive to downplay, ignore or forget bad patient experiences and just focus on how happy patients are,” she said.
More than half the patients interviewed by the AP said they felt pressured to get stimulators because they feared their doctors would cut off their pain medications — the only thing helping them.
Stimulators are considered a treatment of “last resort” by insurance companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. That means doctors must follow a protocol before insurance will pay for the device and implantation.
Physicians must show that conservative treatments failed to help, and patients also undergo psychological assessments to evaluate the likelihood of success. They then typically undergo a trial period lasting three days to a week with thin electrodes inserted under the skin. If patients say they got relief from the external transmitter sending electrical pulses to the contacts near their spines, they have surgery to implant a permanent stimulator.
Taft said his three-day trial helped reduce his pain so, a few days before his surgery, he began preparing for a new life. He ordered lumber to refurbish a patio and deck for his wife, Renee, as thanks for her years of support.
In April 2014, Boston Scientific’s Precision stimulator was implanted in Taft by Jason Highsmith, a Charleston, South Carolina, neurosurgeon who has received $181,000 from the company over the past five years in the form of consulting fees and payments for travel and entertainment. A Boston Scientific sales representative was in the operating room — a common practice, the AP found.
Highsmith would not comment on the payments. Other doctors have defended the practice, saying they do important work that helps the companies — and ultimately patients — and deserve to be compensated for their time.
From the time Taft was cut open and the device placed inside his body, he had nothing but problems, according to hundreds of pages of medical records reviewed by the AP. The device began randomly shocking him, and the battery burned his skin.
Taft and his wife complained repeatedly, but said his doctors and a Boston Scientific representative told them that spinal-cord stimulators don’t cause the kind of problems he had.
That runs counter to Boston Scientific’s own literature, which acknowledges that spinal stimulators and the procedures to implant them carry risks, such as the leads moving, overstimulation, paralysis and infections.
That also is not reflected in the AP’s analysis of FDA injury reports, which found shocking and burning had been reported for all major models of spinal-cord stimulators. For Boston Scientific devices, infection was the most common complaint over the past decade, mentioned in more than 4,000 injury reports.
In response to questions, the company called infection “unfortunately a risk in any surgical procedure” that the company works hard to avoid. It added that the FDA’s data “shouldn’t be interpreted as a causal sign of a challenge with our device. In fact, many examples of reportable infections include those that were caused by the surgical procedure or post-operative care.”
“In our internal quality assessments, over 95 percent of the injury reports were temporary or reversible in nature,” the company added.
Taft said had he known the devices hurt so many people, he would have reconsidered getting one. A Boston Scientific sales representative tried reprogramming the device, he said, but nothing worked.
“I told them that it feels like the lead is moving up and down my spine,” Taft said. “They said, ‘It can’t move.’” But in July 2014, X-rays revealed the lead indeed had moved — two inches on one side.
Highsmith told the AP the electrode broke from “vigorous activity,” though Taft said that would not have been possible due to his condition. Taft said he was in such bad shape after his surgery that he was never able to redo the patio and deck for his wife or do anything else vigorous.
That October, Highsmith said, he operated on Taft to install a new lead, tested the battery and reinserted it.
Still, Taft’s medical records show that he continued to report numbness, tingling and pain. During a January 2015 appointment, a physician assistant wrote that the device “seemed to make his pain worse.”
The stimulator was surgically removed in August 2015. The following June, Taft got a second opinion from a clinic that specializes in spinal injuries, which said he had “significant axial and low back pain due to implantation and explantation” of the stimulator.
Highsmith said other doctors have documented severe arthritis in Taft and that, while he has not examined Taft in more than three years, it’s “likely his current condition is the result of disease progression and other factors.”
He did not answer questions about whether he informed Taft of the risks associated with stimulators.
The doctor said the overwhelming majority of his spinal-cord stimulator patients gain significant pain relief.
“Unfortunately, in spite of the major medical breakthroughs with devices like these, some patients still suffer from intractable pain,” he said.
Renee Taft, a paralegal, reached out to Boston Scientific in 2017, but said the company refused to help because her husband’s stimulator had been removed and blamed Taft for his problems, also saying he had engaged in “rigorous physical activity” after surgery.
In the letter from the company’s legal department, Boston Scientific also noted that federal law shielded manufacturers from personal liability claims involving medical devices approved by the FDA.
In response to questions from investigators, Boston Scientific again blamed Taft’s “activity level” but didn’t elaborate. The company also said other factors could contribute to his problems such as “hyperalgesia, a phenomenon associated with long-term opioid use which results in patients becoming increasingly sensitive to some stimuli.”
Since 2005, there have been 50 recalls involving spinal stimulators, averaging about four per year in the last five years. Roughly half the recalls involved stimulators made by Medtronic, the world’s largest device manufacturer, though none warned of a risk of serious injury or death.
The experience of nearly all the 40 patients interviewed by the AP reflected one common fact. Their pain was reduced during the trial but returned once their stimulators were implanted.
Experts say the answer may be a placebo effect created when expectations are built up during the trial that only the stimulator can offer relief from pain, exacerbated by patients not wanting to disappoint family members, who often have been serving as their caregivers.
“If patients know this is a last resort, a last hope, of course they will respond well,” said Dr. Michael Gofeld, a Toronto-based anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who has studied and implanted spinal-cord stimulators in both the U.S. and Canada.
By the time the trial ends, the patient is “flying high, the endorphin levels are high,” Gofeld said.
Manufacturer representatives are heavily involved during the entire process. Along with often being in the operating room during surgery in case the physician has questions, they meet with patients to program the devices in the weeks following surgery.
Most of the patients interviewed by the AP said the adjustments to their devices were performed by sales representatives, often with no doctor or nurse present. That includes one patient who was billed for programming as if the doctor was in the room, though he was not.
“People who are selling the device should not be in charge of maintenance,” Gofeld said. “It’s totally unethical.”
In a 2015 Texas case, a former Medtronic sales representative filed suit contending she was fired after complaining that the company trained employees to program neurostimulators without physicians present. She also claimed that a Medtronic supervisor snatched surgical gloves away from her when she refused to bandage a patient during a procedure, pushed her aside and then cleaned and dressed the patient’s wound. Medtronic denied the allegations, and the case was settled on undisclosed terms.
In the Justice Department case involving Medtronic, a salesman who said he earned as much as $600,000 a year selling spinal-cord stimulators claimed sales representatives encouraged physicians to perform unnecessary procedures that drove up the costs for Medicare and other federal health programs.
“While there have been a few instances where individuals or affiliates did not comply with Medtronic’s policies, we acted to remedy the situation in each case once discovered and to correct any misconduct,” the company said.
Gofeld said he believes stimulators do work, but that many of the problems usually arise when doctors don’t choose appropriate candidates. And he thinks the stimulators are used too often in the U.S.
Nevro, one of the four big manufacturers, has cited estimates that there are as many as 4,400 facilities in the U.S where spinal-stimulation devices are implanted by a variety of physicians, including neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and pain specialists.
It’s a lucrative business . Analysts say stimulators and the surgery to implant them costs between $32,000 and $50,000, with the device itself constituting $20,000 to $25,000 of that amount. If surgery is performed in a hospital, the patient usually stays overnight, and the hospital charges a facility fee for obtaining the device. Costs are typically covered by insurance.
The AP found that doctors can make more money if they perform the surgery at physician-owned outpatient surgery centers, since the doctor buys the device, marks it up and adds on the facility fee.
In Canada, where Gofeld now works, he said the surgeries are done only by those who specialize in the procedures. He said spinal-cord stimulators should be used when pain starts and not after failed back surgeries.
“By then,” he said, “it’s too late.”
When Surgeries Never Stop
While manufacturers and top FDA officials tout stimulators as a weapon in the battle against opioids, neurosurgeons like Steven Falowski are the front-line evangelists.
“Chronic pain is one of the largest health-care burdens we have in the U.S. It’s more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined,” Falowski said in an interview. If they’re used early enough for pain, they can prevent people from going on opium-based pain killers, said Falowski, who speaks at neuromodulation conferences and teaches other doctors how to implant stimulators.
Since 2013, device manufacturers have paid Falowski — or St. Luke’s University Health Network in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania, where he works — nearly $863,000, including $611,000 from St. Jude or its new parent company, Abbott, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services database. The payments range from consulting fees to travel and entertainment expenses.
Falowski said he has conducted research and done other work for manufacturers, adding, “The contracts with industry are with my hospital and not with me.”
