Good news for many South African HIV patients—with a big glitch

On Wednesday, South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that, as of January 2015, HIV-positive patients in the country would start receiving free antiretroviral treatment once their CD4 count fell below 500, instead of current threshold of less than 350. Some patient groups would start receiving antiretrovirals immediately upon being diagnosed with HIV infection, regardless of their clinical stage.

Last month, Till Bärnighausen, Dan Wikler and I predicted in PLoS Medicine that sub-Saharan nations would move in the direction that South Africa is now moving, and pointed out a big complication. This policy change might make several gigantic trials of so-called treatment-as-prevention in sub-Saharan Africa impossible to complete successfully. As we explained, these trials remain important for assessing the potential of treatment-as-prevention to curb the spread of HIV in general populations (with many different relationship types and different levels of care delivery and support).

In treatment-as-prevention, antiretrovirals are offered to patients immediately upon their diagnosis with HIV. The hope is that very early treatment would be better for these patients and prevent them from infecting others. We also offered some ways out of this mess, but they involve untraditional approaches to research conduct and to policy. Our piece was featured in the June issue of UNAIDS’ HIV This Month.

The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide: A Global Comparative Study

In the U.S., the right to health is often held up as a utopian legal principle that other countries manage to embrace and that we shortsightedly spurn.  What I learned working on a new project is that the right to health does not always lend itself to admirable ends.  In some countries, a formal right to health is not used to advance equity but rather for the opposite.  In other words, having a right to health can lead to a less equitable distribution of health care resources because, for example, people who are better able to navigate the legal system can claim more resources for themselves.

This insight and others are featured in an excellent book that just came out from Cambridge Press, The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide: A Global Comparative Study, edited by Colleen M. Flood, University of Toronto, Faculty of Law and Aeyal Gross, Tel-Aviv University, Faculty of Law.  This book is worth reading, in part, because it features chapters on countries that are not the usual suspects, including Hungary, Venezuela, Nigeria, New Zealand, and Taiwan.  Two of the chapters are by U.S. health care scholars: one I wrote on the U.S. system and the Affordable Care Act (A Vision of an Emerging Right to Health Care in the United States: Expanding Health Care Equity through Legislative Reform) and one Christina Ho wrote on China (Health Rights at the Juncture between State and Market: the People’s Republic of China).

In my chapter, I argue that while the U.S. does not have a formal right to health, the ACA could provide the vision and foundation for an evolving American conception of a right to health care.

High Noon for Population-Wide Mammography Screening?

By Prof. Dr. med. Dr. phil. Nikola Biller-Andorno

Director, Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Safra Network Fellow, Harvard University (13-14)

Visiting Professor, Div. Medical Ethics, Harvard Medical School (12-14)

It is amazing how much heat a report can draw that simply states what has been all over town for some time now: We do not know if mammography screening does more good than harm, we do not even know for sure if it does any good at all.

The Swiss Medical Board, an independent health technology assessment initiative that was started in 2008, stated that based on the empirical data availability the introduction of mammography screening all over Switzerland could not be recommended.

As could be expected the report drew fire. Curiously, one of the chief complaints was that it was “unethical” to upset women who might no longer know if screening was good for them or not.

This sounds just a little bit paternalistic – particularly given that we know that most women seriously overestimate the benefits of screening when making their decision, a point that my colleague Peter Juni and myself illustrate in a Perspective piece published on May 22, 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Continue reading

What Should Customers Do About Dirty Practices of Big Companies?

The video “Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics” recently went viral on social media. It purports to document the suffering of former workers of Chinese electronics factories that supply smartphones to big brands. According to the video, these workers contracted serious occupational illnesses such as cancer and severe nerve damage as a result of exposure to the toxic chemicals benzene and n-hexane. The workers are said to be unaware of the fatal risks; and in any event, many would be too young to consent. The film calls for elimination of toxic chemicals in electronics factories, which it claims can be done at a negligible cost.

Watching this video and learning about this problem, are we, the customers, now under a duty to act?

For instance, in an effort to convince Apple to remove toxic chemicals from their factories, the “Bad Apple” campaign asks customers to sign a petition, call the brand, and maybe re-consider upgrading their phone less often. The campaign targets Apple because of its powerful position in the public eye as well as in the industry, which currently lacks any toxin-free option.

The question is: What is the morally right response of a customer? To put it in more detail, are you morally required to take action? If so, is signing the petition or calling the brand sufficient or should you, for example, boycott the brand?

