Background: Recombinant human bone morphogenetic protein-2 (rhBMP-2) is used as a bone graft substitute in spinal fusion, which unites (fuses) bones in the spine. The accuracy and completeness of journal publications of industry-sponsored trials on the effectiveness and harms of rhBMP-2 has been called into question.
Purpose: To independently assess the effectiveness and harms of rhBMP-2 in spinal fusion and reporting bias in industry-sponsored journal publications.
Data sources: Individual-patient data (IPD) from 17 industry-sponsored studies; related internal documents; and searches of MEDLINE (1996 to August 2012), other databases, and reference lists.
Study selection: Randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) and cohort studies of rhBMP-2 versus any control and uncontrolled studies of harms.
Data extraction: Effectiveness outcomes in IPD were recalculated using consistent definitions. Study characteristics and results were abstracted by 1 investigator and confirmed by another. Two investigators independently assessed quality using predefined criteria.
Data synthesis: Thirteen RCTs and 31 cohort studies were included. For lumbar spine fusion, rhBMP-2 and iliac crest bone graft were similar in overall success, fusion, and other effectiveness measures and in risk for any adverse event, although rates were high across interventions (77% to 93% at 24 months from surgery). For anterior lumbar interbody fusion, rhBMP-2 was associated with nonsignificantly increased risk for retrograde ejaculation and urogenital problems. For anterior cervical spine fusion, rhBMP-2 was associated with increased risk for wound complications and dysphagia. At 24 months, the cancer risk was increased with rhBMP-2 (risk ratio, 3.45 [95% CI, 1.98 to 6.00]), but event rates were low and cancer was heterogeneous. Early journal publications misrepresented the effectiveness and harms through selective reporting, duplicate publication, and underreporting.
Limitations: Outcome assessment was not blinded, and ascertainment of harms in trials was poor. No trials were truly independent of industry sponsorship.
Conclusion: In spinal fusion, rhBMP-2 has no proven clinical advantage over bone graft and may be associated with important harms, making it difficult to identify clear indications for rhBMP-2. Earlier disclosure of all relevant data would have better informed clinicians and the public than the initial published trial reports did.
Primary funding source: Yale University and Medtronic.