Drug Eluting Stent Patients Beware

Evelyn Pringle January 24, 2007

Drug eluting stents were promoted as working so much better than the old bare metal stents that 6 million people worldwide have received them in the few years since the arrived on the market.

“It was a modern record for any medical device,” the Boston Globe reported on December 4, 2006. Some 2 to 3 million people in the US now carry one of these devices in an artery, according to FDA estimates, with new implants topping 900,000 per year.

Only two brands of DES are sold in the US, the Taxus, by Boston Scientific, and the Cypher, by Johnson & Johnson’s Cordis Division.

The trials submitted by the DES makers to obtain FDA approval for use in limited procedures with non-complex patients with single-vessel heart disease, involved a low risk population. However, off-label DES use for procedures not approved by the FDA has become rampant and according to the agency:

“It is estimated that a majority of DES are implanted in lesions outside of their current indications for use, such as in-stent restenosis lesions, bifurcation lesions, coronary artery bypass grafts, acute myocardial infarction, chronic total occlusions, overlapping and multiple stents per vessel and in patients with multivessel disease and chronic renal insufficiency.”

Surgeons have been implanting the new devices in every kind of heart patient. And for good reason. The stenting business represents maga bucks to device makers, hospitals and surgeons alike. In the US, the implant procedure itself costs $38,203, according to a report by the Associated Press on December 26, 2006.

But as has been the case with so many pharmaceutical products in recent years, after being massively promoted, and implanted in millions of patients for indications not approved, DES are proving to be no better than the bare metal stents, and in fact research has shown them to worse because they come with more adverse reactions.

In early December 2006, the FDA’s Circulatory System Devices Advisory Committee held a public meeting to review data on thrombosis both when DES were used according to their label and when they are implanted off-label for unapproved uses, and to address the appropriate duration for the use of the blood-thinning drug, Plavix, with DES patients.

In the briefing provided to the Committee before the hearing, the FDA informed the panel that recent presentations at scientific meetings had indicated a small but significant increase in the rates of death or myocardial infarction, and non-cardiac mortality, in DES patients when compared to patients who received bare metal stents.

The briefing included a specific discussion of presentations made at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting, in October 2006, where doctors, Martin Leon and Gregg Stone, presented a meta-analyses of patient data from the Cypher and Taxus clinical trails.

Based on these analyses, Dr Stuart Pocock reported that after one year, five Cypher patients, compared to no bare metal patients, had experienced late thrombosis, and with the Taxus, thrombosis occurred in nine patients after one year compared with two bare metal stent patients.

Last year, the Swiss government commissioned a study to determine whether the DES were worth their price of between $2,200 and $2,700, when compared to the $600 to $800 for bare metal stents, and also to test how long Plavix should be prescribed to patients after the implantation of a DES to prevent blood clots from developing.

The study appeared in the December 19, 2006, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and reported that patients with DES had double the risk of cardiac problems after stopping Plavix compared to patients with bare metal stents.

The Swiss researchers, led by Dr Matthias Pfisterer, found that when patients stop taking Plavix, they had a small but serious risk of blood clots leading to death or heart attack.

The lead author noted that the majority of DES implants in the study were off-label. “About two-thirds of our patients were really treated with off-label use of drug-eluting stents,” Dr Pfisterer told WebMD on December 5, 2006.

“The FDA label says these are only for stable patients with limited disease,” he notes. “But, in fact,” he told WebMD, “most doctors who use drug-eluting stents use them in unstable patients and in more complex disease.”

In an editorial accompanying the Pfisterer study, Dr Robert Califf and Dr Robert Harrington, warned that research on DES has not kept up with clinical realities. “As is frequently seen with new cardiac devices,” they wrote, “rapid increase in clinical adoption quickly outstripped what is known about the device from limited clinical trials.”

Medical professionals say an important point to keep in mind when considering the risks associated with the DES is that these devices have only been on the market in the US for less than four years and that many more unknown risks could surface in years to come.

More problems may have already surfaced according to Dr Joseph Muhlestein, a professor at the University of Utah. He told ABC New’s Healthday reporter on December 4, 2006, that his research group has followed patients receiving DES implants very carefully and has found “something we don’t understand.”

As expected, he said, the DES did reduce artery closure at the site where they were implanted, but the incidence of artery problems at other sites occurred “significantly more often than when we used bare-metal stents,” he told Healthday.

So, the overall incidence of artery problems ended up being the same, regardless of which type of stent was implanted, Dr Muhlestein said.

It is possible that the problem occurred because DES were used on more high-risk patients, he noted. But it’s also possible, he said, that the DES interfered with the endothelium, the delicate tissue that lines the arteries.

These doubts have caused some doctors to cut back on DES use. “We used to use them in 90 percent of cases,” Dr Muhlestein told Healthday. “Now, it’s about 40 percent.”

Finally, experts are warning that if unexpected health problems do develop in patients already implanted with the DES, removal of the stent is not possible because once it is placed in the body, the tissue in the artery grows over the stent.

Experts Say Warn About Stents – FDA Says No

Evelyn Pringle January 2007

What do to about the problematic over-use of drug-eluting stents has become a problem in itself. A recall is out of the question, because 3 million people in the US already have the devices implanted in their chests, according to USA today.

Drug-eluting stents (DES) are mesh tubes used in patients with heart disease to keep their arteries open following a procedures to remove blockages usually with an inflatable balloon called angioplasty.

It is believed that a majority, or likely 60%, of current DES use is off-label, meaning the stents are being implanted in patients for uses that have not been approved as safe and effective by the FDA. This off-label use, the agency says, typically involves patient and lesion subsets that are more complex than those represented in the randomized trials.

Not surprisingly, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, the two companies that sell them in the US, claim that there is no increased risk of stent thrombosis in patients implanted with the devices off-label, but that even if there is, it is probably due to their underlying health conditions. The drug-eluding stents approved for use are the Cypher and the Taxus.

On December 7-8, 2006, the FDA held a public meeting of the Circulatory System Devices Advisory Committee to: (1) provide a forum for the presentation of clinical data relevant to the issue of DES thrombosis both when DES are used according to their label and when they are used off-label in more complex patients beyond their FDA approved uses; and (2) address the appropriate duration of the use of Plavix (clopidogrel), a blood-thinning drug, with DES patients.

In the Clinical Overview for the panel, the FDA reported that recent presentations at scientific meetings have suggested a small but significant increase in the rates of: (1) death or myocardial infarction (MI); and (2) non-cardiac mortality in DES-treated patients compared to patients treated with bare metal stents.

The FDA acknowledges that although stent thrombosis detected during angiography or at autopsy is the best evidence, many patients do not undergo follow-up angiography, and autopsy rates are exceedingly low among both hospitalized and out-of-hospital patients in sudden deaths, and so counting only cases of stent thrombosis confirmed by angiography or autopsy can not provide an accurate estimate for the true rate of its occurrence.

The drug-eluding stents were developed to address the problem of restenosis, which prevents renarrowing of the artery. The relative benefits of DES compared to bare metal stents was a reduction in the composite endpoint consisting of death, MI and target vessel revascularization.

For both DES models, the FDA notes, the difference in outcome verses bare metal stents was due to a reduction in the rate of repeat revascularization, but there was no difference in the rate of death and MI between groups at 9 to 12 months after stenting.

Given the high case fatality and MI rates associated with stent thrombosis, the FDA told the advisory panel in the Overview, “it is reasonable to re-assess the risk/benefit ratio of reduced repeat revascularization rates if there is a significant increase in DES thrombosis induced death and MI.”

The Overview includes a discussion of the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting in Washington, in October 2006, where Doctors Gregg Stone and Martin Leon presented meta-analyses of patient-level data from the Cypher and Taxus randomized clinical trails.

For the Taxus, the analyses found, the cumulative increase in stent thrombosis rate was 0.5% between one and four years after implantation, or approximately 0.15% per year. For the Cypher trials, the cumulative late-stent-thrombosis rate was 0.6% between one and four years, or approximately 0.2% per year.

Commenting on these meta-analyses at the meeting, Dr Stuart Pocock noted that after one year, 5 Cypher patients and no bare metal stent patients experienced late thrombosis and after one year, stent thrombosis occurred in 9 Taxus patients compared with 2 patients with bare metal stents.

The Cypher was FDA approved on April 24, 2003, and the Taxus obtained approval on March 4, 2004. As a condition of approval, both DES makers were required to conduct registry studies of at least 2,000 patients followed for 12 months.

The trials submitted for FDA approval primarily involved non-complex patients and compared the Cypher and Taxus stents to bare metal stents in patients with single-vessel disease, considered to be a low risk population.

However, according to the FDA, following these approvals, “it is estimated that a majority of DES are implanted in lesions outside of their current indications for use, such as in-stent restenosis lesions, bifurcation lesions, coronary artery bypass grafts, acute myocardial infarction, chronic total occlusions, overlapping and multiple stents per vessel and in patients with multivessel disease and chronic renal insufficiency.”

The Medical Device Reporting (MDR) system is a nationwide passive surveillance system which includes both mandatory and voluntary reporting. The MDR regulations, require manufacturers to submit reports of device-related deaths or serious injuries involving a device malfunction that could cause or contribute to a death or serious injury.

However, according to the FDA, its passive surveillance system has four significant limitations: (1) under-reporting of adverse events; (2) report data are often incomplete and invalid; (3) due to device complexity and the use environment, causality cannot be determined; and (4) reports are not representative of the universe of adverse events because reporting is subject to various biases.