St. Luke’s told the AP that it keeps the majority of the payments from device makers, but that Falowski “may receive a portion of these payments through his annual compensation.” AP’s analysis showed Abbott products were more likely than other major models to include reports of a hot or burning sensation near the site of the battery, with about 5,600 injury reports since 2008 referring to the words “heat” or “burn.”
Abbott said that many of the “adverse events” reports in the FDA’s data stemmed from a device that was voluntarily recalled in 2011. The company added that feeling a temperature increase at the implant site “is often a reality for rechargeable spinal-cord stimulation systems,” which is why the company is now concentrating on devices that do not need to be recharged.
Falowski said doctors do important work for medical device companies, and he has been involved in device development, education, clinical trials and research.
“You’re trying to help patients and you realize as a physician by yourself you’re not going to generate $200 million to make the next best implant for a patient and it’s going to take a company to do that,” he said. “So I think the important part in that relationship is transparency and disclosures.”
Experts interviewed by the AP said doctors are not legally required to tell their patients about financial relationships with medical device manufacturers, but that it would be the right thing to do.
“The patient should be fully informed before consenting to a procedure,” said Genevieve P. Kanter, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in internal medicine, medical ethics and health policy.
Abbott Issues Warning After Surgeries For Thousands of Patients
In October 2016, Abbott notified physicians and patients that a subset of ICD and cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillator (CRT-D) devices manufactured between January 2010 and May 2015 could potentially experience premature battery depletion due to short circuits from lithium clusters.
The potential for premature battery depletion in the affected devices is low. The new Battery Performance Alert can be used as a tool to further assist in identifying the potential for these devices to experience premature battery depletion.
It’s a voluntary recall, so patients are being told to consult with their doctors before coming in for the procedure — which thankfully consists of a simple 3-minute wireless firmware update (using a wand, according to the pamphlet) instead of anything invasive.
The FDA-approved firmware update actually includes a pair of important-sounding fixes. In addition to some enhanced security, the update also comes with a way to detect if a device’s battery drains abnormally quickly and alert the patient.
The FDA and Abbott say they haven’t had issues with any of the 50,000 firmware updates they’ve installed on devices like this so far.
Based on historical results as well as litigation related to adverse events with medical device FDA approvals and disclosures by device makers, it would seem that the reality of the dangers related to this device and thousands of other FDA approved devices, we may never know the truth on how dangerous these products really are.
(Images and text excerpts have been taken from NBC News and Associated Press media releases)
“Judge Reduced Verdict To $78 Million and Denies Retrial”
Monsanto (Bayer AG) Trial Loss Shows There Was Collusion to Stop Release of Cancer Link Data For Years
By Mark A. York (November 8, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) A verdict in favor of plaintiff DeWayne Johnson was reached earlier today in the first trial versus Monsanto and claims that the weed-killer Roundup causes cancer.
On Thursday, afternoon, the jury requested additional data on the various studies referenced by expert witness in expert witness testimony.
Thirty-seven-year-old Dewayne Lee Johnson filed the civil suit against the pesticide manufacturer. Case is DeWayne Johnson vs. Monsanto Company Case No. CGC-16-550128 in the SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO COUNTY, Judge Bolanos.
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Glyphosate is the most widely used agricultural based chemical product in history, starting when Monsanto introduced it in 1974, and worldwide use exploded after 1996 when Monsanto began selling “Roundup-ready” seeds- engineered to resist the herbicide, with now possibly catastrophic consequences in the United States.
More than 2.6 billion pounds of the chemical has been spread on U.S. farmlands and yards between 1992 and 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Roundup traces have been detected in over 50% of the food products being consumed in the US marketplace in numerous independent studies.
Monsanto earns $1.9 billion a year from Roundup and $10.2 billion from “seeds and genomics,” most of that category being Roundup-ready seeds.
In June, German pharmaceutical giant Bayer completed its $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto after approval by U.S. and European regulators, even though the Monsanto name may disappear, the link between cancer and glyphosate will remain long after the merger. Will Bayer decide to settle or take the thousands of lawsuits to trial that are pending in federal and state courts across the country? Although U.S. and European regulators have concluded Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate is safe, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it in 2015 as a probable human carcinogen, triggering over 5,000 lawsuits against Monsanto in the United States.
Plaintiff DeWayne Johnson’s skin-based non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was caused by his use of Monsanto’s “Roundup Weed Killer” and Monsanto has gone to great lengths to suppress any links between Roundup and cancer.
The current state court trial in California has shown the extraordinary lengths that Monsanto has gone to in order to suppress and manipulate hard core science and research results around the world that showed clear links between Glyphosate and Cancer, specifically non-hodgkins lymphoma.
To show the high level of interest in the Monsanto “Roundup” abuses, last week musician Neil young and actress Darryl Hannah were in the DeWayne Johnson courtroom, which reflects Young’s ongoing campaign against the many abuses of Monsanto placed upon the US farmers and others around the world. He even released a 2015 album titled “The Monsanto Years” along with a documentary “Seeding Fear” of which Young co-produced related to Monsanto legal action against Alabama farmer Michael White, over its GMO patented seeds. Link to “Seeding Fear can be found here.
In addition to the Johnson state court case, there is the Monsanto Roundup Multidistrict Litigation No. 2741 in the US District Court of California, Northern District where the same cancer links are claimed. Documents released in the Johnson trial and in the MDL ( see Roundup (Monsanto) MDL 2741 USDC ND California) have raised many new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the public opinion by collusion and steering of data published by the media, authors and scientific research publications, and revealed internal debate over the safety of the Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup.
The active ingredient is glyphosate, the most common weed killer in the world and is used around the world on farm crops and by home gardeners, with the largest market being the USA. While Roundup’s relative safety has been upheld by most regulators, the thelitigation against Monsanto and Roundup, pending in US District Court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company’s practices and the product itself. Thousands of plaintiffs from across the USA have filed suit against Monsanto-Roundup and as details of Monsanto’s attempt to suppress and influence the release of damaging scientific data are released the number of cases will only increase. There has been documented evidence introduced that shows Monsanto influenced high level US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) executives to suppress data and the release of reports that showed Roundup (glyphosate) was dangerous and suspected of causing cancer. Jess Rowland, EPA Regulatory Affairs Manager, stopped the release of a government study that was key in the investigation into the carcinogenic effects of Roundup’s primary ingredient glyphosate by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, see EPA’s Jess Rowland Stops Release of Report on Glyphosate as Cancer Agent. Rowland left the EPA in early 2017 and went on to become a highly paid consultant for Monsanto.
There are numerous documents and media articles that underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company has taken to protect its image, and the dangers of Roundup. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015. Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment.
A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express concern with the process see Monsanto internal e-mail expressing concern over Roundup , in the 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.”
A Monsanto official said the comments were the result of “a complete misunderstanding” that had been “worked out,” while Mr. Acquavella stated via mail that “there was no ghostwriting” and that his comments had been related to an early draft and a question over authorship that was resolved. Even though there are other documents that refute this version of Monsanto’s “official” statement.
Monsanto has been shown to have actively ghostwritten, drafted and offered direction on formal EPA studies, press releases and other “official” documents, introduced in the pending Roundup federal litigation.
The documents also show internal discussions about Roundup’s safety. “If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern,” one Monsanto scientist wrote in an internal email in 2001.
Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation, although the documents are now public court records, which Monsanto attempted to suppress being introduced into the litigation again and again since the start of the Roundup lawsuits.
Brent Wisner, a partner at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, the firm that released the documents, said Monsanto had erred by not filing a required motion seeking continued protection of the documents. Monsanto said no such filing was necessary.
“Now the world gets to see these documents that would otherwise remain secret”, per Mr. Wisner.
To reflect “official corporate collusion and influence” see Mr. Miller’s 2015 article on Forbes’s website which was an attack on the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization that had labeled glyphosate a probable carcinogen, a finding disputed by other regulatory bodies. In the email traffic, Monsanto asked Mr. Miller if he would be interested in writing an article on the topic, and he said, “I would be if I could start from a high-quality draft.”
The article was authored by Mr. Miller and with the assertion that “opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.” The magazine did not mention any involvement by Monsanto in preparing the article, as most co-authored articles provide.
“That was a collaborative effort, a function of the outrage we were hearing from many people on the attacks on glyphosate,” Mr. Partridge of Monsanto said. “This is not a scientific, peer-reviewed journal. It’s an op-ed we collaborated with him on.”
After disclosure of the stories origin, Forbes removed the story from its website and said that it ended its relationship with Mr. Miller amid the revelations.
“All contributors to Forbes sign an agreement requiring them to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and only publish content that is their own original writing,” stated a Forbes representative. “When it came to our attention that Mr. Miller violated these terms, we removed his blog from Forbes.com and ended our relationship with him.”
