DePuy Down Under: device maker sponsors Australian orthopedic conference

Earlier this week we wrote about a report that found DePuy and other orthopedic device manufacturers make substantial payments to orthopedic surgeons and academics in the U.S. in exchange for consulting work, but also as a means to “curry relationships” with surgeons, gain market share, and basically sell more hip implants. But the U.S. is not the only place where hip implant manufacturers can influence orthopedic professionals with large payments. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald demonstrates that orthopedic device manufacturers, including DePuy, are getting in good with orthopedic specialists Down Under as well.

According to the Morning Herald, Johnson & Johnson / DePuy was a “platinum” sponsor of the Australian Orthopaedic Association’s 70th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Zealand earlier this month. By paying the association $250,000 over five years, Johnson & Johnson / DePuy garnered top naming rights. On the conference flyer’s sponsor page, DePuy is listed first among 8 other corporate sponsors of all levels.

DePuy’s sponsorship of the Australian Orthopaedic Association comes at a time when thousands of Australians are seeking compensation for harm allegedly caused by one of the two ASR devices that were withdrawn from the Australian market in 2009. (DePuy recalled the ASR devices in the U.S. in August 2010.) According to the Morning Herald, Johnson & Johnson / DePuy are facing claims from 3,500 Australians, and the company has already paid out $21 million in reimbursing Australians who have had to have the defective devices removed.

The AOA’s president-elect told the Morning Herald that the DePuy recall (one of the largest global medical device recalls ever) had “a lot of media hype and legal hysteria associated with it,” and while some people were indeed harmed by the implants, there was still “a happy symbiosis” between the association and the manufacturer.

Patients who claim to have been injured by DePuy’s ASR hip implants, however, are obviously likely to have a less cavalier attitude about this potential conflict of interest.

The Morning Herald, for instance,  quotes Australian Robert Lugton, described by the paper as “a patient who had to undergo painful and disabling repeat surgery because of a DePuy device.” Mr. Lugton, a retired engineering executive, is an advocate for more stringent prostheses regulations.

He told the paper, “there were too many new devices and new combinations with different components, which surgeons used in a mix-and-match way that seemed at odds with engineering practice.”

The faulty DePuy hip devices first became available in July 2003 and were implanted in about 93,000 patients worldwide before they were recalled. Concerns about the devices first emerged in Australia after patients began complaining of loosening and dislocation of the devices, along with pain and host of other adverse effects.

Data from Australia’s national orthopedic joint registry subsequently indicated premature failure rates for the DePuy implants – a problem bolstered when data from the much larger joint registry of England and Wales found that 12-13 percent of the devices failed within 5 years of implantation.


The Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian Orthopedic Association

The AOA’s 70th Annual Scientific Meeting flyer