As a condition of FDA approval, device makers are required to submit a summary every 6
months of adverse events deemed reportable, those deemed non-reportable, and a summary of anticipated versus unanticipated events.

A few months after the Cypher was on the market, the FDA received an influx and clustering of sub-acute thrombosis reports and the FDA, together with Johnson & Johnson, issued a letter notifying physicians of these initial reports in July 2003.

In October 2003, after receiving approximately 300 reports of sub-acute thrombosis through the MDR, the FDA issued a public health notification to curtail off-label use, reminding clinicians to follow the product’s labeling, including patient selection, sizing of the stent and concomitant antiplatelet therapy

The current labeling for dual antiplatelet therapy is 3 months for Cypher and 6 months for Taxus. The FDA has recognized two major issues with duel antiplatelet therapy: (1) patient non-compliance or early discontinuation of therapy; and (2) uncertainty regarding the optimal duration of dual antiplatelet therapy is unknown, particularly with high risk patients.

Multiple studies, the FDA says, have found increased rates of DES thrombosis, MI, or mortality associated with premature discontinuation of dual anti-platelet therapy. Just this month, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and another in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that risks increased when Plavix was stopped.

Experts point out that the high cost of Plavix which sells for about $4 a pill in the US, might lead to a patient’s discontinuation of therapy.

However, according to the FDA, it is not even clear that extended duration of dual-antiplatelet therapy will prevent late thrombosis. For instance, in a presentation at the TCT meeting, Dr Alaide Chieffo reported that of 16 patients, among 3021 DES recipients, treated in Milan, Siegburg, and Naples, who developed late DES thrombosis, 9 had been taking Plavix.

According to the FDA, a consideration for a longer duration of therapy must also weigh the potential benefit of a reduction in thrombosis against a potential increase in the risk of major bleeding.

And experts predict that bleeding with Plavix treatment could occur in many patients. A study in the January 20, 2005, New England Journal of Medicine, found patients taking Plavix experienced more than 12 times as many ulcers bleeds as patients who received aspirin plus the heartburn pill, Nexium. The study treated 320 patients whose ulcers had healed and found that 13 of the patients taking Plavix experienced renewed ulcer bleeding while just one of the patients taking aspirin and Nexium had an ulcer bleed.

Experts also point out that Plavix is a long-lasting drug with no available antidote, meaning once a patient takes it, their platelets are out of commission for the time it takes for the body to get rid of the old platelets and make new ones which is estimated to be between 7 and 10 days. If a patient were to require immediate surgery during this time period, they point out, bleeding could become a major problem.

Critics contend that the added expense and risks associated with Plavix for people who would not ordinarily need to take the drug to begin with, are reason enough to justify a warning against the off-label use of DES.

An April 20, 2006, study in the New England Journal of Medicine, led by Dr Eric Topol and Dr Deepak Bhatt of the Cleveland Clinic, found that the combination of Plavix and aspirin not only did not help most patients with heart disease, it almost doubled the risk of death, heart attack or stroke for those with no clogged arteries but with conditions like high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

In the end, the FDA advisory panel did recommend that a warning be added to the DES labels stating that off-label use may increase the risk of thrombosis, myocardial infarction, and death, and also said that the labels should carry a recommendation that dual antiplatelet therapy with aspirin and Plavix should continue for 12 months when the stents are implanted off-label.

The panel agreed that even when implanted for approved uses, DES were associated with an increased risk of stent thrombosis, but said there was no evidence of an increased risk of death or MI.

Prior to the Bush administration’s take-over of the FDA, these recommendations would have meant something because the agency almost always followed the recommendations of its advisory panels.

However, now-a-days it seems like a complete waste of tax dollars to foot the bill to haul these so-called “expert panels” to Washington because a brief look at the history over the past several yeas proves that the Bush administration’s FDA will cater to the wishes of the pharmaceutical industry in nearly every instance.

And it will apparently be no different with this panel. Several members of the committee suggested that a Black Box warning should be added to the DES labels, but according to the December 8, 2006 MedPage Today, Bran Zuckerman, MD, director of the FDA’s division of cardiovascular devices, “quickly quashed that suggestion.”

“There will be no black box,” he stated.

And moments after the hearing adjourned, MedPage reports, Daniel Schultz, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said there could be no label changes that reference off-label use either.

So once again, an advisory committee has gone through the motions of trying to protect the unwitting public against Big Pharma’s off-label sale of potentially lethal products and the FDA says “forget about it.”

Off-Label Stenting For Profit

Evelyn Pringle March 2007

On March 1, 2007, US House of Representatives, Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked two medical device makers to turn over documents as part of an investigation into the safety and off-label marketing of drug-eluting stents.

Stents are small wire-mesh tubes inserted in arteries to keep them open after they are unclogged with balloon angioplasty. There are two kinds of stents, bare metal and drug-eluting. Stenting became popular because it was thought to be a safe alternative to heart bypass surgery.

DES were promoted as being more effective than bare-mental stents in keeping arteries open and quickly reduced the use of bare-metal stents when they came on the market. The use of DES has a current rate of up to 80% of all stenting in some countries.

The Taxus, marketed by Boston Scientific, and the Cypher, by Johnson & Johnson, are the only two DES approved for use in the US, but Medtronic and Abbott Labs sell their versions in other countries and are expected to enter the US market in the next couple of years.

Off-label stenting occurs when doctors use a DES to treat conditions other than those approved by the FDA. According to the FDA in December 2006, over 60% of the devices are being implanted off-label in sicker patients with more complex heart problems than the patients the devices were tested on.

Doctors can legally use an FDA approved device for uses that are not approved, but it is illegal for a device maker to influence doctors to implant the device for an off-label use.

Stenting is big business. In 2006, combined sales for Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, totaled close to $3 billion. A bare-mental stent costs roughly $700, compared to about $2300 for a DES.

Some experts are questioning the over-use of both types of stents. According to the American Heart Association, bypass surgery is recommended for patients with complications or major blockage in two or more arteries.

Experts say, stent makers can no longer claim that stenting is cheaper than surgery. On February 25, 2007, the New York Times reported that the cost of stenting has risen with the introduction of newer devices and that surgery and stenting are now comparable in price for patients with multiple blockages, on average about $30,000, according to the American College of Cardiology.

John O Goodman, a leading consultant to cardiovascular doctors, told the Times that the average income of a stent specialist has risen to $550,000 from an inflation-adjusted $392,000 in 1990. Mr Goodman says he expects bypass surgeries to begin rising this year.

In a blatant case of stenting for profit, on March 7, 2007, the Daily Times in Salisbury Maryland, reported that at least 25 patients received unnecessary stent procedures performed by Dr John McLean, at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in 2006, and said the hospital is seeking to determine whether any more patients are at risk.

According to the Times, the hospital’s initial probe found that many of patients did not meet the minimum 70% blockage guideline used to determine whether a stent is needed.

The hospital said, “it would rectify the situation by paying back full medical fees to patients and their health insurance providers for the procedure.”

Paying back the cost of the device and procedure will do nothing to calm the worry of patients who must now live out their lives wondering whether they will develop a blood clot each day.

DES came on the market in 2003, and as happens so often these days, the new devices were heavily promoted and have been implanted in million of patients. Now studies show the DES works no better than the far cheaper bare-metal stents, and in fact they are more dangerous, according to some studies.

An analysis in the March 8, 2007, New England Journal of Medicine, of data on 4,958 patients in 14 randomized trials comparing DES to bare-metal stents, with a follow-up interval of 12 and 59 months, found DES, “does not have a significant effect on overall long-term survival and survival free of myocardial infarction, as compared with bare-metal stents.”

“The risk of stent thrombosis,” the authors state, “is at least as great as that seen with bare-metal stents.”

Another NEJM pooled analysis of 4 randomized trials and 1,748 patients compared DES and bare-metal stents with 4 years of follow-up, and found no significant differences in the rates of death, myocardial infarction, or stent thrombosis with the survival rate at 4 years in the DES group at 93.3%, and 94.6% in the bare-metal group.

A March 2006 presentation of the Basel Stent Kosten Effektivitäts Trial, Late Thrombotic Events (BASKET-LATE) suggested that between 7 and 18 months after implant, the rates of nonfatal myocardial infarction, death from cardiac causes, and angiographically documented stent thrombosis were higher with DES than with bare-metal.

In another study in the NEJM, Dr Bo Lagerqvist, MD, PhD, of the Swedish Coronary Angiography and Angioplasty Registry, and colleagues, reviewed data from 6,033 patients who were treated with either Cypher or Taxus, and 13,738 patients who were implanted with bare-metal stents.

At six months, the study showed DES had lower event rates. But after six months, “patients with drug-eluting stents had a significantly higher event rate, with 12.7 more events per 1,000 patients per year.”

“At three years post procedure, mortality was about 18% higher for drug-eluting stent patients,” and from six months to three years, the adjusted relative risk for death was 1.32.

Another study from a registry of almost 20,000 patients who were treated in Sweden in 2003 and 2004, found that, after one year, there were 5 stent thrombosis in Cypher patients verses none in the bare-metal group, and that there were nine cases of stent thrombosis reported in patients with Taxus, verses 2 in patients implanted with bare-metal stents.

