If you read today’s New York Times, you’re likely familiar with the story of former Army surgeon Timothy R. Kuklo, a paid consultant to Medtronic, Inc., a medical device developer and manufacturer. An Army investigation found that Kuklo overstated the benefits of Infuse, a drug sold by Medtronic used by the military to treat combat-related bone injuries, and that he falsified information and forged the signatures of colleagues as co-authors in a British medical journal article. In response to Army findings, the journal retracted the article, the Times reported. But what you don’t know is Medtronic paid for thousands of dollars worth of Kuklo’s trips to places like Coral Gables, Florida, and Scottsdale, Arizona, while he was working for the Army.
Between 2001 and 2006, Medtronic paid for at least 15 trips taken by Dr. Kuklo, worth more than $13,000, according to travel disclosure records obtained from the Office of Government Ethics. Kuklo, now an associate professor at Washington University medical school in St. Louis, took more than 20 privately-funded trips.
“There’s no lack of creativity in how the industry tries to influence studies,” said Shahram Ahari, a medical ethicist and former drug sales representative. “This is what marketing is about, you take people with that position of respect and credibility, and every once in a while they spin one out that helps the marketing, and it’s hard to distinguish the marketing from the science.”
Kuklo was one of the Defense Department’s top recipients of Medtronic travel money, according to an analysis of Pentagon travel data being conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and the Associated Press.
A former colleague of Kuklo’s at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dr. David W. Polly Jr., took even more expensive trips than Kuklo. Polly went on at least 12 Medtronic-sponsored trips costing about $30,000, including a $10,000 trip to Switzerland. Now at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Polly defended Kuklo in the Times’ article, describing Kuklo’s data as “strong.”
Medtronic paid more than $90,000 for about 80 Defense Department trips from 1998 through 2007, according to the Office of Government Ethics data.
Kuklo, Polly, and Medtronic did not respond to requests for comment from the Center today.
In an earlier query about Medtronic’s sponsorship of Defense personnel travel, a company representative sent an e-mail response in March. “Medtronic pays certain travel and training expenses for physicians as part of the normal course of educating physicians on the safe and effective use of Medtronic products,” according to the statement. “This training gives physicians knowledge and skills important in treating patients suffering from chronic conditions who can benefit from Medtronic devices and therapies. Expenses reimbursed by Medtronic follow strict guidelines associated with our own Code of Conduct and U.S. Business Conduct Standards as well as the AdvaMed Code of Ethics. In addition, the Department of Defense has its own ethics standards in place in which all requests for educational support are reviewed by ethics officers at the Pentagon prior to authorization.”
Look for more on the Pentagon’s travel habits in coming weeks, when the Center, Medill, and AP release our final report on privately funded travel by the Defense Department.