What is the Right Number of Unsafe, Ineffective Drugs for the FDA to Approve?

Later today, the Senate will begin voting on the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly last week. I’ve blogged repeatedly about the Act (most recently here), and many academics and commentators are rightfully worried about the Act’s efforts to lower FDA approval standards in different ways. I write here to put some of these concerns more plainly (and more bluntly), by asking a simple question: what is the right number of unsafe or ineffective drugs for the FDA to approve? I would like to hear the Act’s supporters answer this question. Below, I offer some thoughts of my own on how we should think about and evaluate this question.

More generally, when we think about FDA approval of new pharmaceuticals, we have to consider how the FDA should balance Type I and Type II errors. You may think the FDA ought to focus on minimizing the number of unsafe or ineffective drugs that it approves (minimizing Type I errors). After all, we don’t want the FDA putting its stamp of approval on drugs that harm patients or that don’t work. Over time, this would lead to an erosion of public trust in the FDA as a tool for consumer protection. More generally, this is the entire reason we’ve given the FDA its powers to begin with. Scandals involving unsafe or ineffective drugs prompted Congress to give the FDA more, greater powers over the years, in large part to prevent such products coming to market in the first instance.

Instead, you may think that the FDA should focus on minimizing the number of safe, effective drugs it fails to approve (minimizing Type II errors). In other words, it is worse for the FDA to deny patients access to a drug that is safe and effective than it is for the FDA to approve a drug that later turns out to be unsafe or ineffective. On this view, the FDA should still perform some screening against drugs with significant safety signals or against drugs with no plausible mechanism of action, and perhaps should require post-market surveillance studies, but the FDA ought to be enabling sick patients to access drugs more quickly. This view of the FDA’s role places greater responsibility on insurers, physicians, and patients to gather, process, and act on information about a drug’s safety and efficacy.

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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. 

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Your Weekly Reminder That FDA Approval and Insurance Coverage Are Often Linked

In recent days, it seems like the din of voices arguing that the FDA should approve pharmaceuticals more speedily and on less evidence has grown louder.  It is a central theme of the 21st Century Cures Act, which the House may vote on today and which I seemingly will never finish blogging about (most recent post here, with links to previous ones).  It is the premise that underlies other legislation recently introduced into Congress.  And it was the topic of a Wall Street Journal opinion piece just last week.  In the view of these critics, sure, the FDA has some role to play in ensuring safety and some basic level of effectiveness.  But the current standard for demonstrating effectiveness is, in their view, much too strict.  Instead, we ought to approve drugs more quickly and allow insurance companies and physicians to decide which products have enough supporting evidence to merit reimbursement.

Here’s the problem: that is not the way we’ve set up the system.  FDA approval is often linked to insurance coverage.  Medicaid must cover essentially all FDA-approved drugs, and Medicare similarly has limited ability to decline to cover FDA-approved drugs.  Even private insurers are generally required to cover at least some prescription drugs, although in some cases this may be on a more limited basis.  Take Exondys, a drug that recently won accelerated approval from the FDA for the treatment of a small number of patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (I’ve blogged about Exondys here).  Because Exondys was approved based on a surrogate endpoint and not actual evidence of clinical improvement (Exondys’ label actually says that “[a] clinical benefit of Exondys 51 has not been established”), it would seem to be a poster child for these arguments about the FDA.  Allow insurers to cover it or not as they choose, since we don’t yet know if it works.  Yet many insurers are legally required to pay the $300,000 a year on average the company is charging for the drug.

I’ll put it another way.  If we lower the FDA’s approval standards and do nothing to coverage requirements, we will all almost certainly end up paying more money for drugs that don’t work.  The pronoun “we” here is important: because an enormous amount of these expenditures will come through Medicare and Medicaid, which are funded by all of us as taxpayers, it costs all of us financially when ineffective or unsafe drugs are approved by the FDA.  Many people who argue for a decrease in FDA standards also believe that we spend too much through Medicare and Medicaid, yet they don’t seem to put these two pieces of the argument together.

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The Precision Medicine Initiative and Access

By Leslie Francis

Persistent differences in participation in clinical trials by race and ethnicity are well known; for example, the 2015 Report of the Working Group on Precision Medicine (PMI) relies on statistics that only 5% of clinical trial participants are African-American and only 1% are Hispanic. A recently-launched website of the FDA, “Drug Trials Snapshots,” confirms this dismal picture.

