St. Jude, Medtronic gave cash to controversial author's institute

The plot thickens. And this time, the cliche fits.

As it turns out, St. Jude Medical ($STJ) and Medtronic ($MDT) have both given substantial donations to Dr. Robert Hauser's Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, according to a juicy new report in MedCity News, even as both have been respectively battling or defending a controversial study connected to the organization.

The news offers an interesting postscript to last week's dust-up. Let us recap: St. Jude demanded a retraction of a study written by Hauser in his foundational capacity for the journal HeartRhythm that concluded that the company's Riata defibrillator leads caused more deaths than Medtronic's Quattro Secure offering. The journal's editor declined to issue a retraction, and Medtronic stood behind the study, saying its own evaluation of FDA data used by Hauser backed up the findings. St. Jude raised a ruckus, claiming that the study was riddled with errors and unfairly characterized its leads as more dangerous than Medtronic's.

Back to MedCity News. Writer Merrill Goozner scoured the foundation's 2010 annual report and determined that Medtronic gave $1 million to the organization over a number of years. St. Jude apparently was harder to quantify, but it and Boston Scientific gave between $250,000 and $999,999, according to numbers cited by the story.

The writer doesn't accuse the doctor of any wrongdoing; however, Goozner notes that Hauser's disclosure forms filed with The New England Journal of Medicine for last month's commentary states that he has no conflicts "including none for the institution that employs him." But Goozner also credits Hauser with correctly highlighting the larger issue the St. Jude situation represents. These kinds of errors point to a flawed pre-marketing approval process, and regulators also struggle with an insufficient system for post-market surveillance.

Goozner argues that Hauser overcame any perceived conflict of interest that the companies' monetary donations might suggest. That said, the doctor should have at least reported the potential conflict of interest in funding sources more openly. Even if he acted honorably--and he appears to have done so--any whisper of conflict of interest (regardless of whether it's true) can be just as bad as if it actually happened.

- here's the MedCity News article