Finally, another recent study proved that angioplasty, the procedure in which stents are used, did not help patients when used to open an artery days after a heart attack occurred. That could mean 50,000 such procedures were done unnecessarily every year, according to Forbes.com on December 13, 2006.

Specialists are now realizing the potential problems that may be developing. Although the risk of blood clots is less than 1% per patient per year, experts note, that risk could still add up to thousands of extra heart attacks.

On February 25, 2007, Dr Kirk Garratt, the director of research on heart therapies at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, one of the nation’s leading stenting centers, acknowledged in the New York Times: “We as cardiologists have probably pressed forward on stent technology a little faster than we should have.”

Dr William Maisel, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, chaired the FDA stent advisory committee hearings in December 2006, and told Forbes.com on February 13, 2007, “I think it’s unfortunate we are here four years after device approval and many of these questions are unanswered.”

“I think it represents a failure of the system,” he said, “I think manufacturers and the FDA should have had the foresight that these products would go out to millions of people.”

In January 2007, the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, representing 3,700 cardiologists worldwide, emphasized the importance of cautious patient selection and regular use of the blood-thinning drug Plavix to prevent blood clots.

However, Plavix comes with its own risks. For instance, excessive bleeding can occur if a patient is in an accident, and it must be stopped if surgery or dental work is needed. There is also the matter of cost, with Plavix averaging $1,400 a year. Experts say they are concerned that some patients may not be able to afford the drug, and some may not remember to take the medications each day.

Feds Investigate Profits From Off-Label Heart Stent Procedures – Part I

Evelyn Pringle May 2007

The stenting for profit industry may soon be history. On March 1, 2007, the chairman of the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman (D-CA), ordered Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific to turn over documents as part of an investigation into the off-label marketing of drug-eluting stents.

Boston’s Taxus, and J&J’s Cypher are the only DES stents FDA approved for sale in the US, but they were approved for limited indications because the studies submitted to support their approval only tested the stents in patients with single, smaller artery blockages, according to the December 8, 2006 Science Daily.

“But doctors quickly started using them,” Science reports, “in patients with blockages in multiple vessels and in those with larger blockages or co-existing diseases like diabetes.”

Stents are tiny wire-mesh tubes inserted in arteries to keep them open after angioplasty, a procedure in which a balloon is threaded through a vessel in the groin to a blocked artery and then inflated to unclog the artery to restore blood flow to the heart.

The use of stents became popular because the procedure was promoted as being safer and cheaper then heart bypass surgery in which an entire section of a diseased artery is replaced with a vessel taken from elsewhere in the body.

The drug coating on the new expensive stents was a big selling point in convincing doctors to quit using the older bare-metal stents, because the drugs were supposed to reduce the need for repeat procedures by releasing medication to prevent restenosis where scar tissue forms and causes the artery to close up again.

But DES stenting is so profitable that the majority of patients receiving the stents will not benefit at all. At a cost of $10,000 to $38,000, as many as 85% of the procedures are non-emergency and are being performed on people with only partially blocked arteries for the relief of recurrent chest pain, according to March 23, 2007 Associated Press.

The first DES was approved in April 2003, and by December 2006, at a hearing on the “Prospective on Drug‑eluting Stents: Balancing Risks and Benefits,” an FDA advisory panel reported that 3 out of 5 procedures were for unapproved uses and DES patients were developing stent-thrombosis, or blood clots, occurring most often in patients when the devices were used off-label.

While testifying at the hearing, Dr Sanjay Kaul told the panel that bare-metal stents were hardly used anymore. “The current drug‑eluting stent utilization rate,” he said, “is about 80 percent, and we have learned that nearly 60 percent of it is off-label.”

“We’ve also learned from the off-label use,” he informed the panel, “that the risk of stent thrombosis is higher, 2 to 3 percent, and in some subsets, like insulin-requiring diabetics, as high as 5 to 6 percent.”

As a result of the massive off-label use of DES, by 2005, the device accounted for 43% of total sales for Boston and 52% for J&J, according to Bloomberg on December 4, 2006. By 2006, sales figures show the new stent was a $2 billion seller for Boston.

The stents have been implanted in more than 6 million people worldwide, in what market analysts are calling a modern day record for a new device. In the January/February 2006 issue, Medical Device Link reported that about 1.5 million patients in the US were implanted with stents in 2005.

Yet by end of 2006, Forbes was reporting a study that found that angioplasty and stents did not help patients when used within a few days after a heart attack occurred which “could mean 50,000 such procedures were done unnecessarily every year,” Forbes said on December 13, 2006.

And new reports continue show that these unnecessary procedures are extremely costly in more ways than one. On May 14, 2007, Medical News Today reported that 2 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the off-label and untested use of DES is common in US practice, and “ischemic complication rates are higher among patients receiving drug-coated stents for off-label indications.”

In one study, 10.9% of patients who got stents for unapproved uses died, had a heart attack, or needed further treatment to clear the artery, compared with 5% of patients who received the devices during on-label procedures. After a year, the study found, the number of complications in off-label patients rose to 17.5% compared to 8.9%.

According to Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Slate Magazine on May 8, 2007, “we’ve wasted a lot of time and money on cardiac angioplasty that does no good.”

“Time and time again, he wrote, “studies repeatedly show that opening blocked arteries to prevent heart attacks in people with exercise-induced chest pain or stable blockages is, quite simply, pointless.”

“Essentially no clinical trial,” he says, “shows that balloon angioplasty or stenting partially blocked coronary arteries prevents heart attacks, saves lives, or reduces the risk of other complications like strokes.”

The bottom actually started falling out on the DES stenting for profit industry in late 2005, when reports began to emerge showing patients were developing serious health problems. Unbeknownst to the public, within 6 months of the approval of the first DES, the FDA had already identified 50 cases of allergic reactions associated with new stents.

On January 3, 2006, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported a study that found a number of patients had developed serious allergic reactions. A review of the FDA’s adverse event database since the first DES was approved through December 2004, initiated by cardiologists at the Health Science Center, identified 17 allergic reactions that were classified as probably or certainly caused by the stent, and 4 resulted in death.

Symptoms included rash, difficulty breathing, hives, itching and fevers and the study concluded that the coating on the stent was the likely cause rather than the drugs released by the device, according to a December 20, 2005 Health Science Center news release.

“The patients in question are not allergic to the stent itself, but to the polymer coating the metal used to hold the drugs for 30-day release,” said the report’s lead author, Dr Marc Feldman, associate professor of medicine at the Center and associate director of cardiac catheterization laboratories at its teaching University Hospital.

During 2006, reports that patients were developing stent-thrombosis started popping up. On October 11, 2006, the American College of Cardiology posted an editorial on the internet by Dr Sanjay Kaul, director of the cardiology fellowship training program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a colleague, that warned that blood clots in drug-coated stents may be causing an extra 2,160 deaths in the US alone each year.

On October 23, 2006, Bloomberg reported that 2.9% of DES patients could develop stent-thrombosis within 3 years and because 4 million people had already received the new stents, “clotting related to drug-coated devices may have caused as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 10,000 deaths worldwide.”

A November 29, 2006 analysis by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that the risk of developing blood-clots was increased as much as 5-fold in patients who receive drug-coated stents compared to patients implanted with the old bare-metal stents.

In December 2006, the FDA panel also sought to determine whether DES patients could forestall the occurrence of stent-thrombosis by taking the anti-clotting drug Plavix and aspirin for a year or more.

With the drug costing about $4 per day, the increased use of DES had already provided a goldmine for Plavix marketers Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis because every patient was instructed to take the drug for 3 to 6 months. By 2005, Plavix had become the world’s second-best-selling prescription medication.

But the use of Plavix creates problems of its own. At the FDA hearing, Dr Ron Waksman, who presented data from the Contemporary Registries of the Washington Hospital Center, told the panel, “we know that there is a price to prolong Plavix, and this has been given us from three randomized studies in which Plavix was compared to aspirin alone.”

He noted that all 3 studies showed there was excessive bleeding with Plavix.

He also told the panel that overall, compliance with taking Plavix at the time the stent thrombosis occurred in patients was actually fairly high. Although 30.4% of patients were off Plavix, he said, 60% of patients were still on Plavix.

Furthermore, Dr Waksman informed the committee, “platelet therapy beyond 6 months is not proven yet to be prohibitive to late stent thrombosis.”

Medical experts also say taking Plavix is not recommended unless absolutely necessary because severe bleeding can occur if a patient needs sudden surgery. And stopping Plavix will not help because it takes about a week for platelets to get back to normal with the proper clotting effect which makes any surgery a life-threatening event.

In the end, the FDA panel recommended that the DES should carry warnings that the devices may increase the risk of sudden heart attack or death and said patients may have to take Plavix for the rest of their lives.

So here once again, a new product that supposedly showed few risks in company sponsored trials with a small number of patients, actually causes serious health problems that went undetected until after the device was implanted in millions of people in large part due to the massive off label marketing of the device the minute it was FDA approved.

But in this instance, the off-label sale of the DES has resulted in a public health crisis because the adverse events are lethal. A clot inside a stent can instantly cut off the blood supply to the heart and patients can not have the device removed because tissue grows over the stent once it is placed in the artery. And taking Plavix for life, if it even helps, creates another life-long health threat.

The fact is, there is no medical solution to this problem and the millions of patients implanted with the stents who are lucky enough not to experience an adverse event will still have to endure a lifetime of day to day worry and dread.

