Embattled Lab Nears Settlement With Government Over Kickbacks Reply

Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc, the embattled lab company, is nearing a $50 million settlement with the Justice Department, according to a Wall Street Journal story by  John CarreyrouAs previously reported here, the federal government is investigating HDL for giving kickbacks to physicians  who use  the company’s tests. Additional allegations suggest a broader pattern of serious misconduct based on questionable sales, marketing, and billing practices involving unnecessary testing.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Previous Stories About HDL:

FDA Grants Premarket Approval To AbioMed Heart Pump Reply

The FDA said today that it had approved Abiomed’s Impella 2.5 System. According to the company it is is the first hemodynamic support device to gain FDA premarket approval for use during high risk PCI procedures.

The miniature blood pump is designed for temporary use in patients with severe symptomatic coronary artery disease and diminished (but stable) heart function who are undergoing high risk PCI but who are not candidates for surgical revascularization.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Gilead’s Hepatitis Drugs Tripped By Old Heart Drug Reply

Late last week Gilead Sciences issued a warning about a rare but potentially fatal interaction between its stellar new hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir and amiodarone, a potent but tricky antiarrhythmic agent. Sofosbuvir is marketed as Sovaldi and, in combination with another antiviral agent, as Harvoni. Amiodarone, which is used to treat dangerous heart rhythm problems, has a number of different side effects and an extremely long half-life. Its use is generally reserved for difficult cases.

Gilead reported nine cases of symptomatic bradycardia (slow heart rate). One patient died of a cardiac arrest and 3 patients received a pacemaker.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

A Requiem for Routine Clot Removal During Heart Attacks Reply

Using a stent to open a blocked coronary artery is the treatment of choice in the early period of a heart attack (myocardial infarction). A limitation is the risk of dislodging part of the clot, leading to new downstream blockages of smaller vessels. One strategy that has been under development for a long time is thrombectomy, in which a device extracts the clot prior to the delivery of the stent. Following earlier success in small trials, the benefits of thrombectomy became controversial when a large trial, TASTE, found no evidence of benefit for the procedure.

TOTAL (Trial of Routine Aspiration Thrombectomy with PCI versus PCI Alone in Patients with STEMI), one of the largest trials ever to test a medical device, was presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting in San Diego and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

 

 

Should You Be Worried About The Neurocognitive Side Effects Of The New Cholesterol Drugs? Reply

The big news yesterday was important additional information about the new cholesterol lowering PCSK9 inhibitors from Amgen and Sanofi/Regeneron. As I reported then, the studies were broadly consistent, showing the powerful cholesterol-lowering effects of the drugs and providing an early suggestion that the drugs may lead to significant reductions in heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular events. But one finding, though not entirely new, has prompted a lot of discussion and concern.

Both studies reported a small but significant number of adverse neurocognitive effects in people taking the drugs. No one knows yet how important this finding will be, but it is clear that concerns about a real effect might have its own “adverse effect” on the drugs’ approval process.  Most experts seem to feel that they won’t be a very big problem, but none completely dismissed the issue either. Here are some of the main points under discussion:

Click here to read the full post on Forbes

 

 

 

Encouraging Long Term Results For Less Invasive Heart Valves Reply

The publications five years ago of the two part PARTNER trial brought a major change in the treatment options available to some people with aortic valve disease, which is often an extremely serious condition with a poor prognosis. The trial demonstrated that transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) was a reasonable treatment option, first for patients who were not surgical candidates and then for patients who were at high risk for surgery. One important lingering concern about TAVR was whether its results would prove to be sufficiently durable. Now the final 5 year findings from the trial, published in two papers in the Lancet, provide strong reassurance regarding the durability of TAVR. (The PARTNER trial used the Sapien TAVR device from Edwards Lifesciences. Current TAVR devices are made by Edwards and Medtronic.)

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

New Cholesterol Drugs: Highly Effective But Important Questions Remain Reply

New information emerged today about two new cholesterol-lowering drugs that have been attracting a lot of attention. Data about the PCSK9 inhibitors– evolocumab, under development by Amgen, and alirocumab, under development by Sanofi and Regeneron– were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The effects of the two drugs appeared to be broadly consistent. Both lowered LDL cholesterol powerfully, which is what the drugs were designed to do. The situation is less clear regarding the more difficult to ascertain safety and tolerability of the drugs and their long-term clinical effects…

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

 

PCSK9

Marc Sabatine presenting evolocumab results at the American College of Cardiology meeting in San Diego

 

 

