The health care products giant Johnson & Johnson continued to market an artificial hip in Europe and elsewhere overseas after the Food and Drug Administration rejected its sale in the United States based on a review of company safety studies.During that period, the company also continued to sell in this country a related model, which earlier went on the market using a regulatory loophole that did not require a similar safety review.
It is not known how many people overseas received the replacement hip after the agency decided in 2009 not to approve it, nor the number who received the closely linked implant sold in this country. During some eight years on the market, the two implants were used in about 93,000 patients worldwide, about one-third of them in the United States. Both models were based on the same component, an all-metal hip socket cup that experts say was faulty in design.
The DePuy orthopedic division of Johnson & Johnson, citing declining sales, began phasing out both models of the device — formally known as an articular surface replacement device, which DePuy marketed under the name ASR — in November 2009 and formally recalled them in August 2010 amid reports in databases of orthopedic patients abroad showing they were failing prematurely at high rates.
But in a confidential letter, the F.D.A. told Johnson & Johnson in August 2009 that company studies and clinical data submitted to gain approval in the United States to sell the model available overseas were inadequate to determine the implant’s safety and effectiveness, according to a summary of the letter reviewed by The New York Times.
The agency also told the company it would need added clinical data to pursue the application, a process that would probably have taken a year or more. DePuy’s receipt of the notice came as regulators and surgeons abroad as well as doctors in this country were raising serious questions about growing failures of both models of the implant.
A spokeswoman for DePuy confirmed that the company had received the agency’s so-called nonapproval letter. But the spokeswoman, Mindy Tinsley, declined to release the letter or to respond to questions about when, or if, DePuy disclosed the ruling to doctors, patients, investors or regulators abroad.
A principal researcher on the clinical studies submitted by the company to the F.D.A. said he was not informed of the agency’s decision. Also, a review of publicly available information indicates that the company did not discuss the agency’s nonapproval letter in financial reports or in presentations to analysts while the device remained on the market.
There is no suggestion that Johnson & Johnson broke the law. Regulatory standards in other countries, like those in Europe, for approving the sale of medical devices are typically lower than here. A spokeswoman for a British regulatory agency, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said that companies like Johnson & Johnson were not required to notify it when the F.D.A. refused to approve a product that was used in patients there.
However, the F.D.A.’s rejection may further deepen the company’s legal and financial problems surrounding the ASR. Last month, the company took a special $3 billion charge, much of it related to anticipated legal and medical expenses associated with the recall. An estimated 5,000 lawsuits involving the device are pending, including some from patients crippled by tiny particles of metallic debris shed by the implants.
William Vodra, a lawyer who specializes in F.D.A. regulation, said that, in general, drug and medical device makers typically disclose nonapproval letters if they might have a material impact on a company’s finances. Mr. Vodra added that apart from that financial calculation, there was no hard-and-fast rule about making such rulings public.
Mr. Vodra said that if a company decided to withhold a nonapproval letter that contained important safety information about a device used by doctors, it could face damage to its brand. “They have to think long and hard of the reputational impact,” he said.
The handling of the ASR highlights how the F.D.A., by keeping its approval process confidential, may affect the health and safety of patients. An agency spokesman, Morgan Liscinsky, declined to disclose the letter on the ASR, saying the agency had a policy of not releasing such notices because they might contain confidential business information.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
J&J Hip Implant the F.D.A. Rejected Was Marketed Abroad