Feds Investigate Profits From Off-Label Stent Procedures – Part II

Evelyn Pringle May 2007

In addition to the federal investigations into the off-label marketing of drug eluting stent by Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, on May 10, 2007, Rep Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the introduction of the FDA reform bill which addresses the issue of doctors using products for unapproved uses, which usually occurs without the patient’s knowledge or consent.

If a doctor does not inform a patient that the FDA has not approved the use of a device or procedure, medical experts say, the patient cannot give meaningful consent because the potential problems that can result from the off-label use must be explained so that the patient can weigh the risks and benefits to determine whether to consent to the treatment.

Medical professionals point out that if a doctor wants to use a treatment that is not FDA approved because of a true belief that a certain patient would benefit from a specific treatment more than from others that are FDA approved, the doctor would not hesitate to explain the reasoning to the patient.

The FDA Improvement Act reform bill introduced by Rep Hinchey would require doctors to inform patients when a product is used off-label and also provide more resources to the FDA to go after companies that promote off-label use of their products despite the fact that doing so is illegal.

In recent months, lawmakers have made it clear that investigation of the stenting for profit industry is a top priority and will include not only the device makers, but also the doctors and medical facilities performing the procedures.

Being Congress oversees the spending by public programs like Medicare and Medicaid, lawmakers would have to be blind not to notice the obscene rise in profits. According to the May 17, 2007 Wall Street Journal, “Americans spent at least $14 billion on coronary-stent procedures last year, including surgical and hospital fees.”

Stenting doctors are very well paid. The median salary for invasive cardiologists who perform the procedures is roughly half-a-million dollars a year, says Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Slate Magazine on May 8, 2007.

However, doctors and medical facilities may now be reevaluating the benefits of continued off-label stenting since law enforcement officials released information this month from an investigation by the FBI and the US Department of Health and Human Services of a cardiologist at a facility in Maryland that found 25 unnecessary stents implanted in patients in 2006 alone, with the majority billed to Medicare.

The bare-metal stenting procedure was originally marketed as a cheaper alternative to heart bypass surgery, but since the arrival of the DES, that claim is bogus. On February 25, 2007, the New York Times quoted the American College of Cardiology in reporting that the average cost of the DES procedure has risen to about $30,000, or almost equal to the price of open heart surgery for patients with multiple blockages.

The DES were promoted as being safer than bare-metal stents, but on March 8, 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine published an analysis of 4 studies that compared the DES and bare-metal stents with 4 years of follow-up, and found no significant differences in the rates of death, myocardial infarction, or stent thrombosis with the survival rate in the DES group at 93.3%, and 94.6% in the bare-metal group.

In December 2006, the FDA’s Circulatory System Devices Advisory Committee held a hearing to review data on the outcome of DES stenting when they were implanted according to their label compared to when they were used off-label. Dr Ron Waksman, of the Washington Hospital Center, told the panel the rate of stent thrombosis almost doubled in patients with off-label use versus on-label use at 30 days and at 12 months.

He also said, “when we look at on-label and at off-label, the drug‑eluting stents are more thrombogenic than bare-metal stents.”

With both on-label and off-label use, he informed the panel, over time, “late stent thrombosis is seen more in the DES versus the bare-metal stents.”

Dr Waksman said that careful patient selection for DES is mandatory, and “off-label use should be reconsidered or restricted.”

Diabetic patients with multi vessel disease should always be referred for bypass surgery, he added. DES should be contraindicated, he said, “for patients with poor compliance or allergic to Plavix or aspirin and need for upcoming surgery, and warning labeling should be considered for those when used off-label.”

But experts point out that some studies have shown little benefit from taking the anti-clotting, blood-thinning drug Plavix to prevent stent-thrombosis. In October 2006, Dr Alaide Chieffo, made a presentation at a Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting and reported a study of 3,021 DES patients that found 9 out of 16 patients who had developed late stent-thrombosis were being treated with Plavix at the time.

At the FDA meeting, Dr Peter Smith of Duke University discounted the claims that stenting is safer or as effective as bypass surgery and warned of the importance of weighing the risks and benefits to patients treated with the different procedures.

He stressed that since the introduction of DES, too many patients in need of bypass surgery are instead receiving off-label stenting procedures. “A current perspective,” he said, “is that America’s number one killer is predominantly treated with percutaneous methodology that has not been demonstrated to provide a survival advantage.”

“And this is particularly important,” he advised, “for the treatment of multi vessel coronary disease where substantial quality of life and survival benefits have been conclusively demonstrated for bypass grafting.”

Dr Smith informed the panel of some of the outcomes reported in peer-reviewed published trials, the first a study of 14,000 patients, which demonstrated a significant survival advantage for bypass grafting compared to stenting in three vessel heart disease, he said.

The ROBUST New York State audited database, he reported, of 23,000 patients with three vessel disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine also showed a significant survival advantage for bypass grafting compared to stenting at 3 years.

Dr Smith explained that bypass grafting is more effective because it provides complete revascularization. While stenting treats the isolated blockage, grafting bypasses about two-thirds of the vessel where current and future blockage can occur.

In addition, he noted, bypass risks increase little with increasing coronary disease severity while risks with stenting appear to increase with each additional stent.

He also told the panel, “surprisingly, when we looked at the bare-metal stent era data, we saw point estimate trends favoring bypass grafting even for low and intermediate severity disease, and an extension of the significant advantage that bypass grafting provides compared to intervention for high severity coronary disease.”

Dr Smith said the introduction of the DES led to a tripling of the use of stenting for high severity coronary disease. “And for the first time,” he noted, “less than half the patients were initially offered coronary bypass grafting.”

“How can this happen,” he pointed out, “with the absolute survival advantage that I’ve shown you from these observational data on 40,000 patients showing that at 1 year, there’s a 2.3 percent advantage, absolute advantage in bypass grafting versus stenting; 4.3 percent at 3 years; 5.1 percent at 5 years.”

That means 1 out of every 20 patients, he said, who were treated with stenting would have survived if they had had bypass grafting. When you translate into real world application, assuming that drug‑eluting stents are equivalent to bare-metal stents for the mortality outcome, he advised, approximately 1.5 million drug‑eluting stents are implanted worldwide, 850,000 in the US.

Using data from the DEScover trial about stents per patient in the incidence of three vessel disease, he said, we estimate that 160,000 are with DES worldwide and 92,000 in the US.

Dr Smith informed the panel that this translates into a rate of premature death at 1 year to 3,800 patients worldwide, with 2,000 in the US, and 16,000 patients deaths at 3 years, with 9,000 in the US.

“Annualized,” he said, “this is 6,500 worldwide, 3,600 in the U.S.”

At the end of his presentation Dr Smith addressed previous claims made to the panel by the industry that off-label extension of DES was meeting “an unserved need.”

“We’re not certain whose unserved need that is,” he said, “but we’re fairly certain that it’s not the need of our patients.”

Another major selling point used by the stent makers has been to claim that bypass surgery is riskier. However, a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Annual Conference in April 2007, determined that the DES procedure and surgery have about the same risk for a major cardiac event based on an analysis of 799 DES patients and 799 bypass patients for outcomes in the first 30 days and during the following 3 years.

Lead author, Dr Wilson, a program director at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and Texas Heart Institute, said in Science Daily on April 21, 2007, “We found that the likelihood of any complication in the hospital was the same whether you had a drug-eluting stent or bypass.”

“Five percent of drug-eluting stent patients,” he said, “had some major complication in the hospital, mostly heart attack, as opposed to about 3.8 percent of the patients who had bypass.” At 3 years, the study found, the death rate with bypass was 6.6% and 9% with drug-eluting stents.

The results of a study called COURAGE released in March 2007, may turn out to be the final nail in the coffin for Boston and J&J. The study involved over 2,000 patients who were treated for chronic, stable chest pain, and revealed that medication therapy alone reduced chest pain almost as well as when the drugs were combined with stenting.

Experts say the outcome is probably due to the fact that stenting only fixes one artery blockage at a time while drug treatment affects all arteries.

Many stable heart patients are conned into stenting because they believe that it will extend their lives and lower their risks for heart attack but according to the New York Times, the COURAGE study found that patients who received stents and drugs had the same life expectancy and same number of heart attacks as patients who received drugs only.

The study reported the rate of heart attack, stroke or death in patients who received stents was 20%, compared to 19.5% in patients who used drugs alone. At the end of 4.6 years, there were 211 deaths, or 19% among patients in the group who received stenting compared with to only 202 deaths, or 18.5% in the medication group.

“Our findings parallel those reported in recent trials,” said William Boden, chief of cardiology at Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore Hospitals.

“In the aggregate,” he told United Press International on March 26, 2007, “these studies … show that percutaneous coronary intervention — angioplasty plus stenting — has no effect in reducing major cardiovascular events.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are currently getting stents placed who do not need it as initial therapy,” said Dr Raymond Gibbons, professor of medicine at the Mayo Medical School and president of the American Heart Association, to UPI.

In response to the study, on the March 28, 2007, WSJ Health Blog, Dr Andy Demajio wrote, “It has been distressing to see how interventional cardiologists have been happily stenting their patients to fatten their wallets.”

“This immoral practice should come to a stop,” he wrote. “My hope is that the COURAGE data may help payers take action against these doctors.”

It appears that doctors and hospital administrators are thinking twice about off-label DES stenting. On May 17, the Wall Street Journal reported that April marked the 10th consecutive month of share decline for DES, quoting the Millennium Research Group, a firm that surveys about 140 US hospitals, that put the percentage of stentings with a coated stent at 69.7%, down from almost 90% last in June 2006.