Has CT Angiography Lived Up to Its Early Promise? Reply

When it first appeared more than a decade ago computed tomographic angiography (CTA) astounded cardiologists and other physicians. Until it came along the only way to check for blockages in the vital coronary arteries that supply the heart itself with blood was with cardiac catheterization, an expensive, highly invasive and unpleasant procedure. In the following years CTA (the devices are manufactured by GE, SiemensToshibaPhilips and others) enjoyed an explosion of growth, fueled by enthusiasm for its ability to deliver speedy, high-resolution images of the coronary arteries. Many anticipated that CTA would prove its worth and justify its expense and radiation dose. As explained by one cardiologist, Duke University’s Dan Mark, with CTA “only the patients who needed revascularization would actually go to the cath lab and the rest would avoid it,” leading to a reduced use of invasive tests, fewer unnecessary revascularizations, fewer false positives, and, therefore, significant economic advantages. Many years later, however, there is still little agreement about CTA and how it should be used in the diagnosis and management of people with chest pain.

Results of the NHLBI-supported Prospective Multicenter Imaging Study for Evaluation of Chest Pain (PROMISE), presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting in San Diego and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine, provide the best evidence yet for the evaluation of CTA.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

 

AstraZeneca Drug ‘Approaching The Point Of Diminishing Returns’ Reply

After a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) patients remain at high risk for recurrent events. The precise role of blood thinning with dual antiplatelet therapy to lower this risk has been the subject of considerable disagreement.  Now a new study offers fresh evidence that one important strategy, prolonged dual antiplatelet therapy, can lower risk over a long period ;but only at the cost of more bleeding complications.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

 

 

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been: FDA Approves Watchman Device From Boston Scientific Reply

Finally reaching its destination after an extremely long and strange trip, Boston Scientific gained approval from the FDA today to market its Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device in the US. The device has been in development for well over a decade and had been turned down by the FDA on several occasions.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

High Risks And Rewards Found With Heart Valve Device From Edwards And Medtronic Reply

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is one of the most important advances in cardiovascular medicine in recent years. TAVR devices, introduced recently in the US by Edwards Lifesciences and Medtronic, are associated with very high risks, but offer a less invasive alternative to traditional aortic valve replacement surgery. Because of early concerns about potential overuse and misuse of TAVR, many observers have been eagerly awaiting information about its use in the real world.

Now a new report published in JAMA offers the best perspective yet on the introduction of TAVR in the US with an analysis of  the one year outcomes of the first group of patients who underwent the procedure.

Click here to read the full post, with comments from Sanjay Kaul and Ajay Kirtane.

Study Uncovers Confusion About When To Use An Important Heart Test Reply

Appropriate use criteria (AUC) are designed to help make sure that medical procedures and interventions are performed in people most likely to benefit and, in turn, are not performed in people unlikely to gain benefit. Now a new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that the AUC for one very widely performed procedure, diagnostic cardiac catheterization, can provide a very rough indication of when it should and should not be performed, but that a great deal more work needs to be done before the criteria can be considered broadly reliable.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Orexigen ‘Crying All The Way To The Bank’ After ‘Egregiously Unethical’ Actions Reply

On Tuesday morning the members of the Data Monitoring Committee of Orexigen’s Light study began a planned meeting in a hotel in Chicago. They had no way of knowing that in a few hours their routine duties would be completely interrupted by the news that data from the trial– which they thought was known only to them and a very few other people within the company and the FDA– had been revealed to the world by Orexigen. When the news sank in the meeting broke into a scene of high drama and emotion. “I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years,” said one participant. At one point, I’ve been told, the DMC members were reading my initial story about the data release on a monitor in the meeting room.

The disclosure of the data unleashed a firestorm of criticism directed at Orexigen but also a dramatic 40% increase in the company’s stock, adding about $400 million to Orexigen’s market capitalization. But some believe that despite the short term gain ultimately there may be important negative consequences for the company and its leaders. Certainly the company hasn’t made any friends this week at the FDA or among the doctors and statisticians who perform clinical trials.

The Tuesday meeting was extraordinarily eventful, but in truth the DMC’s activities throughout the trial had never been a day at the beach.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Takeda Disagrees With Orexigen Over Data Disclosure Reply

(Updated)

On Tuesday Orexigen sparked a firestorm by disclosing the interim results of an ongoing clinical trial of its weight loss drug Contrave. Takeda, which markets the drug in the US, has released a statement in which it states that it does not support the release of the interim data.