Mr. Miller’s work has also appeared in the opinion pages of The New York Times, which reflects the long reach of Monsanto’s attempts to influence public opinion.
“We have never paid Dr. Miller,” said Sam Murphey, a spokesman for Monsanto. “Our scientists have never collaborated with Dr. Miller on his submissions to The New York Times. Our scientists have on occasion collaborated with Dr. Miller on other pieces.” This statement alone reflects the formal relationship between Miller and Monsanto.
James Dao, the Op-Ed editor of The Times, said in a statement, “Op-Ed contributors to The Times must sign a contract requiring them to avoid any conflict of interest, and to disclose any financial interest in the subject matter of their piece.” Miller and Monsanto did not comment on the apparent violation of this Times policy.
The documents also show that the ongoing debate outside Monsanto about glyphosate safety and Roundup, was also taking place within the company.
In a 2002 email, a Monsanto executive said, “What I’ve been hearing from you is that this continues to be the case with these studies — Glyphosate is O.K. but the formulated product (and thus the surfactant) does the damage.”
As to the internal Monsanto views of a causation relationship between cancer and Roundup, where a different Monsanto executive tells others via e-mail see 2003 Monsanto email, “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”
She adds, however, that “we can make that statement about glyphosate and can infer that there is no reason to believe that Roundup would cause cancer.”
The documents also show that A. Wallace Hayes, the former editor of a journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, has had a contractual relationship with Monsanto. In a further example of Monsanto collusion and influence in 2013, while he was still editor, Mr. Hayes retracted a key study damaging to Monsanto that found that Roundup, and genetically modified corn, could cause cancer and early death in rats.
Mr. Hayes made a statement that he wasn’t under contract with Monsanto at the time of the retraction, however he was compensated by Monsanto for the article after he left the journal. This seems to be a very indirect method of exerting influence on the public opinion via a direct method of paying for favorable treatment and influence by Monsanto.
“Monsanto played no role whatsoever in the decision that was made to retract,” he said. “It was based on input that I got from some very well-respected people, and also my own evaluation.” If this statement is accurate, why would Monsanto pay Mr. Hayes for an article determined to be inaccurate or misleading other than the retraction was of some benefit to Monsanto.
Monsanto has been proven time and time again to be directly responsible for corporate sponsored collusion, influence peddling in both the public and private sectors and manipulation of data released to the public regarding the now known carcinogenic links of exposure to Monsanto’s primary product, Roundup and the main ingredient glyphosate.
With the Bayer stock in turmoil, more Roundup trials pending in the state and federal courts, add in the Xarelto and other mass tort dockets-the result is the Bayer executive suite is very busy these days. Will the time be right for Bayer to start serious settlement talks in the various MDL’s and state court consolidations they are facing across the country? That is the question on everyones mind in the mass tort universe.
(Mass Tort Nexus Media) More than 175 Americans will die today of drug overdoses, which equals a 737 crashing and killing all the passengers on board every single day. But it’s not a plane crash. It is America’s opioid epidemic, one that unchecked could claim 1 million lives by 2020.
A new opioid tablet that is 1,000 times more potent than morphine and 10 times stronger than fentanyl was approved by the Food and Drug Administration Friday as a fast-acting alternative to IV painkillers used in hospitals.
The painkiller Dsuvia will be restricted to limited use only in health care settings, such as hospitals, surgery centers and emergency rooms, but critics worry the opioid will fuel an already grim opioid epidemic.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts urged the FDA to not approve Dsuvia last month, saying “an opioid that is a thousand times more powerful than morphine is a thousand times more likely to be abused, and a thousand times more likely to kill.”
To that, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that “very tight restrictions” will be placed on Dsuvia. This statement flies in the face of reality as proven by assigned federal agencies to monitor and enforce rules on the already existing opiates that have flooded the US marketplace and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
So why should we think that anything is different with a new drug that basically comes under the same oversight umbrella as fentanyl, oxycontin and all the other prescription opiates? The DEA, FDA and anyone else assigned to monitor narcotic drug use, prescribing practices as well as marketing have failed miserably again and again.
FDA Claims Restricted Access
Dsuvia will not be available at retail pharmacies or for any home use, Gottlieb said. The medication, which comes in a single-use package, also should not be used for more than 72 hours. The medicine comes in a tablet that can dissolve under the tongue. Side effects of the potent drug include extreme tiredness, breathing problems, coma and death.
Gottlieb said military use of the drug was “carefully considered in this case” as the FDA wants to “make sure our soldiers have access to treatments that meet the unique needs of the battlefield.”
Combined with the increase in overdoses, the fact that opioids are less effective than presumed creates a substantial public health problem. We are throwing large sums of public and private money at treating opioid addiction and related issues caused by a problem that could have been completely avoided by using more effective (and less habit-forming) medications.
In the midst of a national opioid crisis, the federal agency that monitors drug ads has issued a record low number of warning letters to pharmaceutical companies caught lying about their products.
The Food and Drug Administration has sent just three notice letters to drug makers busted for false marketing their medications to unknowing consumers, the lowest ever since the FDA historic decision to ease strict rules for drug ads in 1997. “It certainly raises questions,” said Dr. David Kessler, head of the FDA from late 1990 through 1996, who’s industry credentials would add weight to the issue of why the FDA is not doing more to monitor false marketing campaigns by Big Pharma and Opioid Drug makers in particular.
The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion monitors all ads drug companies issue to make sure patients aren’t being scammed by false assertions or misleading marketing campaigns. This now seems to be the norm, based on the hundreds of lawsuits filed against Opioid Drug Makers in the last 3 months, and recently consolidated into Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 see Opioid Crisis Briefcase-Mass Tort Nexus, where Big Pharma is being sued by states, cities and counties across the country. The primary claim in almost every suit is long-term boardroom coordinated false marketing campaigns designed to push opioid drug prescriptions at any cost.
Drug overdose deaths hit the highest level ever recorded in the United States last year, with an estimated 200 people dying per day, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Most of that was the result of a record number of opioid-related deaths.
How Big Pharma got into opiates: In 1898, Bayer released heroin to treat coughs and other health woes. Soon, people became addicted to heroin, a narcotic and precursor to the current Opioid Crisis.
Preliminary figures show more than 72,000 people died in 2017 from drug overdoses across the country. About a week ago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said overdose deaths, while still slowly rising, were beginning to level off, citing figures from late last year and early this year.
The DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment, which was recently released, shows that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the highest drug threat in the nation. But federal officials are concerned that methamphetamine and cocaine are being seen at much higher levels in areas that haven’t historically been hotspots for those drugs. The DEA is also worried that people are exploiting marijuana legalization to traffic cannabis into the illicit market or to states that don’t have medicinal or recreational-use marijuana laws, according to the report.
The preliminary data also showed 49,060 people died from opioid-related overdose deaths, a rise from the reported 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.
Fatal heroin overdoses rose nationwide between 2015 and 2016, with a nearly 25 percent increase in the Northeast and more than 22 percent in the South. Most of the heroin sold in the U.S. is being trafficked from Mexico, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize the most amount of heroin along the Mexico border, near San Diego, California, the report said.
Fentanyl and other related opioids, which tend to be cheaper and much more potent than heroin, remain one of the biggest concerns for federal drug agents.
The DEA has said China is a main source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that have been flooding the U.S. market. China has pushed back against the characterization, and U.S. officials have stressed they work closely with their Chinese counterparts as they try to stem the flow of drugs.
Legislation that Trump signed last week will add treatment options and force the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for fentanyl.
Azar said in a speech last week that toward the end of 2017 and through the beginning of this year, the number of drug overdose deaths “has begun to plateau.” However, he was not indicating that deaths were going down, but that they appear to be rising at a slower rate than previously seen.
Pot Vs. Pills for Pain Relief
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary figures that appear to show a slowdown in overdose deaths from December to March. In that period, the figures show that the pace of the increase over the previous 12 months has slowed from 10 percent to 3 percent, according to the preliminary CDC figures.
Even if a slowdown is underway, no one is questioning the fact that the nation is dealing with the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history. While prescription opioid and heroin deaths appear to be leveling off, deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamines are on the rise, according to CDC data.
The DEA’s report also noted that methamphetamine is making its way into communities where the drug normally wasn’t heavily used, the report said. Chronic use of meth, a highly addictive stimulant, can cause paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, studies have shown.
As the government enacted laws that limited access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — the ingredient used to cook meth with other household chemicals — or required the medications to be placed behind pharmacy counters, officials discovered the number of meth labs began to drop.
