Bayer Fact Checks Netflix's The Bleeding Edge
WHIPPANY, N.J., July 27, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Bayer today released a Fact Check of The Bleeding Edge, which premieres on Netflix on July 27, devotes significant time to Essure, the only FDA-approved non-incisional form of permanent birth control, and is now the subject of media coverage by The New York Times, CBS News, and others. This Fact Check is based on Bayer's review of the film's premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, 2018 and is intended to encourage a science-based conversation about Essure. Bayer also is reminding women with Essure that the safety profile of the device remains positive and unchanged.
As a leader in women's healthcare, Bayer believes strongly that women and their physicians should make reproductive health decisions based on sound science. In contrast, the portrayal of Essure in The Bleeding Edge lacks scientific support, despite the fact that Bayer provided the producers with extensive scientific information on Essure before the completion of the film. The film presents an inaccurate and misleading picture of Essure by relying almost entirely on anecdotes, cherry-picking information to fit a predetermined conclusion, ignoring the full body of scientific evidence that supports the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) determination that Essure's benefits outweigh its risks and disregarding the appropriate warnings that accompany the device. The film also relies on many conflicted sources without disclosing their potential biases. This does a disservice to the thousands of women who rely on Essure for their reproductive health, as it may encourage them to pursue risky and unnecessary surgery to remove the device.
Notably, the film's only reference to scientific data regarding Essure is the 2018 Bouillon study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association ("JAMA"), which its producers cite out of context and portray in its least favorable light. Taken as a whole, the study actually undermines the central premise of the film's representation of Essure. The independently funded research compared women with Essure to those who had tubal ligation surgery, the only other method of permanent birth control, and found that many of the concerns described in the film with regard to Essure -- pain (analgesic use) and hysterectomy -- were lower in Essure patients than in tubal ligation patients at both one and three years post procedure. The authors of the study concluded: "These findings do not support increased medical risks associated with hysteroscopic sterilization [e.g., Essure]." The decision by the filmmakers to exclude highly relevant conclusions from a study they cited, apparently because they conflict with their desired narrative, do raise serious concerns about the objectivity and accuracy of the movie.
The totality of scientific evidence, which was not discussed in the film, includes 40 published studies involving approximately 200,000 women over two decades, and demonstrates the safety and efficacy of Essure, which has remained consistent over time. The FDA also has not changed its conclusion that Essure's benefits outweigh any potential risks.
Most of the movie's focus on Essure is told not through science, but rather through the stories of women who reported concerns about the device. Bayer takes any concerns regarding its medicines and devices seriously. Still, it is notable that not a single woman who is satisfied with Essure is included in the film. This omission is important because in the Phase II and Pivotal trials at follow up time points of three, six, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, and 60 months, at least 99% of women were reported to have rated comfort of wearing the Essure inserts as "good" or "excellent." In the Pivotal trial, at least 97% of women were reported to be "somewhat" to "very satisfied" at all visits through five years. This is summarized in FDA's executive summary prepared in advance of the 2015 Advisory Committee.
No discussion of the movie and Essure should ignore the issue of removal, which most women featured in the film discuss. The film provides no balance on this important topic. Providing women with inaccurate or misleading information about the safety of Essure, or encouraging removal via hysterectomy, is potentially a serious public health issue as it may lead women with Essure to unnecessarily seek removal, and can result in new or additional health problems. Moreover, the singular focus on hysterectomy is inconsistent with Essure's FDA-approved Instructions for Use (IFU), which state that "hysterectomy generally is not required to remove the Essure inserts" as there are other methods identified in the IFU. The IFU is based on scientific/clinical data and opinions from medical experts worldwide. Bayer strongly encourages women with Essure who have questions or concerns to consult with their physicians.
The Bleeding Edge also relies on a number of sources to explain and validate its story regarding Essure, but the movie does not disclose conflicts that are essential for viewers to fully evaluate the credibility of these individuals and the film. For instance, psychologist Diana Zuckerman appeared in the film and is well known in the Essure critics community. She spoke at the 2015 FDA Advisory Committee meeting arguing against Essure and participated in another meeting that same year with the FDA organized by an advocacy group that has been critical of Essure. She has also served as a paid expert in litigation for at least one Essure plaintiff, a fact confirmed by The New York Times on July 20, 2018, but not disclosed in the film.
Similarly, Madris Tomes is presented as an independent expert in the film, but she also has a long history working with an anti-Essure advocacy group and joined them in congressional meetings in February of this year. A May 9, 2016, press release by a plaintiff law firm involved in the Essure litigation, Unglesby + Williams, reported on Tomes' work on Essure and described her as someone who was "hired by Unglesby + Williams." Again, this litigation-related work against Essure is not disclosed in the film.
Dr. Julio Novoa was also interviewed in the film, but viewers were not told that he aggressively markets surgery to women to remove Essure and has a financial interest in recommending removal of the product. Dr. Novoa is not a board-certified OB-GYN and has never been trained on the Essure procedure.
The film also omits any mention of the FDA-approved Instructions For Use (IFU), which provide doctors with important information about the product and include detailed references to the potential risks for Essure. For example, the IFU mentions the potential risk of perforation more than 20 times, contains multiple references to pain and allergic or hypersensitivity reactions – all based on Essure data.
Other content in the film is completely misrepresented in order to make Essure appear unsafe, ineffective or both. One example is the inclusion of a misleading and selectively edited portion of the Essure 2002 FDA Advisory Committee meeting, which recommended the approval of the device. The movie suggests that members of the committee joked about the possibility of serious adverse events. They did no such thing. The Advisory Committee was not even discussing adverse events or the safety of Essure in that portion of the meeting. The full body of scientific evidence, clinical trials and more than two decades of science and real world clinical experience continues to support the positive benefit/risk profile of Essure and its strong efficacy of 99.3% in patients who chose to rely on Essure for birth control.