Here is the Takeda statement:

“Pursuant to the Collaboration Agreement between Takeda and Orexigen, Orexigen has the sole right and responsibility for the drafting, prosecution and issuance of Orexigen patent filings.  Takeda respects the need to vigorously protect intellectual property relating to pharmaceutical products; however, Takeda does not support the issuance of patents that contain and disclose interim data results of an ongoing clinical trial.  Takeda is working with the academic leadership of the Light trial (Data Monitoring Committee, Executive Steering Committee) and the FDA to determine the most appropriate next steps for the LIGHT trial.”

Update:

And here is Orexigen’s mildly updated statement about the events:

Orexigen conducted a large cardiovascular outcomes trial in order to file for approval, with the study planned to continue after approval to serve a postmarketing regulatory requirement for additional risk exclusion. We observed an unexpected result in the interim analysis. We filed patent applications based on the results in order to preserve the potential for additional intellectual property. Prior to approval in September 2014, the FDA informed us it had determined that the Light Study would not serve as the postmarketing requirement for Contrave; an entirely new trial would be required. At that point, the company decided to continue with the patent prosecution. The second cardiovascular outcomes trial is expected to start later this year. We are confident that this trial can be enrolled and conducted successfully and we look forward to the results, which are expected by 2022.

On March 3 2015 the USPTO published an issued patent and supporting documentation, and we believed it was appropriate and necessary to make sure this information was equally available to all investors.
Orexigen proactively discussed the challenges inherent in using interim data from ongoing trials for regulatory approvals, and has been, and continues to be, committed to working with FDA and others to support its regulatory obligations to thoroughly explore Contrave’s therapeutic profile. Just as important, Orexigen is committed to its obligation to patients to fully explore the drug’s profile.
Orexigen is also committed to simultaneously meeting its obligations to other regulatory authorities in the U.S., such as the SEC, and abroad, such as the EMA, which are relevant to, and have authority over, its business. The Company is similarly committed to meeting its fiduciary duties to shareholders.

I will have much more to report about this story soon.

 

 

Orexigen Released Interim Data Without Approval Of Trial Leaders Reply

Earlier today Orexigen Therapeutics disclosed positive results from a clinical trial of Contrave, its weight loss pill (a combination of naltrexone and bupropion) that it markets with Takeda. (You can read a good summary of the findings by Adam Feuerstein on TheStreet.)

The surprising thing about the Orexigen disclosure, which was contained in a Form 8-K filed with the SEC, is that it consisted of data derived from an interim analysis of the company’s ongoing Light trial. Normally, interim results are performed by an independent data monitoring committee and the results are known only to the members of the DMC. Occasionally, when important regulatory issues are at stake, the FDA may also be involved. But the detailed results of the analysis are never made public until the trial is stopped.

In this case neither the DMC nor the trial Executive Committee, headed by the Cleveland Clinic’s Steve Nissen, knew about or approved the release of the data. Here’s a statement Nissen sent me:

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

No, Drinking Coffee Won’t Save Your Life Or Prevent Heart Attacks Reply

Once again the media has swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker. Following the publication of a  a new study in the journal Heart last night, hundreds of news reports have now appeared extolling the miraculous benefits of coffee. Here’s just one typical headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Another reason to drink coffee: It’s good for your heart, study says.”

But a careful look at the study and previous research on coffee makes clear that this type of reporting is completely unwarranted….

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

 

 

Hospitals, Like Vampires, Want Your Blood Reply

Anyone who has been in the hospital, either as a patient or a healthcare provider, is keenly aware that hospitals perform a lot of tests. It has even been suggested that some of those tests may not be necessary. Now a new study published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery sheds light on just how excessive some of this testing can be.

Researchers analyzed records from 1,894 patients who had cardiac surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and calculated the frequency and total volume of blood drawn from their subjects. They wrote that they “were astonished by the extent of bloodletting” they discovered.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Original illustration by Max Husten

Original illustration by Max Husten

 

 

New York City Ebola Doctor Slams Media And Governors Christie And Cuomo Reply

The response in the US to the Ebola crisis last year brought out the worst in the media and our politicians. By comparison, our response to the recent measles crisis– by no means a model for public health communication– had the sophistication and intelligence of a debate at the Oxford Union.

One of the chief victims of the hysteria was Craig Spencer, a New York City emergency room physician who caught Ebola while volunteering in Africa. When he first developed Ebola symptoms after his return to New York City he went straight to the hospital, where he eventually recovered after a harrowing illness. No one– neither his fiancee nor any of the people he interacted with in the days and hours before developing symptoms– caught Ebola from him. Every public health expert said that his behavior was exemplary.

But, as we all know, he did not receive praise in the media, or by the governors of New York and New Jersey. Instead, along with other healthcare workers who heroically went to Africa to help fight the epidemic, he was denigrated and condemned.

