Indiana Jury Awards Tonya Brand $3 million In Damages
By Mark A. York (February 6, 2019)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) A federal jury awarded plaintiff Tonya Brand $3 million in the most recent Cook MDL 2570 IVC Filter bellwether trial on February 1, 2019 in Indianapolis. See Tonya Brand v. Cook IVC Filter Jury Verdict Form Feb 1, 2019 , where the jury determined that the design of the Cook Celect IVC Filter was defective and returned a verdict of $3 million dollars.
The jury declined to award punitive damages against Cook Medical, Inc. with Ms. Brand’s trial counsel, Misty Farris offering “we are happy with the jury verdict and are encouraged that the Celect IVC Filter was recognized as being defectively designed, as far as punitive damages not being awarded—we respect the jury decision to not award punitives and look forward to the next trial.” See Tonya Brand v Cook Punitive Jury Instructions Feb 5, 2019.
Ms. Farris further added, “We believe this was the right verdict and perhaps the defense may consider this when determining whether or not to begin settlement discussions,” as there are no other bellwether trials scheduled in the Cook MDL 2570 following the Tonya Brand trial. Will this verdict move Cook Medical and its legal team toward the start of settlement negotiations?
The Brand trial is just one of the more than 5,000 cases filed against Cook Medical, Inc. and its affiliates, where plaintiffs are alleging its blood clot filters were defectively designed. Ms. Brand’s attorneys offered to the jury that she pulled a part of her Cook IVC filter out of her thigh in 2011 after it broke up and deteriorated, while pieces of the device remain lodged in in other areas of her body and are unable to be removed. For additional information on the Cook IVC Filter MDL 2750 docket see Cook-Medical IVC-Filter-MDL-2570-Docket Briefcase, by Mass Tort Nexus.
In addition to Misty Farris, of Dallas-based Fears Nachawati, the trial team consisted of Ben Martin of the Law Offices of Ben C. Martin; Denman Heard, of the Heard Law Firm; Laura Baughman, with Baron & Budd and Joseph Williams of Indiana-based Riley Williams & Piatt, with a sincere congratulations to the entire team on their trial victory!
The Brand jury verdict came in the third bellwether trial in the Cook IVC MDL 2750, after two previous cases selected for trial resulted in wins for Cook.
Cook promoted its Celect IVC filter which was implanted into Ms. Brand as retrievable, but the filters often tilt and pierce the inferior vena cava, or pieces break off and may travel to the duodenum and aorta as well as other parts of the body, resulting in metal fragments pressing against the spine and other critical areas and organs, making it impossible to remove without major surgery. Many times the filter migration requires multiple attempts at surgical removals which fail due to the location of where the metal IVC filter fragments have migrated to.
What is an IVC Filter?
An inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is a small device surgically inserted into the inferior vena cava, the largest vein in the body. These devices, resembling a cage with spindly legs, are designed to trap blood clots from traveling to the lungs and causing a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a potentially fatal blockage of an artery that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. The idea is that the clots will dissolve naturally once trapped in the filter. Some filters are permanent, but otherwise the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends removing the filter between the 29th and 54th day after the filter is implanted, unless the threat of pulmonary embolism hasn’t subsided. The FDA concluded this specific time span based on a mathematical model they developed using available medical data. When the agency discovered this, they did issue a safety notice in 2010 and again in 2014 outlining the risks of leaving the devices in for too long.
Plaintiff claims include that Cook knew its Celect IVC filter had perforation problems before it was cleared by the FDA, yet pushed it to the market anyway. There are independent studies that found Celect had a perforation rate of greater than 79 percent, while the Cook-sponsored study the company presented to the FDA prior to Celect’s 510(k) clearance in 2008 showed a zero percent perforation rate.
Over 9000 IVC Filter Claims Filed
Since 1979 when IVC filters were first introduced, hundreds of thousands of IVC filters have been implanted in patients. In August 2010, the FDA issued a safety communication stating IVC filters “are not always removed,” and known long term IVC filter risks include lower limb deep vein thrombosis, filter fracture, filter migration, filter embolization and IVC perforation. There are now over 9,000 IVC filter lawsuits pending against Cook Medical, Johnson & Johnson, C.R. Bard, Cordis Corporation, B. Braun, Rex Medical, and other manufacturers in state and federal courts.
What are the risks of an inferior vena cava filter placement?
Damage to the blood vessel at the insertion site
Blockage of blood flow through the vena cava, which can cause leg swelling
A filter that travels to the heart or lungs, causing injury or death
A filter that pierces through the inferior vena cava, causing pain or damage to other organs
Problem with placement of the filter
Continued risk of a blood clot that travels to the lungs
Clinical Research Shows IVC Filter Dangers Were Known
Blood clot filters are implanted in an estimated 250,000 people in the U.S. each year, most without incident. In the last decade, millions of filters have been implanted in Americans and Cook Medical, Inc. is justone of 11 manufacturers that make these devices and are involved in litigation pending in both federal and state court dockets across the country.
To access the most relevant and real time information on Mass Torts sign up for:
Mass Tort Nexus “CLE Immersion Course”
March 8-11, 2019 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale , FL
Bard-Davol is attempting to consolidate MDL 2641 IVC Filter litigation cases now that settlement discussions seem to be starting in earnest and having all their filters in this MDL makes good business sense.
Bard’s history includes being known as the company that manufactured IVC filters associated with at least 27 deaths and hundreds of related problems when they replaced the initial IVC device with a modified version, that it knew had similar and potentially fatal flaws soon after it was put on the market.
Company records have shown that New Jersey based C.R. Bard was concerned about reports of failures for its G2 series filters, designed to replace the company’s Recovery filter, within four months of being cleared to sell the G2 by the Food and Drug Administration.
But instead of recalling the G2 filter, and the virtually identical G2 Express, the medical device manufacturer decided to keep them on the market for five years until 2010, selling more than 160,000 of them.
At least 12 deaths and hundreds of problems are now linked to the G2 series filters, according to Bard and FDA records.
“All of the data that we’ve seen in our own studies, as well as other clinician researchers’, is that this device consistently fractures, consistently causes major complications,” said Dr. William Kuo, a interventional radiologist who runs Stanford Health Care’s IVC Filter Clinic, which specializes in removing failed blood clot filters. “The number of complications, the frequency of severe failures makes it obvious that it was never safe to be implanted.”
The spider-shaped Bard filters, implanted in the largest vein in the body (the inferior vena cava) were designed to stop blood clots from moving to the heart and lungs, where they could be fatal.
Blood clot filters are implanted in an estimated 250,000 people in the U.S. each year, most without incident. In the last decade, millions of filters have been implanted in Americans. Bard is one of 11 manufacturers that make these devices.
Bard had hoped to gain a new foothold in the lucrative filter market when it introduced the Recovery filter. But after it received FDA clearance to market the device in 2002, reports of deaths and injuries associated with it moving and breaking steadily climbed.
A confidential study commissioned by Bard showed that the Recovery filter had higher rates of relative risk for death, filter fracture and movement than all of its competitors. An outside doctor hired to conduct the study wrote that “further investigation…is urgently warranted.”
But Bard decided not to recall the Recovery from the market. In 2005, after the device had been sold for three years, the company replaced it with the similar G2 series of filters. Internal Bard records and hundreds of reports to the FDA show that the G2 series did not solve the filter’s problems.
A confidential memo written in December 2005 by a Bard vice president soon after the G2 was cleared by the FDA shows his concern about “problems with…migration,” “tilting” and “perforation.” He also noted that Bard had another filter on the market that had virtually no complaints. “Why shouldn’t doctors be using that one rather than the G2?” he asked.
