Preventing a post-antibiotic world

Nick Bagley and I have an op-ed in today’s New York Times calling for serious economic incentives for antibiotics, delinking revenues from sales volumes with a $4 billion prize system.

From the piece:

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a disturbing report about the death of an elderly woman in Washoe County, Nev. What killed her wasn’t heart disease, cancer or pneumonia. What killed her were bacteria that were resistant to every antibiotic doctors could throw at them.

This anonymous woman is only the latest casualty in a war against antibiotic-resistant bacteria — a war that we are losing. Although most bacteria die when they encounter an antibiotic, a few hardy bugs survive. Through repeated exposure, those tough bacteria proliferate, spreading resistance genes through the bacterial population. That’s the curse of antibiotics: The more they’re used, the worse they get, especially when they’re used carelessly. […]

Read more here.

REGISTER NOW (1/23)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

This year’s Health Law Year in P/Review is sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, Health Affairs, the Hastings Center, the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

Agenda

8:30 – 9:00am, Registration

A continental breakfast will be available.

9:00 – 9:05am, Welcome Remarks

  • I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School
  • Holly Fernandez Lynch, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center and Faculty, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

9:05 – 10:30am: The End of ObamaCare? Health Care Reform Under A New Administration

  • Joseph R. Antos, Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy, American Enterprise Institute
  • David Blumenthal, President, The Commonwealth Fund
  • Michael K. Gusmano, Research Scholar, The Hastings Center
  • John McDonough, Professor of the Practice of Public Health, Director of the Center for Executive and Continuing Professional Education, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Abigail R. Moncrieff, Associate Professor of Law and Peter Paul Career Development Professor, Boston University School of Law
  • Moderator: Einer Elhauge, Caroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Law and Founding Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

10:30 – 10:45am, Break

10:45 – 11:10am, Precision Medicine Initiative/Cancer Moonshot

11:10 – 11:35am, Common Rule Update

  • Holly Fernandez Lynch, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center and Faculty, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

11:35am – 12:00pm, Clinical Trial Data Sharing

  • TBD, MRCT Center at Harvard

12:00 – 12:25pm, All-Payer Claims Databases

  • Gregory D. Curfman, Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School

12:25 – 1:00pm, Lunch

Lunch will be provided.

1:00 – 1:25pm, Defining Death, Aid in Dying, and Family Rights

  • Paul Ford, Lecturer, Harvard Medical School, Winter 2017; Director, NeuroEthics Program, Cleveland Clinic; Director of Education, Department of Bioethics, Cleveland Clinic; Associate Professor, CCF Lerner College of Medicine of CWRU

1:25 – 1:50pm, Patient Advocacy, FDA, and Right to Try

  • Jerry Avorn, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

1:50 – 2:15pm, Drug Pricing and Cost

  • Ameet Sarpatwari, Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital

2:15 – 2:40pm, Health IP

2:40 – 2:55pm, Break

2:55 – 3:20pm, Women’s Health

  • Aziza Ahmed, Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

3:20 – 3:45pm, Reproductive Technology and Regulatory Oversight

  • I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

3:45 – 4:10pm, Legal Responses to Zika

  • George Annas, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health; Professor in the Boston University School of Medicine, and School of Law

4:10 – 4:35pm, Flint, Water Safety, and Public Health Infrastructure

  • Wendy Parmet, Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Health Policy and Law, and Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Education and Research Support; Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs

4:35 – 5:00pm, Concussion Litigation and Legislation in Sports

  • Christopher Deubert, Senior Law and Ethics Associate, Petrie-Flom Center Law and Ethics Initiative, Football Players Health Study at Harvard University

5:00pm, Adjourn

Learn More

How did our prognosticators do in predicting health law and policy developments they expected in 2016? Check out videos of all of the presentations at the 4th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event, held in January 2016, and find out!

Register Now!

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, Health Affairs, the Hastings Center, the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

Let’s All Worry About The Effects of Patent Injunctions Against Drug Manufacturers

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.

Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (1/23)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law. Continue reading

New Book – Electronic Health Records and Medical Big Data: Law and Policy

Guest Post by author Sharona Hoffman

hoffman-cover-1-002I am pleased to post that my new book, “Electronic Health Records and Medical Big Data: Law and Policy” was recently published by Cambridge University Press.  The book enables readers gain an in-depth understanding of electronic health record (EHR) systems, medical big data, and the regulations that govern them.  It is useful both as a primer for students and as a resource for knowledgeable professionals.

The transition from paper medical records to electronic health record (EHR) systems has had a dramatic impact on clinical care.  In addition, EHR systems enable the creation of “medical big data,” that is, very large electronic data resources that can be put to secondary, non-clinical uses, such as medical research, public health initiatives, quality improvement efforts, and other health-related endeavors.  This book provides thorough, interdisciplinary analysis of EHR systems and medical big data, offering a multitude of technical and legal insights. Continue reading

Genomic Testing, Reflective Equilibrium and the Right Not To Know

Almost any test can return incidental results. An incidental result is something demonstrated by the test but not an answer to the test’s original question. Trying on a new pair of trousers, for example, can tell you whether or not they fit. It can also return the incidental result that the holiday feasting hadn’t been as kind to your waistline as you had hoped. Incidental results in genetic testing can be even more alarming. Whether done for clinical or research purposes, genetic tests can reveal a range of mutations, markers and predispositions far beyond the range being tested for. As technology advances, it expands the breadth of possible results.

Incidental results can often impart life changing information. Many can be a cause for dramatic but potentially life saving medical intervention: the presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants that indicate an increased risk of breast cancer, for example.Where incidental results suggest that a patient might have an increased risk of developing a condition in the distant future, that information might allow them to act immediately to mitigate that risk. Genetic testing might also reveal inherited or inheritable mutations that could be crucial information for a patient’s entire family. Even outside the realm of disease, a genetic test might reveal something that could have huge psychological or social ramifications for a patient: for example, a test might reveal true paternity. However, the potentially life altering nature of some of these findings, in contexts where they are not being looked for or even expected, has led to questions about whether they should be revealed to the test subject at all.

Continue reading

Westworld and Bioethics

[WARNING: Spoilers below]

On Sunday, HBO’s Westworld finished its run. Though I thought some of the early episodes were arguably a bit of a failure as television (and my partner almost jumped off the bandwagon of making this one of “our shows”) IMHO the show finished very strong.

But whatever you thought of it as television, the show is wildly successful at raising a series of bioethics issues. There have been a bunch of other very good treatments of some of these issues in the last couple of decades – A.I., Ex Machina, Humans, Battlestar Galactica all come to mind – that touch on some of these issues. But, what I loved about Westworld is its lack of direct moralizing on these subjects, and how it leaves the viewer puzzling through them in a much more naturalistic way: I have been thrust in this unfamiliar world, and now I am trying to use my ethical compass to get my bearings.

Once upon a time I discussed Bioethics and the Martian, and my aim is to do the same here. I thought one way to share why I think the show is so successful as a text for bioethics exploration was to develop a “mock exam question” on the subject. This is really written more like an oral exam, with follow-up questions. The goal is not entirely fanciful since I do teach a course that uses films as texts to explore bioethics and the law.

Here goes: Continue reading

Unified Patents and Brexit: Britain’s Back on Board

By Seán Finan

After several failed attempts, years of protracted negotiations and a glacial ratification process, it seemed as if Brexit would finally put an end to the nascent European Unitary Patent. Last week, however, the UK confirmed its intention to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement and to move forward with the plans for the creation of a single European Patent. If the UK goes ahead, the agreement would only be a German ratification away from coming into force. This means that we could see a single European patent by 2017.

So, what is the European Unitary Patent? How would it interact with the current patent regime in the EU? What would its introduction mean for the future of pharma and biotechnology in Europe?

Continue reading

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS, DUE TODAY, 12/2! Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits

Medical care prices against a white background

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2017 annual conference, entitled: Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits.