But the DEA has found the gap is being filled by Mexican and Latin American drug cartels that had primarily dabbled in heroin and cocaine trafficking. A saturated market on the West Coast is now driving the cartels to peddle methamphetamine into the Northeast, using the same routes they use for heroin and other drugs.
Officials also warn that because of more cocaine production in South American countries including Colombia, they expect to see larger shipments at the Mexican border.
Who Said “Pain Was The Fifth Vital Sign?”
“Pain as the fifth vital sign” became policy at VA clinics as well as VA hospitals across the U.S.
It seemed odd to equate pain with something like breathing, but doctors were advised by Purdue Pharma and other opiate makers to understand the need to “dignify” and take care of pain.
Across the country doctors seemed too willing to prescribe these opioid pills for chronic pain, patients seemed too willing to take them, and insurers seemed too willing to pay.
The Joint Commission began requiring hospitals to assess all patients for pain on a scale of 1 to 10, which some claimed caused more doctors to prescribe opioids.
Purdue gave the commission a grant to produce a pain assessment and management manual.
Officials from the commission and Purdue denied the company had anything to do with the content of the manual, co-written by Dr. June Dahl, who served on the speakers bureau for Purdue.
The manual told health care facilities the side effects of opioids had been exaggerated and that physical dependence had been wrongly confused with addiction. “There is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control,” the manual said.
Paid Endorsements In Studies
Purdue officials explained that studies on opioid addiction depended on many factors, including mental health. They cited a 2008 article by Dr. David Fishbain of the University of Miami, who analyzed 79 published studies, saying he concluded the prevalence of abuse or addiction was 3.27 percent, or 0.19 percent for those with no past addiction.
Fishbain responded that his study was misinterpreted and that addiction could be anywhere between 3.27 and 20.4 percent.
Commission officials denied its new standards encouraged doctors to prescribe more opioids, blaming drug trafficking as well as diversion and abuse by individuals.
At that time, the “evidence was broadly supported by experts across the spectrum that pain was undertreated and a serious problem leading to poor clinical outcomes,” the commission said.
The commission concluded that “millions of people in the United States suffer from pain, and failure to treat their pain is inhumane.”
The Painkiller Market
Since 1987, Purdue Pharma had been selling a timed-release drug named MS Contin, the company’s version of morphine. Seven years later, annual sales topped $88 million — the best performing painkiller Purdue officials had — but they faced problems.
Doctors knew how addictive morphine could be, and most were reluctant to prescribe MS Contin to patients suffering from chronic pain.
The even bigger problem? MS Contin’s patent would expire soon.
That meant generic drug manufacturers could make their own versions of MS Contin and eat into Purdue’s share of the painkiller market.
A generation earlier, Arthur Sackler, the brother of Purdue’s owners, had marketed Valium and other tranquilizers to women experiencing anxiety, tension or countless other symptoms. The drug broke all sales records, turning many women into addicts and Sackler into a multimillionaire.
The Sackler family planned to repeat that success with a timed-release version of OxyContin, the company’s version of oxycodone.
In internal Purdue documents obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK, company officials gushed that OxyContin could become a hit in “the $462 million Class II opioid marketplace.”
These documents detail their strategy: They would first market OxyContin strictly for cancer pain, where doctors were familiar with oxycodone.
Then the company would pivot to the lucrative market of chronic pain, which afflicted at least 25 million Americans.
Purdue’s plan included targeting primary care physicians, surgeons, obstetricians and dentists. The company even targeted home care and hospice care nurses who would “rate the patients’ pain and make a recommendation on the type of opioid and dosage for pain control.”
The plan also included targeting patients and caregivers through Purdue’s “Partners Against Pain” program. “You are the pain authority,” the website reassured patients. “You are the expert on your own pain.”
The website declared that “there are 75 million Americans living with pain, although pain management experts say they don’t have to,” reassuring patients that doctors could control their pain “through the relatively simple means of pain medications” and that the risk of addiction to opioids “very rarely occurs when under medical supervision to relieve pain.”
To ensure that OxyContin became a hit, Purdue sponsored more than 20,000 educational programs to encourage health care providers to prescribe the new drug and sent videos to 15,000 doctors.
The company also hosted dozens of all-expenses-paid national pain management conferences, where more than 5,000 physicians, pharmacists and nurses were trained for the company’s national speakers bureau.
By 2001, Purdue was spending $200 million on marketing and promotion and had doubled its sales force to 671. Before the year ended, sales bonuses reached $40 million.
No Addiction Knowledge
Dr. Fannin, who practices in West Virginia remembers sales reps from Purdue flooding doctors’ offices in Appalachia, where poverty and pain are constant realities.
The reps gave away fishing hats, stuffed toys and music CDs titled “Get in the Swing with OxyContin.”
“Every time you turned around, you saw their faces,” Fannin said. “We had a population of doctors with very little grounding in pain, and I think Purdue took advantage of that.”
Many doctors knew about oxycodone from Percocet, which combined a small dosage of the potent opioid with 325 mg of acetaminophen.
What many of those doctors didn’t realize was that oxycodone was nearly twice as powerful as morphine, delivering a powerful high to those who use the drug.
“It’s more like heroin,” explained Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University. “It crosses the blood-brain barrier more quickly.”
But the sales reps never mentioned that. Instead, they said OxyContin didn’t create highs like other opioids and was less likely to get people addicted.
Fannin recalled sales reps calling OxyContin “a revolution in pain care” and “much more effective” than the old drugs.
They also talked of studies, citing one that found only four of 11,882 patients — less than 1 percent — became addicted after using opioids. Portenoy and others repeatedly cited this research, with some calling it a “landmark study.”
The truth is it wasn’t even a study. It was a five-sentence letter to the editor that a doctor wrote the New England Journal of Medicine.
For the most part, Fannin believed what the sales reps were telling him, and so did other doctors in the region.
“Our knowledge about addiction,” he said, “was about zip.”
So they spread the opioid with their prescription pads, and it settled into the Appalachian mountains like the ever-present morning fog.
OxyContin, which some hailed as a “miracle drug,” became the blockbuster in 2001 that Purdue officials dreamed of, with more than 7 million prescriptions written and nearly $3 billion in revenue.
By 2015, the Sackler family, who owned Purdue, had made $14 billion, joining Forbes’ 2015 list of America’s richest families, edging out the Rockefellers.
MIDWEST AMERICA WAS TARGETED
According to sources at all levels from police and fire first responders to emergency room physicians across the country and analysts at the CDC, there’s been no slowdown in opiate based medical emergencies in the US over the last 2 years. Emergency response and ER visits for opioid overdoses went way up, with a 30 percent increase in the single year period of June of 2016 to June of 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increased emergency room visits also include more young children aged 3 to 14 years old, which truly reflects on the unknown number of who have access to still available opiates. These young children being able to readily find opiates at that age, shows that anyone who has an interest in getting opiates can find them. This often results in the inadvertent and tragic risks associated with younger victims who somehow are exposed and now being swept up in the opioid crisis.
Center for Disease Control’s Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said overall the most dramatic increases were in the Midwest, where emergency visits went up 70 percent in all ages over 25. This is a figure that’s is comparative to prior medical emergency spikes during pandemic healthcare
Recently two important medical reports on opiate abuse have emerged indicating that the opioid crisis may be at its worst point ever.
The first study comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency tasked with studying – and stopping – the spread of diseases, including everything from viral infections like the flu to mental health issues including drug addiction. Published in the agency’s monthly Vital Signs report, the study demonstrates that the number of opioid overdoses increased by 30% in a little more than one year from July 2016 to September 2017.
The second study comes from a group of VA medical personnel and public health researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), who wanted to learn how effective opioid prescription drugs were at managing long-term and chronic pain. As it turns out, opioid drugs showed less efficacy than non-opioid pain medications over a 12-month period – and in fact, over time opioids became worse for patients who had to deal with side effects that patients taking non-opioid medications did not have to deal with. Taken together, these two studies show that current opioid drug policies, procedures, prescription practices and standards of patient care clearly need to be rethought.
For Information on Opiate Litigation and other mass torts:
Kevin Thompson will speak on the Opiate NAS Addicted Infant MDL 2872 litigation as well as the status of opioid litigation and related issues at the upcoming Mass Tort Nexus “CLE Immersion Course”
November 9-12, 2018 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale , FL.
(The following information and conclusions are based on opinions formed after a review of relevant facts and data by John Ray and edited by Lisa Powell, Mass Tort Nexus www.masstortnexus.com)
XARELTO LABEL CHANGE AND CLINICAL TRIAL BACKGROUND
On October 11, 2018, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (a division of Johnson & Johnson) changed its Xarelto® drug safety label as follows:
Monitoring for the anticoagulation effect of rivaroxaban using a clotting test (PT, INR or aPTT) for anti-factor XA (FXa) activity is not recommended.
