Count Your Calories, Says the FDA

By Nicholas J. Diamond

Fast Food emblems set on chalkboard. Hand drawn doodle style. Image via Thinkstock.

On May 7, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) relating to nutrition-labeling requirements finally went into effect, following three extensions to its compliance date by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In brief, under the requirements, most chain restaurants must now display calorie counts per serving on their menus. You may have already noticed that some of your favorite establishments have been ahead of the curve for awhile.

As I outline below, I broadly agree with the direction of the nutrition-labeling requirements, but highlight weaknesses and offer a way forward.

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The Notable Absence of Regulating Cannabis on FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s Radar

by Tara Sklar

At the Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI) 2018 Annual Conference, the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Scott Gottlieb, gave the Keynote Address to kick-off the largest turnout yet for this event of over 900 attendees. Commissioner Gottlieb’s remarks started off with how previous FDA Commissioners used this opportunity to recap the past year, but he would be different, he would lay out the strategic priorities for next year.

The room went nearly silent, as Commissioner Gottlieb steadily went through the many sectors the agency oversees, and where he believes the FDA will play a larger leadership role, including in the epidemics of addition (opioid crisis), drug costs, and greater access to generic competition. He laid out a vision that most people in the room would probably subscribe to, including “You’re public health minded, and work hard to deliver innovations that’ll advance human health. The problem is that a few bad apples, that game the system, can tarnish the entire brand of an otherwise principled industry.”[1] Close to the end of his thirty-minute speech, Commissioner Gottlieb firmly addressed the companies that produce e-cigarettes, and said, “If you target kids, then we’re going to target you.”[2]

Indeed, Commissioner Gottlieb mentioned so many FDA strategic priorities, and in such unequivocal detail for how they plan to regulate, that when the President & CEO of the FDLI, Amy Comstock Rick, thanked him and introduced the follow-up panel to discuss the issues Commissioner Gottlieb raised, she said, “We reserved one-hour in the conference to discuss Commissioner Gottlieb’s Keynote Address, but we may need five.” However, there was an area that was not brought up in Commissioner Gottlieb’s wide-ranging speech, despite its very active place in the media and scientific journals calling for the FDA to have a greater role, and more consistent guidance, and this prominent area is the future regulation of cannabis. Continue reading

Was March a Turning Point for Tobacco Regulation in the U.S.?

By Nicholas J. Diamond

March was an important month for tobacco control in the U.S. While historically less progressive than other countries in regulating tobacco products, three recent developments offer encouraging signs of change. They also remind us of the critical role that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) plays in public health policymaking.

The Three ANPRMs
Last month, the FDA released three advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on tobacco-related products. An ANPRM is a formal invitation for stakeholders to submit comments before a federal agency issues a proposed rule. In practical terms, an ANPRM enables stakeholders to weigh in on, and even potentially shape, a forthcoming policy by responding to specific issues for input.

Released on March 16, the first ANPRM addresses the development of a tobacco product standard for a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes. The FDA seeks comment on a number of policy design considerations including, among others: the merits of various maximum nicotine levels (e.g., 0.5mg nicotine/g); to which products a maximum nicotine level should apply (e.g., combusted cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco); and whether to use a stepped-down, or gradual, reduction in maximum nicotine levels.

Importantly, the FDA highlights factors that could reduce the benefits of a future policy and seeks comment on how to addresses them. For example, current smokers could switch to a tobacco product not covered under the policy or use that non-covered product in addition to the currently used (covered) product. Similarly, current smokers could increase the number of cigarettes smoked to maintain an equivalent level of nicotine overall. Continue reading

Mass embryo destruction, reproductive never events, and the not-quite-Wild West

By Dov Fox

Information found in this new post by Dov Fox is also available in Slate’s March 19th article In Vitro Injuries: How should courts compensate would-be parents when assisted reproductive technology goes terribly wrong?

