Republican senator Chuck Grassley is aggressively pursuing a case of conflict of interest he has raised against by orthopedic surgeon David W. Polly Jr, chief of the spine service at the University of Minnesota.
The orthopedic received Pentagon research funds to conduct a study on a bone-growth product called Infuse, manufactured by Medtronic. It so happened he is also a consultant for the firm and he had received $1.14 million for consulting services by Medtronic between 2004 and 2007.
Obviously there is a conflict of interest here and the high profile senator Grassley wants to know whether Dr. Polly mightn't have alternatively chosen to do his research on another bone-growth product made by a competitor.
Dr. Polly did not disclose that he was a consultant for the company when he appeared before a different Senate panel in May 2006 and urged it to continue paying for Defense Department research into combat-related injuries, the Senate documents indicate.
He didn't disclose that his trip to Washington was paid for by Medtronic.
He is the latest academic physician whose links to medical-device or pharmaceutical companies have come under the scrutiny of Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee, who is leading an inquiry into medical ethics and conflicts of interest.
The Iowa Republican has written to the Minnesota university's president Robert H. Bruininks on the issue.
According to the senator's letter, Dr. Polly told a university review committee in 2006 that he couldn't substitute any other company's bone-growth product because Medtronic's was "the only available [such product] on the market."
But Sen. Grassley noted that Stryker Corp. has a product called OP-1 that is available in limited fashion on the U.S. market through a Food and Drug Administration process called a "humanitarian device exemption." Sen. Grassley wrote that OP-1 could have been used in either human or animal studies and that "Dr. Polly has made several statements that appear to be false and misleading" to the university committee and in a recent radio interview.
John Lundquist, Dr. Polly's lawyer, said, " I can tell you that Dr. Polly advised the University committee that the Medtronic product was the only one that was generally commercially available. The reason for bringing this up was that he wanted to study a product that would be generally available, rather than study a product that was not generally available to physicians and may or may not ever be." Mr. Lundquist said Dr. Polly believes his comment was "accurate when made, and continues to be accurate."
Medtronic has said it didn't know that Dr. Polly didn't disclose his ties during the congressional testimony and that it is investigating his work for the company.
While Dr. Polly is maintaining he is innocence, his supporters argue he should be getting more money and research "to help our wounded soldiers, and he has constantly served as an advocate by urging Senate committees to fund research into the severe arm, leg and spine injuries suffered by soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere.
"Even more troubling is that Senator Grassley tried saying that a competitor's product from Stryker Corp., which was only available in a limited fashion could have been used. In reality, Dr. Polly chose Medtronic because it was the only product that was commercially available to physicians. Why do research on something that most doctors will not be able to use?"
Senator Grassley has been pursuing legislation that would strengthen federal requirements on researchers to declare potential financial conflicts of interest, including by creating a system for comparing payment data submitted by scientists with payment data reported by companies.
Others Mr. Grassley has criticized include researchers at Emory University, Harvard University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Wisconsin.