The FDA de-regulates the first genetically-engineered animal

By Joanna Sax

On November 19, 2015, the FDA de-regulated the AquAdvantage Salmon.  This salmon is genetically engineered to grow faster.  This is the first time the FDA has de-regulated a genetically engineered animal.

Let me just say from the outset that the scientific consensus is clear that genetically engineered food is as safe as conventional food.  Despite the onslaught of public outrage against GMO food, most of the main arguments against GMO food are just hype.

The genie came out of the bottle a long time ago and it’s not going back in.  This happens time and again with scientific advances.   Over the past few decades, our ability to understand, manipulate, edit, and otherwise employ the DNA of various organisms to facilitate human understanding has grown exponentially.  Efforts to resist, combat, or villain-ize the application of biotechnology to impact society might delay, but will not ultimately succeed in keeping the application of scientific discoveries at bay.

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The Common Rule NPRM: Biospecimens

By: Academic and Clinical Research Group at Verrill Dana LLP

[Crossposted from the The Common Rule NPRM Blog Series on the Endpoints Blog]

As we previously announced, sixteen federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), recently published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) in the Federal Register outlining changes to the existing regulations protecting human subjects (the “Common Rule”).  The Common Rule NPRM is the latest development since the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) was published on July 26, 2011.  The Academic and Clinical Research Group (“ACRG”) will be publishing a series of topic-specific blogs in the coming weeks to assist institutions in digesting various aspects of the proposed regulations, preparing to submit any comments by the December 7, 2015 deadline, and grappling with implementation changes once the final rule issues.  We have also prepared an unofficial redline of the proposed changes against the existing regulations and a set of decision charts to assist with navigating the proposed revisions.

In this installment, we discuss the NPRM’s proposed changes to biospecimens research.  The NPRM did not back down from one of the more controversial aspects of the ANPRM, proposing a fundamental shift in the applicability of the human subjects protection framework to non-identified biospecimens research.  However, once the shock of the new definition of “human subject” wears off, the reality is that most of the changes codify how the research community has tried to apply the existing Common Rule to the challenging arena of biobanking, secondary research, and genomic and other “omics” research.  That said, many of the carve-outs (i.e., exclusions and exemptions) intended to balance this shift are more restrictive than at first they seem.

ACRG Rapid Rundown:  Six Things You Need to Know Continue reading

REGISTER NOW! Specimen Science: Ethics and Policy Implications Symposium, with NEW Lunchtime Talk on “Biospecimens and the NPRM”

testtube_hand_bw_slideSpecimen Science: Ethics and Policy Implications
NEW Lunchtime Talk on “Biospecimens & the NPRM”
Monday,  November 16, 2015, 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM
8:30am-12:40pm: Austin Hall North (100);
12:40-5:30pm, Langdell Hall South, Room 272

Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA [Map]

Many important advances in human health depend on the effective collection, storage, use, and sharing of biological specimens and their associated data.   However, recent controversies involving specimen-based research have raised important questions about ownership, data-sharing, privacy considerations, group harms, and standards for responsible specimen stewardship.

Please join us for a symposium to discuss the key ethical and policy issues raised by genetics and other research involving human biological materials, covering the entire trajectory from specimen source to new discovery.  The experts at this day-long event will cover key topics, such as historical, legal, and international perspectives; donor attitudes, researcher perspectives, and institutional considerations; broad vs. specific informed consent; privacy, ownership, and control; use of specimens collected through mandatory newborn screening; research with discrete and insular populations; and others.  Conference papers eventually will be published as an edited volume with a major academic press.


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10/14: Webcast on the NIH’s Efforts to Support Translational Science

This month’s Regulatory Science Series presentation features Dr. Keith Joiner, MD, MPH, the Director of the Center for Management Innovations in Health Care at the Eller College of Management, and former Dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine. He will present on NIH Efforts to Support Translational Science and discuss the importance of government funding policy to the regulatory science endeavor.

