Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- A bioengineer at Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy unit testified that he spent three years studying a redesign of metal-on-metal hip devices that the company recalled in 2010 because of their failure rate.
James Anderson, testifying by videotape in state court in Los Angeles, recalled his disappointment that the work dubbed Project Alpha ended in 2008 with no change to DePuy’s ASR hips. Jurors saw Anderson late yesterday at the first of 10,000 lawsuits to go to trial over claims that J&J defectively designed the 93,000 ASR hips that DePuy recalled.
“Were you frustrated when you heard that the project was being ended?” asked Michael Kelly, an attorney who represents a retired prison guard suing J&J over his failed hip.
“Yes, I was frustrated,” Anderson said.
Kelly asked Anderson what he told his superiors after he “came up with some good suggestions and useful solutions.”
“I think I would have said that I was disappointed that the last six months of my work had come to nothing,” said Anderson, who works for DePuy in Leeds, England.
At the time of the recall, J&J said that 12 percent of J&J’s hips failed in the U.K. within five years. That rate is rising. An Australian national registry showed that the ASR failure rate last year exceeded 40 percent. Analysts say it may cost J&J billions of dollars to resolve the lawsuits.
J&J, the world’s largest seller of health-care products, denies that it defectively designed the device or that it contributed to the health problems of Kelly’s client, Loren Kransky, 65. J&J is based in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Anderson testified he was 25 when he joined DePuy in 2005 after graduating from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. He joined a team that studied the “next generation ASR,” he said. In the device, made of cobalt and chromium, a metal ball placed atop the femur rotates in a cup placed in the hip.
Patients claim in lawsuits that the ASR device left them in pain or immobilized by joint dislocations, infections and bone fractures. Many also claim the devices shed chromium and cobalt into the bloodstream, raising those metals to harmful levels. Thousands of people had follow-up surgery to replace the device.
Anderson studied the design of the ASR cup, which is slightly less than a half-circle, and included a groove to help a surgeon place the device in the hip. Kelly and his experts say that design leads to metal ions entering the bloodstream.
In an e-mail on April 7, 2008, Anderson wrote to superiors that “a small improvement to geometry could represent a large improvement for many patients.” In another document, he wrote that by removing the groove, wear on the cup “is approximately threefold less than the original design with the groove.”
He wrote that day: “I have a huge volume of information on ASR bearings now but have absolutely no direction.”
“Is that expressing some frustration on your part?” Kelly asked Anderson.
“I’m not sure at the time whether I was frustrated or simply emphasizing a point,” Anderson said.
Kelly asked about Anderson’s reaction to the end of the project in September 2008.
“You seem, I think to everyone who’s met you the last couple of days, thoughtful, articulate, smart,” Kelly said. “You didn’t close your door and scream?”
“I think I walked across the road to the coffee shop,” Anderson said.
“Screamed there?,” Kelly asked.
“Contemplated what had happened,” Anderson said.
The Kransky case is Kransky v. DePuy, BC456086, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles). The consolidated federal case is In re DePuy Orthopedics Inc., ASR Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation, 10-MD-2197, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio (Toledo).
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