Rivaroxaban is an anticoagulant medication. Anticoagulants thin blood. Rivaroxaban is sold under its trade name, Xarelto®. Xarelto® is used to prevent and/or treat blood clots that could result in strokes in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation, in patients undergoing knee and hip reconstruction or replacement surgery, and for secondary prevention in patients who have had an Acute coronary syndrome event.
Prior to FDA approval in 2011, clinical trials were conducted to test the safety and efficacy of Xarelto® and to compare it to other anticoagulants. Trial administrators measured both the medication’s effectiveness in thinning the blood and how long it took to be within the therapeutic range. A blood test is used to measure the international randomized ratio (INR). The INR was used to determine the appropriate dose and dosage (i.e., amount and rate of administration) specific to each patient; or, in this case, each trial participant.
The safety label update made last week by the drug maker, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (a division of Johnson & Johnson) in effect states that the INR test used to gain FDA approval—and that doctors continue to use to dose and monitor the effects of Xarelto® in their patients—is arguably defective. Not only would this render the clinical trial results invalid but also bolster plaintiffs’ new and existing claims that the drug maker(s) failed to adequately inform doctors that there was no means by which to determine the correct dose and dosage for any given patient. Essentially a doctor would have to wait until the patient bleeds out or throws a clot before determining that the patient may not be on the right dose and/or dosage. In other words, the INR test likely has no diagnostic value and is no more effective than a shot in the dark.
Summary of Facts and Subsequent Findings
On October 11, 2018, the Xarelto® drug safety label was changed to “not” recommend INR testing to monitor the effects Xarelto® on patients
INR testing was used in clinical trials to establish the safety and efficacy of Xarelto® and to compare it to other anticoagulants prior to FDA approval and market release in 2011
Title 21 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation requires that drug labels include a summary of essential scientific information including a statement of the recommended or usual dosage
Results from Xarelto® clinical trials using INR testing are at best, questionable, and at worst, invalid
A change to the Xarelto® drug safety label likely indicates that the drug makers failed to adequately warn that there was no means by which to determine correct dosage for any given patient
A pharmaceutical product for which correct dose and dosage cannot be established for a given patient is arguably defective in a significant way
Physicians that rely on INR testing without knowing that it may render inaccurate results could lead them to incorrectly dose Xarelto® potentially causing significant harm to their patients
Methodology Flaws in the Xarelto Clinical Trials
INR testing was used in the original Xarelto® clinical trials known as the ROCKET-AF and EINSTEIN DVT/PE trials. These trials were paid for by the drug makers—Bayer Healthcare and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (a division of Johnson & Johnson). These trials were conducted to establish the safety and efficacy of Xarelto® and to compare it to other anticoagulants.
The following is an excerpt from the EINSTEIN DVT/PE clinical trial results:
active-controlled, event-driven noninferiority studies (EINSTEIN DVT and EINSTEIN PE) with patients receiving XARELTO® at an initial dose of 15 mg twice daily with food for the first 3 weeks, followed by XARELTO® 20 mg once daily with food or enoxaparin 1 mg/kg twice daily for at least 5 days with VKA, then VKA only after target INR (2.0-3.0) was reached. Patients were treated for 3, 6, or 12 months at HCP discretion.
In other words, Xarelto® was administered to trial participants and after a target INR was reached, they received a different anticoagulant—a VKA (i.e., vitamin K antagonist).
Given the drug safety update added to the Xarelto® label by Janssen on October 11, 2018:
Monitoring for the anticoagulation effect of rivaroxaban using a clotting test (PT, INR or aPTT) for anti-factor Xa (FXa) activity is not recommended.
Results from Xarelto® clinical trials using INR testing are at best, questionable, and at worst, invalid.
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In May 2017—17 months before Janssen changed the Xarelto® label—Clinical Therapeutics, an international peer-reviewed journal, published an article entitled, “International Normalized Ratio Is Significantly Elevated with Rivaroxaban and Apixaban Drug Therapies: A Retrospective Study Published.” An excerpt from the article follows (emphasis added):
Direct factor Xa inhibitors such as rivaroxaban or apixaban may prolong prothrombin time (PT) and elevate international normalized ratio (INR). However, these tests are not reliable for assessing the anticoagulation effects of these agents. PT assay sensitivity is relatively weak at therapeutic drug concentrations and is subjected to significant variations depending on the reagent used. Conversion of PT to INR may even increase the variability. We conducted a retrospective cross-sectional study aiming to assess the prevalence and extent of INR elevation in hospitalized patients receiving rivaroxaban or apixaban as part of their home medications and to find out whether other existing factors could elevate INR apart from the drug entity itself. [Emphasis added.]
The data collected from 218 hospitalized patients׳ charts included PT and INR taken on admission, patients׳ characteristics, laboratory results, other medications regularly used, and coexisting clinical conditions.
No statistically significant association between INR elevation and the parameters examined was found in our study. INR was significantly elevated in both drug groups (P < 0.001), with 84.2% of rivaroxaban patients and 78.3% of apixaban patients presenting with INR levels above the higher limit of the normal range. Furthermore, INR was significantly higher in the rivaroxaban group than in the apixaban group (P < 0.001).
Both of the reviewed drugs significantly elevated INR. Moreover, rivaroxaban elevates INR significantly more than apixaban, and there are apparently no other factors affecting INR but the drugs themselves. Larger prospective studies are needed to confirm and clarify the clinical significance of these results.
In that the common tests used to determine the correct administration of Xarelto® are not recommended by the drug maker, how are doctors to determine what dose and dosage of Xarelto® is correct vs. what dose and dosage may render a patient over anticoagulated and more likely to experience severe bleeding, or under anticoagulated, leaving patients more likely to suffer the adverse events Xarelto® is intended to treat?
In other words, doctors have relied on—and may continue to rely on—the test that the makers of Xarelto® now say is not recommended to determine the blood-thinning effects of the drug without knowing that these tests were likely rendering inaccurate results which could lead to their treating patients in a manner likely to cause them significant harm.
If the means to determine the correct dosage to administer to a given patient does not exist, the product is arguably defective. In addition, it would be impossible for a drug maker to comply with the requirements of Title 21, as follows:
21 CFR § 201.56 (a)(1): The labeling must contain a summary of the essential scientific information needed for the safe and effective use of the drug.
21 CFR § 201.100(b)(2): Requires labels for prescription drugs bear a statement of the recommended or usual dosage.
Janssen’s Misleading Advertising Campaign
There are three types of anticoagulants used in the United States. Xarelto® is a direct factor Xa inhibitor type. Benefits claimed by its U.S. manufacturer, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., include once daily administration of an oral pill, no dietary restrictions, and less testing requirements resulting in fewer blood draws. Warfarin, another type of anticoagulant, is a vitamin K inhibitor. If a patient’s blood becomes too thin after taking warfarin, vitamin K is administered to reverse its blood-thinning effects (i.e., an antidote or reversal agent). While the INR measurement is an effective test to dose and monitor warfarin in patients, Janssen’s advertising campaign touting less testing requirements for Xarelto® as a benefit is laughable given that the INR test used repeatedly to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of Xarelto® “is not recommended.” Until early 2018—approximately seven years after its market release–Xarelto® did not have a reversal agent, and to date, there is not a “recommended” test for doctors to accurately dose and monitor the effects of Xarelto® in their patients.
In 2014, the FDA required Janssen to add new language to its official warnings and precautions including an update to its “black box” because the test equipment used to measure the INR during clinical trials was deemed faulty. The black box is the strongest and most urgent FDA warning added to an official drug label. The update notifies patients and caregivers about certain risks and potentially dangerous side effects from Xarelto®. A year earlier, the FDA cited Johnson & Johnson for its misleading advertising campaign in contradiction to U.S. laws and regulations.
According to Recall Center, a consumer protection organization:
Since the drug’s release, there have been multiple updates to the label warning users of possible risks. In 2013, the FDA issued a determination letter to Johnson & Johnson advising them that their print advertising published in WebMD magazine earlier that year was misleading. They cited the following deficiencies:
Effects of the drug to potential patients were downplayed
Efficacy claims appeared to be disassociated from the potential risks
Assertions that Xarelto has “no dosage adjustments,” which the FDA noted is inaccurate according to the product information’s section on warnings and precautions, as well as its section on dosage and administration.
