Stent maker paid notorious cardiologist to use device

Looks like the case against Dr. Mark Midei--the Maryland surgeon accused of implanting hundreds of unnecessary cardiac stents in patients since at least 2007--has become a lot more interesting, with ties to the top of Chicago-based pharma outfit Abbott Laboratories. According to a 170-page report compiled by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Abbott's desire to push their drug-coated stent--Xience V--proved a catalyst in their relationship with Midei, reports the Baltimore Sun.

The skinny? In 2007, Abbott execs allegedly knew Midei had a reputation as a "top-volume stent doctor," and recruited him to be a "stent ambassador" to give their yet-to-be-FDA-approved Xience V market credibility. Soon after, Midei was touting the benefits of using stents at an Abbott sponsored dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steak House, and the relationship was off and running.

Lavish trips around the world and expensive barbecues at Midei's mansion followed, all funded by Abbott, allegedly, for Midei's use of the stent. From 2007 through 2009, the Xience V was the only drug-eluting stent used by Midei, the Sun reports. Prior to one of those barbecues--and shortly after Midei implanted 30 Xience stents in patients in a single day--Abbott executive vice president John M. Cepak sent the doctor a note saying: "I heard thru the grapevine that you had a truly outstanding day with Xience in the labs on Friday, perhaps setting the single day implant record....[S]tay in touch and thanks for your support." 

Once investigations against Midei went public, Abbott, it appears, went full swing into cover-up mode. The same day this story broke in the Sun, Abbott sent the doctor to Japan. One executive wrote in an email to Chuck Simonton, the company's chief medical officer, that the press was getting "too hot." And after a commentary in which a Sun columnist talked about stent overuse, another Abbott exec, vice president of global marketing David Pacitti, sent a note to a company official saying: "Don't you have connections in Baltimore????? Someone needs to take this writer outside and kick his ass! Do I need to send the Philly mob?"

St. Joseph Medical Center, where Midei practiced, billed the government and private insurers roughly $6.6 million for the doctor's work, the report showed. Medicare, according to the Sun, paid $3.8 million of that amount. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Committee's chairman, called the findings "shocking, disturbing and shameful." 

Abbott, which gave no comment to the Sun, released a statement calling Midei a "highly regarded physician" with whom it had worked in the past. "Our affiliation with Dr. Midei ended early this year," the statement read. 

Stephen Snyder, Midei's lawyer, doesn't seem concerned with any of the allegations, calling them all "speculation." 

"Big deal....There's no news here," he told the Sun

To learn more:
- here's the Sun's article
- download the Committee on Finance's report (.pdf)
- check out this statement from Baucus and Sen. Charles Grassley