New from Bioethicist Art Caplan: How State Right-To-Try Laws Create False Expectations

A new piece by David Farber, Preeya Noronha Pinto, Bill of Health contributor Arthur Caplan, and Alison Bateman-House the Health Affairs blog:

Over the past year, state Right-to-Try (RTT) laws that claim to enable terminally ill patients to access unapproved, experimental drugs, biologics, and devices have swept the nation. As of early May, seventeen states have enacted RTT laws (most recently, Florida and Minnesota), and bills creating such laws are currently pending in over twenty state legislatures.

Although these laws have created an expectation that terminally ill patients will be able to quickly access potentially life-saving treatments by being exempted from the rules of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this expectation is, quite simply, false.

Read the full article here.

Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen: New Blood-Donor Policy, Same Gay Stigma

Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen has co-authored a new Op-Ed in the New York Times:

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration released highly anticipated draft recommendations that would allow gay men to donate blood after one year of celibacy. While an improvement from the current, highly criticized lifetime ban, the new policy, which was announced in December, still caters to fear and stigma rather than science. It should be reconsidered. […]

Read the full article here.

New Discussion Draft of 21st Century Cures Act Released (Again)

Earlier today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the most recent draft of the 21st Century Cures Act, in time for it to be marked up by the Health Subcommittee tomorrow.  At 300 pages, the new draft adds back in a number of provisions that were excised from the previous, 200-page iteration of the draft.  I haven’t had time to uncover all of the new additions just yet, but given that this is my third blog post on the subject, I wanted to highlight some of the ways in which this version differs (and doesn’t differ) from the last draft.

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New Discussion Draft of 21st Century Cures Act Released

Yesterday, a new discussion draft of the 21st Century Cures Act was released, just in time for today’s hearing on the draft before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  At just 200 pages (although with some sections still “to be supplied”), this version is just half the size of the previous draft.  As such, it is perhaps more notable for what it took out of the original draft than for what it added in.  I haven’t had time to digest fully all of the cuts just yet, but in advance of the hearing this morning I wanted to highlight two significant deletions from the first draft and one potentially significant addition.

First, when I blogged in February about the first draft of the Act, I expressed excitement over the idea of a Medical Product Innovation Advisory Commission.  The Commission would have had the ability to oversee the way in which agencies like the NIH, FDA, and CMS all interact with each other to affect the development and dissemination of medical products.  A significant portion of my scholarship focuses on precisely these ideas, and I was hopeful that the Commission would make it into the second draft.  Alas, it did not.

Second, the first draft of the Act contained a series of very controversial exclusivity provisions.  Chief among them may have been the draft provision giving “dormant therapies” (essentially, new drugs for unmet medical needs) the option of 15 years of exclusivity.  Alexander Gaffney’s Regulatory Explainer on the first draft provides a helpful overview, for those who are interested in learning more about this provision.  But interestingly, this and other provisions relating to increased exclusivity are gone from the new draft.  Now, it is possible that some of this language will reappear later, especially as the section of the draft relating to “Repurposing Drugs for Serious and Life-Threatening Diseases and Conditions” has yet to be supplied.  But in the first draft of the document, the sections for “Repurposing Drugs” and “Dormant Therapies” were separate, so it is not clear that this is likely to happen.

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Call for Abstracts: Constitutional Challenges to the Regulation of Food, Drugs, Medical Devices, Cosmetics & Tobacco Products

The Food and Drug Law Journal is pleased to announce a forthcoming symposium—Constitutional Challenges to the Regulation of Food, Drugs, Medical Devices, Cosmetics, and Tobacco Products—to be held at the Georgetown University Law Center (GULC) on Friday, October 30, 2015, and co-sponsored by the Food and Drug Law Institute and GULC’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

The deadline for submitting abstracts is June 1, 2015. Download more information about the symposium here.

Medicare’s Costly Drug Problem

By Zack Buck

Last week, Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist who practices in North Palm Beach, Florida, was indicted on Medicare fraud charges. Melgen was charged with a variety of crimes, with prosecutors alleging he falsely diagnosed patients and falsified their files. Melgen’s name may be familiar. Last year, he was reported to be the provider with the highest total of Medicare Part B reimbursements in 2012, reportedly reimbursed by Medicare for more than $20 million, a substantial percentage of which was directly based upon his prescriptions for, and administration of, the drug Lucentis.