Another document written later that includes data through 2010 showed the G2 series filters had more fractures, migrations and reported problems than any of its competitors.
Clinical Research Shows IVC Filter Dangers Were Known
Limited penetration into the caval wall is an important securing mechanism for inferior vena cava (IVC) filters; however, caval penetration can also cause unintentional complications. The aim of this study was to assess the incidence, severity, clinical consequences, and management of filter penetration across a range of commercially available IVC filters.
Methods and Results—
The MEDLINE database was searched for all studies (1970–2014) related to IVC filters. A total of 88 clinical studies and 112 case reports qualified for analysis; these studies included 9002 patients and 15 types of IVC filters. Overall, penetration was reported in 19% of patients (1699 of 9002), and 19% of those penetrations (322 of 1699) showed evidence of organ/structure involvement. Among patients with penetration, 8% were symptomatic, 45% were asymptomatic, and 47% had unknown symptomatology. The most frequently reported symptom was pain (77%, 108 of 140). Major complications were reported in 83 patients (5%). These complications required interventions including surgical removal of the IVC filter (n=63), endovascular stent placement or embolization (n=11), endovascular retrieval of the permanent filter (n=4), and percutaneous nephrostomy or ureteral stent placement (n=3). Complications led to death in 2 patients. A total of 87% of patients (127 of 146) underwent premature filter retrieval or interventions for underlying symptoms or penetration-related complications.
Caval penetration is a frequent but clinically underrecognized complication of IVC filter placement. Symptomatic patients accounted for nearly 1/10th of all penetrations; most of these cases had organ/structure involvement. Interventions with endovascular retrieval and surgery were required in most of these symptomatic patients.
The inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is a device that is implanted in the IVC to prevent lower-extremity deep venous thrombosis from causing life-threatening pulmonary embolism. The IVC filter achieves this by catching the embolizing thrombus between metal struts. Therefore, it is critical that the IVC filter maintains its position once implanted to fulfill this filtration function. Limited penetration of the filter into the caval wall is needed to secure the filter to the caval wall, so penetration is considered pathological only when the limb protrudes >3 mm beyond the caval wall.1 Over the last decade, as more patients with optional filters have returned for filter retrieval, penetration has been increasingly recognized as a frequent finding, particularly with conically shaped filters.2 Although most cases of penetration are asymptomatic and regarded as incidental findings on imaging studies, penetrations may be clinically significant when they involve the adjacent organs or structures. In such cases, filter penetration may require intervention.3
The purposes of this study were to conduct a literature review on the frequency and severity of caval penetration for commercially available IVC filters and to discuss the potential mechanisms, risk factors, treatment, and prevention strategies for filter penetration.
Institutional Review Board approval was not required for this literature review. The MEDLINE database was searched (search parameters: PubMed from 1970–2014, English language) for terms describing IVC filters (key words: inferior vena cava, filter, and perforation or penetration). Prospective clinical trials, retrospective studies, case reports, and series with IVC filter placement and subsequent radiographic imaging or surgical follow-up were included in this review for analysis. We excluded studies of IVC filter placements without either imaging or surgical follow-up, review articles, animal studies, laboratory investigations, duplicated case reports or clinical studies, and other unrelated articles such as editorials, guidelines, response letters, commentaries, or special communications.
Articles that met the inclusion criteria were reviewed. A standardized data extraction database was created by tabulating the following information: first author; year of publication; title; journal; study design (prospective, retrospective, or case report); number and model of IVC filters; number of patients with imaging or surgical follow-up; cases of penetration; imaging findings; clinical symptoms; interventions; and clinical outcomes. Two investigators conducted the literature search independently to verify data accuracy and completeness, with a third reviewer resolving any uncertainties. The formal definition of penetration provided by Society of Interventional Radiology guidelines (the extension of a limb >3 mm beyond the cava wall) was used in this study.1 Major complications of IVC penetration were defined as admission to a hospital for therapy (for outpatient procedures), an unplanned increase in the level of care, prolonged hospitalization, permanent adverse sequelae, or death after filter placement.1 The quality of clinical studies and case reports was assessed with the Grading of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE), with study and report quality categorized as high, moderate, low, or very low.4
The initial search for “IVC” and “filter” yielded 1511 English reports from January 1, 1970, to December 31, 2014. Of the 1511 reports, a total of 1311 studies were excluded, which included 146 review articles, 1158 studies unrelated to penetration, 1 duplicated clinical study, and 6 duplicated case reports (Figure 1). Ultimately, a total of 88 studies (14 prospective clinical trials and 74 retrospective studies) and 112 case reports were included in this study. The quality of evidence was as follows: high, n=9; moderate, n=44; low, n=34; and very low, n=113. The total number of filter placements qualified for analysis was 9002 (8833 from clinical studies and 169 from case reports; Figure 1). Fifteen types of filters exhibited caval penetration (Table 1); the basic shape of each involved filter is illustrated in Figure 2. Penetration segregated by filter type according to longitudinal studies is shown in Table 2. The incidence of caval penetration was 21% (973 of 4694) for conical filters and 4% (34 of 799) for nonconical filters (P<0.01). The incidence of caval penetration in prospective trials was 9.8% (105 of 1076) and for retrospective studies was 20% (902 of 4417). [end]
Bard kept the G2 series filters on the market until 2010, the same year that Chris Svedise had a Bard G2 Express implanted in him because he was prone to blood clots. Svedise, 69, a manager at a wholesale fish company in San Francisco, asked his doctor last October to check on the filter. He was alarmed to learn it had moved.
“He said, ‘It is dangerously close to your heart,’” Svedise said.
After two surgeons declined to remove the filter because of its precarious position, Svedise turned to Dr. William Kuo, whose team has developed an advanced technique to remove failed filters and filter pieces.
Dr. William Kuo of Stanford Health Care’s IVC Filter Clinic.
During emergency surgery, Kuo discovered three legs had already broken off of Svedise’s filter and traveled to his lungs. Kuo also said that two partially broken legs completely broke away during the operation. One, he said, could have killed Svedise.
“It floated off right in front of our eyes,” Kuo said. “First into the right atrium and then into the right ventricle. He’s very lucky.”
Kuo estimates that in the last 10 years he has removed 1,000 failed filters. Many of the cases were referred to him by other surgeons who deemed the procedure too complex and dangerous. Kuo said he has removed more Bard filters than any other single type.
The Recovery and G2 series filters should have been pulled from the market, “Whether it’s an ethical reason, a moral obligation, in the interest of public safety and patient safety, absolutely these devices should have been recalled,” he added.
Kuo said that along with device companies, the FDA also needs to take stronger action to protect patients.
“What we’ve learned the hard way is that we can no longer rely on medical device companies to do what’s in the best interest of the patient. And we can no longer rely on the FDA to properly regulate these devices,” he said.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the FDA inquiring about the agency’s oversight of the filter. One of his questions was about the actions the agency takes when new information about the performance of an already cleared medical device becomes known.
“FDA’s only got one responsibility. It’s not the company, it’s John Q. Public — to protect the American public from two standpoints: safety and effectiveness,” Grassley said.
Grassley then issued a statement that the FDA’s response was incomplete and he has more questions as he decides what steps to take next.
Asked about Grassley’s concerns and why Bard’s Recovery and G2 filters were not recalled, the FDA declined to answer. The agency said in a statement that it has “investigated the risks of all of these devices,” not just Bard’s, and “issued safety communications” about “risks associated with IVC filters.”
