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Zane Schnurman, Michael L. Smith and Douglas Kondziolka


Off-label therapies are widely used in clinical practice by spinal surgeons. Some patients and practitioners have advocated for increased regulation of their use, and payers have increasingly questioned reimbursment for off-label therapies. In this study, the authors applied a model that quantifies publication data to analyze the developmental process from initial on-label use to off-label innovation, using as an example recombinant human bone morphogenetic protein 2 (rhBMP-2) because of its wide off-label use.


As a case study of off-label innovation, the developmental patterns of rhBMP-2 from FDA-approved use for anterior lumbar interbody fusion to several of its off-label uses, including posterolateral lumbar fusion, anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, and posterior lumbar interbody fusion/transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, were evaluated using the “progressive scholarly acceptance” (PSA) model. In this model, PSA is used as an end point indicating acceptance of a therapy or procedure by the relevant scientific community and is reached when the total number of peer-reviewed studies devoted to refinement or improvement of a therapy surpasses the total number assessing initial efficacy. Report characteristics, including the number of patients studied and study design, were assessed in addition to the time to and pattern of community acceptance, and results compared with previous developmental study findings. Disclosures and reported conflicts of interest for all articles were reviewed, and these data were also used in the analysis.


Publication data indicated that the acceptance of rhBMP-2 off-label therapies occurred more rapidly and with less evidence than previously studied on-label therapies. Additionally, the community appeared to respond more robustly (by rapidly changing publication patterns) to reports of adverse events than to new questions of efficacy.


The development of off-label therapies, including the influence of investigative methods, regulation, and changing perspectives, can be characterized on the basis of publication patterns. The approach and findings in this report could inform future off-label development of therapies and procedures as well as attempts to regulate off-label use.