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Medtronic-Paid Spine Surgeon Resigns From Medical Group Board Amid Probe

Aug 26, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Dr. David Polly, a prominent spine surgeon whose financial relationship with Medtronic Inc. had recently come under scrutiny,  has resigned from the board of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

As we've reported previously, Polly had come under fire for not  disclosing his relationship with Medtronic when he testified before a Senate committee in 2006 urging more funding for research into combat-related injuries. According to Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, Polly never told the panel that he was a Medtronic consultant, and was billing the company $6,000 for his appearance.  

Following his May 2006 testimony, Polly and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota received a $466,644 Department of Defense grant for a two-year study involving Infuse Bone Graft, a Medtronic product.   When the University of Minnesota approved Polly’s government-funded Infuse study, it said at the time that his “consulting duties for Medtronic appear sufficiently separate from the research he is performing.” Right after the study was approved by the University, Polly billed Medtronic for writing up a different Infuse study.

A probe conducted by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) revealed that Polly had been paid $1.2 million by Medtronic between 2003 and 2007 for consulting work.  As we reported previously,  Polly’s billing records revealed that he billed Medtronic $50,000 for lobbying-related costs. According to The Wall Street Journal, Polly traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with members of Congress several times in 2005 and 2006. The Journal also reported that Polly’s “billing rate was $4,750 for an eight-hour day in 2007, and he billed as many as 13,000 minutes a quarter — or 216 hours over three months. In some months, he conducted at least some Medtronic business  "nearly every day.”

Late last month, Grassley  sent Medtronic a letter, asking if its payments to Polly represent a conflict of interest  Grassley also charged in the letter that Polly gave Medtronic updates on government-sponsored research in violation of an agreement with the university and may have provided inaccurate information to a university ethics committee.

Medtronic has said it was not aware that Polly had failed to tell the Senate committee about his financial ties to the company when he testified.   Both the University of Minnesota and Medtronic have  launched investigations of the allegations in Grassley's letter.

Dr. Joseph Zuckerman, president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons said Polly resigned from his board position because he did not want to be a distraction. "The (academy) believes that relationships between industry and physicians can be very productive, innovative exchanges that occur for the good of patients and medical advancements," Zuckerman said in the statement. "However, when those relationships come under scrutiny, as Dr. Polly's have, we believe this creates an unnecessary distraction from (the academy's) mission."

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