In 2010 and 2014, the agency recommended in those safety alerts that doctors should consider removing the filters from patients as soon as protection from blood clots is no longer needed.
The Society of Interventional Radiologists, Society for Vascular Surgery, and blood clot filter manufacturers, including Bard, have started a large clinical trial called PRESERVE to examine how safe and effective filters now on the market are. The study, which the FDA helped organize, is expected to enroll 2,100 patients over the course of five years, the most ambitious filter study ever in the U.S.
In the meantime, Kuo worries about the steady stream of patients coming into his clinic whose filters have failed and risk injury or death. ”It’s upsetting to see the patients who have actually suffered from a system that appears to be broken,” he said.
As of January 2, 2019 when the JPML issued the Simon Nitinol related order, there were 85 Simon IVC filter related cases directly filed in to MDL 2641, and how many more of these claims will be filed is unknown, as many Simon Nitinol cases have been historically declined by firms due to not being part of Bard MDL 2641.
To access the most relevant and real time information on Mass Torts sign up for:
Mass Tort Nexus “CLE Immersion Course”
March 8-11, 2019 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale , FL
Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on new steps to strengthen the long-term safety oversight of the Essure device following discontinuation of its U.S. sales
For Immediate Release
December 20, 2018
When new safety concerns arise for particular devices, we’re committed to taking action to develop post-market information that can help patients and providers make more informed decisions and also support regulatory actions that reduce any potential risks to patients. We’ve taken a series of such steps with respect to Essure, a permanent birth control device. The product has been the focus of several important FDA safety actions. We’re announcing some additional steps today to make sure the FDA continues to evaluate the product’s long-term safety profile past its scheduled discontinuation from the U.S. market following a series of earlier regulatory actions that we took apply significant new requirements on its use. This includes the agency’s decision to take the step of making Essure a restricted device.
In July, citing the declining annual number of implantations, the manufacturer of the device, Bayer, announced that Essure will no longer be sold or distributed in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2018. At that time, I stressed that, even when Essure is no longer sold, the FDA would remain vigilant in its oversight of the device. This includes requiring that Bayer complete the postmarket surveillance study that we ordered in February 2016. I also affirmed that we’d continue to actively communicate with patients and physicians as new information about the device becomes available or as the FDA takes additional regulatory steps.
Today, I’m providing an update on new steps to revise and strengthen the manufacturer’s postmarket study, to make sure we continue to collect long-term safety information following the discontinuation of the product to better evaluate the safety profile of the device when used in the real world.
First and foremost, women in the study will be followed for five years, rather than the three years that was initially required. This significant extension follows the FDA’s request that the company go beyond the three-year period provided for by law. This extension will provide us with longer-term information on adverse risks of the device, including issues that may lead women to have the device removed.
Second, we’re requiring additional blood testing of patients enrolled in follow-up visits during the study to learn more about patients’ levels of certain inflammatory markers that can be indicators of increased inflammation. This could help us better evaluate potential immune reactions to the device and whether these findings are associated with symptoms that patients have reported related to Essure.
The FDA is also requiring Bayer to continue to enroll patients who might still opt to receive Essure in advance of its full discontinuation from the U.S. market, and to continue to submit more frequent reports to the FDA on the study’s progress and results. Since FDA’s 2016 decision to order Bayer to conduct the postmarket study and then to add a boxed warning and Patient Decision Checklist to the labeling, sales of Essure declined by 70 percent. Earlier this year, the FDA decided to restrict the sale and distribution of the device to only health care providers and facilities that provide information to patients about the risks and benefits of this device and that give patients the opportunity to sign an acknowledgement of understanding before implantation. In view of this decline in sales and the manufacturer’s decision to discontinue sales and distribution at the end of this year, we recognize that Bayer is having challenges reaching the study’s initial sample size that relied on enrolling patients who were newly implanted with Essure until May 2020. We believe that this new, revised study plan will help provide more long-term information regarding complications that may be experienced by patients who have Essure, despite reduced enrollment.
For the past several years, the FDA has been monitoring the progress of an Essure post-approval study that was mandated to gather long-term data on pregnancies occurring in patients who may have received a transvaginal ultrasound in order to confirm that Essure was properly placed in a woman’s fallopian tubes and could be relied upon to prevent pregnancy. The FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health conducted an analysis of an ongoing post-approval study data to gain a fuller understanding of device removals over time; they also completed their extensive evaluation into a significant collection of medical device reports submitted in 2017 and the first half of 2018 that mentioned issues involving potential device removal to learn more about why women were choosing to have the device removed, which usually requires a surgical procedure. CDRH also spent the past several months actively evaluating more than 15,000 medical device reports submitted to FDA in 2017 through June 2018 on the Essure device. (The majority of these reports referenced an instance in which the device was removed from a patient, and most came from cases that were made available by plaintiff attorneys as part of litigation against the manufacturer Bayer.) CDRH is providing some important new information about the removals of the Essure device learned from this analysis on our website.
Based on this information, the FDA instructed Bayer to extend the postmarket surveillance study from three years to five years to capture longer term information about device removals. We believe it’s important to continue closely monitoring device removals in the postmarket surveillance study to gain greater knowledge of this issue.
Following Essure’s removal from the market, the FDA is committed to continuing to monitor women who have the device implanted. In addition to the post-market surveillance study, the agency will continue its efforts to monitor Essure’s safety and effectiveness since its approval in 2002 by reviewing the medical literature, clinical trial information, post-approval study data and medical device reports submitted to the agency. This follows previous actions the FDA has taken, including requiring Bayer to add a boxed warning to the labeling of Essure and issue a Patient Decision Checklist to help women considering Essure to be fully informed about potential risks and the sales restriction that FDA placed on the product.
I personally had the opportunity to meet with women who have been adversely affected by Essure to listen and learn about their concerns. Some of the women I spoke with developed significant medical problems that they ascribe to their use of the product. We remain committed to these women and to improving how we monitor the safety of medical devices, including those related to women’s health.
We’re also advancing new ways to solidify our monitoring systems to achieve our new goal to consistently be the first among the world’s regulatory agencies to identify and act upon safety signals related to medical devices.
As we announced when we issued our Medical Device Safety Action Plan in April, we’re working to implement an active surveillance system to help us detect device safety signals faster, including for devices related to women’s health. We’re implementing active surveillance capabilities as part of our National Evaluation System of health Technology, which will leverage a wide range of data systems that could provide real-time information on device safety signals from electronic health information, such as registries and electronic medical records. We’re also continuing our ongoing efforts to strengthen our Coordinated Registry Networks (CRN), which link different real-world data sources to generate clinical evidence about medical devices used by patients.
We’re especially focused on addressing clinical questions for device therapies that address conditions that are unique to women, such as treatment of uterine fibroids, pelvic floor disorders, female sterilization (including the Essure device) and long-acting reversible contraception. To advance these goals, the FDA partnered with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Urogynecologic Society, the National Library of Medicine and others on this effort, which is known as the Women’s Health Technologies CRN, or WHT-CRN. Once fully implemented, the WHT-CRN can be used to answer crucial questions on medical devices for women’s health to help supplement the evidence we’re gathering from postmarket studies and medical device reports. It could also help us detect safety issues with medical devices faster, enabling us to take actions — like the implementation of special controls — sooner.