Until April doctors had largely replaced the more-expensive DES with older, bare-metal stents, the Journal said. “The new data,” it notes, “indicate that doctors and patients may be skipping stentings completely in favor of drug treatment.”

It sure looks that way according to Boston’s first quarter SEC filing, that reported worldwide sales of its DES had dropped to $468 million in the first quarter of 2007, down from $633 million during the first quarter of 2006.

The SEC filing also shows that J&J has plenty of other problems. For instance, the company is currently facing over 75 class action lawsuits and 1,100 individual lawsuits related to potentially defective defibrillators and pacemakers manufactured by Guidant, a company Boston acquired in April 2006.

J&J future isn’t looking too rosy either. Sales of the Cypher stent are down by more than 25%, according to the firm’s first quarter SEC filing and in addition to DES, J&J is currently under federal investigation over the marketing practices for several other products including the antipsychotic Risperdal, the anti-seizure medication Topamax, the heart-failure drug Natrecor, and paying kickbacks to doctors for using the firm’s orthopedic devices.

In March 2007, J&J received new subpoenas from US attorneys in Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco pertaining to the investigations of the 3 drugs seeking information about corporate supervision and oversight of the subsidiaries that market the drugs including Janssen, Ortho-McNeil and Scios.

In addition, according to SEC filings, as of December 31, 2006, 100 lawsuits were pending against J&J related to the Charite artificial spinal disc, basically alleging that the company knew the disc was defective and boosted profits by marketing the device for off-label uses.

On May 10, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported the filing of a lawsuit against J&J by two former salesmen with documents showing how the company “sought to boost sales of its blockbuster anti-anemia drug Procrit by offering contracts that fattened doctors’ profits and urging its salespeople to push higher-than-approved doses.”

This bit of news came shortly after federal lawmakers ordered J&J to cease all direct-to-consumer advertising and physician incentives for Procrit until the FDA could determine whether steps needed to be taken to protect the public following investigations that revealed the rampant off-label sale of the anemia drug was causing serious injuries and death among kidney and cancer patients.

Unfortunately, there is no way to medically reverse the stenting procedure and therefore, the millions of unsuspecting patients who received the DES face a life-time of every day worry because a blot clot lodged in a stent can cause a stroke or heart attack without any warning.

Legal experts are predicting that Boston and J&J will be swamped with lawsuits over the off-label marketing of DES, but say the defendants listed in the complaints will likely include the names of doctors and medical facilities that helped the device makers turn the stenting industry into a billion dollar baby.

2-Part Series Feds Investigate Profits From Off-Label Heart Stent Procedures

Evelyn Pringle May 2007

The stenting for profit industry may soon be history. On March 1, 2007, the chairman of the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman (D-CA), ordered Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific to turn over documents as part of an investigation into the off-label marketing of drug-eluting stents.

Boston’s Taxus, and J&J’s Cypher are the only DES stents FDA approved for sale in the US, but they were approved for limited indications because the studies submitted to support their approval only tested the stents in patients with single, smaller artery blockages, according to the December 8, 2006 Science Daily.

“But doctors quickly started using them,” Science reports, “in patients with blockages in multiple vessels and in those with larger blockages or co-existing diseases like diabetes.”

Stents are tiny wire-mesh tubes inserted in arteries to keep them open after angioplasty, a procedure in which a balloon is threaded through a vessel in the groin to a blocked artery and then inflated to unclog the artery to restore blood flow to the heart.

The use of stents became popular because the procedure was promoted as being safer and cheaper then heart bypass surgery in which an entire section of a diseased artery is replaced with a vessel taken from elsewhere in the body.

The drug coating on the new expensive stents was a big selling point in convincing doctors to quit using the older bare-metal stents, because the drugs were supposed to reduce the need for repeat procedures by releasing medication to prevent restenosis where scar tissue forms and causes the artery to close up again.

But DES stenting is so profitable that the majority of patients receiving the stents will not benefit at all. At a cost of $10,000 to $38,000, as many as 85% of the procedures are non-emergency and are being performed on people with only partially blocked arteries for the relief of recurrent chest pain, according to March 23, 2007 Associated Press.

The first DES was approved in April 2003, and by December 2006, at a hearing on the “Prospective on Drug‑eluting Stents: Balancing Risks and Benefits,” an FDA advisory panel reported that 3 out of 5 procedures were for unapproved uses and DES patients were developing stent-thrombosis, or blood clots, occurring most often in patients when the devices were used off-label.

While testifying at the hearing, Dr Sanjay Kaul told the panel that bare-metal stents were hardly used anymore. “The current drug‑eluting stent utilization rate,” he said, “is about 80 percent, and we have learned that nearly 60 percent of it is off-label.”

“We’ve also learned from the off-label use,” he informed the panel, “that the risk of stent thrombosis is higher, 2 to 3 percent, and in some subsets, like insulin-requiring diabetics, as high as 5 to 6 percent.”

As a result of the massive off-label use of DES, by 2005, the device accounted for 43% of total sales for Boston and 52% for J&J, according to Bloomberg on December 4, 2006. By 2006, sales figures show the new stent was a $2 billion seller for Boston.

The stents have been implanted in more than 6 million people worldwide, in what market analysts are calling a modern day record for a new device. In the January/February 2006 issue, Medical Device Link reported that about 1.5 million patients in the US were implanted with stents in 2005.

Yet by end of 2006, Forbes was reporting a study that found that angioplasty and stents did not help patients when used within a few days after a heart attack occurred which “could mean 50,000 such procedures were done unnecessarily every year,” Forbes said on December 13, 2006.

And new reports continue show that these unnecessary procedures are extremely costly in more ways than one. On May 14, 2007, Medical News Today reported that 2 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the off-label and untested use of DES is common in US practice, and “ischemic complication rates are higher among patients receiving drug-coated stents for off-label indications.”

In one study, 10.9% of patients who got stents for unapproved uses died, had a heart attack, or needed further treatment to clear the artery, compared with 5% of patients who received the devices during on-label procedures. After a year, the study found, the number of complications in off-label patients rose to 17.5% compared to 8.9%.

According to Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Slate Magazine on May 8, 2007, “we’ve wasted a lot of time and money on cardiac angioplasty that does no good.”

“Time and time again, he wrote, “studies repeatedly show that opening blocked arteries to prevent heart attacks in people with exercise-induced chest pain or stable blockages is, quite simply, pointless.”

“Essentially no clinical trial,” he says, “shows that balloon angioplasty or stenting partially blocked coronary arteries prevents heart attacks, saves lives, or reduces the risk of other complications like strokes.”

The bottom actually started falling out on the DES stenting for profit industry in late 2005, when reports began to emerge showing patients were developing serious health problems. Unbeknownst to the public, within 6 months of the approval of the first DES, the FDA had already identified 50 cases of allergic reactions associated with new stents.

On January 3, 2006, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported a study that found a number of patients had developed serious allergic reactions. A review of the FDA’s adverse event database since the first DES was approved through December 2004, initiated by cardiologists at the Health Science Center, identified 17 allergic reactions that were classified as probably or certainly caused by the stent, and 4 resulted in death.

Symptoms included rash, difficulty breathing, hives, itching and fevers and the study concluded that the coating on the stent was the likely cause rather than the drugs released by the device, according to a December 20, 2005 Health Science Center news release.

“The patients in question are not allergic to the stent itself, but to the polymer coating the metal used to hold the drugs for 30-day release,” said the report’s lead author, Dr Marc Feldman, associate professor of medicine at the Center and associate director of cardiac catheterization laboratories at its teaching University Hospital.

During 2006, reports that patients were developing stent-thrombosis started popping up. On October 11, 2006, the American College of Cardiology posted an editorial on the internet by Dr Sanjay Kaul, director of the cardiology fellowship training program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a colleague, that warned that blood clots in drug-coated stents may be causing an extra 2,160 deaths in the US alone each year.

On October 23, 2006, Bloomberg reported that 2.9% of DES patients could develop stent-thrombosis within 3 years and because 4 million people had already received the new stents, “clotting related to drug-coated devices may have caused as many as 20,000 heart attacks and 10,000 deaths worldwide.”

A November 29, 2006 analysis by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that the risk of developing blood-clots was increased as much as 5-fold in patients who receive drug-coated stents compared to patients implanted with the old bare-metal stents.

In December 2006, the FDA panel also sought to determine whether DES patients could forestall the occurrence of stent-thrombosis by taking the anti-clotting drug Plavix and aspirin for a year or more.

With the drug costing about $4 per day, the increased use of DES had already provided a goldmine for Plavix marketers Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis because every patient was instructed to take the drug for 3 to 6 months. By 2005, Plavix had become the world’s second-best-selling prescription medication.

But the use of Plavix creates problems of its own. At the FDA hearing, Dr Ron Waksman, who presented data from the Contemporary Registries of the Washington Hospital Center, told the panel, “we know that there is a price to prolong Plavix, and this has been given us from three randomized studies in which Plavix was compared to aspirin alone.”

He noted that all 3 studies showed there was excessive bleeding with Plavix.

He also told the panel that overall, compliance with taking Plavix at the time the stent thrombosis occurred in patients was actually fairly high. Although 30.4% of patients were off Plavix, he said, 60% of patients were still on Plavix.