Transparency is a relatively new concept to the world of health and health care, considering that just a few short decades ago we were still in the throes of a “doctor-knows-best” model. Today, however, transparency is found on almost every short list of solutions to a variety of health policy problems, ranging from conflicts of interest to rising drug costs to promoting efficient use of health care resources, and more. Doctors are now expected to be transparent about patient diagnoses and treatment options, hospitals are expected to be transparent about error rates, insurers about policy limitations, companies about prices, researchers about data, and policymakers about priorities and rationales for health policy intervention. But a number of important legal and ethical questions remain. For example, what exactly does transparency mean in the context of health, who has a responsibility to be transparent and to whom, what legal mechanisms are there to promote transparency, and what legal protections are needed for things like privacy, intellectual property, and the like?  More specifically, when can transparency improve health and health care, and when is it likely to be nothing more than platitude?

This conference, and anticipated edited volume, will aim to: (1) identify the various thematic roles transparency has been called on to play in American health policy, and why it has emerged in these spaces; (2) understand when, where, how, and why transparency may be a useful policy tool in relation to health and health care, what it can realistically be expected to achieve, and when it is unlikely to be successful, including limits on how patients and consumers utilize information even when we have transparency; (3) assess the legal and ethical issues raised by transparency in health and health care, including obstacles and opportunities; (4) learn from comparative examples of transparency, both in other sectors and outside the United States.  In sum, we hope to reach better understandings of this health policy buzzword so that transparency can be utilized as a solution to pressing health policy issues where appropriate, while recognizing its true limitations.

Call for Abstracts

We welcome submissions on both the broad conceptual questions described above and more specific policy issues, including: Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (1/23/17)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

This year’s Health Law Year in P/Review is sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, Health Affairs, the Hastings Center, the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

Agenda Continue reading

Losing the Arms Race: Health Policy and Anti-Microbial Resistance

By Seán Finan

And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians–dead!–slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed…

H.G. WellsThe War of the Worlds  

The WHO World Antibiotic Awareness Week ran from 15-22 November. It coincided with similar European and American initiatives. So, in the interests of raising awareness, I thought I would highlight a few figures.

Photo by Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIHAntimicrobial resistance currently causes an estimated 70,000 deaths annually. If current practices continue, the death toll is expected to hit to ten million per year by 2050. That works out at about one death every three seconds.

The threat isn’t limited to increased mortality. Anti-microbial resistance could cast medical practice back to turn-of-the-century standards. Turn of the 20th century, that is. Without antibiotics, the chance of infection turns chemotherapy and invasive surgeries into mortal gambles. During these procedures, the body’s immune system is subject to massive exposure and needs antibiotic support. Even ordinary nicks and scratches can lead to fatal infections without effective antibiotics.

So what is antimicrobial resistance? How does it come about? What can we do to combat it and prevent the “antibiotic apocalypse”?

Continue reading

Violations of federal antifraud provisions alleged against two hepatitis B treatment producers

By Wendy S. Salkin

Two investor class-action suits have been filed within days of one another against two different California-based pharmaceutical companies both of which produce hepatitis B treatments, Dynavax Technologies and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals. The named plaintiffs in both shareholder class-action suits, David Soontjens and Yaki J. Meller, are represented by counsel at Pomerantz, LLP.[1]

Meller v. Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, Inc., et al., complaint filed (C. D. Cal. Nov. 15, 2016)

On November 15th, named plaintiff Yaki J. Meller filed a Class Action Complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Pasadena-based Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals, Inc., its President and CEO (Christopher Anzalone), and its CFO (Kenneth Myszkowski). Arrowhead is a biopharmaceutical company that, according to its website, “develops medicines that treat intractable diseases by silencing the genes that cause them.”

Among its clinical stage drugs are ARC-520 and ARC-521, which “are designed to treat chronic hepatitis B virus infection by reducing the expression and release of new viral particles and key viral proteins with the goal of achieving a functional cure.” ARC-520 is the drug at issue. According to the Complaint, Arrowhead knew but failed to disclose that ARC-520 “could be fatal at its higher doses and that the FDA was unlikely to approve the treatment as a result.”[2] In particular, the Complaint alleges that Arrowhead:

made false and/or misleading statements and/or failed to disclose that: (i) the Company’s ARC-520 was unsafe at certain doses and caused deaths in an ongoing primate toxicology study; and (ii) as a result, Arrowhead’s public statements were materially false and misleading at all relevant times.