More than 1 in 10 Americans seek fertility treatment. IVF and similar technologies result in 64,000 babies—1.6% annually—of all those born in the U.S. each year. For people willing to move heaven and earth to form a family, this is the medicine of miracles. But reproductive mishaps turn these dreams into nightmares. Some result in unplanned pregnancies. Others, lost chances for parenthood. I’ve considered the legal complexities elsewhere at law review length. (A reply to critics Robert Rabin, Carol Sanger, and Gregory Keating is out shortly with Columbia.) But it’s the facts that have made headlines of late.

The Today Show and Nightly News interviewed me in the wake of recent storage tank malfunctions at two major fertility clinics—one in San Francisco, the other outside Cleveland—that destroyed more than 4,000 cryopreserved eggs and embryos. The Cleveland facility said that “alerts that should have been sent to staff were never sent.” These incidents have left over a thousand affected couples mourning future children who would never be; practitioners wondering how something like this could have happened; and prospective parents around the country worrying that tragedy could strike again.

It’s not the first time. NBC News uncovered a history of freezer malfunctions. Over a decade ago in Florida over 60 cancer survivors lost their stored sperm “when a tank made by the same manufacturer failed.” Exact figures for such breakdowns are hard to come by, however. Elsewhere in health care delivery, most states mandate reporting of “never events,” such as surgery on the wrong body part or patient. But the United State has no public or private system for tracking what I’ve referred to as “reproductive” never events, let alone less serious errors. So it’s impossible to know with any reliability or precision the incidence of professional mistakes in matters of procreation.

Available data points are bracing. A 2008 survey of nearly half of all U.S. fertility clinics found that more than one in five misdiagnosed, mislabeled, or mishandled reproductive materials. A 2014 study revealed that popular methods of prenatal screening for fetal abnormality sound “a false alarm half of the time.” And in 2016, a national ratings website found that 18-24% of fertility patients reported damaged or destroyed samples among a host of other errors.

None among regulators, agencies, insurers, medical boards, or professional societies require safeguards that might prevent mistakes like these from happening in the first place. The U.S. stands out among developed countries for its failure to rein in wrongdoing that forces parenthood on people who don’t want it or that denies it to those who do. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, a national agency requires that all facilities comply with a standard of professional conduct that covers “all details of the clinical and embryological practice associated with assisted reproductive technology.”

That agency—the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority—maintains rigorous laboratory inspections, often without notice. And even under its careful oversight, the agency reports that 1 out of every 100 fertility procedures—over 500 each year—involve reproductive materials that’s lost, damaged or destroyed. It stands to reason that these errors are at least as common in the United States, where fertility clinics, sperm banks, and surrogacy agencies aren’t monitored or supervised in any meaningful way. My own research uncovered hundreds of American cases in which procreation was negligently imposed, deprived, or confounded.

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Call for Papers: Wiet Life Sciences Scholars Conference

Loyola University Chicago’s nationally acclaimed Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy is pleased to invite original research submissions for the annual Wiet Life Science Law Scholars Conference to be held on Friday, September 7, 2018.

The conference is designed to provide an intellectual venue for life science professors, scholars, and practitioners to convene and discuss current research and scholarship.  The phrase “life science law” intends to capture diverse disciplines that involve significant issues of life science research and development, spanning food and drug law, health law, intellectual property (IP) law, biotechnology law, environmental law, administrative law, and antitrust law.  Our goal is to foster recognition of life science law as a cohesive, dynamic area of legal study and strengthen connections among national life science law scholars.

Loyola is currently soliciting 750-1,000 word abstracts reflecting early or mid-stage ideas for the purpose of workshopping with other conference scholars.  Modeled after successful events for law professors and scholars in other areas, we will organize scholars in topical panels of three to five authors with approximately 15 minutes allotted to each abstract presentation, followed by 15 minutes of intensive discussion with scholar attendees.  Author abstracts will be distributed one week prior to the conference to scholar participants; authors may also submit draft articles for distribution.  Scholars are expected to review materials of fellow panel members.