Furthermore, Dr Waksman informed the committee, “platelet therapy beyond 6 months is not proven yet to be prohibitive to late stent thrombosis.”

Medical experts also say taking Plavix is not recommended unless absolutely necessary because severe bleeding can occur if a patient needs sudden surgery. And stopping Plavix will not help because it takes about a week for platelets to get back to normal with the proper clotting effect which makes any surgery a life-threatening event.

In the end, the FDA panel recommended that the DES should carry warnings that the devices may increase the risk of sudden heart attack or death and said patients may have to take Plavix for the rest of their lives.

So here once again, a new product that supposedly showed few risks in company sponsored trials with a small number of patients, actually causes serious health problems that went undetected until after the device was implanted in millions of people in large part due to the massive off label marketing of the device the minute it was FDA approved.

But in this instance, the off-label sale of the DES has resulted in a public health crisis because the adverse events are lethal. A clot inside a stent can instantly cut off the blood supply to the heart and patients can not have the device removed because tissue grows over the stent once it is placed in the artery. And taking Plavix for life, if it even helps, creates another life-long health threat.

The fact is, there is no medical solution to this problem and the millions of patients implanted with the stents who are lucky enough not to experience an adverse event will still have to endure a lifetime of day to day worry and dread.

Feds Investigate Profits From Off-Label Stent Procedures – Part II

In addition to the federal investigations into the off-label marketing of drug eluting stent by Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, on May 10, 2007, Rep Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the introduction of the FDA reform bill which addresses the issue of doctors using products for unapproved uses, which usually occurs without the patient’s knowledge or consent.

If a doctor does not inform a patient that the FDA has not approved the use of a device or procedure, medical experts say, the patient cannot give meaningful consent because the potential problems that can result from the off-label use must be explained so that the patient can weigh the risks and benefits to determine whether to consent to the treatment.

Medical professionals point out that if a doctor wants to use a treatment that is not FDA approved because of a true belief that a certain patient would benefit from a specific treatment more than from others that are FDA approved, the doctor would not hesitate to explain the reasoning to the patient.

The FDA Improvement Act reform bill introduced by Rep Hinchey would require doctors to inform patients when a product is used off-label and also provide more resources to the FDA to go after companies that promote off-label use of their products despite the fact that doing so is illegal.

In recent months, lawmakers have made it clear that investigation of the stenting for profit industry is a top priority and will include not only the device makers, but also the doctors and medical facilities performing the procedures.

Being Congress oversees the spending by public programs like Medicare and Medicaid, lawmakers would have to be blind not to notice the obscene rise in profits. According to the May 17, 2007 Wall Street Journal, “Americans spent at least $14 billion on coronary-stent procedures last year, including surgical and hospital fees.”

Stenting doctors are very well paid. The median salary for invasive cardiologists who perform the procedures is roughly half-a-million dollars a year, says Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Slate Magazine on May 8, 2007.

However, doctors and medical facilities may now be reevaluating the benefits of continued off-label stenting since law enforcement officials released information this month from an investigation by the FBI and the US Department of Health and Human Services of a cardiologist at a facility in Maryland that found 25 unnecessary stents implanted in patients in 2006 alone, with the majority billed to Medicare.

The bare-metal stenting procedure was originally marketed as a cheaper alternative to heart bypass surgery, but since the arrival of the DES, that claim is bogus. On February 25, 2007, the New York Times quoted the American College of Cardiology in reporting that the average cost of the DES procedure has risen to about $30,000, or almost equal to the price of open heart surgery for patients with multiple blockages.

The DES were promoted as being safer than bare-metal stents, but on March 8, 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine published an analysis of 4 studies that compared the DES and bare-metal stents with 4 years of follow-up, and found no significant differences in the rates of death, myocardial infarction, or stent thrombosis with the survival rate in the DES group at 93.3%, and 94.6% in the bare-metal group.

In December 2006, the FDA’s Circulatory System Devices Advisory Committee held a hearing to review data on the outcome of DES stenting when they were implanted according to their label compared to when they were used off-label. Dr Ron Waksman, of the Washington Hospital Center, told the panel the rate of stent thrombosis almost doubled in patients with off-label use versus on-label use at 30 days and at 12 months.

He also said, “when we look at on-label and at off-label, the drug‑eluting stents are more thrombogenic than bare-metal stents.”

With both on-label and off-label use, he informed the panel, over time, “late stent thrombosis is seen more in the DES versus the bare-metal stents.”

Dr Waksman said that careful patient selection for DES is mandatory, and “off-label use should be reconsidered or restricted.”

Diabetic patients with multi vessel disease should always be referred for bypass surgery, he added. DES should be contraindicated, he said, “for patients with poor compliance or allergic to Plavix or aspirin and need for upcoming surgery, and warning labeling should be considered for those when used off-label.”

But experts point out that some studies have shown little benefit from taking the anti-clotting, blood-thinning drug Plavix to prevent stent-thrombosis. In October 2006, Dr Alaide Chieffo, made a presentation at a Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting and reported a study of 3,021 DES patients that found 9 out of 16 patients who had developed late stent-thrombosis were being treated with Plavix at the time.

At the FDA meeting, Dr Peter Smith of Duke University discounted the claims that stenting is safer or as effective as bypass surgery and warned of the importance of weighing the risks and benefits to patients treated with the different procedures.

He stressed that since the introduction of DES, too many patients in need of bypass surgery are instead receiving off-label stenting procedures. “A current perspective,” he said, “is that America’s number one killer is predominantly treated with percutaneous methodology that has not been demonstrated to provide a survival advantage.”

“And this is particularly important,” he advised, “for the treatment of multi vessel coronary disease where substantial quality of life and survival benefits have been conclusively demonstrated for bypass grafting.”

Dr Smith informed the panel of some of the outcomes reported in peer-reviewed published trials, the first a study of 14,000 patients, which demonstrated a significant survival advantage for bypass grafting compared to stenting in three vessel heart disease, he said.

The ROBUST New York State audited database, he reported, of 23,000 patients with three vessel disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine also showed a significant survival advantage for bypass grafting compared to stenting at 3 years.

Dr Smith explained that bypass grafting is more effective because it provides complete revascularization. While stenting treats the isolated blockage, grafting bypasses about two-thirds of the vessel where current and future blockage can occur.

In addition, he noted, bypass risks increase little with increasing coronary disease severity while risks with stenting appear to increase with each additional stent.

He also told the panel, “surprisingly, when we looked at the bare-metal stent era data, we saw point estimate trends favoring bypass grafting even for low and intermediate severity disease, and an extension of the significant advantage that bypass grafting provides compared to intervention for high severity coronary disease.”

Dr Smith said the introduction of the DES led to a tripling of the use of stenting for high severity coronary disease. “And for the first time,” he noted, “less than half the patients were initially offered coronary bypass grafting.”

“How can this happen,” he pointed out, “with the absolute survival advantage that I’ve shown you from these observational data on 40,000 patients showing that at 1 year, there’s a 2.3 percent advantage, absolute advantage in bypass grafting versus stenting; 4.3 percent at 3 years; 5.1 percent at 5 years.”

That means 1 out of every 20 patients, he said, who were treated with stenting would have survived if they had had bypass grafting. When you translate into real world application, assuming that drug‑eluting stents are equivalent to bare-metal stents for the mortality outcome, he advised, approximately 1.5 million drug‑eluting stents are implanted worldwide, 850,000 in the US.

Using data from the DEScover trial about stents per patient in the incidence of three vessel disease, he said, we estimate that 160,000 are with DES worldwide and 92,000 in the US.

Dr Smith informed the panel that this translates into a rate of premature death at 1 year to 3,800 patients worldwide, with 2,000 in the US, and 16,000 patients deaths at 3 years, with 9,000 in the US.

“Annualized,” he said, “this is 6,500 worldwide, 3,600 in the U.S.”

At the end of his presentation Dr Smith addressed previous claims made to the panel by the industry that off-label extension of DES was meeting “an unserved need.”

“We’re not certain whose unserved need that is,” he said, “but we’re fairly certain that it’s not the need of our patients.”

Another major selling point used by the stent makers has been to claim that bypass surgery is riskier. However, a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Annual Conference in April 2007, determined that the DES procedure and surgery have about the same risk for a major cardiac event based on an analysis of 799 DES patients and 799 bypass patients for outcomes in the first 30 days and during the following 3 years.

Lead author, Dr Wilson, a program director at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and Texas Heart Institute, said in Science Daily on April 21, 2007, “We found that the likelihood of any complication in the hospital was the same whether you had a drug-eluting stent or bypass.”

“Five percent of drug-eluting stent patients,” he said, “had some major complication in the hospital, mostly heart attack, as opposed to about 3.8 percent of the patients who had bypass.” At 3 years, the study found, the death rate with bypass was 6.6% and 9% with drug-eluting stents.

The results of a study called COURAGE released in March 2007, may turn out to be the final nail in the coffin for Boston and J&J. The study involved over 2,000 patients who were treated for chronic, stable chest pain, and revealed that medication therapy alone reduced chest pain almost as well as when the drugs were combined with stenting.

Experts say the outcome is probably due to the fact that stenting only fixes one artery blockage at a time while drug treatment affects all arteries.

Many stable heart patients are conned into stenting because they believe that it will extend their lives and lower their risks for heart attack but according to the New York Times, the COURAGE study found that patients who received stents and drugs had the same life expectancy and same number of heart attacks as patients who received drugs only.

