To Spur Medical Innovation, Make Corporate Cheaters Pay

By Aaron S. Kesselheim and Ameet Sarpatwari 

Cross posted from Health Affairs Blog

The past decade has seen a relatively constant rate of newly approved drugs every year. The number has even jumped in the past few years. Yet, despite such encouraging trends, we are actually facing a crisis in drug innovation today. That is because many of these new products do not offer substantial improvements over already available alternatives.

At the same time, novel and effective treatments for many diseases—both rare and common—remain elusive. For example, there is widespread concern over the lack of development of new antibiotics aimed at multidrug-resistant infections. Therapeutic innovation for central nervous system disorders such as dementia and psychoses, which affect almost 100 million Americans, has likewise stagnated.

In this climate, pharmaceutical manufacturers have nonetheless continued to thrive. The top eleven drug manufacturers made $711 billion from 2003 to 2012, including $68 billion in 2012 alone, translating to an industry profit margin on par with the banking sector.

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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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Cassandra C. Goes Home – Connecticut Misses an Opportunity

By Jonathan F. Will

On Monday Cassandra C. was sent home from the hospital.  Her cancer is in remission after responding well to treatments.  Many will recall that those treatments were forced on Cassandra against her wishes and those of her mother.   Back in January, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a two-page order agreeing with state officials that Cassandra, at seventeen years three months, should be compelled to undergo chemotherapy to treat her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The success of this medical treatment may be viewed by some to vindicate the comments of those like bioethicist Art Caplan and Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr., who agreed with the decision.  Indeed, Mr. Johnson, after giving a personal anecdote of his own history with Hodgkin’s Disease, declared this decision to be right on the law, right on the ethics, and right on humanity.

Mr. Johnson gave the impression that a minor should never be permitted to make such a medical decision, while Dr. Caplan at least implied that his conclusion might be different if the refusal was based on religious beliefs.  Then you have a commentator in The Economist who came to the exact opposite conclusion.  He expressed concerns about Cassandra’s liberty and the rights of her mother to make decisions on her behalf.

I’m not so easily convinced by their arguments.

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Exploring The Significant State-To-State Variation In Marketplace Enrollment

This new post by the Petrie-Flom Center’s Academic Fellow Matthew J. B. Lawrence appears 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.

What role did geography, advertising, community, Navigators, and the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) play in consumers’ decisions whether to purchase health insurance in the individual marketplaces? The percentage of potential exchange marketplace enrollees who actually made use of the marketplace to purchase insurance varied widely from state to state for 2014 and 2015.

As of February 22, 2015, for example, there were eight states with enrollment at 50 percent or greater and eight states with enrollment at 25 percent or lower. (Per the Kaiser Family Foundation, the top eight were Vermont, Florida, Maine, DC, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. The bottom eight were Colorado, Ohio, Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa).

It would be an interesting and challenging task to explain this variation empirically. Generating reliable statistical inferences from inter-state comparisons is notoriously difficult, and the variables at play here range from the easily measured (percent of population eligible for subsidies, navigator grant amounts, number of participating insurers, premiums) to the not-so-easily measured (enthusiasm for Obamacare, efficacy of state or federal outreach efforts, geography, education, availability and usefulness of charity care and emergency Medicaid, functionality of state exchange website, population health, availability of health services). […]

Read the full post here.

‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry

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This week we are joined by Nathan Cortez, Associate Dean for Research and the Adelfa Botello Callejo Endowed Professor of Law in Leadership and Latino Studies at SMU-Dedman School of Law. We discuss wearables & mHealth  and their regulation by FDA, FTC, & HHS-OCR.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy.

Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app.

Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

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.

Athlete concussion under-reporting and pressure from stakeholders

By: Christine Baugh

As concussions are increasingly seen as a public health problem, under-reporting and under-diagnosis of concussion is recognized as one barrier to improving the safety of sports participation. A number of studies have previously characterized the extent of under-reporting of concussions among athletes, particularly at the collegiate level. Furthermore, existing research has examined the applicability of theories of behavior change to concussion reporting and created relevant frameworks for examination. Although a growing body of evidence suggests that reporting (or not reporting) a concussion is a decision actively made by the athlete weighing relevant factors, the extent to which interpersonal, intrapersonal, environmental, or policy factors influence athletes’ decisions about whether or not to report a concussion is not fully understood.

A recent study, on which I am a co-author, titled “Concussion under-reporting and pressure from coaches, teammates, fans, and parents,” published in Social Science and Medicine aimed to understand one possible contributory factor to athlete under-report of concussion: pressure on athletes from relevant stakeholders. (Abstract available here.) The survey-based study queried a sample of 328 athletes from 19 contact or collision sports teams (notably excluding football and hockey teams) at 4 colleges in the northeast region of the United States. Among other things, the study asked athletes whether they experienced pressure to return to play after a head impact, specifically asking about pressure from coaches, teammates, parents, and fans. Continue reading

Are All Abortions Equal? Should There Be Exceptions to the Criminalization of Abortion for Rape and Incest?