We believe women who’ve been using Essure successfully to prevent pregnancy can and should continue to do so. Women who suspect the device may be related to symptoms they are experiencing, such as persistent pain, should talk to their doctor on what steps may be appropriate. Device removal has its own risks. Patients should discuss the benefits and risks of any procedure with their health care providers before deciding on the best option for them. The FDA will continue to collect and review reports of adverse events associated with device removal and is committed to continuing to provide updates on our evaluation of this data as the information is collected and we develop new findings about the device.
(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.
To access the most relevant and real time information on Mass Torts sign up for:
Mass Tort Nexus “CLE Immersion Course”
March 8-11, 2019 at The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale , FL
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)
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Is Now The Venue for Filing “Essure” Cases
By Rosemary Pinto, Esq. Feldman & Pinto
And Mark A. York, Mass Tort Nexus
(September 27, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Bayer Corp. and its entities, the makers of Essure, a permanent contraceptive implant subject to thousands of injury reports and repeated safety restrictions by regulators ,said recently that it will stop selling the device in the U.S., the only country where it remains available.
On July 23, 2018, U.S. District Senior Judge, John R. Padova of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,ruled that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the cases against Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals Inc., and the legal claims over the Essure contraceptive device.
The cases were originally filed in Philadelphia court but were removed by Bayer with the company claiming the removals were proper because the plaintiffs’ claims involved an interpretation of federal law, including Food and Drug Administration regulations.
The company cited a 2017 ruling by a U.S. District Court in North Carolina in another Essure case, Burrell v. Bayer, in which it found that it had federal question jurisdiction because “the labeling of FDA-approved medical devices is governed by the FDA under the MDA, and [the] state law is generally pre-empted under 21 U.S.C. Section 360k.”
But Padova instead followed the lead of courts in the Eastern District of Kentucky and the Eastern District of Missouri, finding that “Congress intended for the state courts to resolve cases such as this one, which ask whether a defendant violated state laws that parallel federal requirements applicable to Essure.”
Bayer argued that the cases were of federal concern because the Essure devices were subject to “stringent federal scrutiny” as Class III medical devices.
“We certainly agree with Bayer that Congress has a significant interest in the regulation of Class III medical devices,” Padova said. Nevertheless, Padova added, the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 “permit individuals to bring state law causes of action alleging violations of duties that parallel the federal requirements. It would be entirely inconsistent with this structure to conclude that Congress intended all such state law causes of action to be brought in federal court.”
Padova also said Bayer failed to identify any disputed federal issue, noting that “the central claims in the complaints are that Bayer violated state law and the complaints merely reference federal law to rebut any argument that their state law claims are preempted.”
Feldman Pinto In Philadelphia Provides Insight
Essure Litigation Survives Preemption Challenge, Cases Remanded to State Court
Essure is a birth control device composed of two metal coils implanted in a patient’s fallopian tubes. Women injured by the device have filed more than 16,000 lawsuits against Bayer Healthcare, alleging, among other things, that Bayer failed to provide adequate warnings of severe Essure complications suffered by plaintiffs from device breakage, migration, and / or expulsion. Complications include perforation of fallopian tubes, uteri, rectums, colons, and other organs; severe and chronic pelvic or abdominal pain; and autoimmune diseases.
Essure Claims for Negligent Misrepresentation and Negligent Failure to Warn Survive Preemption Challenge
All of the approximately 16,000 Essure lawsuits in state and federal court exist as individual legal actions rather than class actions or multidistrict litigation. Five such cases were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Defendants filed motions in all five cases, requesting dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims on the basis of express or implied preemption, failure to state a plausible claim, or failure to plead fraud with particularity.
In March 2016, the court denied defendants’ motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims of negligent misrepresentation and negligent failure to warn, holding that the state law claims set forth plausible claims for relief and were not preempted by federal law.
Consolidated Essure Cases Remanded to State Court
In July 2018, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania remanded 19 Essure injury cases to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The district court found that it lacked both diversity of citizenship and federal question subject-matter jurisdiction over the consolidated individual actions and remanded them to state court.
Essure Statute of Limitations
Defendants in Essure personal injury cases may argue that the statute of limitations period in all Essure cases should begin on November 18, 2016, the date the FDA approved a black box warning (its strongest warning level) for Essure. In reality, the dates triggering Essure limitation periods will vary. The beginning of each plaintiff’s limitation period will depend on the plaintiff’s individual claims and state law applicable to the particular case.
Bayer Stops USA Sales
Bayer announced in June 2018 that it would voluntarily discontinue U.S. sales of Essure by the end of this year “for business reasons” but earlier this month affirmed the safety profile of the device. Last week, Bayer took Netflix to task over the accuracy of its medical device documentary “The Bleeding Edge.” The tide was turning for Bayer at that point, sales were already down 70% after the 2016 FDA warning and the public became aware of the risks of using Essure.
Bayer received FDA approval to sell Essure in 2002 and promoted it as a quick and easy permanent solution to unplanned pregnancies. Essure consists of two thin-as-spaghetti nickel-titanium coils inserted into the fallopian tubes, where they spur the growth of scar tissue that blocks sperm from fertilizing a woman’s eggs.
Because of the reported complaints, the FDA added its most serious warning to the device in 2016 and ordered the company to conduct a 2,000-patient study. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday, the agency would work with Bayer to continue the study, but noted “Bayer will not be able to meet its expected enrollment numbers” for new patients. The study was designed to follow patients for three years to better assess complications.
Gottlieb said the FDA will continue to monitor adverse events reported to its database after Essure is removed from the market. He stated “I also want to reassure women who’ve been using Essure successfully to prevent pregnancy that they can continue to do so,” and added “Those who think it’s causing problems, such as persistent pain, should consult with their doctors,” with Gottlieb further noting that device removal “has its own risks.”
Essure’s original label warned that the device’s nickel can result in allergic reactions. Its current labeling lists hives, rash, swelling and itching as possible reactions.
But many women have attributed other problems to the implant, including mood disorders, weight gain, hair loss and headaches. Those problems are listed in the current FDA labeling for the device, with the qualifier: “It is unknown if these symptoms are related to Essure or other causes.”
Informational material Bayer supplied to doctors and patients lists potential problems and states the devices are meant to be permanent. It also says removal may require complicated surgery, including a hysterectomy, that might not be covered by insurance.
Non-Profit Weighs In
Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, said Essure is among medical devices approved without “clear evidence of safety or effectiveness. As a result, when thousands of women reported serious complications from Essure, there was no unbiased long-term research to refute or confirm those reports” she also stated, “If patients had been listened to when the first clinical trials were conducted on Essure, better research would have been conducted to determine exactly how safe and effective Essure is.”
Feldman & Pinto is Representing Plaintiffs in Essure Litigation
The Philadelphia personal injury firm of Feldman & Pinto concentrates its practice in plaintiffs’ drug and medical device injury litigation. Each of the firm’s attorneys has more than 20 years’ experience trying personal injury and wrongful death cases in state and federal court. Feldman & Pinto currently represents plaintiffs in approximately 20 Essure injury cases in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Attorney Rosemary Pinto can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To follow mass torts and multi-district litigation sign-up for the Mass Tort Nexus “Free Newsletters” at www.masstortnexus.com/news
For real time case updates and court records on all mass torts visit the Mass Tort Nexus Professional Site at www.masstortnexus.com
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) In 2017 and continuing into 2018, Big Pharma has been fighting major legal battles related to off-label marketing of drugs for unintended uses. They also engaged in a parallel strategy, where they were influencing the FDA and other policy making agencies behind the scenes in Washington DC. Big Pharma was paying millions to lobbyists, making campaign donations and generally buying influence as they always have. It was a foregone conclusion that with the Trump administration view of , “no regulatory oversight required” that there would be some loosening of the FDA regulatory shackles.
