Medtronic’s atrial fibrillation device fails to impress safety panel

The US health advisers rejected a Medtronic Inc. device for treating atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder that is a major cause of stroke, citing risks to safety. The panel voted 8-2 that risks of device outweigh benefits of the Medtronic Cardiac Ablation System especially given the high number of strokes among patients who got the device during clinical trials.

“There is a feeling that this system is effective, but there are concerns that the safety bars have not been met,” said Dr. Clyde Yancy, panel chair and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University. “To the sponsor, I hope what you've heard today is not a 'no,' but a 'not yet’,” he said, speaking to the company.

However, the panelists were unanimous that the device was effective for treating atrial fibrillation, which affects more than 2 million Americans and is the most prevalent heart rhythm disorder. Their comments largely mirrored the review of the data by FDA staff earlier this week. Medtronic shares fell 0.6 percent to $34.82 in after-market trading after closing at $35.02 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Clinical trials showed that five people out of 176 had a stroke within a month of having been treated with the Medtronic device, and 38 people had at least one serious problem such as blocked veins that connect the lungs and heart, or swelling of the covering around the heart, according to the FDA.

Panel members were also concerned about data that suggested women seemed to not do as well as men when using the device. However, there were only 23 women using the device in trials, versus 115 men. A small sample size makes the data more difficult to interpret.

Atrial fibrillation describes the rapid and irregular contraction of the heart's upper two chambers, which allows blood to pool. This can form clots that travel to the brain and cause strokes. The Medtronic device releases radiofrequency energy to destroy heart tissue that is causing the abnormal rhythms, in a process called ablation. This involves inserting a thin tube into a blood vessel, usually through a site in the upper leg or neck, then threading it through the body until it reaches the heart.

The company is seeking approval for its device as a treatment for persistent atrial fibrillation, which lasts for more than seven days or recurs for as long as four years. Several panelists said the device should be approved if the company could conduct further trials to ensure its safety.

Dr. David Steinhaus, vice president and medical director at Medtronic, said the clinical trial was the first to test patients with persistent atrial fibrillation. “It's really remarkable what this study has demonstrated in this population of patients,” he said. He said Medtronic expects a final FDA decision in the next few months, and would discuss the next steps with the agency. Results of the clinical trials for the device showed that 55.8 percent of patients had a normal heart rhythm within six months of using Medtronic's device, compared with 26.4 percent of patients who used the typical treatment of anti-arrhythmic drugs to treat atrial fibrillation.


AtricCure succeeds in proving their worth

AtriCure Inc., maker of surgical devices, climbed the most in more than 2 years after a U.S. regulatory panel recommended approval of the company’s product for irregular heartbeats. AtriCure surged 21 percent to $12.05 at the close in New York, the biggest single-day increase since June 2009.

An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration voted to clear the device system for patients with a certain type of the condition known as atrial fibrillation. The advisers said the benefits of the product outweighed any risks. The agency isn’t required to follow the panel’s advice.

The advisers also said the so-called device is safe and that it is effective to treat persistent irregular heartbeat. The instrument system didn’t appear to meet safety and effectiveness goals when considering the least-healthy patients, FDA staff said in a report Oct. 24.

AtriCure’s device already is approved to destroy heart tissue during surgery. The company is seeking to expand its use to block electrical signals and restore a regular heartbeat as an alternative to therapies such as pacemakers or electrical cardioversion, an electric shock delivered to the chest wall.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Dan Walter Dan Walter United States says:

    This is a half-baked system that is definitely not safe, and is of questionable efficacy. Johns Hopkins Doc Hugh Calkins, who served as pitchman for the device, has a long history of putting profits before public safety. His earlier mercenary efforts on behalf of industry are chronicled here: Greed and corruption of the sort demonstrated by Calkins in the evolution of this procedure is at the heart of what’s wrong with American medicine.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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