Given that it was the subject of my first ever blog post on Bill of Health, I am very pleased to share my new paper: “Are All Abortions Equal? Should There Be Exceptions to the Criminalization of Abortion for Rape and Incest?” which has just been published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics (it is behind a paywall, but there is a version they have allowed me to post on SSRN that has all the text but not the formatting that can be freely downloaded).

This paper is likely to piss off people both on the Left and the Right of the abortion issue, which I think of as a feature not a bug ;), but in any event I hope will prompt a good conversation. Here is the abstract:

There was a moment in the 2012 campaign, when Mitt Romney attempted to “pivot” to the center and get away from the statements of those like Todd Akin who made comments about how in cases of “legitimate rape,” the victims’ bodies “have ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” The way Romney did his pivot was to make clear that while he was against abortion, he would, of course, make an exception for women who had been raped or whose pregnancy was the result of incest. This has become something of a moderate orthodoxy among those who oppose abortion. Continue reading

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Chinese Scientists Try To Alter Genomes In Human Embryos

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan in Forbes:

Bet you did not know that today is National DNA Day. It is. But before we all begin to party over our biological programming, remember this is also the day when the world is trying to figure out how to respond to a paper from a team of scientists in China stating that they tried to alter the genomes of human embryos using a new technique known as CRISPR.

Without getting bogged down in the details, CRISPR it is a new powerful tool that permits editing or clipping out segments of DNA and inserting novel genetic material. The Chinese group used it for the first time in human embryos, thereby taking a baby step across the line to trying out a technology that someday could be used to change the DNA of our descendants to repair genetic diseases, get rid of traits we don’t like or to try and build better, improved babies. Yes, that is the low moan of eugenics you hear in the background of this CRISPR experiment. Happy National DNA Day to you, too. […]

Read the full article here.

No Jab, No Pay: Australia’s Misguided Approach to Vaccine Refusal

Australia’s recently announced “no jab, no pay” policy offers a potent reminder of the all-too-common tendency to penalize vulnerable populations for public health problems. Like many other countries, Australia has experienced a worrisome increase in the number of families deciding not to vaccinate their children.  In response, the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced a program of carrots and sticks. The carrots include increased payments to physicians to incentivize them to urge families to vaccinate their children. The sticks include tightening the religious exemption (Australia does not provide an exemption for personal belief) and the “no jab, no policy” which will deny families whose children aren’t vaccinated certain income-based childcare and family tax benefits.

Governments have long used the denial of public benefits – traditionally public education – to push parents to vaccinate their children.  Studies have shown that laws conditioning attendance in schools and daycares on vaccination can increase vaccination rates, although the particular formulation of the law (especially how difficult it is to receive an exemption) matters.

To be sure, laws that require children to be vaccinated to attend schools or daycare impose heavier burdens on poor families who are more apt to need daycare and are less able to homeschool their children. Still, these laws reach broadly, especially when they apply to private schools. Homeschooling remains relatively rare. Significantly, school-based vaccine laws do not single out low-income families. Continue reading

Ethics for CRISPR and the Big Leap Forward

By Kelsey Berry

This week, a research group in China published a paper describing a significant step forward in one application of the genome editing technique CRISPR: they used it to modify the genome of non-viable human embryos. Now, the scientific community finds itself grasping for ethical and legal foundations in order to evaluate the implications of this work and its possible extensions. Bioethicists and philosophers have been laying these foundations for years. Yet, the key problem, as always, is in translation: as we shift from science fiction to scientific reality, the robust and rigorous literature on the ethics of human population enhancement must find its way to usefully inform the policy debate and scientific practice. Translation between these camps can be thorny, but it must start with convergence on the issues at stake. Here’s a quick primer on the issue:

The spark: A team out of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou led by Junjiu Huang used the CRISPR technique in non-viable human embryos to modify the gene responsible for a potentially fatal blood disorder. Leading journals Science and Nature denied the group publication on ethical grounds; the paper can be found in Protein & Cell. This is the first time that the CRISPR technique has been used to modify the human germline; however, the team specifically selected non-viable embryos in which to conduct the experiment in order to side step some of the most pressing ethical concerns.

The technology: CRISPR, which stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” refers to DNA loci that contain repeated base sequences, separated by other sequences called spacers. These spacers are like memories from previous exposure to a virus, and they tell the biological system which invaders to look out for and destroy – a key part of an adaptive immune system. In 2012, a team led by Doudna and Charpentier showed that CRISPRs could also be used to zero in on DNA sequences of their choosing simply by introducing synthetic guide RNA that matched the DNA sequence they wished to target. The CRISPR system would then slice up the targeted DNA sequence, either knocking out a gene entirely or allowing researchers to insert a “patch,” which if incorporated into the DNA sequence would modify the target gene. Since 2012 this technique has been shown to work in several organisms, including in human cells.

