Synthes - Norian XR Scandal

Norian XR Scandal

In 2009 the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia accused the company of running illegal clinical trials -- essentially, experimenting on humans. Between 2002 and 2004, Synthes had tested a product called Norian XR, a cement that has a unique capacity to turn into bone when injected into the human skeleton. The Food and Drug Administration explicitly told Synthes not to promote Norian for certain spine surgeries, but the company pushed forward anyway. At least five patients who had Norian injected into their spines died on the operating-room table

In 2009 Synthes announced a settlement with the state of New Jersey, over concerns that clinical investigators did not disclose their financial interests. In November 2009 Synthes pleaded guilty to allegations of shipping “adulterated and misbranded” products as part of unlawful clinical trials.

The indictment charges Synthes Inc. with a total of 52 felony counts: conspiracy to impair and impede the lawful functions of the FDA and to commit crimes against the US; 7 counts of making false statements in connection with an FDA inspection; and 44 counts of shipping adulterated and misbranded Norian XR in interstate commerce with intent to defraud.

The parent company, Synthes, was charged with 44 misdemeanor counts of shipping adulterated and misbranded Norian XR in interstate commerce, and the four executives, Michael D. Huggins, Thomas B. Higgins, Richard E. Bohner and John J. Walsh, were each charged with one misdemeanor count of shipping adulterated and misbranded Norian XR in interstate commerce. Synthes Inc. acquired N Spine Inc. in 2007.

From May 2002 until fall 2004 Norian conspired with others, including Synthes and the four named executives, to conduct unauthorized clinical trials of Synthes's medical devices, Norian XR and Norian SRS, in surgeries to treat vertebral compression fractures of the spine (VCFs), a painful condition commonly suffered by elderly individuals.

These surgeries were allegedly performed despite a warning on the FDA-cleared label for Norian XR against this use, and in the face of serious medical concerns about the safety of the devices when used in the spine.

According to the indictment, before the marketing program began, pilot studies showed the company that the bone cement reacted chemically with human blood in a test tube to cause blood clots. The research also showed, in a pig, that such Norian-caused clots became lodged in the lungs. Notwithstanding this knowledge, the company allegedly proceeded to market the product for VCFs without putting it through FDA-required testing. The company, it is alleged, did not stop marketing the product until after a third patient had died on the operating table.

In late 2011, all four executives received prison sentences ranging from five to nine months.

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