But the allegations against Melgen highlight a deeper challenge facing Medicare.

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TOMORROW (4/14): The FDA’s Impact on Pharmaceutical Innovation: A Lecture by Neil Flanzraich

The FDA’s Impact on Pharmaceutical Innovation: A Lecture by Neil Flanzraich

15.04.14, Flanzraich poster FINAL DPI AdjustApril 14, 2014 12:00 PM

Harvard Law School
Griswold Hall, Room 110
1525 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA [Map]

Please join us for a lecture by Neil Flanzraich, Chairman and CEO of Cantex Pharmaceuticals, Inc., discussing the balance between speed and safety in FDA’s regulation of pharmaceutical products. Topics will include how FDA’s approach has ebbed and flowed over time, the various tools FDA has introduced to reach this balance, and the potential impact of FDA’s various approaches on products and companies, especially start-ups.

Neil Flanzraich graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968 and was appointed by Dean Martha Minow as an Expert in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) in fall 2012.

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. Full event details are here.

Watch Mr. Flanzraich’s previous lecture for the Petrie-Flom Center, “Responsibility and Integrity in the Pharmaceutical Industry.”

The Complex Effects Of The FDA’s Proposal To Regulate Laboratory-Developed Tests

A new post by Rachel Sachs on the Health Affairs Blog, as part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

Last fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally took steps toward an action that it had been publicly considering for over four years: the regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs). The FDA defines LDTs as tests which are “designed, manufactured, and used within a single laboratory.”

This definition encompasses a wide range of diagnostics, including complex multigene panels that are performed in just a single laboratory in the United States, and basic diagnostic tests like a complete blood count, which are performed in thousands of laboratories nationwide.

As long as a manufacturer does not make and sell a kit for use in other laboratories, its test can be provided as an LDT. Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of diagnostic tests, including the majority of genetic tests, are currently available as LDTs.

Yet at present, the FDA exercises essentially no regulatory authority over LDTs. As such, they can be performed without any of the safeguards that typically apply to other medical technologies, including pre-market review and adverse event reporting. This is not to say that these tests are entirely unregulated. […]

See the full post here.

Transatlantic Lessons in Regulation of Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy: Prospect of Disease-Free Children for Women Carriers through MRT

Cambridge, Mass., April 9, 2015 – A paper forthcoming on Friday in Science discusses the regulation of a new technology that gives hope to women who carry genetic disease. Mutant mitochondrial DNA gives rise to a broad range of heritable clinical syndromes. Cure of those affected remains out of reach. However, recently developed Mitrochondrial Replacement Therapy (MRT) – sometimes known as “three-parent IVF” — has raised the prospect of disease-free progeny for women carriers.

In the UK, legislation regulating the clinical application of MRT has recently been approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, after a 10-year process.

In the United States, the vetting of MRT, underway for a year, remains a work in progress. A new paper in Science released Friday, April 10, compares and contrasts the regulatory history of MRT in the UK and the United States, discusses the relevant ethical overlay, examines potential lessons learned, and charts the likely path forward in the United States. It is written by I. Glenn Cohen, Harvard Law Professor and Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; Eli Adashi, Professor of Medical Science at Brown University; and Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at Oxford University and Director of The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics.

“There is much FDA and the U.S. can learn from the way in which the U.K. has evaluated and regulated MRT,” said Professor Cohen. “These lessons are particularly important because MRT is just one of a series of new reproductive and genetic technologies, including gene editing and In Vitro Gametogenesis, that FDA and regulators across the world will soon be confronting.”

Read the full paper now on the Science website.

Recent Judicial Rulemaking Leaves Life Science Patents Hanging In The Balance

A new post by Claire Laporte of Foley Hoag LLP on the Health Affairs Blog, as part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

Do patents nurture or stifle innovation?

In a recent series of decisions, the Supreme Court has begun to express concern that some patents suppress innovation. And it has done so in a number of cases that turn on what used to be a sleepy backwater of the patent law: 35 U.S.C. § 101. This statute says, simply, that “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, … may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title [i.e., the other requirements of the patent law].”