Here is the answer: You are probably right to do anything, including nothing. Continue reading

WEDNESDAY, 4/23: Reforming Brazilian Pharmaceutical Patent Policy

Reforming Brazilian Pharmaceutical Patent Policy: Lessons from the Past and the Road for the Future

April 23, 12:00pm 

Wasserstein Hall 1010, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

In this lecture by Pedro Paranaguá, he will discuss the report issued by the Brazilian House of Representatives in 2013 as part of an effort to revamp the country’s patent law. Brazil does not want to be a mere exporter of commodities, neither does it want to be a simple consumer of knowledge goods. Brazil wants to be at the cutting edge of innovation; it wants to innovate to compete. Paranaguá’s presentation will introduce the current state of affairs of the Brazilian patent system, with a focus on pharmaceuticals. He will present the main findings and recommendations of the 2013 report, including the tabling of a bill to fix the mistakes of the 1990s.  The talk will be followed by discussion with a panel of experts. Panelists include:

  • Brook K. Baker, Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law; Policy Analyst for Health GAP (Global Access Project)
  • Benjamin N. Roin, Hieken Assistant Professor in Patent Law, Harvard Law School; Co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics; Associate Member, Broad Institute

Pedro Paranaguá has been a Lecturer in Law at the LL.M. in Business Law at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), Brazil, since 2007. Mr. Paranaguá is also the lead Advisor to the ruling Workers Party at the Brazilian House of Representatives for Internet, copyright, patent, data privacy, cybercrime, and related matters. He is responsible for drafting the Brazilian Internet Framework Bill (“Marco Civil”) for the rapporteur, including provisions on net neutrality, ISP liability, and privacy. He coordinated the 350-page report, “Brazil’s Patent Reform,” for the Brazilian House of Representatives. He has been an invited instructor at Duke University School of Law (2011), lecturer in law at FGV Rio, and has held numerous other lectureships in Brazil and abroad (Lecturer in Brazil and abroad (Brazil’s Supreme Court and Senate, Yale, UCLA, UNESCO, UNCTAD, WIPO). He was Director of the A2K Brazil Program at the Center for Technology and Society (CTS-FGV), and co-representative of Creative Commons in Brazil (2005-2010). He produced commissioned studies on copyright and technology for the country’s Culture Ministry, and served as FGV-delegate at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva (2005-2009). He has also served as a member of the Brazilian Free Software Project. From 2001 to 2003, he was an IP lawyer at Gusmão & Labrunie, where he was Project Manager on patents and access to medicines. He is the author of the books Copyright Law (Portuguese) (with Sergio Branco) andPatent Law (Portuguese) (with Renata Reis). Mr. Paranaguá holds a LL.M. (cum laude) in Intellectual Property, Internet and Policy (London) and is a Doctoral candidate (S.J.D.) at Duke University School of Law, where he is finalizing his thesis, “Brazil’s Copyright Law Reform: Tropicália 3.0?”, under the supervision of Professor Jerome Reichman.

Sponsored by the HLS Brazilian Studies Association, with support from the Petrie-Flom Center.

Art Caplan on “Pediatric Euthanasia in Belgium: Disturbing Developments”

Art Caplan has coauthored a new piece in JAMA on problems with Belgium’s new law allowing terminally-ill children and their families to choose euthanasia. From the article:

The Belgian pediatric euthanasia law seeks to respect the moral status of children as agents who possess the nascent capacity for self-determination. Specifically, the law requires the medical team to demonstrate a patient has the “capacity for discernment,” indicating that he or she understands the consequences of a choice for euthanasia.

What the law does not consider, however, is that adults choose euthanasia for reasons that go beyond pain. For adults, the decision to end their life can be based upon the fear of a loss of control, not wanting to burden others, or the desire not to spend their final days of life fully sedated. These desires might be supported by the experience they have had witnessing a loved one express a loss of dignity or because they understand what terminal sedation is and wish to refuse it. Children, however, lack the intellectual capacity to develop a sophisticated preference against palliative interventions of last resort. Instead, in the case of the new Belgian law, children seem to be asked to choose between unbearable suffering on the one hand and death on the other.

This possibility causes the Belgian euthanasia law to fall short of the standard required for valid assent. The criterion related to the “capacity for discernment” runs the risk of ignoring the fact that children and adolescents lack the experiential knowledge and sense of self that adults often invoke—rightly or wrongly—at the end of their lives.

Read the full article.

The Future of “Country of Origin” Labeling Regulations

By Ching-Fu Lin

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia Circuit recently ruled against the meat industry’s challenge to stop the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) implementation of the amended Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rules.  The current COOL regulations (amended in May 2013) require retailers to identify several types of information on beef, pork, and poultry products that were previously not required.  It now requires labeling of the country where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered along with the prohibition of the commingling of meat muscle cuts from different origins.

