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Senators Probe Industry Ties to Medical Device Conference Organizers

Oct 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Two lawmakers have written to the organizers of the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics conference in Washington, D.C.  about the financial support they receive from  five medical device companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic Inc. and Abbott Laboratories.  Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Herbert Kohl (D-Wisconsin) have been investigating the financial ties between industry and doctors, and have sponsored legislation that would force drug companies and device makers to disclose their spending on doctors.

The Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics conference is one of the largest medical devices conferences, and attracts more than 10,000 physicians as well as top executives from companies that make heart stents and other implantable cardiovascular devices.  It is sponsored by the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, a New York-based non-profit.  Several cardiologist employed by the Columbia University Medical Center, lead the foundation.  The annual event was held this week in New York City.

In their letter to both the foundation and the Columbia University, Grassley and Kohl wrote that: "Funding from the medical device industry may influence the practices of nonprofit organizations that purport to be independent in their viewpoints and actions.''  

The letter  comments on a quote by a researcher who serves on the board of the foundation that was reported in The New York Times.  Dr. Jeffrey W. Moses  who serves on the board of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, said in the article that the safety of heart stents “is not the big issue any more.”

As Grassley and Kohl rightly point out in their letters, the safety of heart stents - particularly drug coated stents - is far from established.  Several studies have linked the devices to blood clots and heart attacks.  In fact, at the conference on Thursday, a study was released that indicated that Medtronic's Endeavor drug-coated stent was associated with more heart attacks and deadly blood clots than another stent made by Johnson & Johnson.
The letters ask the foundation to disclose all financing it had received since 2003 from the five device manufacturers named in the letter and also to provide documentation of any payments and benefits the foundation had provided to 22 researchers connected with the organization.  The senators are also seeking  information from Columbia University about the disclosures those researchers had made to the institution about their income from industry sources.

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