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Bad to the Bone: What Bone Cement Maker Became a Cautionary Tale?

Shady business practices landed four medtech executives in jail in 2011. What bone cement company did they work for?

Amanda Pedersen

May 2, 2023

1 Min Read
business man in handcuffs
Image credit: Sean Justice / The Image Bank via Getty Images

Not long before Synthes was bought by Johnson & Johnson, the company was embroiled in a scandal over the off-label use of the Norian XR bone cement that left five elderly patients dead in the early 2000s.

In 2009, Synthes was accused of illegally testing the bone cement on patients from 2002 to 2004. In 2010, Synthes agreed to a $23 million settlement related to the use of the bone cement for the use of vertebroplasty, a procedure in which bone cement is injected into the spine.

Ultimately, in 2011, four of the company's executives were jailed as a result of the scandal. Curiously, the company's billionaire founder and CEO Hansjörg Wyss was not among them. J&J bought Synthes the following year for $19.7 billion, representing one of the company's largest acquisitions to date.

In January 2016, the conservative political organization Citizens United asked for federal documents explaining why the Department of Justice did not act on a federal grand jury indictment of Wyss, who was a prominent donor to the Democratic Party, a prominent Clinton foundation donor, and one of the wealthiest people in the medical device industry.

Later that year, Wyss did face "criminal profiteering" charges for his role in the bone cement scandal. Wyss and four of his co-defendants in that case settled with plaintiffs after five weeks of trial. One of the defendants in the case, however, Jens Chapman, MD, a surgeon who used the bone cement during a spine surgery for one of the patients who died (Reba Golden), did not settle. The jury ended up returning a verdict in Chapman's favor, finding that Golden would have been likely to go through with the surgery even if she had known all the risks.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Pedersen

Amanda Pedersen is a veteran journalist and award-winning columnist with a passion for helping medical device professionals connect the dots between the medtech news of the day and the bigger picture. She has been covering the medtech industry since 2006.

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