Big Pharma was getting ready for freedom to sell, sell, sell their drugs in any way they could, including off-label marketing of the drugs for unintended use purposes. A corporate policy, that’s technically illegal, yet results in billions of dollars in profits every years for Big Pharma. Then the FDA rolled out an unexpected new proposed rule, in March 2017 cracking down on “off-label’ marketing of drugs. This new rule change wasn’t in Big Pharma’s bests interests, sending the drug industry into a furious lobbying scramble. Bring in the Trump camp and on January 12, 2018 Big Pharma and the army of lobbyists and elected officials that were recruited, seem to have succeeded in stopping the FDA rules change that would have tightened up “off label” marketing of drugs.
This seems to be further evidence of the Trump administration permitting private corporations to control what goes on behind the scenes in federal regulatory agencies these days. The same loosening of enforcement rules has been seen in the EPA as well as in Dept. of Energy oversight enforcement authority. Whatever else you might think about the ramped up Trump vs. Obama administration mindset, this rule delay is an example of the new FDA leadership doing what is in the best interests of those they are supposed to be regulating, the drug makers, and not in the interests of the US consumers.
To put this into perspective, consider the current “Opioid Crisis” gripping the entire country, where “off-label” marketing of opiates for the last 20 years by drug makers, has resulted in thousands of deaths each year, unknown financial losses and the related social impact felt in every state across the country. Another result is the Opiate Prescription Litigation MDL 2804, (see OPIOID CRISIS BRIEFCASE: MDL 2804 OPIATE PRESCRIPTION LITIGATION) where litigation started when hundreds of counties, states and cities and other entities impacted by the catastrophic expense related to combatting the opiate healthcare crisis fought back. The various parties have filed lawsuits against opioid drug makers and distributors, demanding repayment of the billions of dollars spent on addressing the massive costs related to opioid abuse, primarily due to opioid based prescription drugs flooding the country.
When the Obama administration ended on January 9, 2017, the FDA issued a Final Rule on “Clarification of When Products Made or Derived from Tobacco are Regulated as Drugs, Devices, or Combination Products; Amendments to Regulations Regarding ‘Intended Uses.’” That “clarification” was meant to enable additional enforcement and control over drug makers rampant “off -label” marketing of drugs for purposes that were never FDA approved. This was an attempt by the FDA to have the ability to punish off-label promotions, where previously the process was a two-step regulatory review, whereby off-label promotions are said to prove an indicated use not included in the label and, thus, not accompanied by adequate directions for use – making the product misbranded. These regulations have been around since the 1950s, but a recent series of court decisions invoking the First Amendment called into question the FDA’s interpretation of “intended use” and its efforts to shut down truthful medical-science communications about potential benefits from off-label use.
In a 2015 proposed rule, the FDA referred to striking the language from regulations permitting the FDA to consider a manufacturer’s mere knowledge of actual use as evidence of intended use, which would have further enabled Big Pharma drug marketing abuses to go unchecked. But then, the FDA’s January 9, 2017 proposal reversed course, stating that retained knowledge of off-label use as evidence of intended use, clarified that any relevant source of evidence, whether circumstantial or direct could demonstrate intended use, and ultimately invoked the dreaded “totality of the evidence” standard. This would have enable the FDA to begin oversight and enforcement of practices such as the blatant and wide open “off-label” marketing of opioid prescription drugs that started in the mid-1990’s and never stopped.
Instead of putting a check on Big Pharma abuses, we have the Trump administration placing a hold on new regulations, and delaying the “intended use” regulation change to March 19, 2018, so that comments could be received and considered, and thereby enabling the Big Pharma “lobby machine” to become fully engaged across all DC circles, ensuring that the FDA changes are effectively put to rest.
The bottom line is that the FDA is now proposing to “delay until further notice” the portions of the final rule amending the FDA’s existing regulations on “off-label” drug use, when describing the types of evidence that may be considered in determining a medical product’s intended uses. The FDA will receive comments on this proposal through February 5, 2018.
Here is the official FDA publication of January 16, 2018:
Global health care giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and its subsidiaries will pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from allegations relating to the prescription drugs Risperdal, Invega and Natrecor, including promotion for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and payment of kickbacks to physicians and to the nation’s largest long-term care pharmacy provider. The global resolution is one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history, including criminal fines and forfeiture totaling $485 million and civil settlements with the federal government and states totaling $1.72 billion.
“The conduct at issue in this case jeopardized the health and safety of patients and damaged the public trust,” stated Eric Holder, then US Attorney General, “This multibillion-dollar resolution demonstrates the Justice Department’s firm commitment to preventing and combating all forms of health care fraud. And it proves our determination to hold accountable any corporation that breaks the law and enriches its bottom line at the expense of the American people” he added.
The resolution includes criminal fines and forfeiture for violations of the law and civil settlements based on the False Claims Act arising out of multiple investigations of the company and its subsidiaries.
“When companies put profit over patients’ health and misuse taxpayer dollars, we demand accountability,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West. “In addition to significant monetary sanctions, we will ensure that non-monetary measures are in place to facilitate change in corporate behavior and help ensure the playing field is level for all market participants.”
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) protects the health and safety of the public by ensuring, among other things, that drugs intended for use in humans are safe and effective for their intended uses and that the labeling of such drugs bear true, complete and accurate information. Under the FDCA, a pharmaceutical company must specify the intended uses of a drug in its new drug application to the FDA. Before approval, the FDA must determine that the drug is safe and effective for those specified uses. Once the drug is approved, if the company intends a different use and then introduces the drug into interstate commerce for that new, unapproved use, the drug becomes misbranded. The unapproved use is also known as an “off-label” use because it is not included in the drug’s FDA-approved labeling.
“When pharmaceutical companies interfere with the FDA’s mission of ensuring that drugs are safe and effective for the American public, they undermine the doctor-patient relationship and put the health and safety of patients at risk,” said Director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations John Roth. “Today’s settlement demonstrates the government’s continued focus on pharmaceutical companies that put profits ahead of the public’s health. The FDA will continue to devote resources to criminal investigations targeting pharmaceutical companies that disregard the drug approval process and recklessly promote drugs for uses that have not been proven to be safe and effective.”
J&J RISPERDAL MARKETING ABUSE
In a related civil complaint filed today in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States alleges that Janssen marketed Risperdal to control the behaviors and conduct of the nation’s most vulnerable patients: elderly nursing home residents, children and individuals with mental disabilities. The government alleges that J&J and Janssen caused false claims to be submitted to federal health care programs by promoting Risperdal for off-label uses that federal health care programs did not cover, making false and misleading statements about the safety and efficacy of Risperdal and paying kickbacks to physicians to prescribe Risperdal.
“J&J’s promotion of Risperdal for unapproved uses threatened the most vulnerable populations of our society – children, the elderly and those with developmental disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger. “This historic settlement sends the message that drug manufacturers who place profits over patient care will face severe criminal and civil penalties.”
In its complaint, the government alleges that the FDA repeatedly advised Janssen that marketing Risperdal as safe and effective for the elderly would be “misleading.” The FDA cautioned Janssen that behavioral disturbances in elderly dementia patients were not necessarily manifestations of psychotic disorders and might even be “appropriate responses to the deplorable conditions under which some demented patients are housed, thus raising an ethical question regarding the use of an antipsychotic medication for inappropriate behavioral control.”