Because of these allegations, the FDA declared Johnson & Johnson to be in violation of U.S. laws and regulations that oversee drug marketing. [U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “Letter to Roxanne McGregor-Beck, RE: NDA #202439.” (June 6, 2013) FDA.gov. Accessed Oct. 27, 2014]
According to a 2017 PR Newswire press release published by Business Insider (emphasis added):
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Bayer Healthcare (OTC: BAYRY) are accused of downplaying the risks of taking Xarelto and aggressively marketing the drug as an alternative for warfarin in patients needing blood thinners to reduce the risk of dangerous clots. The companies positioned the drug as more convenient, calling for a once-a-day dose and eliminating the need for regular monitoring of a patient’s blood. However, the lawsuits charge that doctors and patients were not fully informed of the risks.
While Janssen’s Xarelto® advertising campaign claims:
And with XARELTO® you can
Spend your time how you want to spend it, with no regular blood monitoring
MISLEADING. A more accurate statement would arguably be:
Regular blood monitoring would be useless because it will not identify whether a patient is under anti-coagulated [i.e. clotting too much] or over anti-coagulated [i.e., bleeding too much].
Enjoy a full variety of healthy foods with no known dietary restrictions
Know it’s working, with no frequent dosage adjustments
MISLEADING. A more accurate statement would arguably be:
There is no means by which to determine if a dosage adjustment is needed in that the common tests to make such a determination are inaccurate in patients who have been administered Xarelto®.
It bears repeating:
A pharmaceutical product for which correct dosage cannot be established or determined for any given patient is arguably defective in a significant way.
With Testing, Rat Poison Can Be Correctly Dosed for Benefit
There may be no better example of why correctly dosing an anticoagulant is important than warfarin. Warfarin first came into commercial use as a rat poison in 1948. Correctly dosed, warfarin is an effective anticoagulant for humans; incorrectly dosed, warfarin is poison.
Unlike Xarelto®, INR testing is reliable for dosing warfarin. To optimize the therapeutic effect without risking dangerous side effects such as bleeding, close monitoring of the degree of anticoagulation is required. During the initial stage of treatment, the INR is checked daily. Intervals between tests can be lengthened if the patient manages stable therapeutic INR levels on an unchanged warfarin dose. Newer point-of-care testing is available and has increased the ease of INR testing in the outpatient setting. Instead of a blood draw, the new INR point-of-care test involves a simple finger prick.
Therefore, an anticoagulant that cannot be accurately dosed is arguably not as safe as rat poison.
The foregoing is an observation of statistics and data related to Xarelto®. The conclusions contained herein are based on opinions formed by the author after a review of the relevant data. We acknowledge that others could draw differing conclusions and opinions based on the same observations.
Xarelto Study Red Flags Ignored: Why were medical research professionals ignored when red flags were raised over the viability of the Xarelto Rocket AF and Einstein DVT study results? Now the clinical trials for both are considered flawed, and the two most recent studies, the “Commander HF” and“Mariner,” failed to produce clear evidence that Xarelto is able to reduce the rate of blood clots in certain high-risk patients or after an acute decline in their condition.
By Mark A. York (October 23, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Xarelto (rivaroxaban) is a prescription blood thinner created by Bayer and Janssen Pharmaceuticals that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. This drug is an anticoagulant for preventing blood from clotting, often used to treat deep vein thrombosis, atrial fibrillation, pulmonary embolism, stroke, and other conditions.
More than one study has shown Xarelto can cause a higher rate of internal bleeding, than other anticoagulant drugs and until very recently, there was no available “antidote” for stopping internal bleeding in patients taking Xarelto. With warfarin, vitamin K has been shown to stop bleeding but there is no vitamin K “parallel” for people taking Xarelto. For Xarelto, it can take 24 hours for a dose to get out of the body. That means that if internal bleeding starts, the patient may simply have to wait it out and hope it stops on its own.
What The Medical Studies Say About Xarelto?
The FDA has received thousands of adverse event reports regarding Xarelto and medical studies have examined the safety of this drug:
New England Journal of Medicine (2011): Published the ROCKET-AF study, which compared Xarelto to Warfarin in patients suffering from atrial fibrillation. This was the biggest clinical trial of this medication and it compared the effects of Xarelto to the effects of a similar drug known as Warfarin in over 14,000 patients. The study concluded that “there was not significant between-group difference in the risk of major bleeding.”
Archives of Internal Medicine (2012): The study discussed the risk of uncontrollable bleeding outweighing the benefits for several different blood thinners including Xarelto. The researchers in this study found that there was a tripled risk of bleeding among the patients, who were given the drug, and no improvement in overall survival rates.
Institute for Safe Medication Practices (2012): Issued a report based on FDA data from the first quarter of 2012. During this period, the FDA received 356 adverse event reports of Xarelto side effects including “serious, disabling, or fatal injury.” Additionally, 158 reports indicated blood clots were the serious side effect.
Medscape (2013): Xarelto is associated with a higher risk of bleeding in certain patients. It caused a nearly 3-fold increase of the risk of bleeding in “acutely ill patients” and 4-fold increased risk of major bleeding in patients that had “Acute Coronary Syndrome” (ACS).
Drug Makers Failed To Disclose Faulty Device In Xarelto Trials
Rivaroxaban and the ROCKET AF trial issue chronicles: A closer look at benefit risk profile of the drug.
Study Analysis: There has been a lot of hue and cry over the recent question raised about the ROCKET AF trial for rivaroxaban which was the only trial used by the company for drug approval from USFDA. This is indeed a very important concern as it directly impacts the well-being of the patients who are at the receiving end of this very highly prescribed anticoagulant drug in 2014. The main concern with this whole confusion surrounding the ROCKET AF trial is that the device used for measuring the INR in trial arm of warfarin patient was faulty and gave lower INR values than it should have, leading to over dosing of warfarin and thereby increasing bleeding problems with the same, compared to the trial arm of rivaroxaban. However, there has been a reanalysis done by the ROCKET AF researchers, which again reinforced the prior result database of the trial and which was accepted by FDA as well. In the reanalysis, the US FDA clearly mentioned that the effect of the faulty device results in causing bleeding episodes, both minor and major, was minimal.
However, following this reanalysis, not everyone who raised the question in the first place was convinced and there was a demand that the data of the complete ROCKET AF trial should be made public for everyone to assess and understand the risks. But since the trial was done and results released before the principles on responsible clinical trial data sharing came into effect, the parent pharmaceutical company for rivaroxaban refused to share the patient level details, citing concerns on privacy and transparency policy .
In spite of everything said and written for and against this issue, a simple question arises, regarding the amount of belief, honesty and hard work that goes without questioning when you bring a new chemical entity to the research stage, get it approved and then bring it to market. For this to happen, there have to be maintained a very fine balance between pharmaceutical companies, drug regulatory authorities and marketing people. In this case, after initial suspicions, the drug regulatory authorities have cleared and supported the approval of rivaroxaban after reanalysis and that should have a say, in case we want to continue trust with this process of drug entry into the market.
Rivaroxaban has shown its efficacy and safety both in patients who required adequate anticoagulation e.g. those who had atrial fibrillation and underwent cardioversion. There are few other trials where rivaroxaban has performed better or equally good than warfarin in terms of both efficacy and safety . These results lead us to believe that all was not wrong with the ROCKET AF trial results. All these, combined with personal experiences of those physicians who had been using the drug rivaroxaban for the last couple of years with a hugely favorable result clearly imply that the drug rivaroxaban is holding its side strongly in the midst of all the controversies surrounding its approval and efficacy and it is here to stay. Adding a last word to all this discussion is that rivaroxaban will always hold an upper hand compared to warfarin when prescribed because of its very favorable and easy to use once daily dosing. We cannot discard all the positive reports and positive experiences associated with this drug, based on real time data, only because of the question raised by some, and considering the fact that the question had been satisficatorily answered with a re analysis with no change in the result.
What Did Or Didn’t The FDA Do About Xarelto?
In July, 2011, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially approved the medicine for sale on the market for a limited group of people. This included people who had knee or hip replacement surgery because they were considered to be at a higher risk of blood clotting. Read the FDA News Release here.
In November, 2011, Xarelto was approved for a larger group of people, including people with an abnormal heart rhythm, and was used to prevent stroke. Read further.
In June, 2012, an FDA advisory panel voted against approving this medicine for the treatment of acute coronary syndrome.
In November, 2012, Xarelto was later approved for general treatment of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) after a fast track regulatory review by the FDA. Read more.
October 22, 2014, the FDA issued a recall for approximately 13,500 bottles of Xarelto after receiving a customer complaint about contamination in a sales sample.