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FDA Commissioner Rolls Back 40 Years of Orthodoxy on Cost-Exposure

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb

Speaking yesterday at America’s Health Insurance Plans’ (AHIP) National Health Policy Conference, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb railed against patient cost-exposure (e.g., copays).   His prepared speech said:

Patients shouldn’t be penalized by their biology if they need a drug that isn’t on formulary. Patients shouldn’t face exorbitant out of pocket costs, and pay money where the primary purpose is to help subsidize rebates paid to a long list of supply chain intermediaries, or is used to buy down the premium costs for everyone else. After all, what’s the point of a big co-pay on a costly cancer drug? Is a patient really in a position to make an economically-based decision? Is the co-pay going to discourage overutilization? Is someone in this situation voluntary seeking chemo?  Of course not.  Yet the big co-pay or rebate on the costly drug can help offset insurers’ payments to the pharmacy, and reduce average insurance premiums. But sick people aren’t supposed to be subsidizing the healthy.

Wow.  This may seem like common sense to some readers, but it is revolutionary to hear from a senior American government official, and indeed a Republican one no less.

In a new paper, Victor Laurion and I have chronicled the ways in which American politicians at the highest levels have blindly embraced the opposite point of view for half-a-century.  This sort of ideological adherence to simplistic economic reasoning (which James Kwak calls ‘economism‘) is  why U.S. health insurance exposes patients to all sorts of deductibles, copays, and coinsurance.  As a result, even insured Americans find themselves “underinsured” — denied access to care or falling into bankruptcy if they stretch to pay nonetheless. Continue reading

Simulated Side Effects: FDA Uses Novel Computer Model to Guide Kratom Policy

By Mason Marks

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement on Tuesday about the controversial plant Mitragyna speciosa, which is also known as kratom. According to Gottlieb, kratom poses deadly health risks. His conclusion is partly based on a computer model that was announced in his recent statement. The use of simulations to inform drug policy is a new development with implications that extend beyond the regulation of kratom. We currently live in the Digital Age, a period in which most information is in digital form. However, the Digital Age is rapidly evolving into an Age of Algorithms in which computer software increasingly assumes the roles of human decision makers. The FDA’s use of computer simulations to evaluate drugs is a bold first step into this new era. This essay discusses the potential risks of basing federal drug policies on computer models that have not been thoroughly explained or validated (using the kratom debate as a case study).

Kratom grows naturally in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia where it has been used for centuries as a stimulant and pain reliever. In recent years, the plant has gained popularity in the United States as an alternative to illicit and prescription narcotics. Kratom advocates claim it is harmless and useful for treating pain and easing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, the FDA contends it has no medical use and causes serious or fatal complications. As a result, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) may categorize kratom in Schedule I, its most heavily restricted category.

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How to “Lower Drug Prices” Without Lowering Drug Prices

Yesterday, Alex Azar was sworn in as the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services. A key question is whether Azar will take action against high drug prices, and if so, what he will do. At his confirmation hearing, Azar stated clearly that “drug prices are too high.” And during Azar’s swearing-in ceremony, the President stated that Azar was “going to get those prescription drug prices way down.” But I’m skeptical that Secretary Azar will do much to address the problem in the near term.

To be clear, I’m skeptical for a host of reasons, none of which are necessarily reflective of Secretary Azar. Much like health care, drug pricing is complicated. HHS should (and will) worry about potential unintended consequences of drug pricing proposals, proceeding cautiously and taking concerns seriously. HHS’ ability to act may be limited without Congressional involvement, and Congress has thus far been unable to act on this issue. Other proposals may take years to develop or implement, leaving patients without relief in the interim.

As a former President of Eli Lilly, Secretary Azar understands the drug pricing system deeply. He’s absolutely right that “there’s not one action that all of a sudden fixes this.” But if Azar is under pressure to deliver drug pricing changes in the short term, I’d expect to see focus in three main areas. Here’s the problem, though: at least two of these would not necessarily lower drug prices individually or drug spending overall. They might well increase overall spending. Importantly, that may not be a bad thing (as I’ll explain). But they won’t hurt the bottom line of the drug companies the President believes are “getting away with murder,” and they may well bolster it. The third area may lower prices – but it wouldn’t be Azar’s accomplishment.