According to Meller’s Complaint, in so doing, Arrowhead violated Sections 10(b) (“Position Limits and Position Accountability for Security-Based Swaps and Large Trader Reporting.”) and 20(a) (“Liability to contemporaneous traders for insider trading.”) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, “Position Limits and Position Accountability for Security-Based Swaps and Large Trader Reporting” and “Liability to contemporaneous traders for insider trading,” respectively, and Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5, “Employment of manipulative and deceptive devices.”

Continue reading

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS, DUE 12/2! 2017 Annual Conference, “Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits”

Medical care prices against a white background

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2017 annual conference, entitled: Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits.

Transparency is a relatively new concept to the world of health and health care, considering that just a few short decades ago we were still in the throes of a “doctor-knows-best” model. Today, however, transparency is found on almost every short list of solutions to a variety of health policy problems, ranging from conflicts of interest to rising drug costs to promoting efficient use of health care resources, and more. Doctors are now expected to be transparent about patient diagnoses and treatment options, hospitals are expected to be transparent about error rates, insurers about policy limitations, companies about prices, researchers about data, and policymakers about priorities and rationales for health policy intervention. But a number of important legal and ethical questions remain. For example, what exactly does transparency mean in the context of health, who has a responsibility to be transparent and to whom, what legal mechanisms are there to promote transparency, and what legal protections are needed for things like privacy, intellectual property, and the like?  More specifically, when can transparency improve health and health care, and when is it likely to be nothing more than platitude?

This conference, and anticipated edited volume, will aim to: (1) identify the various thematic roles transparency has been called on to play in American health policy, and why it has emerged in these spaces; (2) understand when, where, how, and why transparency may be a useful policy tool in relation to health and health care, what it can realistically be expected to achieve, and when it is unlikely to be successful, including limits on how patients and consumers utilize information even when we have transparency; (3) assess the legal and ethical issues raised by transparency in health and health care, including obstacles and opportunities; (4) learn from comparative examples of transparency, both in other sectors and outside the United States.  In sum, we hope to reach better understandings of this health policy buzzword so that transparency can be utilized as a solution to pressing health policy issues where appropriate, while recognizing its true limitations.

Call for Abstracts

We welcome submissions on both the broad conceptual questions described above and more specific policy issues, including: Continue reading

Transparency and Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing Companies

By Linnea Laestadius, PhD, MPP

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing companies are now a fixture of U.S. consumer culture, with dozens of companies offering adults on-demand insights into their ancestry and health (sometimes loosely defined). While a compelling argument can be made for giving consumers the right to access information about their own genetic material, DTC-testing presents a range of legal and ethical concerns. Scholars and physicians have long been raising questions about the analytic validity, clinical validity, and clinical utility of these services. The FDA has increasingly worked to address these aspects of DTC-testing and has issued letters to multiple DTC genetic testing firms arguing that they are offering medical devices that should be subject to premarket review. Developments in this area continue to emerge and the FDA recently authorized marketing for 23andMe’s Bloom Syndrome carrier test, while also planning to exempt future carrier screening tests from premarket review.

These are clearly positive developments from the perspective of consumer protection, however, other aspects of DTC genetic testing remain largely unaddressed. Most notably, there are significant concerns about how firms handle consumer samples and data and how and if they use them for secondary purposes. To address this issue, Paul Auer, PhD, Jennifer Rich, MPH, and I set out to understand how transparent these firms are about their privacy, confidentiality, and secondary use policies. Recently published in Genetics in Medicine, this work offers an analysis of the terms-of-service and privacy policies of the top 30 DTC genetic testing firms that show up in a U.S. based web search.

