Medtronic Yanks Heartware VAD, Calls for Halt to New Implants

Patrice Wendling

June 03, 2021

Medtronic has stopped the sale of its Heartware Ventricular Assist Device (HVAD) system and is advising physicians cease implanting the device because problems with an internal pump can lead to death or serious injuries.

"There is an increased risk of neurological adverse events and mortality associated with the internal pump," the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today.

There is also a potential for the internal pump to stop, and there may be delay to restart or failure to restart. "Both problems may lead to death or serious injuries," the agency said.

Between January 2009 and April 22, 2021, Medtronic received a total of 106 complaints involving delay or failure to restart with the HVAD pump. Of these, 26 complaints involved HVAD devices operating under normal conditions (dual stator mode) and 80 involved devices operating in a back-up mode (single stator mode) that allows for continued pump function if electrical continuity between the pump and controller is interrupted.

Of the 26 complaints that occurred under normal conditions, four resulted in patient death and five led to urgent explant. Of the 80 complaints that occurred in single stator mode, 10 deaths and eight explants were reported to Medtronic, according to an urgent medical device communication letter issued by the company today.

"Considering these findings and given the availability of alternative devices such as the Abbott HeartMate 3, Medtronic has made the decision to stop the distribution and sale of the HVAD System," the letter says. "Medtronic advises that there be no further implantations of the HVAD System."

Medtronic undertook a previous recall of the Heartware HVAD system in February, focusing on batteries, power, datalink cables, and other peripheral equipment, because of the "risk of wear and tear of the connector plugs (power sources, data cable, and alarm adapter) which could cause damage to the controller port metal pins (for example, bent pins)." The FDA deemed that recall Class I, the most serious category of safety alert in April.

The company noted that patients who currently have an HVAD implant "may require support for many years," and that it is moving as quickly as possible to create a plan to guide the ongoing support for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.

In response to the restart failure issue and evolving data about neurologic risks associated with the HVAD pump, Medtronic said it engaged an Independent Practitioner Quality Panel (IPQP), composed of cardiologists, surgeons, and VAD coordinators, to advise on recommendations for appropriate patient management. Based on information collected to date and IPQP input, Medtronic is recommending that physicians continue following best clinical practices and manage patients implanted with the HVAD pump according to the recommendations in the Instructions for Use (IFU).

"Prophylactic explant of the HVAD™ device is not recommended, as risks associated with explantation may outweigh the potential benefits," the letter says. "The decision regarding explant and exchange of the HVAD™ pump should be made by physicians on a case-by-case basis, considering the patient's clinical condition and surgical risks. If a physician determines that pump exchange is appropriate, we recommend exchanging to an alternative commercial LVAD."

For patients in urgent need of an LVAD, Medtronic said physicians should use an alternative commercial LVAD or, if one is not available, that "a Patient Information form is required to be completed by you and your patient to acknowledge the risks of an HVAD implant prior to implanting your HVAD inventory."

Today's letter also provides recommendations on blood pressure management goals and anticoagulation. For any other questions or concerns, physicians should contact the Medtronic Office of Medical Affairs at:

Medtronic issued another urgent letter in December 2020, warning physicians that a subset of HVAD devices included an internal pump component from three specific lots that increased the risk for restart failure. At that time, the company had not been able to pinpoint a root cause of the pump restart failure.

Consistent with the December 2020 notice, the rate of failure among pumps outside of the subset of three specific lots currently remains at about 0.4%, according to today's notice.

Although Medtronic has identified the root cause and mitigations for pumps within the three specific lots, it has not been able to identify a root cause of the other restart failures reported with the HVAD pumps, the company said.

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