The study reported the rate of heart attack, stroke or death in patients who received stents was 20%, compared to 19.5% in patients who used drugs alone. At the end of 4.6 years, there were 211 deaths, or 19% among patients in the group who received stenting compared with to only 202 deaths, or 18.5% in the medication group.

“Our findings parallel those reported in recent trials,” said William Boden, chief of cardiology at Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore Hospitals.

“In the aggregate,” he told United Press International on March 26, 2007, “these studies … show that percutaneous coronary intervention — angioplasty plus stenting — has no effect in reducing major cardiovascular events.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are currently getting stents placed who do not need it as initial therapy,” said Dr Raymond Gibbons, professor of medicine at the Mayo Medical School and president of the American Heart Association, to UPI.

In response to the study, on the March 28, 2007, WSJ Health Blog, Dr Andy Demajio wrote, “It has been distressing to see how interventional cardiologists have been happily stenting their patients to fatten their wallets.”

“This immoral practice should come to a stop,” he wrote. “My hope is that the COURAGE data may help payers take action against these doctors.”

It appears that doctors and hospital administrators are thinking twice about off-label DES stenting. On May 17, the Wall Street Journal reported that April marked the 10th consecutive month of share decline for DES, quoting the Millennium Research Group, a firm that surveys about 140 US hospitals, that put the percentage of stentings with a coated stent at 69.7%, down from almost 90% last in June 2006.

Until April doctors had largely replaced the more-expensive DES with older, bare-metal stents, the Journal said. “The new data,” it notes, “indicate that doctors and patients may be skipping stentings completely in favor of drug treatment.”

It sure looks that way according to Boston’s first quarter SEC filing, that reported worldwide sales of its DES had dropped to $468 million in the first quarter of 2007, down from $633 million during the first quarter of 2006.

The SEC filing also shows that J&J has plenty of other problems. For instance, the company is currently facing over 75 class action lawsuits and 1,100 individual lawsuits related to potentially defective defibrillators and pacemakers manufactured by Guidant, a company Boston acquired in April 2006.

J&J future isn’t looking too rosy either. Sales of the Cypher stent are down by more than 25%, according to the firm’s first quarter SEC filing and in addition to DES, J&J is currently under federal investigation over the marketing practices for several other products including the antipsychotic Risperdal, the anti-seizure medication Topamax, the heart-failure drug Natrecor, and paying kickbacks to doctors for using the firm’s orthopedic devices.

In March 2007, J&J received new subpoenas from US attorneys in Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco pertaining to the investigations of the 3 drugs seeking information about corporate supervision and oversight of the subsidiaries that market the drugs including Janssen, Ortho-McNeil and Scios.

In addition, according to SEC filings, as of December 31, 2006, 100 lawsuits were pending against J&J related to the Charite artificial spinal disc, basically alleging that the company knew the disc was defective and boosted profits by marketing the device for off-label uses.

On May 10, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported the filing of a lawsuit against J&J by two former salesmen with documents showing how the company “sought to boost sales of its blockbuster anti-anemia drug Procrit by offering contracts that fattened doctors’ profits and urging its salespeople to push higher-than-approved doses.”

This bit of news came shortly after federal lawmakers ordered J&J to cease all direct-to-consumer advertising and physician incentives for Procrit until the FDA could determine whether steps needed to be taken to protect the public following investigations that revealed the rampant off-label sale of the anemia drug was causing serious injuries and death among kidney and cancer patients.

Unfortunately, there is no way to medically reverse the stenting procedure and therefore, the millions of unsuspecting patients who received the DES face a life-time of every day worry because a blot clot lodged in a stent can cause a stroke or heart attack without any warning.

Legal experts are predicting that Boston and J&J will be swamped with lawsuits over the off-label marketing of DES, but say the defendants listed in the complaints will likely include the names of doctors and medical facilities that helped the device makers turn the stenting industry into a billion dollar baby.

Plavix Sales to Soar due to Faulty Heart Stents

Evelyn Pringle September 22, 2006

Recent studies have shown the new generation of drug-eluting heart stents to be associated with an increased risk of late stent thrombosis, cardiac mortality, myocardial infarction, and all cause mortality.

And at the same time, they have proven to be little more effective, if any, than the older bare-metal stents that sell for a fraction of the cost.

Due to the discovery of all of these increased risks, experts are now predicting that patients who received the drug eluding stents will be required to take the expensive blood-thinning drug Plavix for life.

In a few short years, these new stents have become one of the best selling devices in medical history. In 2005, about 1.5 million patients were implanted with drug-eluting stents in the US alone, with the market dominated by the Taxus stent from Boston Scientific, and the Cypher from Cordis, a Johnson & Johnson company. Cypher received FDA approval in 2003, and Taxus was approved a year later.

A market analysis in the January/February 2006, issue of Medical Device Link, reported that the worldwide market for drug-eluting coronary stents reached an estimated $4.2 billion in 2004 and is expected to nearly double by 2010.

According to the May 17, 2005, Boston Globe, Boston Scientific spent a mere $350 million to develop the Taxus stent but after the FDA approved the device for sale in March 2004, the company increased sales by more than $2 billion and for 2004, posted a “whopping 62 percent increase in revenue.”

The Taxus is by far the company’s biggest moneymaker.

Of Johnson & Johnson’s seven device units, Cordis is by far the most profit enhancing. In 2005, its sales grew 24% to $4 billion.

Financial analysts estimate that the profit margin per stent sold is between 80 and 90%. The September 18, 2006, Boston Globe said that bare-metal stents run about $800 a piece, compared to $2,200 for a drug-coated stent.

Critics have long criticized the outrageous price because according to Dr Mitchell Krucoff, of Duke Clinical Research Institute, Durham, NC, in Heartwire on February 7, 2006, “In the case of first-generation DES, these are essentially bare-metal stents that have been spray-painted with plastic.” The August 6, 2004 Boston Globe describes these medical devices as:

“Stents are wire mesh devices placed in arteries, which are blocked by fatty deposits. Doctors thread a tiny balloon into the artery and inflate it to clear the blockage. Then, a stent is inserted into the artery, and a second balloon expands the stent to keep the newly cleared blood vessel wide open.

“The newest stents are coated with drugs to prevent tissue buildup within the arteries, which can create fresh blockages after the stent is in place.”

However, the drug-eluding stent hay-day looks like it may be short lived. The results of studies revealed over the past several months set off alarm bells among heart specialists leading many to say they will return to the use of bare-metal stents.

The studies including the BASKET-LATE study, presented at the March 2006 American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in Atlanta, and most recently, the Camenzind meta-analysis presented at the September 2006 European Society of Cardiology Annual Meeting/World Congress of Cardiology Meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

The results of two Swiss meta-analyses of all available data from published trials of the Cypher, a sirolimus-eluting stent, and Taxus, a paclitaxel-eluding stent, reported at the meeting in Barcelona, found not only an increased risk of late mortality and non-fatal myocardial infarction with the Cypher stent, but also an apparent increase in all cause mortality. One of the meta-analyses showed a rise in non-cardiac deaths, from cancer, sepsis and stroke. They also found a slight increase in events with the Taxus stent.

The researchers found that drug-coated stents raise the risk of fatal blood clots and said the danger is greatest for patients with J&J’s Cypher, who face a 38% higher risk of adverse events.

For people who develop a clot, experts say, it can be a matter of life and death because a clot inside the stent can stop the blood flow to the heart itself.

In the BASKET trial, researchers compared outcomes among 264 patients randomized to Cypher, 281 to Taxus, and 281 patients to a bare-metal stent, who were treated from May 2003 through May 2004, at University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland and were followed for 18 months.

The average age of the patients was 64 and forty-two percent had stable angina, 36% had unstable coronary syndromes, and 21% had acute MI and the analysis was based on data from patients who survived the first six months after stenting.

At 18 months, the rate of death or myocardial infarction was 8.4% for patients with drug-eluting stents and 7.5% for bare metal stents, but the study found a significantly higher rate of non-infarct target vessel revascularization for patients who received bare-metal stents compared with drug-eluting stents, specifically 11.6% versus 7.5%.

As a result, there was no statically significant difference in the overall major adverse cardiac event rate at 18 months, 15.8% for drug-eluting stents and 18.9% for bare-metal stents.

Patients who had treatment on larger vessels had no significant benefit from drug-eluting stents and possibly even a small late harm, the study found.

The take home message is clear, said Christoph Kaiser, MD of University Hospital Basel in Switzerland in MedPage Today on September 4, 2006, “Drug-eluting stents should be reserved for use in small vessels or bypass grafts because it is here that they have demonstrated a benefit.”

Currently, drug-coated stents are used in more than 90% of procedures in rich countries like the US and Switzerland. But some cardiologists now say they will be much more cautious about their use. “It raises the flag of caution over the indiscriminate use of first-generation, drug-eluting stents and reminds us that we should stick with tested indications and not over-extend this to any patient,” Dr Gabriel Steg, of Hospital Bichat-Claude Bernard in Paris, co-author of a Swiss meta-analysis, told reporters in Barcelona.

At one press conference, Salim Yusuf, MD, a professor of medicine and director of cardiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that he plans to ask interventional cardiologists at his hospital to re-evaluate their use of drug-eluting stents so that they are used “in a limited way” until more data are available to determine whether the stents are “a panacea – as many of our patients and residents believe – or an expensive placebo, or – as I suspect – a Trojan horse.”