This event will stream live at 12:00 PM MT on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, at:

The University of Arizona Regulatory Science Program is a partnership with the James E. Rogers College of Law and University of Arizona Health Sciences.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: No time to waste – the ethical challenges created by CRISPR

Bill of Health Contributor Art Caplan has a new article in EMBO Reports:

The term “CRISPR” has gained a lot of attention recently as a result of a debate among scientists about the possibility of genetically modifying the human germ line and the ethical implications of doing so. However, CRISPR is not just a method to edit the genomes of embryonic cells, as the public discussion might have implied; it is a powerful, efficient, and reliable tool for editing genes in any organism, and it has garnered significant attention and use among biologists for a variety of purposes. Thus, in addition to the discussion about human germ line editing, CRISPR raises or revives many other ethical issues, not all of which concern only humans, but also other species and the environment.

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Panel Tomorrow (10/8), 4 PM: Synthetic Biology – Science, Policy, and Ethics

DNAdata_green_slideSynthetic Biology: Science, Policy, and Ethics
October 8, 2015 4:00 PM
Harkness South Dining Room (205), Casperson Student Center
Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA [Map]



Synthetic biology, “which aims to apply standardized engineering techniques to biology and thereby create organisms or biological systems with novel or specialized functions to address countless needs,”* offers the potential for tremendous benefit, alongside a range of possible risks.  How should these benefits and risks be balanced, from a scientific, ethical, and policy perspective?  Please join us for a discussion of these issues with a leader in the field of synthetic biology and an expert in risk regulation and policy.


  • George ChurchProfessor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School and Director, org
  • Adam Finkel, Senior Fellow and Executive Director, Penn Program on Regulation, University of Pennsylvania Law School and Clinical Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health
  • Moderator: Holly Fernandez Lynch Executive Director, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School

This event is free and open to the public.

A video recording will be posted after the event on our website.

Find out as soon as the video is available – subscribe to our newsletter!

Sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Monday, 9/21, HLS Health Law Workshop with Jessica Roberts

HLS Health Law Workshop: Jessica Roberts

September 21, 2015 5:00 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 102
Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA

Download the paper: “Theories of Genetic Ownership”

Jessica L. Roberts is the Director of the Health Law and Policy Institute and an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center. She specializes in health law, disability law, and genetics and the law. Prior to UH, Professor Roberts was an Associate-in-Law at Columbia Law School and an Adjunct Professor of Disability Studies at the City University of New York. Immediately after law school, she clerked for the Honorable Dale Wainwright of the Texas Supreme Court and the Honorable Roger L. Gregory of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Professor Roberts’ research operates at the intersection of health law and antidiscrimination law. Her scholarship has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the Indiana Law Journal, the William and Mary Law Review, the Iowa Law Review, the Minnesota Law Review, the University of Illinois Law Review, the Notre Dame Law Review, the Vanderbilt Law Review, the University of Colorado Law Review, the American Journal of Law and Medicine and the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, among others. Professor Roberts teaches, or has taught, Contracts, Disabilities and the Law, Genetics and the Law, and Health Law Survey. In 2015, she received the university-wide Teaching Excellence Award and the Provost’s Certificate of Excellence. Professor Roberts was named a 2018 Greenwall Faculty Scholar in Bioethics.

Managing Diabetes: Is Silicon Valley the Solution?

By Emma Sandoe

According to a new study in JAMA, half of American adults either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. The chronic condition costs the nation $245 billion annually in health care costs and lost wages. The diabetes technology industry has grown exponentially over the last several years, as the use of measuring and regulating devices has become the norm for monitoring and treating diabetes.

Last week, NPR examined how Google’s Life Sciences division is investing in the management of diabetes. Google’s Life Sciences division is part of its renamed company, Alphabet, and stems out of Google X — the same side of the company working on technology such as driverless cars and tracking the spread of disease outbreaks.

One of Google’s most anticipated products coming out of the new diabetes campaign is a contact lens that would be able to monitor glucose levels from water in the eye. This joint venture with Novartis was announced in January 2014 and is currently slated for research and developmental reviews.

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Call for Abstracts! 2016 Annual Conference: Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics

Close-up of fiber optic cables

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2016 annual conference, entitled: “Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics.”  This year’s conference is organized in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the Health Ethics and Policy Lab, University of Zurich.