While transparency about data practices varied across firms, a number of gaps appeared with regard to conveying information about the risks of data disclosure, the ultimate fate of samples and data, and use of data for research. Over the past decade, several major professional and governmental organizations have issued guidelines for transparency in these areas, including the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics and the European Society of Human Genetics. At present, it does not appear that non-binding guidelines have been sufficient to encourage widespread compliance with best practices on these topics. Continue reading

Terminally ill teen won historic court ruling to preserve her body after death

By John Tingle

The British media have been reporting and discussing widely the case of JS v M and F (Cryonic case), 10th November 2016 in the High Court of Justice, Family Division, [2016] EWHC 2859 (Fam). The case is the first in the UK and probably the world to deal with the issue of cryonics and a 14-year-old girls dying wish for her body to be preserved after her death with the hope that at some time in the future she will be brought back to life after a cure for her illness is found.

Truth is stranger than fiction and this case raises some fundamental legal and ethical issues which will occupy future courts and the legislature for some time to come. I could not imagine a more novel and difficult medical law case.

The facts

JS had a rare form of cancer and her active treatment came to an end in August when she started to receive palliative care. Over recent months she has used the internet to investigate cryonics: the freezing of a dead body in the hope that there may be a cure for the illness that she had and will be brought back to life at some future time. Mr Justice Peter Jackson heard the case and stated in his judgement that the scientific theory underlying cryonics is speculative and controversial and that there is considerable debate about its ethical implications. Since the first cryonic preservation in the 1960s,the process has been performed on very few individuals, numbering in the low hundreds. There are two commercial organisations in the United States and one in Russia for this form of preservation.She is one of only 10 Britons and the only British child to have been frozen by Cryonics UK , a non-profit organization. Her body was transported to the USA and is being stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen by the Cyronics Institute in Michigan. Continue reading

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS, DUE 12/2! 2017 Annual Conference, “Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits”

Medical care prices against a white background

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2017 annual conference, entitled: Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits.

Transparency is a relatively new concept to the world of health and health care, considering that just a few short decades ago we were still in the throes of a “doctor-knows-best” model. Today, however, transparency is found on almost every short list of solutions to a variety of health policy problems, ranging from conflicts of interest to rising drug costs to promoting efficient use of health care resources, and more. Doctors are now expected to be transparent about patient diagnoses and treatment options, hospitals are expected to be transparent about error rates, insurers about policy limitations, companies about prices, researchers about data, and policymakers about priorities and rationales for health policy intervention. But a number of important legal and ethical questions remain. For example, what exactly does transparency mean in the context of health, who has a responsibility to be transparent and to whom, what legal mechanisms are there to promote transparency, and what legal protections are needed for things like privacy, intellectual property, and the like?  More specifically, when can transparency improve health and health care, and when is it likely to be nothing more than platitude?

This conference, and anticipated edited volume, will aim to: (1) identify the various thematic roles transparency has been called on to play in American health policy, and why it has emerged in these spaces; (2) understand when, where, how, and why transparency may be a useful policy tool in relation to health and health care, what it can realistically be expected to achieve, and when it is unlikely to be successful, including limits on how patients and consumers utilize information even when we have transparency; (3) assess the legal and ethical issues raised by transparency in health and health care, including obstacles and opportunities; (4) learn from comparative examples of transparency, both in other sectors and outside the United States.  In sum, we hope to reach better understandings of this health policy buzzword so that transparency can be utilized as a solution to pressing health policy issues where appropriate, while recognizing its true limitations.

Call for Abstracts

We welcome submissions on both the broad conceptual questions described above and more specific policy issues, including: Continue reading

New Tech, New Rules: Organoids and Ethics at the CJEU

Introduction

Last week, while attending a conference, organized by the Petrie-Flom Center in conjunction with a number of other Harvard institutions, on the ethics of early embryo research and the future of the 14-day rule, I was struck by the presentations on recent developments in stem cell technology. The speakers outlined fascinating developments in human brain organoids. And, since my own cranial organoid is becoming increasingly single track, I started wondering about the potential patentability of such inventions.

An intestinal organoid grown from Lgr5+ stem cells

An intestinal organoid grown from Lgr5+ stem cells

By way of very brief explanation, a human brain organoid is a structure of cells created in vitro through the stimulation of human stem cells. A recent paper has concluded that, given the right conditions for their development, these cell cultures can grow to resemble a 20 week-old human brain in vivo in a number of important respects.