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“Right to Try” Does Not Help Patients

Co-Blogged by Christopher Robertson and Kelly McBride Folkers (research associate at the Division of Medical Ethics of the NYU School of Medicine)

In 2014, Arizonans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a ballot referendum that claimed to allow terminally ill patients the “right to try” experimental drugs that have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite the policy’s broad support, it has yet to help a single patient in Arizona obtain an experimental drug that they couldn’t have gotten before. Thirty-seven other states have also passed right to try bills, but likewise have seen little real impact for patients.

“Right to try” has moved to the federal stage, as the U.S. Senate unanimously passed such a bill last August without even holding a hearing. The House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health considered the bill in an October hearing, but it failed to garner much enthusiasm among committee members. Vice President Mike Pence has advocated for a federal right to try law, and he recently met with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and House leadership to encourage pass of the bill this year. Continue reading

Bioethicist Art Caplan: A New Mind-Body Problem

A new piece by Bill of Health contributor Arthur Caplan, with Lisa Kearns, in The Hastings Center Bioethics Forum:

Not since Rene Descartes gazed from his garret window in early 17th-century Paris and wondered whether those were men or hats and coats covering “automatic machines” he saw roaming the streets has the issue of personal identity and your cranium been of such import. Descartes feared a world that he alone occupied due to deception by the devil. Today we face a different mind-body challenge in the form of a devil we know: Italian neuroscientist Sergio Canavero. He recently announced that the first human head transplant is imminent.

For bioethicists, the moral critiques of this surgery practically write themselves: Are we merely our bodies? How can a person so ill as to wish to trade in his lifelong corporeal companion be considered competent to consent to such a drastic procedure? How can family members consent to donate a body that they could very well run into — and recognize — at the beach or gym? What if a left-handed person received a right-handed body? What if a lifelong Chicago Bears fan woke to find himself attached to the green-and-gold-tattooed torso of a former Packers fan? Would transplant recipients need to buy whole new wardrobes? Who will pay? […]

Read the full article here!

Register Now! The Policy, Politics & Law of Cancer Conference, Feb 8-9, 2018 at Yale Law School

The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part II: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Ignored Promising Medical Treatments

By Mason Marks

Last year more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is “now the leading cause of death” in people under 50. Opioids kill an estimated 91 Americans each day and are responsible for most drug-related deaths in the US. This public health crisis requires solutions that are supported by science and reason instead of emotion and political ideology. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In this second part of the series, I explore how the Opioid Commission ignored medical interventions that are used successfully in the U.S. and abroad. In Part III, I will discuss non-medical interventions such as drug checking and safe injection sites. The Commission’s failure to consider these options is likely driven by emotions such as fear and disgust rather than a careful review of scientific evidence.

Medical marijuana is currently accepted in 29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is also permitted in at least 10 countries. However, the Opioid Commission outright rejected calls to consider the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for managing pain. Prior to the Commission’s first meeting, it solicited input from industry and members of the public on how to address the opioid crisis. In response, it received over 8,000 public comments. According to VICE News, which obtained the documents by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, most comments were submitted by individuals urging the Commission to “consider medical marijuana as a solution to the opioid epidemic.” A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a body of the Executive Branch that provides administrative support to the Opioid Commission, reports receiving “more than 7,800 public comments relating to marijuana.” Despite these comments, in its final report, the Commission dismissed the notion that marijuana should play a role in treating chronic pain and opioid addiction. Its report cited a recent study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, which concluded that marijuana use was associated with an increased risk of opioid abuse. However, this study relied on data that was collected over twelve years ago. One of its authors, Columbia Medical School Professor Mark Olfson, told CNN that if the data were collected today, they could yield different results.

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2017’s Word Of The Year In Health Law And Bioethics: Uncertainty

This is the first post by Carmel Shachar and I. Glenn Cohen that appears on the Health Affairs Blog in a series stemming from the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event to be held at Harvard Law School on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

2017 was a year of tremendous uncertainty for many areas of public policy. Health care policy was no exception, most prominently with an almost successful push by Congressional Republicans to radically revise the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Medical research and bioethics also faced uncertainty, with the struggle to ethically engage with new technologies and to better understand the boundaries around self-determination. As we look over the past year and anticipate the coming one, the overarching question remains: Is it possible to run a health law and health care system given this level of flux?