The complaint further alleges that J&J and Janssen were aware that Risperdal posed serious health risks for the elderly, including an increased risk of strokes, but that the companies downplayed these risks. For example, when a J&J study of Risperdal showed a significant risk of strokes and other adverse events in elderly dementia patients, the complaint alleges that Janssen combined the study data with other studies to make it appear that there was a lower overall risk of adverse events. A year after J&J had received the results of a second study confirming the increased safety risk for elderly patients taking Risperdal, but had not published the data, one physician who worked on the study cautioned Janssen that “[a]t this point, so long after [the study] has been completed … we must be concerned that this gives the strong appearance that Janssen is purposely withholding the findings.”
The complaint also alleges that Janssen knew that patients taking Risperdal had an increased risk of developing diabetes, but nonetheless promoted Risperdal as “uncompromised by safety concerns (does not cause diabetes).” When Janssen received the initial results of studies indicating that Risperdal posed the same diabetes risk as other antipsychotics, the complaint alleges that the company retained outside consultants to re-analyze the study results and ultimately published articles stating that Risperdal was actually associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes.
The complaint alleges that, despite the FDA warnings and increased health risks, from 1999 through 2005, Janssen aggressively marketed Risperdal to control behavioral disturbances in dementia patients through an “ElderCare sales force” designed to target nursing homes and doctors who treated the elderly. In business plans, Janssen’s goal was to “[m]aximize and grow RISPERDAL’s market leadership in geriatrics and long term care.” The company touted Risperdal as having “proven efficacy” and “an excellent safety and tolerability profile” in geriatric patients.
In addition to promoting Risperdal for elderly dementia patients, from 1999 through 2005, Janssen allegedly promoted the antipsychotic drug for use in children and individuals with mental disabilities. The complaint alleges that J&J and Janssen knew that Risperdal posed certain health risks to children, including the risk of elevated levels of prolactin, a hormone that can stimulate breast development and milk production. Nonetheless, one of Janssen’s Key Base Business Goals was to grow and protect the drug’s market share with child/adolescent patients. Janssen instructed its sales representatives to call on child psychiatrists, as well as mental health facilities that primarily treated children, and to market Risperdal as safe and effective for symptoms of various childhood disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism. Until late 2006, Risperdal was not approved for use in children for any purpose, and the FDA repeatedly warned the company against promoting it for use in children.
The government’s complaint also contains allegations that Janssen paid speaker fees to doctors to influence them to write prescriptions for Risperdal. Sales representatives allegedly told these doctors that if they wanted to receive payments for speaking, they needed to increase their Risperdal prescriptions.
In addition to allegations relating to Risperdal, today’s settlement also resolves allegations relating to Invega, a newer antipsychotic drug also sold by Janssen. Although Invega was approved only for the treatment of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, the government alleges that, from 2006 through 2009, J&J and Janssen marketed the drug for off-label indications and made false and misleading statements about its safety and efficacy.
As part of the global resolution, J&J and Janssen have agreed to pay a total of $1.391 billion to resolve the false claims allegedly resulting from their off-label marketing and kickbacks for Risperdal and Invega. This total includes $1.273 billion to be paid as part of the resolution announced today, as well as $118 million that J&J and Janssen paid to the state of Texas in March 2012 to resolve similar allegations relating to Risperdal. Because Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, J&J’s conduct caused losses to both the federal and state governments. The additional payment made by J&J as part of today’s settlement will be shared between the federal and state governments, with the federal government recovering $749 million, and the states recovering $524 million. The federal government and Texas each received $59 million from the Texas settlement.
NURSING HOME PATIENT ABUSES BY J&J
The civil settlement also resolves allegations that, in furtherance of their efforts to target elderly dementia patients in nursing homes, J&J and Janssen paid kickbacks to Omnicare Inc., the nation’s largest pharmacy specializing in dispensing drugs to nursing home patients. In a complaint filed in the District of Massachusetts in January 2010, the United States alleged that J&J paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to Omnicare under the guise of market share rebate payments, data-purchase agreements, “grants” and “educational funding.” These kickbacks were intended to induce Omnicare and its hundreds of consultant pharmacists to engage in “active intervention programs” to promote the use of Risperdal and other J&J drugs in nursing homes. Omnicare’s consultant pharmacists regularly reviewed nursing home patients’ medical charts and made recommendations to physicians on what drugs should be prescribed for those patients. Although consultant pharmacists purported to provide “independent” recommendations based on their clinical judgment, J&J viewed the pharmacists as an “extension of [J&J’s] sales force.”
J&J and Janssen have agreed to pay $149 million to resolve the government’s contention that these kickbacks caused Omnicare to submit false claims to federal health care programs. The federal share of this settlement is $132 million, and the five participating states’ total share is $17 million. In 2009, Omnicare paid $98 million to resolve its civil liability for claims that it accepted kickbacks from J&J and Janssen, along with certain other conduct.
“Consultant pharmacists can play an important role in protecting nursing home residents from the use of antipsychotic drugs as chemical restraints,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz. “This settlement is a reminder that the recommendations of consultant pharmacists should be based on their independent clinical judgment and should not be the product of money paid by drug companies.”
OFF-LABEL USE OF HEART DRUG NATRECOR
The civil settlement announced today also resolves allegations that J&J and another of its subsidiaries, Scios Inc., caused false and fraudulent claims to be submitted to federal health care programs for the heart failure drug Natrecor. In August 2001, the FDA approved Natrecor to treat patients with acutely decompensated congestive heart failure who have shortness of breath at rest or with minimal activity. This approval was based on a study involving hospitalized patients experiencing severe heart failure who received infusions of Natrecor over an average 36-hour period.
In a civil complaint filed in 2009 in the Northern District of California, the government alleged that, shortly after Natrecor was approved, Scios launched an aggressive campaign to market the drug for scheduled, serial outpatient infusions for patients with less severe heart failure – a use not included in the FDA-approved label and not covered by federal health care programs. These infusions generally involved visits to an outpatient clinic or doctor’s office for four- to six-hour infusions one or two times per week for several weeks or months.
The government’s complaint alleged that Scios had no sound scientific evidence supporting the medical necessity of these outpatient infusions and misleadingly used a small pilot study to encourage the serial outpatient use of the drug. Among other things, Scios sponsored an extensive speaker program through which doctors were paid to tout the purported benefits of serial outpatient use of Natrecor. Scios also urged doctors and hospitals to set up outpatient clinics specifically to administer the serial outpatient infusions, in some cases providing funds to defray the costs of setting up the clinics, and supplied providers with extensive resources and support for billing Medicare for the outpatient infusions.
As part of today’s resolution, J&J and Scios have agreed to pay the federal government $184 million to resolve their civil liability for the alleged false claims to federal health care programs resulting from their off-label marketing of Natrecor. In October 2011, Scios pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor FDCA violation and paid a criminal fine of $85 million for introducing Natrecor into interstate commerce for an off-label use.
“This case is an example of a drug company encouraging doctors to use a drug in a way that was unsupported by valid scientific evidence,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Brian Stretch. “We are committed to ensuring that federal health care programs do not pay for such inappropriate uses, and that pharmaceutical companies market their drugs only for uses that have been proven safe and effective.”
Non-Monetary Provisions of the Global Resolution and Corporate Integrity Agreement
In addition to the criminal and civil resolutions, J&J executed a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The CIA includes provisions requiring J&J to implement major changes to the way its pharmaceutical affiliates do business. Among other things, the CIA requires J&J to change its executive compensation program to permit the company to recoup annual bonuses and other long-term incentives from covered executives if they, or their subordinates, engage in significant misconduct. J&J may recoup monies from executives who are current employees and from those who have left the company. The CIA also requires J&J’s pharmaceutical businesses to implement and maintain transparency regarding their research practices, publication policies and payments to physicians. On an annual basis, management employees, including senior executives and certain members of J&J’s independent board of directors, must certify compliance with provisions of the CIA. J&J must submit detailed annual reports to HHS-OIG about its compliance program and its business operations.