You might think that this language means that all you have to do is figure out whether an invention falls into one of the permitted categories. If it does, it’s something that can be patented (assuming you meet the other requirements — which are numerous). But no! Over the past few decades, the Supreme Court has engrafted a whole new set of judge-made requirements onto this statute: you cannot get a patent on something that is a “law of nature,” a “product of nature,” or an “abstract idea.” And starting in 2010, the Court put real teeth into these doctrines. […]

See the full post here.

4/14: The FDA’s Impact on Pharmaceutical Innovation: A Lecture by Neil Flanzraich

The FDA’s Impact on Pharmaceutical Innovation: A Lecture by Neil Flanzraich

15.04.14, Flanzraich poster FINAL DPI AdjustApril 14, 2014 12:00 PM

Harvard Law School
Griswold Hall, Room 110
1525 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA [Map]

Please join us for a lecture by Neil Flanzraich, Chairman and CEO of Cantex Pharmaceuticals, Inc., discussing the balance between speed and safety in FDA’s regulation of pharmaceutical products. Topics will include how FDA’s approach has ebbed and flowed over time, the various tools FDA has introduced to reach this balance, and the potential impact of FDA’s various approaches on products and companies, especially start-ups.

Neil Flanzraich graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968 and was appointed by Dean Martha Minow as an Expert in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) in fall 2012.

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. Full event details are here.

Watch Mr. Flanzraich’s previous lecture for the Petrie-Flom Center, “Responsibility and Integrity in the Pharmaceutical Industry.”

The Newest Twist in the State Regulation of Off-Label Marketing

By Zack Buck

The newest chapter in the legal drama involving Johnson & Johnson, Inc. (“J&J”) and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc. (and a subsidiary previously known as Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) (“Janssen”) was written late last month. Specifically at issue was whether or not the alleged off-label marketing of its blockbuster antipsychotic Risperdal violated state anti-fraud and consumer protection statutes. In late February, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict finding for the state under the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (“SCUTPA”), but reduced the damages award from $327 million to $136 million. In a series of cases at the state level involving the marketing of Risperdal, this is the first time that a jury verdict against J&J/Janssen has been upheld by a state supreme court. Cases in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Louisiana have ended with verdicts for the pharmaceutical company.

I’ve been following these cases for years and have undertaken further analysis on the topic here. Of course, news headlines have been dominated by the startling penalty amounts states had sought—and, in some states, had been initially imposed. Most noteworthy, an Arkansas jury imposed a $1.2 billion fine before the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the finding; in Louisiana, the fine was $330 million before its state supreme court did the same. Indeed, these litigated claims are in addition to settled claims—the largest of which were entered into by J&J with the federal government and various states for $2.2 billion in 2013.

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Bioethicist Art Caplan: Why a New Alzheimer’s Drug Isn’t A No-Brainer

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Biogen, a Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company, announced last week that early tests of their new drug aducanumab, a monoclonal antibody, had shown impressive results in treating those with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. The drug significantly reduced the amyloid plaque buildup in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s.

In a very early stage safety test aducanumab slowed the cognitive decline and dementia associated with Alzheimer’s in people. On the Mini Mental Status Exam, a widely used measure of cognitive function, people at risk of Alzheimer’s who got a placebo lost around 3 points over a year. But those who got the lowest dose of aducanumab worsened by just two points and those who got a higher dose lost less than a point.

Biogen was so excited by the early results in 166 volunteers that it is going to try to go directly to a much bigger clinical trial of the drug. Wall Street was very excited too—Biogen’s stock price shot up 10 percent. […]

See the full article here.

Ensuring Timely Approval Of Generic Drugs

By Ameet Sarpatwari and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Cross posted from Health Affairs Blog

Having saved US consumers over $1.5 trillion in the past decade, generic drugs are one of the most cost-effective interventions in our entire health care system. Using generic drugs instead of brand-name drugs, when a generic is available, has been shown to increase medication adherence and improve health outcomes for chronic conditions.