Healthcare Policy in Flux

2017 saw a new presidential administration and Congress. Seeking to capitalize on the Republican control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, Congressional Republicans sought to make good on their campaign promise to “replace and repeal” the ACA. The proposed legislation would have dramatically reshaped our health care landscape, including ending Medicaid’s financial status as an entitlement program, and undercutting the health insurance Marketplaces championed by the Obama administration. Despite the fact that the ACA is not yet a decade old, this would have been a seismic shift in the way many Americans receive their health care. […]

Read the full post here.

We will be discussing these issues and more at the Sixth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review conference, held on December 12, 2017, at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA. If you find these issues interesting, we invite you to join us as the event is free and open to the public (registered required). For those unable to join us in Cambridge, some of our conference presenters will participate in a blog series to follow  at the Health Affairs Blog. Stay tuned!

TOMORROW, 11/9! Book Launch: Specimen Science – Ethics and Policy Implications

Book Launch: Specimen Science: Ethics and Policy Implications
November 9, 2017 12:00 PM
Countway Library, Lahey Room
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

In September 2017, MIT Press will publish Specimen Science: Ethics and Policy Implications, co-edited by Holly Fernandez Lynch (outgoing Petrie-Flom Executive Director), Barbara Bierer, I. Glenn Cohen (Faculty Director), and Suzanne M. Rivera. This edited volume stems from a conference in 2015 that brought together leading experts to address key ethical and policy issues raised by genetics and other research involving human biological materials, covering the entire trajectory from specimen source to new discovery.  The conference was a collaboration between The Center for Child Health and Policy at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital; the Petrie-Flom Center  for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center of Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center. It was supported by funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute and the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

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Orphan Drugs Designations and Approvals have Something to Say about Risks

This brief essay examines data from the U.S. Orphan Drug Act, including specifically the FDA designations of an indication for a drug to treat an orphan disease, and the likelihood that once the designation is made, the FDA will approve the drug for that indication. This is one empirical measure of the risks associated with the development of new drugs to treat U.S. defined orphan diseases.  Note that 75 percent of all novel cancer drugs approved in the United States from 2010 to 2016 qualified as orphan products.    The essay also reports the average time between the FDA designation and the FDA approval for orphan indications.

The main findings are that since 2010, the average time from orphan designation to approval is 5.3 years, and the likelihood of FDA approval for an orphan indication, which varies over time and across business cycles, was .22 from 1990 to 2017, and since 2010, was .25.

The essay concludes with a comparison to other studies of the risks of drug development.


On January 5, 1983, the U.S. Orphan Drug Act became law as Public Law 97-414. Over the past 34 years the Act has been amended numerous times, often extending or expanding the benefits, which currently include a 50 percent tax credit for qualifying clinical trials, exemptions or discounts on prescription drug user fees, an easier and faster path to FDA approval, and seven years of marketing exclusivity for an approved orphan indication. Continue reading

Federal “Right to Try” Legislation – Perpetuating a Misguided Skepticism Towards the FDA

Cross-posted from the CRITical Thinking blog.

By Jeanie Kim

The “right to try” (RTT) movement presents a narrative that pits patients against the FDA. Supporters of RTT, powered by the libertarian Goldwater Institute, have pushed for laws that let terminally ill patients bypass regulators to access unapproved treatments.

As of September 2017, 37 states have enacted RTT laws. Earlier this year, the Senate and the House introduced federal RTT bills, and on August 3, 2017, the Senate unanimously passed an amended RTT bill without an opportunity for debate. There is pressure on the House to follow suit, but it is unclear whether the House will consider the originally introduced RTT bill (“RTT 1.0”) or the Senate’s amended version (“RTT 2.0”), or even take up the legislation at all.