Designed to “make demographic data more available and transparent,” and to “highlight whether there were any differences in the benefits and side effects among sex, race and age groups,” the website reveals instead an impressive lack of information. Reported on the website are 70 new drug approvals for 78 different indications. These data report only evidence about differences by the census categories for race (White, Black or African-American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Unknown). In nine of the reported trials data were considered sufficient to report detected differences in efficacy or side-effects in all racial categories, in two data were considered sufficient to report these differences for African-Americans and Asians, in seven data were considered sufficient to report these differences for Asians, and in two data were considered sufficient to report these differences only for African-Americans. No data are reported about ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, or other categories that might be important to the PMI and the benefits data about the planned cohort might bring. 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.”

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The Newest 21st Century Cures Draft Moderates, But Doesn’t Eliminate, Controversy

Earlier this evening, the House of Representatives released the most recent draft of the 21st Century Cures Act. This is the fifth time I’ve blogged about the Act (prior posts here, here, here, and here), which has ballooned from a 200-page discussion draft in April 2015 to a 996-page draft version today. (The House has a 44-page summary here for those with more limited time.) To be fair, the Act now contains a whole set of provisions around mental health, substance abuse, and child and family services which were not originally part of the Act. The 21st Century Cures Act is the biggest Christmas tree bill I’ve ever had occasion to read.

There will be an enormous amount of commentary on different parts of the bill, so here are some quick thoughts on the new draft, focusing not only on the provisions which are likely to attract the most attention, but also on a few quieter provisions that are nonetheless worthy of scrutiny.

Some controversial provisions have been eliminated entirely or softened greatly. One of the most controversial provisions in the last draft of the bill would’ve “farm[ed] out the certification of safety of modified devices to third parties, circumventing the FDA altogether.” That provision seems to be absent from the new draft. The last draft, in creating a program for breakthrough review of medical devices, controversially called for the use of “shorter or smaller clinical trials” for those devices. The new draft asks the Secretary only to ensure that the design of such clinical trials is “as efficient and flexible as practicable, when scientifically appropriate” (section 3051).

Other controversial provisions remain, sometimes under new names. One of the most troubling provisions in the previous draft of the bill would’ve created a program for the use of “clinical experience” evidence in drug approvals. Rather than relying on the gold standard of randomized clinical trials, this provision “would[‘ve] require the Secretary to establish a draft framework for implementing” such evidence. The new draft keeps this provision but changes the term “clinical experience” to “real world evidence” (section 3022). To be sure, this provision gives enormous discretion to the Secretary to limit (and maybe even reject) the use of such evidence. But in light of recent high-profile clinical trial failures, most notably just two days ago, we ought to be concerned about claims that the FDA is too slow and imposes too stringent requirements on drug approvals.

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Jordan Paradise on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

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Loyola Chicago law professor Jordan Paradise joins us to discuss some of her recent work in life sciences law. Jordan’s recent interests span nanotechnology, synthetic biology, precision medicine, gene editing, and electronic cigarettes.  Her publications have appeared in both peer-reviewed and legal publications.

We start with a review of some of the regulatory issues involving e-cigarettes, and discuss the 2016 FDA regulations. We then move into a discussion of FDA regulation of biologics and biosimilars and Jordan explains naming and substitution issues.

Jordan’s recent publications include research on how the FDA could regulate e-cigarettes, strategic misuse of risk evaluation and mitigation strategies (REMS), and cutting edge developments in the law of biosimilars.

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, Tunein 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

REGISTER NOW (12/9)! Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters

Rolled up US paper banknote in a test tube rack representing the costs of medical research

Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters
December 9, 2016 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Milstein East ABC (2036), Wasserstein Hall
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Register for this event

Description

This symposium will bring together a variety of experts to discuss key ethical and legal questions regarding offers of payment to research participants. Panels will cover:

  • Why payment is offered to research participants
  • Regulatory parameters governing payment
  • Whether payment to research participants should be considered exceptional, compared to payment in other contexts
  • How offers of payment affect participants
  • How to define coercion and undue influence with regard to paying research participants
  • Which factors should be considered when evaluating proposed payments
  • The problem of low payment

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

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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

REGISTER NOW (12/9)! Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters

Rolled up US paper banknote in a test tube rack representing the costs of medical research

Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters
December 9, 2016 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Milstein East ABC (2036), Wasserstein Hall
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Register for this event

Description

This symposium will bring together a variety of experts to discuss key ethical and legal questions regarding offers of payment to research participants. Panels will cover:

  • Why payment is offered to research participants
  • Regulatory parameters governing payment
  • Whether payment to research participants should be considered exceptional, compared to payment in other contexts
  • How offers of payment affect participants
  • How to define coercion and undue influence with regard to paying research participants
  • Which factors should be considered when evaluating proposed payments
  • The problem of low payment

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

Working Agenda

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“That I Don’t Know”: The Uncertain Futures of Our Bodies in America

By Wendy S. Salkin

I. Our Bodies, Our Body Politic

On March 30, at a town hall meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, an audience member asked then-presidential-hopeful Donald J. Trump: “[W]hat is your stance on women’s rights and their right to choose in their own reproductive health?” What followed was a lengthy back-and-forth with Chris Matthews. Here is an excerpt from that event:

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?
TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman.
TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form.
MATTHEWS: Ten cents? Ten years? What?
TRUMP: I don’t know. That I don’t know. That I don’t know.