At the conference, Dr John Aach, of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School highlighted the potential of these technologies to form the basis of innovative research and treatments. However, he also highlighted new ethical questions posed by them. In particular, (and I fear I may be grossly oversimplifying his much more subtle presentation) he noted that a sufficiently developed human brain organoid might have the capacity to feel pain. Such technologies might fall to be regulated alongside human embryos created for research. In most jurisdictions, developing an embryo beyond 14 days of gestation is prohibited, whether by law or soft regulation. The rule originally struck a balance between the interests of research and the demands of ethics: day 14 usually marks the appearance of the primitive streak in an embryo and presents a convenient point to place an ethical limitation on research.  Dr Aach noted, however, that a brain organoid does not fall under the traditional definition of embryo. As such, its development is not necessarily subject to the 14-day rule. And yet, the creation of a clump of cells that feels pain is clearly a cause for ethical concern. He argued that the time has come to re-examine the rule in light of technological advancements like organoids. Its replacement, he argued, should not be based on canonical limits but on the underlying moral concerns. Continue reading

Standards, Data Exchange and Intellectual Property Rights in Systems Biology

I am happy to announce that our recent paper on “Standards, Data Exchange and Intellectual Property Rights in Systems Biology” has been published in the Biotechnology Journal Vol 11, Issue 12, pp. 1477-1480.  The paper was co-authored by Esther Van Zimmeren from the University of Antwerp, Berthold Rutz from the European Patent Office and me. Please find a summary below:

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) represent a key concern for researchers and industry in basically all high-tech sectors. IPRs regularly figure prominently in scientific journals and at scientific conferences and lead to dedicated workshops to increase the awareness and “IPR savviness” of scientists. In 2015, Biotechnology Journal published a report from an expert meeting on “Synthetic Biology & Intellectual Property Rights” organized by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation sponsored by the European Research Area Network (ERA-Net) in Synthetic Biology (ERASynBio), in which we provided a number of recommendations for a variety of stakeholders. The current article offers some deeper reflections about the interface between IPRs, standards and data exchange in Systems Biology resulting from an Expert Meeting funded by another ERA-Net, ERASysAPP. The meeting brought together experts and stakeholders (e.g. scientists, company representatives, officials from public funding organizations) in systems biology (SysBio) from different countries.  Despite the different profiles of the stakeholders at the meeting and the variety of interests, many concerns and opinions were shared. In case particular views were expressed by a specific type of stakeholder, this will be explicitly mentioned in the text. This article reflects on a number of particularly relevant issues that were discussed at the meeting and offers some recommendations. Continue reading

THIS AFTERNOON! (11/7): The Ethics of Early Embryo Research & the Future of the 14-Day Rule

egg cells flowing in a blue background

The Ethics of Early Embryo Research & the Future of the 14-Day Rule
November 7, 2016 3:00 – 6:30 PM
Austin Hall, North Classroom (100)
Harvard Law School, 1515 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
 

Description

For over 35 years, the “14-Day Rule,” prohibiting in vitro experimentation on embryos beyond 14 days, has stood as an ethical line in the sand for embryo research around the world. Throughout the arc of the rule’s existence it has not been questioned, as scientists have been unable to grow embryos in vitro either up to, or beyond, 14 days; a practical limitation that served as a backstop to the ethical rule. However, in May of this year, labs in the U.S. and the U.K. were the first to report being able to sustain human embryos in vitro for up to 13 days. This development and other advances in in vitro research involving organized, embryo-like cellular structures have raised a number of questions about the rule, its genesis, application, and future scope. This conference will convene experts in bioethics, stem cell research, embryology, and law to discuss the ethical underpinnings and future scope of the rule. Questions to be discussed include:

  • What are the historical, ethical and scientific rationales for establishing the 14-Day Rule?
  • Should the 14-Day Rule be revisited in light of recent advances?
  • Should the 14-Day Rule even apply to research involving the in vitro culture of embryo-like cellular structures?

Agenda Continue reading