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The Place of Human Rights in Global Health Policy

Guest Post by Professor John Tasioulas

The international community is currently in the process of formulating the Sustainable Development Goals that will guide the post-2015 development agenda. Many UN bodies, NGOs, governments and members of civil society have in the past stressed the vital need to embed the SDGs in a human rights framework. However, in July 2014,  the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Developments Goals, of which UK Prime Minister David Cameron is co-chair, issued an outcome document that largely shunned use of the words ‘human rights’.  Some have interpreted this as a major set-back for the role of human rights in the post-2015 development agenda. Indeed, one distinguished human rights lawyer, speaking at the Harvard Human Rights Program’s recent 30th anniversary event, was moved regretfully to announce that human rights are now out of fashion. The absence of any serious engagement with human rights in the outcome document is disturbing and highlights the urgent need to clarify the role that human rights should play in the development agenda.

In an article published in the Lancet, Effy Vayena and I focus specifically on the place of human rights in global health policy. Understanding human rights in the first instance as universal moral rights, we argue for two main propositions. First, global health policy needs to attend to more than just human rights, vitally important though such rights are. For example, it needs to encourage compliance with duties people have to themselves (e.g. to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen) and to foster health-related common goods (e.g. a compassionate culture of organ donation or participation in clinical trials). Human rights do not all by themselves exhaust the values that should guide global health policy.

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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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‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry

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This week we are joined by Michelle Meyer, Professor and Director of Bioethics Policy in the Union Graduate College–Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Bioethics Program. We primarily discussed the ethics of digital experimentation and e-Research, with an eye to controversies over Facebook and OkCupid and the launch of innovative research platforms such as ResearchKit.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy.

Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app.

Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

Bioethicists Art Caplan & Tom Mayo: Lawmakers have no business legislating end-of-life decisions

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan along with Tom Mayo in The Dallas Morning News:

This week, the Texas Legislature considered restoring to pregnant women a right every other adult Texan already enjoys: the right to make health-care treatment decisions in an advance directive or through the next-of-kin who speaks for them.

House Bill 3183 would eliminate all vestiges of the “pregnancy exclusion” from Texas’ Advance Directives Act. If it passes, the bill would remove the basis on which a Fort Worth hospital in 2013 kept brain-dead and pregnant Marlise Muñoz on life support for two months. This was done despite her husband’s insistence that his wife would not want to be hooked up to machines under those circumstances.

Eventually, a trial court agreed with her husband and declared that the pregnancy exclusion and the entire Advance Directives Act did not apply to a patient once she had died. That was only after Marlise Muñoz’s family had to endure the unimaginable pain of watching her corpse deteriorate before their eyes. Little wonder that they support “Marlise’s Law” and were in Austin to testify in support of the bill. […]

Read the full article here.

Think Tanks on Prescription Drug Coverage – Missed Opportunity

By Lydia Stewart Ferreira

Two Canadian think tanks – the C.D. Howe Institute and the Institute for Research on Public Policy – recently issued contradicting reports on whether prescription drug plans should be age-based or income-based.

As background, medications prescribed outside a Canadian hospital setting are not covered by Canada’s medicare system. They are financed through a patchwork of private and public drug insurance plans that only provide coverage for select populations. For example, up until the late 1990s, people 65 and older received universal, public drug coverage in most provinces. But with population aging, the public liability associated with age entitlements has become a major concern for governments. Four Canadian provinces have discontinued their age-based programs, which covered most of the cost of medications for seniors, and replaced them with income-based programs, which protect all residents against catastrophic drug costs. Other provinces have started to move or are considering moving in this direction.

The C.D. Howe Institute think tank concluded that provincial drug plan benefits based on age are ‘outdated’ and drug plan benefits should be based on income instead. “[I]ncome-based plans are a better alternative for cash-constrained provinces and offer more equitable access to public benefits.”

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Larissa

Larissa MacFarquhar has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998. Her subjects have included John Ashbery and Edward Albee, among many others. Before joining the magazine, she was a senior editor at Lingua Franca and an advisory editor at The Paris Review. She is working on a book about extremely ethical lives.

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Harvard U Effective Altruism presents: Derek Parfit discusses altruistic giving

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When: Tuesday, April 21, 6:00pm Where: Harvard campus, Science Center E

Oxford and Harvard philosopher Derek Parfit is described by Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the most important moral philosopher of the 20th and early 21st centuries”.  The New Yorker called his books “the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century.”  He will be discussing personal identity, future generations, ethics  and Effective Altruism in a fireside chat moderated by ethicist Nir Eyal, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

This event is co-sponsored by Harvard University Effective Altruism (HUEA) and Harvard College Effective Altruism (HCEA), and is open to the public.

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Actress Sofia Vergara Can’t Destroy Her Embryos

A new piece by contributor Art Caplan on NBC News:

Nick Loeb and Sofia Vergara once were a huge item. Today, they are back in the tabloid press because of a dispute over frozen, human embryos.

The 42-year-old actress and star of “Modern Family,” one of the top-earning women in Hollywood, announced her engagement to the wealthy, 40-year old businessman in 2012. Last May, Vergara announced they had split amid a host of abuse allegations.

Their squabble now has grown to include Loeb suing Vergara in California to prevent her from destroying two frozen female embryos, which court documents say they created using in vitro fertilization in November 2013. […]

Read the full article here.