“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This phrase, adapted from the 1785 Robert Burns Poem “To a Mouse” and made as the source of the title of a Steinbeck novella, may become the mantra for health policy in 2017.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the largest and most ambitious alteration to American health policy in a generation. By the middle of 2016, it appeared to be largely “settling into place,” and the quartet of Supreme Court encounters with the law have by now been largely resolved. The Constitutional commerce and taxation clause challenges of NFIB v. Sebelius have been decided, with the Court weakening Medicaid expansion and causing other problems, albeit not ones that threatened the vitality of the overarching statutory scheme due to preservation of the individual mandate.
The decision in King v. Burwell left funding for the insurance Exchanges intact. Controversy over the contraceptive coverage requirements stemming from the Act remains, with the Court punting on the extent to which its analysis from Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ought to apply to challenges raised by other types of objectors in Zubik v. Burwell, leaving the litigants with a strange “Can’t you guys just work this out on remand?” sort of resolution. […]
Yesterday, a federal district judge made an important ruling in the ongoing patent dispute between Amgen’s cholesterol-lowering drug Repatha and Sanofi and Regeneron’s drug, Praluent. Early in 2016, Amgen’s patents covering the products had been found both valid and infringed, and now Judge Sue Robinson has granted Amgen’s request for an injunction against Sanofi and Regeneron, blocking the two companies from selling Praluent. (The injunction takes effect in 30 days, giving the companies time to appeal.)
This is very strange. Let’s be clear: Judge Robinson looked at a situation involving two competing, chemically distinct (though similar) drugs for the same condition and opted to kick one of them off the market, putting Amgen in a monopoly position and taking some number of patients off of the drug they’ve been taking. As far as Pharma Policy Twitter (h/t Forbes’ always-excellent Matthew Herper) can tell, an injunction of this type happens about once a decade – in 2008 with Amgen and Hoffman-LaRoche regarding an EPO product, and in 1996 with Novo Nordisk and Genentech over hGH products. (Please send along other examples, if you have them!)
A number of commentators have already weighed in on Judge Robinson’s order, with Professor Jake Sherkow providing a particularly thoughtful tweetstorm on the subject. I largely agree with Professor Sherkow’s analysis, but I want to emphasize two aspects of the case that have not yet received sufficient attention: the first is the decision to ask for the injunction, and the second is the practical effect the injunction will have on patients, on the market, and on the gathering of information about PCSK9 products going forward.