Orthopedic device makers Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Stryker (NYSE:SYK) and others got a bit of good news last week after a 7-year study of the U.K.’s National Joint Registry found no increase in cancer rates among metal-on-metal hip implant patients.
Researchers warned that the results were limited and that further observation and study were needed to look for cancers that take longer to develop, but the early findings may deflect some of the concerns surrounding the devices and their makers.
Metal-on-metal hip implants came under scrutiny after Johnson & Johnson subsidiary DePuy Orthopaedics recalled its ASR devices in August 2010, after research showed abnormally high rates of revision surgeries.
Some reports warned that hundreds of thousands of patients may have been exposed to toxic compounds from metal-on-metal implants, putting them at risk of developing cancer, cardiomyopathy, muscle and bone destruction and changes to their DNA.
The implants, including J&J’s DePuy ASR and Pinnacle, Smith & Nephew’s (FTSE:SN, NYSE:SNN) Birmingham and Zimmer‘s (NYSE:ZMH) Durom, release particles of their chromium-cobalt alloy as the metal parts wear against each other, researchers reported.
The new study, originally published in the British Medical Journal in April and presented again during last week’s British Orthopaedic Assn. meeting, found "no association between metal-on-metal hip replacements and increased incidence of cancer in the first seven years after hip replacement."
"Recent coverage on metal-on-metal hip replacements has highlighted concerns about the effect metal ions, from the wear of metal-on-metal implants, have on the body," according to a U.K. National Joint Registry press release. "As yet, there is no proven link between DNA changes and an increased incidence of cancer."
Lawsuits against J&J’s DePuy began piling up in June 2010 when a a Florida woman accused the company of knowing about the devices’ problems but failing to warn physicians. That suit was followed days later by 3 more from California residents who all had to have revision surgery after the implant partially detached from their hip sockets.
More than 6,000 of the personal injury lawsuits filed over the ASR implants were consolidated under Judge David Katz of the the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio in December 2010.
The first of roughly 2,000 cases filed in state courts were settled for a reported $600,000 last month, when more cases were added to a multi-district legislation over another DePuy metal-on-metal hip implant, the Pinnacle.
Now 8 top DePuy Orthopaedics execs, including former president David Floyd and current president Andrew Ekdahl, are being called to file depositions in the case, a move which J&J called a "fishing expedition," adding that it’s made 43 witnesses available for deposition in the case and produced reams of documents.