Dr Yusuf says the stents may be more of a Trojan horse, carrying hidden long-term danger in the guise of a useful therapy to avoid restenosis. As it is now, Dr Yusuf characterized the widespread use of drug eluting stents as “madness” and said that coronary interventions should not be used to treat stable angina, unless it has “failed to respond to full and exhaustive medical therapy, something that is never done.”

He is calling for the creation of a panel of interventional and non-interventional cardiologists, health economists, and government agencies to “re-evaluate the real role of stenting” in coronary disease and says the panel should exclude industry representatives.

During his presentation at the Barcelona conference, Dr Robert Harrington, of Duke in Durham, NC, warned the audience about the need to go slowly and evaluate the long term outcomes of the drug coated stents already implanted all over the world. “In days of balloon angioplasty, we worried about thrombus formation for 12 to 24 hours, and when bare metal stents were introduced, we worried for seven to 14 days,” he advised.

But now the worry with drug-eluting stents, he pointed out, may “be extended to years.”

Co-author of one of the meta-analysis, Dr Philippe Steg, MD, of Hospitalier Bichat-Claude-Bernard in Paris, likened the long term drug-eluting stent studies to long term data on Vioxx, which was viewed as a superior pain relieve treatment until long term studies found that the drug drastically increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The increased risk with Vioxx was small, but the drug was used by tens of millions of consumers before the risk became known. The same applies to drug-eluding stents. According to MedPage Today on September 5, 2006, an estimated 6 million drug eluting stents have been implanted, which means even a small percentage of problems can add up to a large number of patients.

“This is a classic kind of thing,” said Dr David Brown, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center, in Newsday on September 13, 2006, “every time we have a technological breakthrough, we invent a new disease along with it.”

“In this case,” he said, “it’s late-stage thrombosis.”

The September 14, 2006, New England Journal of Medicine, published 2 studies that found drug eluding stents offer modest benefits, if any, over bare-metal stents.

In one trial, researchers compared the Taxus to bare-metal stents, looking at their effectiveness in warding off cardiac death, recurrent heart attack or vessel re-closure. A total of 619 patients, who received a stent after a heart attack, were included in the study.

The researchers found no statistically significant difference in the rate of “serious adverse cardiac events” between the two groups during a one-year follow-up.

After one year, 8.8% of Taxus patients experienced an adverse event, compared with 12.8% of the bare-metal patients. Slightly fewer Taxus patients died from cardiac causes, had a reclogging, or needed another intervention, but blood clot rates were similar in both groups.

The second study compared the 8-month outcomes of 712 heart attack patients who were implanted with either the Cypher or a bare-metal stent.

In this study, time reductions in risk did reach statistical significance, with 7.3% of Cypher patients having a target-vessel failure, defined as a related death, complete reclogging, or need to reclear the vessel, compared with 14.3% of those given a bare metal stent.

However, the significant difference, the study said, was caused by a need for another surgery, as deaths and complete recloggings and blood clots were even in both groups, but patients with the Cypher needed their treated blood vessels unblocked after a year.

Another factor that must be considered in any risk benefit debate, is that according to the September 18, 2006 Boston Globe, “stents cannot be removed once they are implanted, making them a permanent fixture in coronary arteries.”

As researchers tracked patients over time, they found clots forming more than a month, and sometimes a year or more after the implant. “With bare-metal stents, such late clotting is almost unknown,” according to the Globe.

This past summer, Boston Scientific conducted its own an analysis of the company’s drug eluding stent trials and acknowledged publicly that Cypher patients were marginally more likely to get a clot than patients with bare-metal stents.

J&J claims to monitor the long-term effects of its stents, and says that in 1,800 patients, five developed late clots, whereas none of the bare-metal stent patients had clots.

However, experts point out that the device maker’s only track patients with fairly routine problems in their arteries but that in real-world practice, surgeons use drug-coated stents in many more complex cases.

In extreme situations, the Boston Globe says, doctors have implanted a dozen or more stents, or have completely lined a coronary artery with stents, a tactic called the “full metal jacket.”

Experts say the more metal put in, the greater the risk.

Moreover, the number of cases of clotting problems may not be as small as experts predict. According to the September 18, 2006 Boston Globe, American doctors are starting to track their own patients and the Washington Hospital Center in Washington DC, looked at 3,000 patients and found 8 cases of late clotting.

In California, the Globe says, the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system is now launching a review of all its stent patients, though cardiologist Calvin Weisberger, who initiated the project but says a lack of funding will make the process slow.

“We don’t have Boston Scientific or Johnson & Johnson paying for this study – they certainly won’t pay for something that could show we should be buying less of their product,” he told the Globe.

With drug-eluting stents, experts say, the increased adverse event rate is particularly alarming because the condition that the stent is used to prevent is a common but relatively benign process, while stent thrombosis is “a rare but life-threatening disease,” according to Dr Steg.

Dr Steven Nissen, head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, called the new findings “potentially explosive.”

He says there was already a modest shift back to bare metal stents in the US and predicts more doctors would take a conservative approach, pending definitive safety data. “If there’s a suspicion, why take the risk?” Dr Nissen told Reuters News.

“If this is true,” he advised, “I would recommend more selective use of drug-eluting stents and I would recommend consideration for longer-term use of dual anti-platelet (blood-thinning) agents.”

Critics say the bad news about stent thrombosis is great news for Plavix maker Bristol Myers Squib. Along with Dr Nissen, Dr Yusuf also says there may be a need to continue dual antiplatelet therapy of aspirin plus Plavix in drug-eluting stent patients beyond the one year mark, and possibly for life.

Plavix is already a real moneymaker for Bristol-Myers, selling for about $4 a pill in the US. According to a February 27, 2006, article in Forbes.com, based on numbers obtained from IMS Health, a healthcare information tracking firm, the top 20 drugs in the US in 2005 included Plavix in the number 6 position with sales of $3.5 billion.

On July 18, 2006, the New York Times, reported that Bristol-Myers had already see a double-digit sales increase for Plavix in the US this year, up 26% to $850 million.

In addition to its extra costs, Plavix is not without its own serious side effects. A study published in the January 20, 2005, New England Journal of Medicine, found patients taking Plavix experienced more than 12 times as many ulcers as patients who received aspirin plus a heartburn pill.

The study treated 320 patients whose ulcers had healed and gave Plavix to half of the patients and aspirin plus Nexium, a heartburn pill to the other half.

The results showed 13 of the patients taking Plavix experienced renewed ulcer bleeding during the year while just one of the patients taking aspirin and Nexium had an ulcer bleed.

Medical experts also point out that Plavix is a long-lasting drug with no readily available antidote, which means once a patient takes it, their platelets are pretty much out of commission for about 7-10 days, the time it takes for the body to get rid of the old platelets and make new ones.

That is why some surgeons say they do not like the drug. One surgeon described performing a major emergency operation on a patient taking Plavix as either a “death-defying high wire act above Niagara Falls, or a death-producing disaster.”

Critic note the added expense and risks of Plavix for all the people who would not ordinarily need the drug, and who may not even need it now if no clotting occurred, but who have to take it as a precautionary measure.

A precautionary measure that may in itself be dangerous or as useless as the drug-eluding stents. A study published in the April 20, 2006, New England Journal of Medicine, led by Dr Eric Topol and Dr Deepak Bhatt of the Cleveland Clinic, found that the combination of aspirin and Plavix not only did not help most patients with heart disease, it almost doubled the risk of death, heart attack or stroke for those with no clogged arteries but with conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The researchers gave one group of patients a daily dose of aspirin plus Plavix, and another group was given aspirin plus a placebo. After 28 months the researchers found that adding Plavix made little difference to the group as a whole other than reducing hospitalizations slightly.

But for the 20% of the trial subjects with no signs of heart disease, the rate of heart related deaths went from 2.2% of those patients on aspirin alone to 3.9% of those who added Plavix.

The only patients even modestly helped, the study found, were those with established heart disease but even their risk of heart attack, stroke or death was about 7% versus 8% with aspirin alone.

In addition to finding no significant benefit with the combination, Plavix plus aspirin for patients with multiple risk factors was associated with increased risk for moderate and serious bleeding, the researchers reported. The analysis of adverse events showed that patients taking the combination of drugs had a severe bleeding rate of 1.7 %, compared to 1.3% for the aspirin only group.

And finally, there is no guarantee that a life-long regimen of Plavix plus aspirin will solve the problem. The data from Berne and Rotterdam-registries that include 3,875 Cypher patients and 4,271 patients implanted with Taxus stents found that 23% of late thrombosis occurred in patients who were already on dual antiplatelet therapy.

In one of two meta-analyses reported, patients treated with Cypher had significantly greater mortality and non-fatal myocardial infarctions at three years than did patients with bare-metal stents.

Dr Sidney Smith Jr, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and chairman of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Percutaneous Coronary Intervention Guideline Committee, points out that the guidelines already recommend that dual antiplatelet therapy be continued for a year in patients who have no excess bleeding risk and says there is no evidence that extending the aspirin plus Plavix therapy beyond a year will reduce the late thrombosis risk.

For its part, at its usual slow as molasses pace, on September 18, 2006, the FDA said it plans to convene a public panel meeting of outside scientific experts in the near future to assist in a review of all the data and make recommendations about what actions may be appropriate, such as possible labeling changes or additional studies.