US doctors face sanctions for spine study payments

CHICAGO, May 3 (Reuters) - New Jersey's physician regulatory board has disciplined three orthopedic surgeons for failing to disclose financial interests in an artificial spinal disc made by Swiss medical device maker Synthes Inc SYST.VX.

The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded Thomas Errico, Jeffrey Goldstein and Richard Balderston for not disclosing to their research institutions their financial interests in clinical studies of Synthes’ ProDisc spinal device in which they participated. Errico and Goldstein also were ordered to pay civil fines.

The three orthopedic surgeons committed professional misconduct by receiving payments tied to milestones achieved by the study, including U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the product, the medical board said.

When applying to renew their medical licenses, Goldstein and Errico answered “no” when asked whether they had received any financial payments exceeding $10,000 from medical device manufacturers, although each had, the board said.

“The undisclosed conflicts of interest on the part of these doctors undercut public trust in the medical profession,” New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow said in a statement.

Goldstein and Errico were involved in clinical studies of the ProDisc device at New York University Medical Center and Hospital for Joint Disease. Balderston was a clinical investigator of the device at the University of Pennsylvania.

Errico, in a statement e-mailed to Reuters, said any inconsistencies in financial disclosures while he was principal investigator of the ProDisc study were the result of clerical errors and were unintentional. He said he disclosed his financial interest in the study to the U.S. Food and Drug in 2005.

“I agree and support the need for proper disclosure to patients and institutions with regard to financial conflicts of interest,” Errico said, He admitted to no wrongdoing in his agreement with New Jersey, he said.

The board assessed $60,000 in civil penalties and $17,500 in cost reimbursements against Errico.

Goldstein was assessed $30,000 in civil penalties and $10,000 in cost reimbursements.

The board also ordered the doctors to complete a medical ethics course.

Goldstein and Balderston could not immediately be reached for comment.

Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N said last week it would pay $21.67 billion to buy Synthes. The acquisition would make J&J the world leader in the orthopedic device market.

Reporting by Susan Kelly; Editing by Richard Chang