Importantly, generic drugs offer these advantages without sacrificing quality; the Food and Drug Administration’s bioequivalency standards are met and often exceeded by generic-name manufacturers, and no randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of medical evidence—have identified clinically significant variations in outcomes between brand-name and FDA-approved interchangeable generic drugs.

However, to perform the tests the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires before approving a generic drug, manufacturers need access to one vital component: the brand-name product. Samples of the brand-name version of a drug can be used as a comparator to demonstrate the similarity of the molecular structure, or even the clinical outcomes from the generic product. Physico-chemical details about the brand-name drug, such as its molecular structure, stability, and cross-reactions, can be even more helpful in ensuring that the generic version adheres to the highest quality standards.

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The “Right to Try” – Compassionate Use of Experimental Medicine, 5th Annual Cathy Shine Lecture

SHINE_headerThe “Right to Try” –  Compassionate Use of Experimental Medicine

5th Annual Cathy Shine Lecture

Thursday, March 19, Noon – 1 p.m.
Boston University Medical Campus Instructional Building
Bakst Auditorium
72 East Concord Street, Boston, MA
Free and open to the public
Reception will follow

Is it fair to use social media or personal connections to get experimental drugs? Is it possible to reconcile so-called “right to try” laws—which allow patients access to novel, unapproved treatments—with evidence-based medicine and a drug-approval process charged with ensuring safe and effective medicines? Professor Caplan examines whether the duty to rescue should play a role in regulatory policies, physician advocacy, and corporate behavior in the US. Continue reading

Open Payments: Early Impact And The Next Wave Of Reform

A new post by Tony Caldwell and Christopher Robertson on the Health Affairs Blog, as part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a provision in the Affordable Care Act, seeks to increase the transparency of the financial relationships between medical device and drug manufacturers, physicians, and teaching hospitals. Launched on September 30, 2014 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Open Payments database collects information about these financial relationships and makes that information available to the public.

As of early February, the Open Payments database includes documentation of 4.45 million payments valued at nearly $3.7 billion made from medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers to 546,000 doctors and 1,360 teaching hospitals between August 2013 and December 2013. This included 1.7 million records (totaling $2.2 billion) without the names of physicians or teaching hospitals who received the payments.

These records were intentionally de-identified by CMS because the records had not been available for review and dispute for 45 days, or because the records were not matched by CMS to a single physician or teaching hospital due to missing or inconsistent information within the submitted records. Future reports will be published annually and will include data collections from a full 12 month period. […]

Continue reading here.

The Medical Innovation Act: Addressing the Shrinking NIH Budget

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently introduced a new bill, the Medical Innovation Act, which would require pharmaceutical companies who settle with the government after committing certain illegal activities to reinvest additional money into the NIH.  Senator Warren views the bill as a “swear jar” for drug companies, seeking to target those who commit certain types of wrongdoing, including violating the anti-kickback statutes or defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, in order to increase government support for research at a time when the NIH’s budget has been falling.  Scholars and researchers who have lamented the shrinking of the NIH’s budget will find much to love in the bill, and they may even wish it had gone farther.

The Medical Innovation Act would be triggered under the following set of circumstances: drug companies (1) who sell at least one drug whose annual net sales exceed $1 billion, (2) where that drug can be traced at least in part to federally funded research (the Act refers to such products as “covered blockbuster drug[s]”), and (3) who enter into a settlement agreement of at least $1 million with the government after committing certain types of wrongdoing, would pay an additional penalty.  As a threshold matter, the Act will not affect companies unless they appear to have broken the law.  But even where companies have committed various forms of wrongdoing, the Act would not affect smaller drug companies, those who developed their drugs without the aid of the federal government, those who engaged in minor wrongdoing (and therefore only have small settlements), or those who take the government to trial rather than settling.

Affected companies would be required to pay an additional fine on top of the value of their settlement, paying 1% of the company’s profits multiplied by the number of covered blockbuster drugs sold by that company each year for five years.  Because the annual profits attributable to these companies are typically very high, even with the Act’s various carve-outs, Senator Warren estimates that if the Act had existed for the past five years, it would’ve provided an additional $6 billion every year to the NIH, a full 20% increase in its budget.  Going forward, this number might be smaller, if some companies respond to the Act’s incentives by committing less wrongdoing (a positive development in itself) or taking the government to trial (a relatively unlikely outcome, but possible in some cases), but the total amount is still likely to be substantial.

