Three significantly different takes on spine surgery study – one headline emphasizing risk, one cost, one sales

The New York Times headline: “Bone-Growth Proteins Show Risk in New Study.” Excerpt:

“Patients who received a bioengineered protein during spinal fusion procedures to correct neck pain had far more complications than patients who did not get it, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study, published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, reinforces previous concerns about the use of the proteins in fusion procedures to treat upper spine, or cervical, pain. The substances studied, sold by either Medtronic or Stryker, are not federally approved for cervical procedures, although surgeons are free to use them for that purpose.”

The Wall Street Journal headline
: “Bone Proteins Costly In Surgery, Study Says.” Excerpt:

“The findings contrast with previous studies, written by Medtronic consultants, in which authors concluded that cost savings over time could offset the initial cost of Infuse.

For instance, an article in 2002 by former Army surgeon David W. Polly Jr., now of the University of Minnesota, and colleagues said, “Preliminary results suggest that from a payer perspective, the upfront price of bone morphogenetic protein is likely to be entirely offset by reductions in the use of other medical resources. That is, bone morphogenetic protein appears to be cost neutral.”

Dr. Polly, who last year received substantial consulting and speaking fees from Medtronic, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.”

The Star Tribune, serving the community where Medtronic and Dr. Polly are based, had what sounded like a local-business cheerleading headline, “Medtronic’s Infuse a hit in growth of spine fusion.”

But the story itself offered much more beef than the headline suggested.

Still, the Strib story seemed to swing back to what good news this could mean for Medtronic. Excerpt:

“JAMA’s findings loom large for Medtronic, which sells the bioengineered product called Infuse used in spine fusion procedures. Since it was approved by the FDA in 2002, Infuse has proven to be a blockbuster device for the medical technology giant. Michigan-based Stryker Corp. makes a similar product, but Medtronic is by far the market leader.

While Medtronic doesn’t break out figures for individual products, sales of biologics (including Infuse) have topped $3.6 billion in the past five years. Its spine division, which also markets devices used in spine surgery, is its second-largest with $3.4 billion in annual revenue.”

And the Strib story never mentioned Dr. Polly right in their own backyard.

It’s an important study and topic. Read all three stories if you get the chance.

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