January 12, 2015 – An antidote may have been discovered by Portola Pharmaceuticals for Xarelto. A late-stage clinical trial of the intravenous medication, andexanet alfa, met its goal of “immediately and significantly” reversing Xarelto.
The approval history for Xarelto was actually pretty controversial. FDA reviewers originally said that they recommended against approval, then there was an FDA advisory committee (independent group of key opinion leaders) and they voted in favor, so the FDA approved the drug. Their concern was with how the Phase III trials were run and whether Xarelto had really proved its efficacy. The tests compared patients on warfarin to patients on Xarelto, but the patients on the warfarin run had poor TTR. That means the patients weren’t well controlled on warfarin to begin with, which skews the data in favor of Xarelto.
During the approval process, Xarelto actually wanted a superiority label, which would say that the drug was better than warfarin and other blood thinners. Because of the concerns with the Phase III data, the FDA only gave them a non-inferior label, which says they’re essentially the same in terms of effectiveness.
The INRatio device was the subject of two FDA warning letters about inaccurate readings just as the trial was starting in 2005 and 2006. In 2014, the device was recalled. The use of the INRatio device may have skewed the results with inaccurate readings, making Xarelto look better in comparison with warfarin.
In a 2017 annual report issued by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), it was stated that oral anticoagulant drugs, including Xarelto (rivaroxaban), showed “unacceptably high risks,” according to two government data sources, the FAERS adverse events reports for 2016 and a new systematic study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Overall, the CDC found in its systematic study that the FDA’s FAERS voluntary reporting underestimates anticoagulant drug-related injuries. The CDC discovered that approximately 228,600 emergency department visits occur each year due to the use of blood thinner drugs, including Xarelto, which is 10 times more than the FAERS total number of voluntary reports.
Xarelto Clinical Trial Red Flags
Controversy Surrounding ROCKET-AF: A Call for Transparency, But Should We Be Changing Practice?
Prior to the emergence of novel oral anticoagulants (NOACS), nearly all patients were prescribed vitamin K antagonists for thromboembolic prophylaxis in non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AF). Rivaroxaban (Xarelto, Bayer/Johnson & Johnson), an oral factor Xa inhibitor, is now one of the most frequently prescribed NOACs used for this indication.1,2
ROCKET-AF (Rivaroxaban Once Daily Oral Direct Factor Xa Inhibition Compared with Vitamin K Antagonism for Prevention of Stroke and Embolism Trial in Atrial Fibrillation), published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011, demonstrated the non-inferiority of rivaroxaban compared with warfarin for the primary prevention of stroke or systemic embolism in patients with AF. This double-blinded randomised trial, which included 14,264 patients across 45 countries, also showed no significant difference in the risk of major bleeding between these two groups.3
Rivaroxaban use in AF has become widespread since the publication of this trial and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Two additional Factor Xa inhibitors, apixaban and edoxaban, have also been evaluated in similar randomised trials and have demonstrated non-inferiority to warfarin for stroke or systemic embolism prophylaxis in patients with non-valvular AF with no significant difference in major bleeding.4,5
In recent months, the results of ROCKET-AF have come into question after the FDA issued a recall notice for the device used to obtain International Normalised Ratio (INR) measurements in the warfarin control group. The FDA found that lower INR values were seen with the ‘point-of-care’ INRatio Monitor System (Alere) compared with a plasma-based laboratory in patients with certain medical conditions.2 These conditions included abnormal haemoglobin levels, abnormal bleeding and abnormal fibrinogen levels.6Since the FDA recall of this device, there has been widespread concern that falsely low INR readings in ROCKET-AF may have led to warfarin overdosing. Inappropriately high warfarin dosing could have increased bleeding rates in the control group and therefore made the rivaroxaban arm appear falsely favourable.7 This point-of-care device recall also highlighted a lack of transparency of the specifics of devices used in large clinical trials.
In response, the authors from ROCKET-AF released a correspondence in February 2016, citing the FDA recall. They also provided a post hoc analysis of patients who may have been affected by the recall. They found that major bleeding was greater in patients with conditions affected by the recall, but, reassuringly, the bleeding risk was greater in those who were on rivaroxaban and not warfarin.6
Despite this post hoc analysis, concern has arisen regarding the generalisability of ROCKET-AF given the faulty point-of-care INR readings. There has been a call for complete transparency of the data from this trial and a better explanation of the mechanism of the incorrect INR measurements.7
Once published, the data supporting an FDA-approved treatment should be available for independent analysis. One issue is that rivaroxaban was approved in the US prior to 1 January 2014, before a new transparency policy on clinical trial data sharing was approved by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).2 Drug companies are refusing to share any data on pharmaceuticals approved before 2014.
A device malfunction in a large clinical trial also should raise concern, especially when that trial has altered clinical practice for millions of patients. On review of Patel et al’s correspondence regarding the point-of-care malfunction, there is inadequate explanation of the mechanism of these faulty readings. Why are they only seen only in patients with abnormal haemoglobin and fibrinogen levels? How inaccurate could the readings be – within 0.1 or 1.0 of a gold standard value? Most alarming is the revelation that the manufacturer had evidence of faulty readings in similar models dating back to 2002.2
Despite legitimate concerns regarding the absence of data transparency and the faulty point-of-care device, rivaroxaban need not be removed from clinical practice for AF patients. In ROCKET-AF, the drug demonstrated non-inferiority to warfarin in preventing thromboembolic events. In addition, data has shown that patients potentially affected by the faulty point-of-care device actually bled more on rivaroxaban than warfarin.6 Therefore, the original risk–benefit ratio presented in ROCKET-AF remains true.
There are other, albeit smaller, randomised trials with shorter follow-up times that compare rivaroxaban and warfarin for thromboembolic prophylaxis.8,9 For example, Cappato et al in 2014, randomised 1,504 patients to show that oral rivaroxaban was non-inferior to warfarin in preventing a composite endpoint of stroke, transient ischaemic attack, peripheral embolism, myocardial infarction and cardiovascular death in patients with AF undergoing cardioversion. Major bleeding rates in the rivaroxaban and warfarin arms were similar (0.6 % versus 0.8 % respectively).8
The prospective observational trial XANTUS (Xarelto for Prevention of Stroke in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation) followed 6.784 patients on rivaroxaban for AF during a mean time of 329 days at 311 different hospitals. Major bleeding occurred in 128 patients (2.1 events/100 patient years) and 43 patients (0.7 events/100 patient years) suffered a stroke. These numbers are more reassuring than those seen in ROCKET-AF, though the patient population had a lower risk profile, with an average CHADS2 score of 2.0 compared with 3.5 in ROCKET-AF.10
To further mitigate concern regarding inaccuracies of bleeding rates in the ROCKET-AF control group, it is helpful to compare bleeding rates in the warfarin arms of the other major NOAC trials. The RE-LY (Randomised Evaluation of Long-Term Anticoagulation Therapy) trial, had a warfarin-arm major bleeding rate of 3.4%/year.11 The ARISTOTLE (Apixaban for Reduction in Stroke and Other Thromboembolic Events in Atrial Fibrillation) trial, had a warfarin-arm major bleeding rate of 3.1%/year.4 The ENGAGE AF-TIMI 48 (Effective Anticoagulation with Factor Xa Next Generation in Atrial Fibrillation-Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction 48) trial, had a warfarin-arm major bleeding rate of 3.4 %/year.5The warfarin arm of ROCKET-AF had a 3.4 %/year major bleeding rate, comparable to the other studies. Furthermore, the ROCKET-AF patients are known to be at higher risk for stroke and bleeding; their average CHADS2 score was highest among these studies (3.5 compared with 2.1–2.8).3 In addition, ROCKET-AF had a very high percentage of patients with a HAS-BLED score ≥3 (62 %) compared with the other studies (23 % in ARISTOTLE and 51 % in ENGAGE AF-TIMI 48).12–14
Several large randomised trials have compared the safety and efficacy of rivaroxaban versus warfarin for venous thromboembolic disease. The warfarin arm of the EINSTEIN-PE trial (Oral Direct Factor Xa Inhibitor Rivaroxaban in Patients with Acute Symptomatic Pulmonary Embolism), which randomised patients with pulmonary embolism to warfarin or rivaroxaban, had a major bleeding rate of 2.2 %. The bleeding rate was lower in the rivaroxaban arm (1.1 %) and notably patients received a higher loading dose of rivaroxaban for the first 3 weeks (15 mg twice daily) compared with the daily 20 mg daily in ROCKET-AF.15
The recent uncertainties surrounding ROCKET-AF demonstrate the need for widespread data transparency for major trials with the capability of so greatly affecting patients’ lives. These are complicated issues both for the companies’ manufacturing products and the clinical trial organisations who carry out these studies and analyse the data. Ultimately the goal of full transparency to allow increased confidence in trial results should be sought. In this instance there is no compelling evidence of imminent danger of excessive bleeding with rivaroxaban. We should take notice of the recent findings, but there is no need to change practice.