The old and less stringent version of the COOL regulations was published in 2009 by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) based on the 2008 Farm Bill (Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) amending the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946.  In the same year, Canada and Mexico brought a case in front of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), arguing that the old COOL requirements violated relevant WTO rules.  The WTO DSB found that the old COOL requirements were inconsistent with the US’s obligations under Article 2.1 (national treatment principle) of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) as well as Article X:3(a) (uniform, impartial, and reasonable administration) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994).

Continue reading

Liveblog of 4/2 panel in European Bio-patent Law, Part III

Third up is Dr. Maaike van der Kooij, discussing medical use claims at the EPO.

In general, methods of medical treatment aren’t patentable under Art. 53(c) of the EPC, but the way around is to claim a relevant product either for medical use (if the substance is known but not medically used (Art. 54(4)) or for a specific medical use (Art. 54(5)).  (From my point of view, this seems like another way that the EPO is trying to address its innovation mandate by working around what appears to be pretty clear language in the EPC, a pattern which we certainly see in the US in both PTO and Federal Circuit practice). Continue reading

Liveblog of 4/2 panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law, Part II

Next up is Dr. Anja Schmitt, comparing Myriad and Mayo to EPO practice, and describing gene patents and diagnostic method patents in the EPO.

Human gene patents

The basic question of human gene patents–as will be familiar to those who followed the Myriad litigation–is whether isolated DNA is a product of nature/mere discovery, or a man-made product with technical character.  In the Myriad case, claims covered isolated DNAs for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which are useful for identifying a predisposition to breast cancer.

At the EPO, on the other hand–using the same sources of law as Dr. Nichogiannopoulou mentioned before–genes are patentable as long as they disclose the industrial applicability and the function of the gene and/or its encoded protein. Continue reading

Liveblog of 4/2 panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law, Part I

I’ll be liveblogging today’s panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law (co-sponsored by the Broad Institute), with several guest speakers from the European Patent Office (EPO).

Ben Roin, Heiken Assistant Professor of Patent Law here at HLS, is moderating.  Speakers will be Dr. Aliki Nichogiannopoulou on stem cells, and Dr. Anja Schmitt on gene patents, Dr. Maiake van der Kooij, all of the EPO, followed by Tom Kowalski of VedderPrice.

Dr. Nichogiannopolou begins by talking about stem cells, and opens with a few background points about the EPO.  The agency has its own implementing legislation separate from the EU, and includes 38 member states – 10 more than the EU itself, including industry-important Switzerland.  The EPO supports innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth for the benefits of European citizens, and has the mandate to grant European patents for inventions. Continue reading

TOMORROW: Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law: Stem Cells, Genes, and More

Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law: Stem Cells, Genes, and More

April 2, 2014, 12:00 PM

Langdell, Vorenberg Classroom – North (225), Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Please join us for this esteemed panel of leading patent experts, including members of the European Patent Office. Discussion will address U.S. and European perspectives on patenting stem cells, genes, and medical uses, as well as other ethical and legal issues.

Panelists:

  • Aliki Nichogiannopoulou, Director, Biotechnology, EPO
  • Anja Schmitt, Examiner, EPO
  • Maaike van der Kooij, Examiner, EPO
  • Tom Kowalski, US Patent Attorney
  • Moderator: Benjamin N. Roin, Hieken Assistant Professor in Patent Law, Harvard Law School; Co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics; Associate Member, Broad Institute

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Register here.

Lunch will be served. For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

Cosponsored by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

China Issues 2014-2020 Development Blueprint on Food and Nutrition

By Ching-Fu Lin

China’s highest executive organ, the State Council, put out the Food and Nutrition Development Outline 2014-2020 (the Outline) in February of 2014.  The Outline was jointly drafted by China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and National Health and Family Planning Commission.  The Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Science and Technology, and National Development and Reform Commission also participated in its development.  Based on a review of China’s growth and problems in food and nutrition, the Outline sets a seven-year plan that highlights basic policy objectives.  The areas of focus are food supply systems, nutrition intake and balance (especially amongst population sub-groups), regulatory and surveillance mechanisms, industry development, research, and education.