“OIG will work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to hold companies accountable for marketing and promotion that violate laws intended to protect the public,” said Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Daniel R. Levinson. “Our compliance agreement with Johnson & Johnson increases individual accountability for board members, sales representatives, company executives and management. The agreement also contains strong monitoring and reporting provisions to help ensure that the public is protected from future unlawful and potentially harmful off-label marketing.”
FEDERAL AND STATE JOINT CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
This resolution marks the culmination of an extensive, coordinated investigation by federal and state law enforcement partners that is the hallmark of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which fosters government collaborations to fight fraud. Announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the HEAT initiative has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.
The criminal cases against Janssen and Scios were handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Northern District of California and the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch. The civil settlements were handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Northern District of California and the District of Massachusetts and the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch. Assistance was provided by the HHS Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, Office of the General Counsel-CMS Division, the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel and the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
This matter was investigated by HHS-OIG, the Department of Defense’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, TRICARE Program Integrity, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.
One of the most powerful tools in the fight against Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $16.7 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $11.9 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
The department enforces the FDCA by prosecuting those who illegally distribute unapproved, misbranded and adulterated drugs and medical devices in violation of the Act. Since 2009, fines, penalties and forfeitures that have been imposed in connection with such FDCA violations have totaled more than $6 billion.
The civil settlements described above resolve multiple lawsuits filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery. From the federal government’s share of the civil settlements announced today, the whistleblowers in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will receive $112 million, the whistleblowers in the District of Massachusetts will receive $27.7 million and the whistleblower in the Northern District of California will receive $28 million. Except to the extent that J&J subsidiaries have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to the criminal charges discussed above, the claims settled by the civil settlements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability
With the Trump Administration still claiming that no regulatory oversight is needed to monitor the US drug industry, that they can self-regulate, it appears that there will be no letup in the rampant “off-label: and unintended use marketing of pharmaceutical drugs in the United States. The one way that Big Pharma is held accountable is in the courtroom, although financial damages and penalties against the drug companies amounting to billions of dollars each year being awarded by juries, wont change FDA policy, it does provide a small amount of official recognition that there are ongoing abuses by the pharmaceutical industry in the USA.
J&J’s Facing Latest Baby Powder Cancer Trial Alone In Missouri Court
By Mark A. York (July 6, 2018)
ANOTHER J&J BABY POWDER OVARIAN CANCER TRIAL
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The case of Gail Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 1522-CC10417, Circuit Court, City of St. Louis, Missouri, Judge Rex Burlison
Johnson & Johnson is flying solo in their latest baby powder cancer trial underway in St. Louis City Circuit Court, in front of Judge Rex Burlison, who has refused the many attempt by J&J to dismiss, remove and simply evade another ovarian cancer trial linked to J&J’s baby powder. This time they’re standing alone, after co-defendant Imerys Talc settled claims with 22 plaintiffs right before the trial began. The US unit of French minerals company Imerys SA settled claims by women for at least $5 million, related to Imerys mined talc supplied to Johnson & Johnson for making baby powder that’s been linked to ovarian cancer in several previous trials across the country.
The question becomes, just when did J&J become aware of the many adverse events and dangers of using its baby focused Talcum Powder products that have also been used by millions of adults worldwide?
At the start of the trial, plaintiff trial attorney Mark Lanier told jurors about a study of infants who had been born dead. “They took biopsies and all of them had asbestos that had migrated from the womb across the placenta.”
Then Lanier showed the jury an internal J&J email where someone at the company recommended moving the product from the baby aisle or replacing talcum with corn starch.
Lanier has stated he’s uncovered stacks of new evidence showing J&J officials knew by the 1960s its baby powder was tainted with at least trace amounts of asbestos and hid the product’s cancer risks to protect its reputation.
Why would Johnson & Johnson be sending internal e-mails of this type, if there weren’t known risks associated with the talc products?
J&J USE OF FRONT COMPANIES AND LOBBYING GROUPS
With J&J at the helm, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), now the PCPC, formed a talc lobbyist group in response to the first epidemiologic studies that discovered an association between ovarian cancer and genital talc use in the early 1980s. J&J and Luzenac, now Imerys Talc, were the primary actors and contributors to the Talc Interested Party Task Force (TIPTF). J&J and Imerys coordinated all the activities of the talc lobbyist group in the District of Columbia.
The stated purpose of the TIPTF was to pool financial resources of primarily J&J and Imerys to collectively defend talc at all costs and prevent regulation of any type over the cosmetic ingredient. The talc lobbyist group hired scientists to perform biased talc safety research studies. Members of the lobbyist group edited research reports by scientists on their payroll prior to submitting them to governmental agencies. Furthermore, TIPTF members knowingly released false information about the safety of talc to the public and used political and economic influence on regulatory bodies to prevent any intervention.
PCPC coordinated the defense of talc and acted as a mouthpiece for TIPTF members, including J&J and Imerys. PCPC’s revenue is generated through a dues system based on its members’ annual sales. $76.5 billion in annual sales puts J&J in the top hundred of the highest grossing companies in the world, and the highest revenue generator in the PCPC. Consequently, the PCPC had an extremely vested interest in protecting J&J’s products and financial interests.
J&J SUPPRESSED ADVERSE FINDINGS ON TALC
According to scientific evidence, there have been studies showing a direct link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer that started emerging close to 50 years ago. How as this kept from public view? Starting in 1971, Dr. W.J. Henderson and other notable researchers in Cardiff, Wales conducted the first study that suggested an association between talc and ovarian cancer.
In 1982, the first epidemiological study on talc powder use in the female genital area emerged. This study found a 92 percent increased risk of developing ovarian cancer in women who reported genital talc use. Shortly after the study’s publication, Dr. Bruce Semple of J&J spoke with lead researcher Dr. Daniel Cramer. Dr. Cramer advised Dr. Semple that J&J needed to place a warning on its talcum powder products about ovarian cancer risks so that women could make informed decisions about their health. Since 1982, there have been more than 27 additional epidemiological studies indicating a significant link between talc and ovarian cancer.
In 1993, a U.S. National Toxicology Program published a study on the toxicity of non-asbestiform talc that determined that there was clear evidence of carcinogenic activity. Consequently. researchers concluded that talc was a carcinogen, with or without asbestos contamination. Then, in 1994, the Cancer Prevention Coalition notified J&J’s CEO that studies as far back as the 1960s “…show conclusively that the frequent use of talcum powder in the genital area poses a serious health risk of ovarian cancer.”
The coalition further indicated that 14,000 women die from ovarian cancer each year and that this type of cancer is very difficult to detect and has a low survival rate. The coalition begged the company to withdraw its talc products from the market or at least provide safety information.
Since then, the World Health Organization, the Canadian government, and various other cancer organizations have classified talc as a carcinogen.
The Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson Missouri Trial
The current case before Judge Burlison is at least the fifth ovarian cancer trial held in his court in the last two years. In previous trials, plaintiffs from across the country have been awarded substantial judgments totaling more than $300 million. One of the first talc trials resulted in a $72 million verdict for Jacqueline Fox, of Birmingham, AL which was vacated by a state appeals court last October, based on the US Supreme Court’s Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) v. Superior Court of California decision of June 2017 related to non-resident plaintiffs in state court actions.
