Abbott (NYSE:ABT) said today that it’s upgrading the implantable pacemakers and defibrillators it acquired when it paid $25 billion for St. Jude Medical earlier this year, seeking to move beyond battery and cybersecurity issues that haver plagued it for a year.
Last October St. Jude warned of a battery issue that could disable its high-voltage cardiac rhythm management devices, saying the problem was associated with 2 deaths among the nearly 400,000 patients implanted with affected devices. The issue stemmed from the formation of lithium clusters in the lithium-based batteries used in the devices that can form during high-voltage charging. The clusters could then cause a short circuit and deplete the battery within a day to a few weeks, rendering the device incapable of delivering therapy.
That news followed a short-seller-fueled scandal about alleged cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the St. Jude devices. Short-selling firm Muddy Waters and a cybersecurity firm in August 2016 alleged that major flaws in the CRM devices exposed them to a cybersecurity risk, but only after taking short positions on STJ’s stock. St. Jude later sued Muddy Waters and the hacking shop behind the report, after the sides traded accusations about its accuracy (which independent researchers found had “major flaws” – but not before STJ shares lost about 5% of their value).
Today Abbott said it’s upgrading its ICDs with a battery performance alert and plans to update its pacemakers’ firmware with additional cybersecurity measures to prevent unauthorized access. Abbott stressed that there have been no reports of unauthorized access to any patient’s implanted device.
“Connected devices are having a significant positive impact for patients and their health,” medical devices executive vice president Robert Ford said in prepared remarks. “To further protect our patients, Abbott has developed new firmware with additional security measures that can be installed on our pacemakers.
“All industries need to be constantly vigilant against unauthorized access,” Ford said. “This isn’t a static process, which is why we’re working with others in the healthcare sector to ensure we’re proactively addressing common topics to further advance the security of devices and systems.”