Despite the recent legislative backing, RTT is not a new concept. It is a variation on an age-old skepticism towards the FDA that has been around as long as the agency’s inception. At the core of RTT is the previously rejected, yet persistent argument that the FDA’s approval standards for safety and efficacy should not matter for terminally ill patients who have nothing to lose [1]. Continue reading

Be Very, Very Concerned About What Allergan Just Did

Yesterday, it was announced that Allergan had transferred the ownership of the patents on its billion-dollar drug Restasis, used for the treatment of chronic dry eye, to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. The Tribe then exclusively licensed the drug back to Allergan, in exchange for tens of millions of dollars in both licensing and royalty fees. Although it may not sound like it, this transfer is potentially huge news in the drug pricing world. It is also extremely complex, and its full implications have yet to be determined.

Enormous caveat before we begin: I am by no means an expert on tribal sovereign immunity. I may well be wrong here. (In fact, I would very much like to be wrong here.) There is little (any?) case law on sovereign immunity’s impact in the Hatch-Waxman area, and much of what follows is extrapolated from case law on tribal sovereign immunity both in IP and in other contexts, state sovereign immunity in the IP area, and discussions with other law professors. Please let me know if this is your area of expertise and you believe I’ve gotten the analysis wrong!

In short, if repeated and taken to its logical conclusion, this transfer has the potential to prevent most invalidity challenges to drug patents. Would-be generic competitors could not seek to initiate inter partes review (IPR) actions before the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). They could not bring declaratory judgment actions in federal court. And – both most importantly and most unclear – they could not bring Paragraph IV invalidity counterclaims under Hatch-Waxman, preventing generic companies from independently challenging patents’ invalidity and potentially requiring us all to wait until the very end of patent expiration to experience generic competition.

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Two Views About the Gene Editing ‘Breakthrough’ that Are Not Getting Enough Attention (IMHO)

As has now been well-covered in the news, Nature just published a paper from Mitalipov’s lab at the Oregon Health and Science University that used CRISPR/Cas 9 gene editing to correct the MYBPC3 mutation associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a heart muscle disease that affects 1 in 500 people. The more impressive element of the story is that by doing the alteration simultaneous with the sperm fertilizing the egg (not after fertilization) they were able to avoid the mosaicism that problematized early attempts in China — in mosaicism not all cells are repaired due to failure in the editing. The media coverage thus far, sadly but predictably, has focused on the soundbite of “designer babies” and “hope and hype” (indeed as my friend Hank Greely has suggested perhaps “overhype”.) These are worthy narratives to tell, to be sure, but here are two other narratives that I think are not getting the air time they deserve:

(1) The Importance of Genetic Ties: This use of CRISPR/Cas 9, as with most reproductive technologies, are attempts to allow those with disease-causing genes or other obstacles to reproduce genetically to do so. Investment and development of these technologies reifies the importance of genetic ties, as opposed to the kinds of ties associated with adoption, step-parenting, etc. It confuses a right to be a genetic parent, with a right to be a parent. We might have one right or both, but we should be clear they are different rights claims. Françoise Baylis has written eloquently about this issue in the context of In Vitro Gemetogenesis, and others (myself included) have mused on what claims the infertile have on society to have the state pay for these kinds of technologies instead of adopting. The National Academies report on gene editing suggested that clinical use of gene editing to eliminate disease be restricted to cases where there is an “absence of reasonable alternatives,” but does not take a position on when adoption is a reasonable alternative. Of course, in the U.S. at least, adoption is not easy and not available for everyone and there are a ton of interesting normative questions I have gestured at (including whether it matters for “reasonability” whether the child is of a certain age, race, or lacks developmental delay).