Now, months later, Spencer has presented his perspective on these events in an article in the New England Journal of MedicineWe should pay attention to his words. Here are a few excerpts, but by all means click over to NEJM and read the whole thing.

I understand the fear that gripped the country after I fell ill, because I felt it on a personal level. People fear the unknown, and fear in measured doses can be therapeutic and inform rational responses, but in excess, it fosters poor decision making that can be harmful. After my diagnosis, the media and politicians could have educated the public about Ebola. Instead, they spent hours retracing my steps through New York and debating whether Ebola can be transmitted through a bowling ball. Little attention was devoted to the fact that the science of disease transmission and the experience in previous Ebola outbreaks suggested that it was nearly impossible for me to have transmitted the virus before I had a fever. The media… fabricated stories about my personal life and the threat I posed to public health, abdicating their responsibility for informing public opinion and influencing public policy.

Meanwhile, politicians, caught up in the election season, took advantage of the panic to try to appear presidential instead of supporting a sound, science-based public health response. The governors of New York and New Jersey, followed by others, enacted strict home quarantine rules without sufficiently considering the unintended side effects…. At times of threat to our public health, we need one pragmatic response, not 50 viewpoints that shift with the proximity of the next election….

Instead of being welcomed as respected humanitarians, my US colleges who have returned home from battling Ebola have been treated as pariahs….

When we look back on this epidemic, I hope we’ll recognize that fear caused our initial hesitance to respond– and caused us to respond poorly when we finally did. I know how real the fear of Ebola is, but we need to overcome it. We all lose when we allow irrational fear, fueled in part by prime-time ratings and political expediency, to supersede pragmatic public health preparedness.

 

 

Common Pain Drugs Linked To More Problems After A Heart Attack Reply

The cardiovascular safety of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and diclofenac has been the subject of considerable uncertainty and controversy. Now a new study published in JAMA raises specific concerns about the safety of these drugs in the highly vulnerable population of people who have had a recent heart attack.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes, including comments from Peter Berger and Sanjay Kaul.

 

Everybody Into The Sauna? 1

Spending more time in the sauna may lead to a longer and healthier life– at least if you live in Finland, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Finnish researchers analyzed data from the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. The new analysis focused on 2,315 middle-aged men who had 1, 2-3, or 4-7 sauna bathing sessions per week. After 20 years of followup the rate of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality was significantly reduced in people who used the sauna more often.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes, including comments from Franz Messerli, Harlan Krumholz, and John Ryan…

 

800px-Smoke_sauna

Medtronic And Boston Scientific Plan To Resume Blood Pressure Trials This Year Reply

Medtronic and Boston Scientific have announced plans to start phase 2 clinical trials this year for their updated renal denervation catheters. The once promising new technology is intended to treat hypertension unresponsive to drug therapy. The failure last year of Medtronic’s Symplicity HTN-3, the first large pivotal trial to rigorously test renal denervation, sent manufacturers back to their drawing boards to redesign the devices.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

No, The New Cholesterol Drugs From Sanofi And Amgen Aren’t Going To Cost $150 Billion A Year Reply

In an article on the Health Affairs blog 4 CVS executives speculate that the new cholesterol lowering PCSK9 inhibitors from Amgen and Sanofi might achieve yearly sales of $150 billion or even higher. I think these numbers are a bit silly. But first let’s take a look at their extremely bullish case….

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Amgen Door Hanger

More Guideline Controversy: The Tricky Business Of Calculating Cardiovascular Risk Reply

Calculating cardiovascular risk has become a central and highly controversial component of cardiovascular guidelines. Now a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that most of the commonly employed tools seriously overestimate the risk of people today.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

Very Simple High-Fiber Diet Stands Up To American Heart Association Diet Reply

Diets notoriously fail to help people lose a lot of weight. One problem is that most diets include a broad range of restrictions and guidelines that many people find difficult to follow. Another problem is that negative recommendations may have unintended consequences, such as low-fat recommendations leading to increased consumption of refined carbohydrates. Now a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that a radically simple diet containing only one positive rule — eat more fiber — might be nearly as effective and much easier to swallow than a more traditional complex diet.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.

 

Three Trials Show Benefits Of Thrombectomy In Stroke Patients Reply

Three new studies offer important additional evidence that early treatment with current thrombectomy devices that extract clots from blood vessels in the brain can lead to improved outcomes in carefully selected stroke patients. The trials were stopped early based on efficacy following positive findings last year from another trial, MR CLEAN. The three new trials were presented today at the AHA/ASA International Stroke Conference in Nashville; two of the trials were published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.