A state Superior Court judge in Los Angeles last week cleared the way for a lawsuit that accuses several Los Angeles doctors and a back pain clinic of misleading and deceptive advertising related to claims for a treatment known as Diskcure.
Dr. Anthony Bohan, a Newport Beach rheumatologist, alleges that doctors at the Institute of Neurological Research have falsely advertised that the Diskcure program can cure chronic back pain and "have not performed scientific research" to support those claims.
On Friday, Superior Court Judge David A. Workman denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case. Initially filed in May, the suit also names as defendants Drs. Edward L. Tobinick, Ronesh Sinha and Susan Davoodifar.
Tobinick, the clinic's founder, said Friday that the suit is "meritless."
The suit also alleges that the back pain clinic's advertisements mislead consumers into thinking that the institute, located in an office building on the UCLA Medical School campus, is affiliated with the university, when it is not.
"When I first heard the ads on the radio, I thought that some neurologists at UCLA had really found a breakthrough treatment for back pain," Bohan said in an interview.
He later concluded otherwise. "I brought the lawsuit on behalf of consumers, some of whom are the most vulnerable patients."
Tobinick, a dermatologist who in 1996 founded the Institute, located at UCLA Medical Plaza, denied the allegations. He said there is scientific evidence that Diskcure works.
"A business competitor can sue a competitor without any grounds to do it, and that's what's happening in this case," he said. "Because of scientific evidence in support of Diskcure, I feel certain that this suit will not be allowed to proceed."
The Diskcure treatment is heavily advertised on the radio and in newspapers. Tobinick has said that the clinic has treated about 2,000 patients with Diskcure during the past two years.
The treatment includes a single shot of the arthritis drug Enbrel, usually given in the lower back near the source of the pain, the lawsuit alleges.
Enbrel is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis but not for back pain, said Jeff Richardson, a spokesman for Amgen, which makes the drug. Enbrel is associated with rare but serious side effects including tuberculosis infection, multiple sclerosis symptoms and blood abnormalities. Richardson said Amgen had heard that Tobinick may be using Enbrel for back pain but has no way to verify the information. If true, Richardson said, the company would be concerned, because Enbrel is in short supply and thousands of arthritis patients are on waiting lists. "Certainly we do not condone the off-label use of any of our products," he said.
Off-label use of drugs is common in medicine, however, and often leads to new treatments, Tobinick said.
"Whenever you have innovations in medicine, there has been reluctance to accept them," he said.