New York Times medical business writer Barry Meier took the business reporting category for the Polk Awards, given for investigative reporting and announced Monday, for his coverage of a commonly used heart implant that had been found to be defective.
Meier’s coverage of the companies that made heart devices was thorough and meticulous back in the fall. The judges noted, “His coverage, which began last May and continued this year, sparked government, corporate and medical investigations that have helped to save lives.”
Meier’s Sept. 29, 2005 story in the Times began with this lead: “Criminal investigators at the Food and Drug Administration have apparently become involved in the agency’s inquiry into how the Guidant Corporation handled problems with its heart devices, said two people contacted by the investigators.”
A story published two days earlier led with: “By January, about 80 cardiologists nationwide completed an evaluation run by the Guidant Corporation of one of its products, an improved electrical component, known as a lead, that connects an implanted cardiac device to the heart.
“In exchange for implanting the lead in three patients and completing five survey forms, each physician received $1,000 from Guidant.”
And a Sept. 17, 2005 story began with this revelation: “WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 – A representative of the nation’s biggest maker of heart devices, Medtronic, said Friday that it was considering making available to doctors and patients some of the data about product malfunctions that it regularly provides to federal regulators.”
In addition, Bloomberg News reporters David Evans, Michael Smith and Liz Willen will share the George Polk Award for Health Reporting. Evans is a senior writer at Bloomberg News in Los Angeles. Smith is a senior writer in Rio de Janeiro. Willen is a senior writer in New York.
The judges stated, “Their ongoing coverage exposed faults in the U.S. clinical trial system that exploited poor, mostly minority citizens. The reporters revealed how patients, without being informed of the risks, were enticed into entering trials that might lead to serious illness or even death. Just as troubling, their reports revealed that the FDA was outsourcing oversight of some clinical testing centers to private, for-profit companies that were financed by the same large pharmaceutical companies whose drugs were being tested. The Bloomberg team’s story led to a Department of Health and Human Services review of the regulation of human testing and to the resignation of top executives at a major for-profit clinical trial testing center.”
This story ran in the Seattle Times in November 2005 and lead with: “Oscar Cabanerio has been waiting in an experimental drug-testing center in Miami since 7:30 a.m. The 41-year-old undocumented immigrant says he’s desperate for cash to send to his family in Venezuela.
“More than 70 people have crowded into reception rooms furnished with rows of attached blue plastic seats. Cabanerio is one of many regulars who gather at SFBC International’s test center, which, with 675 beds, is the largest for-profit drug-trial site in North America.
“Across the U.S., 3.7 million people have enrolled in drug tests sponsored by the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. The companies have outsourced 75 percent of experimental drug trials to centers such as SFBC, a leader in a $14 billion industry.”
“At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has farmed out much of the responsibility for overseeing safety in these tests to private companies known as institutional review boards. These boards are also financed by pharmaceutical companies.”
Administered by Long Island University since 1949, the George Polk Awards memorialize the CBS correspondent slain covering a civil war in Greece and rank among America’s most coveted journalism honors.