What Are Xarelto Side Effects?
The most dangerous Xarelto side effect is uncontrollable bleeding. Blood thinning drugs have also been associated with bleeding complications. Other side effects include:
For Information on Xarelto and other mass torts see:
Michael Brady Lunch will speak on the Xarelto litigation as well as the status of Pradaxa litigation and related issues at the upcoming Mass Tort Nexus “CLE Immersion Course”
November 9 -12, 2018 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale , FL.
Kubitza D, Becka M, Wensing G, et al. Safety, pharmacodynamics, and pharmacokinetics of BAY 59-7939 – an oral, direct Factor Xa inhibitor – after multiple dosing in healthy male subjects. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2005;61:873–80. PMID: 16328318. [PubMed]
Cohen D. Rivaroxaban: can we trust the evidence? BMJ. 2016;352:i575. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.i575; PMID: 26843102. [PubMed]
Patel MR, Mahaffey KW, Garg J, et al. Rivaroxaban versus warfarin in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2011;365:883–91. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1009638; PMID: 21830957. [PubMed]
Granger CB, Alexander JH, McMurray JJ, et al. Apixaban versus warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2011;365:981–92. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1107039; PMID: 21870978.[PubMed]
Giugliano RP, Ruff CT, Braunwald E, et al. Edoxaban versus warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2013;369:2093–104. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1310907; PMID: 24251359. [PubMed]
Patel MR, Hellkamp AS, Fox KA, et al. Point-of-care warfarin monitoring in the ROCKET AF Trial. N Engl J Med. 2016;374:785–8. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1515842; PMID: 26839968. [PubMed]
Mandrola J. Rivaroxaban: It’s not time to cut the rope, yet. Medscape. 9 February 2016. Available at: www.medscape.com/viewarticle/858648. (accessed 6 May 2016.
Cappato R, Ezekowitz MD, Klein AL, et al. Rivaroxaban vs. vitamin K antagonists for cardioversion in atrial fibrillation. Eur Heart J. 2014;35:3346–55. DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehu367; PMID: 25182247.[PubMed]
Cappato R, Marchlinski FE, Hohnloser SH, et al. Uninterrupted rivaroxaban vs. uninterrupted vitamin K antagonists for catheter ablation in non-valvular atrial fibrillation. Eur Heart J. 2015;36:1805–11. DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehv177; PMID: 25975659. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Camm AJ, Amarenco P, Haas S, et al. XANTUS: a real-world, prospective, observational study of patients treated with rivaroxaban for stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation. Eur Heart J. 2016;37:1145–53.DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehv466; PMID: 26330425. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Connolly SJ, Ezekowitz MD, Yusuf S, et al. Dabigatran versus warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2009;361:1139–51. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0905561; PMID: 19717844.[PubMed]
Sherwood MW, Nessel CC, Hellkamp AS, et al. Gastrointestinal bleeding in patients with atrial fibrillation treated With rivaroxaban or warfarin: ROCKET AF trial. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66:2271–81.DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2015.09.024; PMID: 26610874. [PubMed]
Lopes RD, Al-Khatib SM, Wallentin L, et al. Efficacy and safety of apixaban compared with warfarin according to patient risk of stroke and of bleeding in atrial fibrillation: a secondary analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2012;380:1749–58. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60986-6; PMID: 23036896. [PubMed]
Eisen A, Giugliano RP, Ruff CT, et al. Edoxaban vs warfarin in patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation in the US Food and Drug Administration approval population: An analysis from the Effective Anticoagulation with Factor Xa Next Generation in Atrial Fibrillation-Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction 48 (ENGAGE AF-TIMI 48) trial. Am Heart J. 2016;172:144–51. DOI: 10.1016/j.ahj.2015.11.004; PMID: 26856226. [PubMed]
EINSTEIN-PE Investigators, Buller HR, Prins MH, et al. Oral rivaroxaban for the treatment of symptomatic pulmonary embolism. N Engl J Med. 2012;366:1287–97. DOI: 10.1056/ NEJMoa1113572. PMID: 22449293. [PubMed]
Betty Erelene Knight (Deceased), Claude R. Knight vs. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Docket No. 3:15-cv-06424; Judge Robert C. Chambers (United States District Court-Southern District of West Virginia)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) A federal jury has awarded the family of a deceased West Virginia woman $1.25 million after finding that Boehringer Ingelheim failed to warn of risks associated with its blood thinner Pradaxa, causing her to suffer gastrointestinal bleeding.
The federal trial in Huntington, WV, (US District Court Southern District of West Virginia) awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages to the estate of Betty Erelene Knight and her husband Claude R. Knight, and added $1,000,000 more in punitive damages. The jury added the large punitive award after plaintiff counsel showed that Boehringer Ingelheim engaged in wanton and willful acts in handling of its blockbuster drug Pradaxa, primarily in failing to warn of the risks.
The October 17th plaintiffs’ verdict was the first trial win in the country against Boehringer Ingelheim the German drugmaker, showing that the blockbuster drug is dangerous. The Pradaxa defense team had won three earlier trials for the company, and this verdict on behalf of the estate of Erelene Knight and her surviving spouse Claude, shows that juries can be convinced of the dangers including fatal risks related to Pradaxa. Mrs. Knight, who was in her 80’s passed away while taking Pradaxa.
She suffered from an irregular heartbeat, a condition that often leads to the development of blood clots, which can travel into the brain and cause a stroke. The plaintiff’s doctor stated that she was at “high risk of stroke.”
Prior to being prescribed Pradaxa, her doctors initially prescribed Coumadin, another prescription blood thinner. Because of the risk of uncontrolled bleeding with this particular drug, the victim required “frequent monitoring” which is what the Pradaxa marketing teams focused on, when meeting with doctors while marketing Pradaxa as a “safer alternative to Coumadin.” Eventually, the victim grew weary of the inconvenience of such monitoring and learned about Pradaxa, which performs a similar function to Coumadin, from a television commercial.
Her doctor agreed to switch her to Pradaxa, and after about 18 months on the drug, she started to suffer from severe, uncontrolled internal bleeding. At one point she required surgery, which significantly weakened her and set into motion a decline in her health. Within several months of the surgery Erelene Knight passed away. Defense vigorously attempted to point the finger at other health conditions and place blame on anything besides Pradaxa, which failed as the punitive damage award of $1 million showed that the jury clearly saw that Boehringer Ingelheim knew the risks of Pradaxa, yet continued offering the drug without sufficient warnings.
The winning plaintiff trial team consisted of the Childers, Schlueter & Smith Firm and partner Andy Childers, Neal Moskow of Ury & Moskow, LLC and Yvette Ferrer of Ferrer Poirot & Wansbrough. Congratulations to everyone, as the mass tort world looks forward to additional plaintiff verdicts in the many other Pradaxa cases pending in dockets around the country.
WHAT IS PRADAXA?
· Pradaxa is an anticoagulant medication used to reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common type of heart rhythm abnormality.
· The safety and efficacy of Pradaxa were studied in a clinical trial comparing Pradaxa with the anticoagulant warfarin. In the trial, patients taking Pradaxa had fewer strokes than those who took warfarin.1
· From approval in October 2010 through August 2012, a total of approximately 3.7 million Pradaxa prescriptions were dispensed, and approximately 725,000 patients received a dispensed prescription for Pradaxa from U.S. outpatient retail pharmacies.2
Rulings Prior to Trial
The estate’s lawsuit against Boehringer Ingelheim, focused on Pradaxa’s label, asserting claims that the company knew that “certain blood plasma concentrations of Pradaxa increased the risk of a major bleed without contributing any additional stroke prevention benefit.” This risk was actually disclosed on labels for Pradaxa in Europe, but not the United States at the time of the victim’s care. Boehringer also knew that patients should not take Pradaxa if they also use P-gp inhibitor drugs, which Erelene Knight did. And while the company later altered its label to include this information, it did not directly inform doctors of the risk.
Based on all this, the judge presiding over the case ruled the estate presented sufficient evidence to submit the question of liability for “failure to warn” to the jury. Defense protested that at the relevant time, Pradaxa contained a general warning that the drug “can cause serious and, sometimes, fatal bleeding.” But whether or not this was an “adequate” warning given what BI allegedly knew, but failed to disclose on the original U.S. label, will be for the jury to decide.