Conference Description

“Big Data” is a phrase that has been used pervasively by the media and the lay public in the last several years. While many definitions are possible, the common denominator seems to include the “three V’s” – Volume (vast amounts of data), Variety (significant heterogeneity in the type of data available in the set), and Velocity (speed at which a data scientist or user can access and analyze the data). Continue reading

NOW AVAILABLE: FDA in the 21st Century: Get 30% Off When You Order through the Press!

lync17118_frontJust out from Columbia University Press, FDA in the Twenty-First Century: The Challenges of Regulating Drugs and New Technologies! This volume, co-edited by Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch and Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen, stems from the Center’s 2013 annual conference, which brought together leading experts from academia, government, and private industry to evaluate the FDA and to begin charting a course for the agency’s future.

Use promo code FDA21 and save 30% if you order now at the Columbia University Press website!

And join us at Harvard Law School on October 28 for a book launch and panel discussion featuring editors Holly Fernandez Lynch and Glenn Cohen!

Bioethicist Art Caplan: All Hat, No Cattle—The False Hope of Right-to-Try Laws

Bill of Health contributor Arthur Caplan and Alison Bateman-House have a new piece up in Harvard Health Policy Review:

Are right-to-try laws a good idea? In 2014, they began appearing throughout the United States, first in Colorado and now in 23 states, with several more considering passing versions of this popular legislation.

At first glance these bills may seem worth enacting. Right-to-try (RTT) laws promise terminally ill patients that they can obtain experimental drugs or medical devices in their quests to save or extend their lives. These investigational medical products are still in development and have not yet met the requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to be approved for sale or use in the United States. In some cases, the products are still being tested and patient access would primarily be by enrolling in a clinical trial – something terminally ill people may be too unwell to do. Less commonly, the products have completed clinical testing and are waiting for an approval verdict from the FDA. In either case, RTT laws are about providing terminally ill patients access to unapproved drugs or devices. […]

Read the full article here.

Journal of Law and the Biosciences: Call for Harvard Student Submissions

JLB coverThe Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School collaborates with Stanford and Duke Universities to publish the Journal of Law and Biosciences  (Oxford University Press), an online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal. JLB includes a Notes & Developments section, comprised  of  brief summaries and commentary on recent legislation, regulation, and case law written by graduate students at the collaborating schools. The Petrie­Flom Center is responsible for providing the Notes & Developments for one issue per annual volume.

We are currently seeking Harvard graduate students to contribute papers to be published in JLB’s Notes & Developments section in early 2016. In previous years, Notes & Developments have been generated from scratch specifically for JLB, based on selection from submitted proposals. This year, we are taking a different approach by publishing already complete (or to-be-completed by the deadline) original student papers (such as student notes, course papers, etc.) written by graduate students from any Harvard school.  Notes & Developments are limited to 5000 words, including footnotes and references,  and  should  be  on  a  topic  of  relevance  to  law  and  the  biosciences,  in particular a topic of relatively recent concern, controversy, or change. They should focus on  describing  the  issue  at  hand,  explaining  why  it  is  relevant to scholars and practitioners, and providing analysis and questions for further consideration.

Interested students should submit their papers and CVs for consideration no later than September 7, 2015 (earlier  is  welcome). Up to four papers will be selected for publication in the New Developments section of JLB. Applicants will be notified by the end of September. Selected students will receive comments on their papers by the end of October, and will also be responsible for providing comments to the other selected students. Revisions will be due by the end of November, and final submissions to JLB will be due by the end of December 2015.

Please send all application materials, and direct all questions, to Holly Fernandez Lynch,

Some Optimism on Brains, Pain, & Law – Let’s See What We Can Achieve

By Martha Farah, Director, University of Pennsylvania Center for Neuroscience & Society

Neurolaw includes some fascinating issues that lack any practical legal significance – for example whether we should consider anyone responsible for anything they do, given that all behavior is physically caused by brain processes.  It also includes some legally important issues that lack intellectual juiciness – like regulatory issues surrounding neurotechnology.

