Medtronic Whistleblower Accuses Infuse Researcher of Hiding Financial Relationship

Filed September 28th, 2012 Julie Anne Fidler

Medical device maker Medtronic has been accused by a whistleblower of hiring spinal surgeon Dr. Thomas Zdeblick to edit an influential spine journal to push positive and premature data on its bone growth stimulant Infuse.

The qui tam whistleblower lawsuit was filed in July 2011 and alleges the firm violated the Medicare False Claims Act by filing reimbursement claims driven by illegal kickbacks.

According to MassDevice.com, whistleblower Joanne Hartwig, implicates Zdeblick for his part in furthering the company’s Infuse marketing by taking over as sole editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spinal Disorders, which he renamed the Journal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques.

Zdeblick invented the LT-cage, which is the only FDA-approved device for administering Infuse to the surgical site. Zdeblick, however, is in hot water for running up a $25 million tab with Medtronic since 2003.

Court documents reveal that with the doctor serving as editor, the journal has published articles touting the benefits of the spinal product while allowing researchers to hide their financial ties to Medtronic. Zdeblick himself failed to reveal “that he profited from each and every surgery which used Infuse through rights in the exclusive delivery vehicle, his LT-Cage,” according to the lawsuit.

Zdeblick first came under fire for his ties to Medtronic during a 2009 Senate Finance Committee investigation that revealed he was implanting 4 types of Medtronic devices he’d invented or helped develop. The University of Wisconsin, where Zdeblick is the chairman of orthopedics and rehabilitation, spent $27 million on Medtronic spinal devices between 2004 and 2010, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

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