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UCLA, CREA, and FDA

By Emily Largent

Before law school, I worked as a nurse at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.  The work was interesting, as was the news.  I was there when the Los Angeles Times published an investigation revealing that Japanese gang figures received liver transplants at UCLA and when the Times reported on UCLA employees illegally viewing medical records of celebrities.

This week, UCLA made headlines once again when officials announced that nearly 180 patients may have been exposed to a potentially deadly superbug from contaminated duodenoscopes.  Seven UCLA patients–two of whom died–were infected with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) after a procedure known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).  CRE are a family of germs that are difficult to treat because they have high levels of antibiotic resistance, and CRE can lead to death in up to 50% of patients who become infected.

This problem is not unique to UCLA.  The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had a duodenoscope-related outbreak in 2012. Last month, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle acknowledged that 32 patients were sickened by contaminated endoscopes from 2012 to 2014.  Eleven of those patients died.  From January 2013 to December 2014, the FDA received 75 Medical Device Reports (MDRs) related to possible microbial transmission from duodenoscopes.

The FDA issued a safety communication yesterday, February 19th, which warned doctors that the complex design of duodenoscopes may impede effective reprocessing.  Reprocessing is a multi-step process to clean and disinfect or sterilize reusable devices.  The FDA noted that multi-drug resistant infections have been associated with reprocessed duodenoscopes “even when manufacturer reprocessing instructions are followed correctly.” (UCLA stated that its scopes had been sterilized in line with the manufacturer’s standards.)  Nevertheless, the FDA urged medical providers to carefully follow manufacturers’ cleaning instructions and talk to patients about the benefits and risks of undergoing procedures involving duodenoscopes.

Some have argued that this did not go far enough.  What other options are available to the FDA?

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In Regulating E-Cigarettes, No Easy Fix For The FDA

A new post by Wendy Parmet on the Health Affairs Blog, as part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015.

Sometime in the next few months, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to issue the so-called deeming regulations, which will open the door to the federal regulation of e-cigarettes. In considering whether to issue the regulations, which were first published for notice and comment rulemaking last April, the FDA faces a formidable challenge: it must decide whether and how to regulate in the midst of scientific uncertainty and limited statutory flexibility.

By subjecting e-cigarettes to its regulatory regime, the FDA risks retarding the growth of what may prove to be a powerful new tool for harm reduction. But by failing to act, the agency risks undermining decades of progress in tobacco control. In either case, the public health impact is apt to be significant.

Read the full post here.

Highlights from the 21st Century Cures Act

At the end of January, the House Energy & Commerce Committee released a discussion draft of the 21st Century Cures Act.  This document marks the beginning of the legislative phase of the 21st Century Cures Initiative, during which the Committee has held numerous roundtables and hearings and issued several white papers.  The first discussion draft of the Act, clocking in at nearly 400 pages (even with several sections “to be supplied”), is incredibly wide-ranging, including proposals that could affect every stage of the innovation process.

The discussion draft should be of interest to everyone in the health policy field.  One series of proposals is targeted at the NIH, including more support for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and for the NIH’s BRAIN initiative.  Another set would act on the FDA, including one provision giving new drugs for unmet medical needs the option of 15 years of exclusivity.  This provision, based on the MODDERN Cures Act, is particularly likely to inspire a great deal of controversy and opposition.  The draft also contains a series of proposals designed to promote the development of new antibiotics, in keeping with President Obama’s recent focus on this issue.  Its attention to the use of social media by drug companies and to the FDA’s regulation of health-related software will be of interest to many, as well.

The proposed draft is much too long to catalog fully in this brief blog post, although those who are interested in a broader summary might enjoy the 13-page summary of the Act put out by the Committee, the Science summary by Kelly Servick and Jocelyn Kaiser, or Alexander Gaffney’s comprehensive Regulatory Explainer.  But I do want to highlight one section of the draft which deserves more attention than it has gotten: section 2021, which would create a national Medical Product Innovation Advisory Commission.

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