Thank goodness there are also some issues that combine intellectual fascination with practical legal importance. The Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital recently focused on just such an issue when they convened a meeting of neuroscientists and legal scholars on the brain imaging of pain.

Pain, I learned at this meeting, is at the heart of many legal proceedings. A major problem to be solved in these proceedings is the determination of whether someone is truly in pain. Chronic pain in particular may not have physically obvious causes. There may be clinical and circumstantial evidence of pain – like adhering to a medication regime, seeking surgeries or other interventional procedures, and avoiding pleasurable activities – but often the major evidence of pain is just what someone says that it is. However, the motivation exists to lie about pain – to sue for more money, to obtain disability benefits – and so an objective measure of pain, a “pain-o-meter,” would be helpful.

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Pain-o-meters: How – and Why – Should We Develop Them?

By Karen Davis

The prevalence of chronic pain is staggering.  The Institute of Medicine reported in 2011 that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain – more than those with heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.  The report also highlights that the annual costs for medical care, lost wages and productivity is more than $600B.  These enormous personal and societal costs of chronic pain has driven an effort to “prove” if and how much pain an individual is suffering from for health care providers, insurance companies and legal actors.  This is challenging because pain is a personal and subjective experience.  Ideally, self report would be sufficient to establish the “ground truth” of the pain experience.

However, some are not able to provide self reports accurately, and the potential financial gain associated with claims of pain has tarnished the perceived authenticity of subjective reports.  This has led some to develop brain imaging-based tests of pain – a so-called “painometer.”  Yet, current technologies are simply not able to determine whether or not someone has chronic pain.  Here, I consider specifically how we could develop a brain-imaging based painometer – and whether we would want to do so.  As we ask: “Can we do it?,” we should always ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

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Pain on the Brain: A Week of Guest Posts on Pain Neuroimaging & Law

By Amanda C. Pustilnik

This week, the Petrie-Flom Center of Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) at Massachusetts General Hospital are hosting a series of posts on how brain imaging can help the law address issues of physical and emotional pain. Our contributors are world leaders in their fields, who participated on June 30, 2015, in the CLBB/Petrie-Flom conference Visible Solutions: How Brain Imaging Can Help Law Reenvision Pain.  They addressed questions including:

  • Can brain imaging can be a “painometer” to prove pain in legal cases?
  • Can neuroimaging help law do better at understanding what pain is?
  • How do emotion and pain relate to each other?
  • Does brain imaging showing emotional pain prompt us to reconsider law’s mind/body divide?

Professor Irene Tracey, D.Phil., a pioneer in pain neuroimaging and director of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, opened the conference with a keynote explaining what happens when the brain is in pain.

Professor Hank T. Greely, Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Director of the Program in Neuroscience and Society at Stanford Law School, provided a keynote explaining the many implications of brain imaging for the law.

This conference was the culmination of CLBB’s year of work on pain neuroimaging and law. As the first CLBB-Petrie-Flom Center Senior Fellow on Law & Applied Neuroscience, I focused on pain because it is one of the largest social, economic, and legal problems that can be addressed through new insights into the brain. Pain imaging can be a test case for how neuroscience can contribute positively to law and culture.  (Full conference video proceedings are available here.)  Please read on below! Continue reading

Patent Law, Expertise, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

by Zachary Shapiro

Since its creation in 1982, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has been a magnet for controversy and criticism. While I do not align myself with those critics, it would be foolish to not acknowledge the problems that are present with the CAFC. For instance, for the vast majority of federal law, when law develops differently in different circuits, the Supreme Court is able to observe those developments, and decide which interpretation is most desirable. Because the CAFC has sole jurisdiction over patent law appeals, patent law is not subject to these circuit splits. While splits temporarily hamper uniform justice, they do allow for experimentation, enabling different legal interpretations to be tested in real life. In this way, splits can allow an appellate body to make a more informed decision regarding which interpretation should be followed.

