Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What a Tangled Web We Weave

The University of Minnesota's

Dr. David Polly Surfaces on Pharmalot

The Medtronic Consultant and the Toxic Critic

File this under a touch of irony. Early last year, Stephen Ondra headed spine surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and was successfully touted by Medtronic for a position in the Obama administration. Among his attributes: consulting for the device maker, previous efforts on behalf of the Obama team and his work on physician-industry relationships and transparency, according to various emails between Medtronic execs (look here).

Within a few days, however, Ondra objected to the proposed nomination of another spine surgeon, Charles Rosen, as US Surgeon General. Why? As founder of the Association of Medical Ethics, Rosen publicly questioned consulting ties between doctors and device makers and, for his trouble, allegedly suffered retaliation by members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (see this). In a January 21, 2009 email exchange with Davd Polly, a University of Minnesota professor who was another Medtronic consultant, Ondra acknowledged never having heard of Rosen, but reacts viscerally to a recent story in The Orange County Register that details Rosen’s self-appointed role as a watchdog.

“Since this individual is toxic and dangerous I would leave nothing to chance,” he responds to Polly, who had forwarded the newspaper story to Ondra. Polly, by the way, is a nationally known spine surgeon who came under congressional scrutiny for his work several years ago for the device maker, something that Rosen had criticized (look here). “This moment in history is too important to our country to let such a disreputable and dangerous person continue his self-promotion crusade,” Ondra continues. “I would encourage you and any other physicians and citizens to weigh in on this to HHS and public health.”

The backdrop to this disclosure is an inquiry by US Senator Chuck Grassley, who last week wrote the US Department of Veterans Affairs about the relationship between Medtronic and the agency. In a Sept. 28 letter, Grassley notes Ondra was paid about $4 million by the device maker in the two years before he joined the VA as a senior policy advisor for health affairs. And the senator cited emails in which Medtronic officials are attempting to secure a position for Ondra (see this).

Specifically, Medtronic’s La Neve, a senior vp who headed the spinal and biologics unit, wrote to Polly, Medtronic ceo Bill Hawkins and other Medtronic execs about the device maker’s desire to gain an audience with a US Defense Department official in hopes of securing a position for Ondra.

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