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Johnson & Johnson Sues Boston Scientific and Abbott Labs over Guidant Acquisition

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Johnson & Johnson has filed suit against Boston Scientific Corp. and Abbott Laboratories, alleging the two companies induced Guidant to breach a prior agreement it made with Johnson & Johnson. News of the suit is more bad news for Boston Scientific, who many believe over paid for Guidant. Since the acquisition of Guidant, Boston Scientifics stock price has plummeted as investors became increasingly concerned over the potential liability of defective Guidant defibrillators and pacemakers.

According to recent SEC filings, Boston Scientific Corp. now faces about 477 individual and 72 class-action lawsuits over recalled Guidant defibrillators. Boston Scientific purchased Guidant earlier this year for $27 billion, after outbidding Johnson & Johnson. Both companies pursued Guidant even though the company had just recalled thousands of defibrillators and pacemakers. J&J’s decision not to match the higher offer appears to have been fortuitous, as Boston Scientific has already reserved $381 million to fund Guidant related lawsuits, and some legal experts believe the company’s liability could actually be much greater.

The first trial surrounding defective Guidant defibrillators is set to begin in Corpus Christi, Texas on September 18, 2006. The plaintiffs in this are two patients who had Guidant’s Ventak Prizm 2 defibrillator implanted 2001. While both plaintiffs are still alive, they live with the fear that the devices can fail at anytime. Many patients in their same situation have elected to have the defective devices removed and replaced with new models. The removal and insertion of these devices does require risk, making it a difficult decision for patients to decide on the best course of action.

Plaintiffs argue that Guidant knew about the defects in their defibrillators for three years before they informed doctors about the problems. The defibrillator defects didn’t come to light until the death of a 21-year-old college student was reported. The student had a Guidant defibrillator implanted because he suffered from heart disease. Guidant acknowledged that the defibrillator short circuited causing his death. The company also told his doctors that it was aware of 25 other cases in which the defibrillator had been affected by the same flaw. However, Guidant’s executives said the company did not see a compelling reason to issue an alert to physicians because the unit’s failure rate was very low and replacing the devices might pose greater patient risks.

The Guidant defibrillator recall included the following models: Guidant Prizm 2 DR, Model 1861, Guidant Contak Renewal, Model H135, Guidant Contak Renewal 2, Model H155, Guidant Prizm AVT Vitality AVT Renewal 3, Guidant AVT Renewal 4 AVT, Guidant Contak Renewal 3 and 4, Guidant Renewal 3 and 4 AVT and Guidant Renewal RF.

The recalled defibrillators are known as implantable cardioverter-defibrillators or ICD’s. These devices are implanted under the skin of patients to manage sudden cardiac death due to ventricular fibrillation. ICD’s are used to treat patients at risk of recurrent, sustained ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation. When an ICD detects ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation, it shocks the heart to restore the normal rhythm. When working properly, ICD’s have been very useful in preventing sudden death in patients with known, sustained ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation. New studies are being conducted to learn if ICD’s can be used to prevent cardiac arrest in high-risk patients who haven’t had, but are at risk for, life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias.

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