This current case filed by Gail Ingham of O’Fallon, Mo. was removed to federal court last year by J&J, but US District Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh remanded it back to Judge Burlison’s court in July.
On May 15, 2018 Burlison told parties to get ready for trial and ruled that he would not sever, transfer or stay claims, finding sufficient contacts between Johnson & Johnson in Missouri to invoke a long arm statute.
WIDELY DIFFERENT VIEWS
Johnson & Johnson has defended lawsuits alleging its baby powder caused ovarian cancer in women in the past, as several trials across the country have linked their illnesses to exposure to asbestos in the company’s talc.
The talc cases which now number close to 10,000 in state and federal courts, with claims that the company sold talc in its iconic white Johnson’s Baby Powder bottles knowing it either caused ovarian cancer or was tainted with asbestos and failed to warn consumers to protect the brand.
A J&J representative, said in an emailed statement “The talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer and we will continue to defend the safety of our product,”
J&J FACING OVER 9,000 SUITS
Last month, jurors in California awarded a woman who said she routinely used talc on children and herself $25.7 million over her mesothelioma diagnosis. A South Carolina jury couldn’t reach a verdict on similar claims the same week as the California ruling.
Those decisions followed a New Jersey jury’s finding in April that J&J and a unit of talc supplier Imerys SA must pay $117 million to a banker who claimed his cancer was tied to baby powder use.
J&J still faces talc lawsuits by more than 9,000 plaintiffs, primarily focused on ovarian cancer, according to a May securities filing. That number has grown from 1,200 in 2016. An unknown number of consumers claim that J&J’s talc products caused mesothelioma. See J&J Talcum Powder MDL 2738 USDC New Jersey Briefcase.
WHEN AND WHAT DID J&J KNOW ABOUT TALC DANGERS?
In opening statements, Lanier said the “big fight” in the case was whether there’s asbestos in J&J’s talc products and whether J&J knew it and hid it.
He then offered that multiple studies by universities, companies, agencies and even J&J itself found asbestos in talc, but that J&J had “manipulated the science in more ways than I can count” to obscure the facts. The company was compelled to protect its baby powder brand as its “sacred cow,” based on the millions of dollars earned every year.
“To say that J&J rigged test results is false,” Peter Bicks, J&J’s lawyer told jurors. “J&J always went above and beyond in testing for asbestos.”
The women, whose jobs range from school bus driver to executive director of a job-retraining program, come from states across the country, such as Pennsylvania, California, Arizona and New York. Six of the women have died, so their families are pressing wrongful-death claims against J&J.
When Krystal Kim, one of the women suing, learned testing by her lawyers of the Johnson’s Baby Powder she used showed it was laced with asbestos, she felt sick. “I was scared and mad at the same time,” said Kim, a 52-year-old former computer consultant now battling ovarian cancer. “It certainly wasn’t what I expected to have in my house or to be putting on my body every day.”
Kim traveled to St. Louis for the trial and she’s banking on jurors holding J&J accountable for her cancer after hearing Lanier’s evidence. “I’m hoping this jury says no more little girls should be harmed by this powder,” she said. “I’m hoping it stops here.”
The trial is expected to last another week to 10 days and we will provide updates until a verdict is returned.
The case is Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 1522-CC10417, Circuit Court, City of St. Louis, Missouri, Judge Rex Burlison
New Jersey State Court MCL Designations: Is NJ the emerging state court mass tort venue for lawsuits against Big Pharma?
By Mark A. York (May 11, 2018)
(Mass Tort Nexus Media) In late 2017 plaintiffs and defendants in the Abilify litigation in New Jersey state court moved to have the litigation designated as a multicounty litigation (MCL) on December 27, 2017 and which was approved as an MCL on May 9, 2018, see links below for both court filings.
The New Jersey judiciary site provides multicounty litigation docket information where you will see there are more MCL dockets that parallel existing federal MDL’s being brought in Big Pharma’s backyard. These multicounty litigations involve large numbers of claims that are associated with pharmaceuticals and medical devices based in New Jersey, and there appears to be an emerging consensus that confronting J&J, Sanofi and others in their home state venue is now a very viable litigation option for mass tort firms across the country. The recently consolidated Abilify MCL is a prime example, as is the pending Taxotere MCL application.
There were nearly 50 Abilify cases filed in Bergen County in New Jersey Superior Court, with that number expected to rise over the next few months, with Superior Court Judge James DeLuca having been the initial judge handling the docket, both plaintiff and defense had agreed that the cases should remain with Judge DeLuca. However, the May 7, 2018 order designated Superior court Judge Nelson C. Johnson and the Atlantic county court as the Abilify New Jersey MCL venue, Abilify New Jersey MCL Designation Atlantic County May 7, 2018.
The motion for MCL designation was filed to ensure that any Abilify case filed in New Jersey will be transferred into the designated state court venue and remain there. There is already a multidistrict litigation (MDL) designation in the Abilify federal litigation, which is consolidated in Northern District of Florida, where the three upcoming bellwether trial were just settled, as well as pending “global settlement order, see Abilify MDL 2734 Global Settlement Order, where Judge Casey Rodgers ordered the parties to reach an agreement within 120 days of the May 1, 2018 order entry date. The MDL for Abilify was consolidated in October 2016, before U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers.
NEW JERSEY STATE COURT ETHICON MESH CONSOLIDATION
Ethicon now faces a home state hernia mesh legal battle as the New Jersey Supreme Court posted the Application for Multicounty Litigation (MCL) status on April 11, 2018 regarding the emerging Ethicon/J&J multi-layered hernia mesh products litigation pending in New Jersey state courts, Ethicon Hernia Mesh Litigation MCL Notice – New Jersey State Court April 11, 2018. The filing requests the Ethicon hernia mesh cases be consolidated in Bergen County in front of Judge Rachell Harz, over litigation related to Ethicon’s Proceed, Physiomesh and Prolene synthetic hernia mesh products. For information regarding the New Jersey Ethicon Hernia Mesh Litigation see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase Re: Ethicon Hernia Mesh New Jersey State Court Consolidation, adding another docket of mesh cases to the ever growing J&J/Ethicon defense of its synthetic surgical mesh products.
As a growing number of hernia mesh lawsuits continue to be filed against Johnson & Johnson and it’s Ethicon subsidiary in New Jersey state court, each involving complications allegedly caused by the design of multi-layered patch products sold in recent years, a request has been filed to centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
On April 11, Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of New Jersey state courts, issued a Notice To The Bar (PDF), indicating that the state Supreme Court has received an application to create a multicounty litigation (MCL) for all product liability lawsuits over Ethicon multi-layered hernia mesh.
TAXOTERE EMERGING MCL
The most recent MCL application to be filed and listed by the New Jersey Courts is the Taxotere (docetaxel) cancer chemotherapy drug litigation against Sanofi-Aventis US, Sandoz, Inc. and Actavis, Inc with the MCL Notice posted on April 11, 2018 see Taxotere New Jersey MCL Notice To The Bar April 11, 2018.
How the New Jersey state court Taxotere MCL compares to the Taxotere MDL 2740 remains to be seen, but the New Jersey based pharmaceutical giants are now being forced to address mass torts more and more often in their home state courts, which previously was perceived as a venue of last resort for many plaintiff firms across the country.
With these three newest mass torts emerging in New Jersey state courts, along with the many pre-existing MCL’s that have been very successful there, will New Jersey now be considered the “go to” venue for filing litigation against Big PharMa?