The Outline lays out its “guiding strategy” that the government should regard the effective supply of food, balanced nutritional profile, and production-consumption coordination as its chief missions.  To execute these missions, the government identifies certain key products (quality agricultural products, convenient processed foods, and dairy and soy foods), key areas (poor, rural, and newly urbanized areas), and key population groups (the pregnant women and nursing mothers, infants and children, and the elderly) as starting points to promote better food and nutrition development patterns.  Such points are further elaborated in the document.  The guiding strategy ultimately aims to improve public health and a well-off society.

Continue reading

4/2: Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law: Stem Cells, Genes, and More

Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law: Stem Cells, Genes, and More

April 2, 2014, 12:00 PM

Langdell, Vorenberg Classroom – North (225), Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Please join us for this esteemed panel of leading patent experts, including members of the European Patent Office. Discussion will address U.S. and European perspectives on patenting stem cells, genes, and medical uses, as well as other ethical and legal issues.

Panelists:

  • Aliki Nichogiannopoulou, Director, Biotechnology, EPO
  • Anja Schmitt, Examiner, EPO
  • Maaike van der Kooij, Examiner, EPO
  • Tom Kowalski, US Patent Attorney
  • Moderator: Benjamin N. Roin, Hieken Assistant Professor in Patent Law, Harvard Law School; Co-Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics; Associate Member, Broad Institute

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Register here.

Lunch will be served. For questions, contact petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-4662.

Cosponsored by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Call for applications: Brocher Summer Academy 2014: Ethical Choices for DALYs and the Measurement of the Global Burden of Disease

Confirmed speakers: Christopher Murray (IHME)—Keynote, Matt Adler (Duke), Greg Bognar (La Trobe U), John Broome (Oxford), Dan Brock (Harvard), Richard Cookson (York U), Owen Cotton-Barratt (Oxford), David Evans (WHO), Marc Fleurbaey (Princeton U), Ned Hall (Harvard), Dan Hausman (U of Wisconsin, Madison), Elselijn Kingma (U of Eindhoven), Jeremy Lauer (WHO), Colin Mathers (WHO), Erik Nord (Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo), Ole Norheim (U of Bergen), Andreas Reis (WHO), Joshua Salomon (Harvard and IHME), Abha Saxena (WHO), Erik Schokkaert (KU Leuven), Drew Schroeder (Claremont McKenna), Alex Voorhoeve (LSE), James Woodward (U of Pittsburgh).

Organizers: Daniel Wikler (Harvard), Nir Eyal (Harvard), Samia Hurst (U of Geneva)

The biennial Summer Academy in the Ethics of Global Population Health is hosted by the Brocher Foundation on the shores of Lake Geneva June 9-13 2014, introducing faculty and advanced graduate students to population‐level bioethics. This fast‐developing academic field addresses ethical questions in population‐ and global health rather than ones in individual patient care.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project is a systematic, scientific effort to quantify the comparative magnitude of health loss due to diseases, injuries, and risk factors. From its inception in the early 1990s, scientists and philosophers recognized that ethical and philosophical questions arise at every turn. For example, it must be decided whether each year in the lifespan is to count alike, and whether future deaths and disabilities should be given the same weight as those in the present. These choices and decisions matter: the share of disease burden due to myocardial infarction could vary as much as 400% depending on what position is adopted on two of the ethical choices described in the GBD 2010 report.  Continue reading

FDA’s Draft Methodological Approach to Identifying High-Risk Foods

By Ching-Fu Lin

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a draft methodological approach for designating high-risk foods (HRFs) as required by section 204(d)(2) of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  HRFs identified by the FDA are subject to additional record-keeping requirements, and more frequent foreign inspections and mandatory third-party certification requirements.  The FDA is seeking comments, scientific data, and information from stakeholders to revise this draft HRF approach and to create a preliminary HRF list.

Among many available risk tools (e.g. qualitative, semi-quantitative, and quantitative methods), a semi-quantitative risk ranking model has been selected by the FDA as the most appropriate methodology for the HRF list.  There are many reasons for choosing this model, including the fact that – as explained by the FDA – it is “data-driven and comprehensive, using explicit criteria related to public health risk; … adaptive to a variety of hazards; and … flexible to consider different foods or categories of food.”

Based on the draft semi-quantitative risk ranking model, the FDA is considering and evaluating a set of seven criteria that match the factors specified in section 204(d)(2)(A) of FSMA: Continue reading

FSMA Conference Part 5: International Issues and Trade Implications

[Ed. Note: On Friday, February 21, the Petrie-Flom Center, the Food Law and Policy Clinic (a division of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation), the Food Law Lab, and the Harvard Food Law Society (with support from the Top University Strategic Alliance and the Dean's Office at Harvard Law School) co-sponsored a conference at HLS called "New Directions for Food Safety: The Food Safety Modernization Act and Beyond."  This is the final installment in a series of blog posts from the event; video will follow shortly.]