(2) The Importance of Embryo Sparing: A different alternative to gene editing in some cases is to fertilize large numbers of embryos and engage in preimplantation genetic diagnosis to eliminate those embryos that carry the disease-causing genes. There is a lot of obstacles to doing this: the fact that women may not retrieve enough eggs to do this, the cost (physical and financial) of repeated egg retrievals and PGD, the fact that this may not work for all genetic problems, etc. But one problem that vexes some is that this results in the destruction of large numbers of embryos (“discard” is sometimes used as the euphemism). Gene editing may be a solve for this problem. The Mitalipov group in their Nature paper have a line to this effect, “When only one parent carries a heterozygous mutation, 50% of the embryos should be mutation-free and available for transfer, while the remaining carrier embryos are discarded. Gene correction would rescue mutant embryos, increase the number of embryos available for transfer and ultimately improve pregnancy rate” (emphasis mine). This raises to me a very interesting question: some religious conservatives have tended to oppose both attempts to transform the human genome & embryo destruction (especially in the stem cell debate context). Could gene editing offer an olive branch to them as an alternative to the “greater evil” of routine PGD plus discard? Does it matter that to get to a place where we could achieve this we would have to actually destroy numerous embryos to perfect the research? (The Mitalipov embryos were not implanted, it seems under current U.S.  law that they could not be/) Is the right way to think about this consequentialist — destroy some embryos today to develop embryo sparing technologies to save many more tomorrow — or is this a case of complicity where the wrongfulness of the basic research taints what comes later?

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet SarpatwariMichael S. Sinha, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues relevant to current or potential future work in the Division.

Below are the abstracts/summaries for papers identified from the month of June. The selections feature topics ranging from physicians’ views of the Sunshine Act; to a biomarker-based drug development case study of CETP inhibitors, to the potential return on public investment in detecting adverse drug effects. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

  1. Chimonas S, DeVito NJ, Rothman DJ. Bringing Transparency to Medicine: Exploring Physicians’ Views and Experiences of the Sunshine Act. Am J Bioeth. 2017;17(6):4-18.
  2. Dong K, Boehm G, Zheng Q. Economic Impacts of the Generic Drug User Fee Act Fee Structure. Value Health. 2017;20(6):792-8.
  3. Hey SP, Franklin JM, Avorn J, Kesselheim AS. Success, Failure, and Transparency in Biomarker-Based Drug Development: A Case Study of Cholesteryl Ester Transfer Protein Inhibitors. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2017;10(6).
  4. Huybrechts KF, Kesai RJ, Park M, Gagne JJ, Najafzadeh M, Avorn J. The Potential Return on Public Investment in Detecting Adverse Drug Effects. Med Care. 2017;55(6):545-51.
  5. Sommers BD, Maylone B, Blendon RJ, Orav EJ, Epstein AM. Three-Year Impacts Of The Affordable Care Act: Improved Medical Care And Health Among Low-Income Adults. Health Aff (Millwood). 2017;36(6):1119-28.
  6. ‘t Hoen EFM, Boulet P, Baker BK. Data exclusivity exceptions and compulsory licensing to promote generic medicines in the European Union: A proposal for greater coherence in European pharmaceutical legislation. J Pharm Policy Pract. 2017;10:19.

How the FDA Produces Knowledge (and Is Not So Weird)

Credit: SalFalko

The Federal government has wrested billions of dollars from the drug and device industry in settlements of claims that the companies broke the law by promoting their products “off-label” for uses not approved by the FDA.  In response, companies have asserted that promotions are a form of speech, protected by the First Amendment. Speech regulations are especially worrisome when motivated by paternalism.  This argument has received some traction in the courts, and is now getting a favorable look by the Trump administration.

I have argued (here, here, and here) that this law is not actually a speech regulation.  Nor is it paternalistic.  Instead, it is simply a vanilla regulation of a behavior (shipment of product in interstate commerce), which depends on various sources of evidence (including speech) as revealing whether the actor has an illicit intent (an unapproved use of the product).  The pre-market approval system, which requires that companies prove safety and efficacy for all intended uses, solves a collective action problem to produce information as a public good.  This is our key social mechanism for producing knowledge about safety and efficacy.  If this law is unconstitutional in the off-label context, the entire pre-market approval system would seem to be as well.

In a new piece out on SSRN, my physician co-author Victor Laurion develops the example of the drug Seroquel XR, to show how a federal prosecution for off-label promotion caused the company to perform scientific research on two new indications (general anxiety disorder and major depression).  A detailed discussion of the regulatory record shows how physician prescribing was improved by this public information, regardless of whether the FDA approved the new indication.  In this way, the FDA protects the liberty of physicians and patients to try drugs for new uses, even while holding companies to the proof of any uses that they actually intend.  The fact that the company’s intention is shown by speech evidence is immaterial. Continue reading