The lack of circuit splits in patent law can be problematic, given accusations that the CAFC has succumbed to a form of institutional capture by the patent lobby.[1] Critics highlight the CAFC’s decision in Amazon[2] and eBay[3] as evidence of this capture. In Amazon, the CAFC found a broad presumption of irreparable harm, allowing for broad extension of preliminary injunctions in future cases of patent infringement (even though they overturned the injunction at issue in the case). This patent-holder-friendly standard was ultimately overruled in eBay,[4] after the CAFC applied its nearly automatic injunction standard. The Supreme Court overturned this decision, and dialed back the presumption, in large part because it was seen as too favorable to patent holders.

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Health Law Year in P/Review: Until Next Year

This new post by Holly F. Lynch, I. Glenn Cohen, and Gregory Curfman appears on the Health Affairs Blog as the final entry in a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

It’s been our great pleasure to collaborate with the Health Affairs Blog on this series stemming from theThird Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium at Harvard Law School. This annual event takes a look back over the prior year and previews the year to come with regard to hot topics in health law.

After the symposium, we asked our speakers to keep the conversation going online by expanding on their topics from different angles or by honing in on particularly intriguing features. These pieces were published on the Health Affairs Blog through the spring and into summer.

We heard more from Kevin Outterson on how to promote innovation in the development of new antibiotics, from Rachel Sachs on whether the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to regulate laboratory-developed tests will really stifle innovation, and from Claire Laporte on the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions on bio-IP.

George Annas weighed in on the Ebola outbreak, which has already almost faded from public consciousness but offers important public health lessons, while Wendy Parmet and Andrew Sussman tackled important developments in tobacco control. […]

Read the full post here.

The Impact of Broccoli II and Tomato II on European patents in conventional breeding, GMO’s and Synthetic Biology: A grand finale of a juicy patents tale?

I am pleased to announce our recent paper entitled “The Impact of Broccoli II & Tomato II on European patents in conventional breeding, GMO’s and Synthetic Biology: The grand finale of a juicy patents tale?”, which is available on SSRN, and forthcoming in Biotechnology Law Report, Vol. 34, Number 3 (June 2015), pp. 1-18.

Our analysis deals with a seminal judgment on the controversial and sometimes even emotionally debated European “Broccoli” and “Tomato” patents, which has captivated the European patent and plant science communities for many years: On March 25, 2015, the EBA of the European Patent Office (EBA) finally issued its much awaited decisions on the consolidated referrals G2/12 (“Tomato II”) and G2/13 (“Broccoli II”), clarifying the exclusion from patentability of essentially biological processes, such as conventional crossing and selection, and in particular its impact on the patentability of claims for products resulting from such processes. The so-called “Tomato II” case concerned an invention entitled “method for breeding tomatoes having reduced water content and product of the method,” whereas the so-called “Broccoli II” case involved an invention of a “method for selective increase of the anticarcinogenic glucosinolates in brassica species”. Continue reading

Ariosa v. Sequenom Invalidates the Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing Patent

On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment of invalidity of several claims in Sequenom’s diagnostic method patent on the grounds that they were not directed to patent-eligible subject matter under the relevant section of the Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 101.  The case, Ariosa v. Sequenom, is important not only to those who have been following the recent back-and-forth between the Federal Circuit and Supreme Court on patent-eligible subject matter, but also to those who study medical innovation, as it implicates questions of innovation incentives and of access to an important new technology.

The case involves a technology known as non-invasive prenatal testing, or NIPT.  Previously, pregnant women seeking to determine whether their fetuses possessed particular genetic abnormalities only had the option to undergo procedures, like amniocentesis, which pose a risk to the developing fetus.  The scientists in this case made a startling discovery: there is a small amount of fetal DNA circulating in the pregnant woman’s plasma and serum.  These portions of maternal blood samples had previously been discarded as medical waste, and the idea that genetic abnormalities could be discovered through a non-invasive procedure like a blood draw, which poses no risk to the health of the fetus, was groundbreaking.  A patent on the method of detecting the fetal DNA in the mother’s serum or plasma was obtained, and Sequenom commercialized a test to practice the patent.  Sequenom was soon embroiled in litigation with Ariosa and other companies which it believed were infringing its patent.

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