Continue reading

TOMORROW: “The Right to Life and the Inter American Court of Human Rights”

“The Right to Life and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights”

When: March 5, 2014, 12:00-1:00 p.m.

Where: Wasserstein Hall 3007, Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave.

Please join us for a brown bag talk with Professor Paola Bergallo, Faculty of Law, Universidad de San Andrés, Buenos Aires, and HRP Visiting Fellow. Bergallo served as an expert witness in the landmark case Artavia Murillo et al. (“In Vitro Fertilization”) v. Costa Rica, which discusses human rights definitions regarding the right to life, among other health and human rights matters. Professor Gerald Neuman of Harvard Law School will moderate.

This event is being co-sponsored by Harvard Law Students for Reproductive Justice and HLS Advocates for Human Rights.

Capsule Endoscopy Instead of Colonoscopy? The FDA Approves the PillCam COLON

By Jonathan J. Darrow

In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the PillCam COLON 2 as a minimally-invasive means of viewing the colon, a development that is sure to be welcomed by U.S. patients who currently undergo an estimated 14 million colonoscopies each year.  While the approval represents a major step forward, the PillCam is unlikely to supplant current procedures just yet.

The colon has traditionally been examined via optical colonoscopy, a procedure perceived by many to be uncomfortable and embarrassing that involves insertion through the rectum of a 5-6 foot long flexible tube as part of an examination that can take 30 to 60 minutes. Air must be pumped in through the rectum in a process called “insufflation.” Sedatives and pain medication are generally used to help relieve discomfort. In contrast, the PillCam COLON contains a power source, light source, and two tiny cameras encapsulated in an easy-to-swallow pill that produces no pain or even sensation as it moves through the colon. Reflecting the absence of discomfort, one report from a clinical researcher noted that a few patients have insisted on X-rays to confirm that the device had passed in their stool (FDA Consumer). The pill takes about 30,000 pictures before passing naturally from the body, which usually occurs before the end of its 10-hour battery life.

The safety record of capsule endoscopy, the category to which the PillCam COLON belongs, so far appears to compare favorably with the alternatives. Capsule endoscopy may be less likely to produce accidental colonic perforations or other serious complications, which occur in less than 1% of traditional colonoscopies despite the best efforts of the treating physician. Tears of the colon wall can in turn “rapidly progress to peritonitis and sepsis, carrying significant morbidity and mortality.” (Adam J. Hanson et al., Laparoscopic Repair of Colonoscopic Perforations: Indications and Guidelines, 11 J. Gastrointest. Surg. 655, 655 (2007)). Splenic injury or other serious complications also occur rarely with optical colonoscopies. Unlike “virtual colonoscopy,” which uses computed tomography (CT) to peer into the body, capsule endoscopy does not involve bombarding the body with radiation. A leading study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported no serious adverse events among 320 subjects given the PillCam COLON, and concluded that use of the device was “a safe method of visualizing the colonic mucosa through colon fluids without the need for sedation or insufflation.” Continue reading

Global Health Governance: Call for Submissions

Global Health Governance will be publishing a special issue on a proposed Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH) in December 2014. The proposal for an FCGH would create a new international framework, grounded in the international human right to health, that would support health at the national and global levels.

For this FCGH special issue, Global Health Governance invites submission of theoretical and empirical policy research articles that examine and analyze how the FCGH could improve health through improved governance and realization of the right to health. We have particular interest in articles on: Continue reading

Review of Minssen, “Assessing the Inventiveness of Biopharmaceuticals under the European and U.S. Patent Laws”

Harold C. Wegner reviews Petrie-Flom Visiting Scholar Timo Minssen‘s doctoral thesis. From the review:
Patent applicants seeking to gain global patent protection beyond their home country borders need a better comparative knowledge of key elements of the patent laws of the several countries. Professor Timo Minssen in his superb doctoral thesis directly challenges the seemingly identical statutory and treaty standards for patentability in Europe and the United States in his comparative study of the laws of Europe and the United States with respect to the treaty standard of an “inventive step.” Timo Minssen, ASSESSING THE INVENTIVENESS OF BIOPHARMACEUTICALS UNDER THE EUROPEAN AND U.S. PATENT LAWS (Goteborg, Sweden: Ineko AB 2012). Professor Minssen’s doctoral thesis represents required reading for anyone seeking to unmask the subtle differences between American and European practice (emphasis added).
Read the full review.