Much has been made of the fact that President-Elect Trump claimed that women who undergo abortion procedures should face “some sort of punishment.” Considerably less has been made of the fact that our President-Elect, in a moment of epistemic humility, expressed that he did not know what he would do, though he believed something had to be done. (He later revised his position, suggesting that the performer of the abortion rather than the woman undergoing the abortion would “be held legally responsible.”)

I am worried about the futures of our bodies, as, I think, are many. That a Trump Presidency makes many feel fear is not a novel contribution. Nor will I be able to speak to the very many, and varied, ways our bodies may be compromised in and by The New America—be it through removal from the country (see especially the proposed “End Illegal Immigration Act”), removal from society (see especially the proposed “Restoring Community Safety Act”), or some other means (see especially the proposed “Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act”).

But, I am like President-Elect Trump in this way: Like him, “I don’t know.” I don’t know what to say about what will happen to our bodies or to our body politic. So instead, today, I will take this opportunity to point to one aspect of the changing face of access to reproductive technologies that has already become a battleground in the fight over women’s bodies and will, I suspect, take center stage in the debate over the right and the ability to choose in coming years. Continue reading

NEXT WEEK (11/1): The Challenge of Protecting the Public and Promoting Innovation – Dr. Robert Califf, Commissioner, US Food & Drug Administration

robert_califfThe Challenge of Protecting the Public and Promoting Innovation: Dr. Robert Califf, Commissioner, US Food & Drug Administration
Tuesday, November 1, 2016 4:00-5:30
Harvard Kennedy School
Malkin Penthouse, 4th Floor, Littauer Building
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA

Robert M. Califf, MD, is the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He is committed to strengthening programs and policies that enable the agency to carry out its mission to protect and promote the public health. The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. Before joining the FDA in March 2015 as Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco, Dr. Califf ran the Duke Clinical Research Institute. He trained as a cardiologist.

Moderated by Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School Healthcare Policy Program, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Institute of Politics

Biosimilars – In The Pipeline or Still a Pipe Dream?

By Jonathan Larsen, JD, MPP and Adrienne R. Ghorashi, Esq.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first biosimilar for use in the United States in March 2015. The approval came after several years of regulatory process development authorized by the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation (BPCI) Act of 2009, a component of the Affordable Care Act.

Biosimilars are highly similar, but not identical, copies of FDA-approved biologics, known as “reference” products. Biologics are used to treat a variety of diseases and medical conditions, including cancer. For many years, biosimilar development was thought to be too complex and too costly to advance, and exclusivity patents for reference biologics prohibited developers from marketing competing biosimilars. Now that those patents have started to expire, biosimilar development can finally begin, at a potentially huge benefit to patients.

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TOMORROW (10/27): Concurrent Surgeries – Medical, Legal, and Ethical Issues

concurrent_surgeriesConcurrent Surgeries – Medical, Legal, and Ethical Issues
October 27, 2016 12:00 PM
Pound Hall 101, Ballantine Classroom
Harvard Law School, 1563 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Concurrent, or overlapping, surgeries involve the simultaneous scheduling of substantial portions of two or more surgeries under the supervision of a single surgeon, requiring delegation of responsibility to trainees and assistants if necessary. The practice is not uncommon, especially at teaching hospitals, but patients often have no idea that their doctor may also be operating on someone else at the same time. This panel discussion will describe the practice, its risks and benefits, and recommended approaches to preserve patient trust and safety.

Panelists

  • Jonathan Saltzman, Reporter, The Boston Globe Spotlight Team (contributor to “Clash in the Name of Care”) – Setting the Stage: Key issues and concerns raised by concurrent surgeries, patient experiences and outcomes
  • Griffith R. Harsh IV, MD, MA, MBA, FACS, Professor of Neurosurgery and Associate Dean, Postgraduate Medical Education, Stanford University – Surgeon’s Perspective: Pros and cons of concurrent scheduling, pressures to schedule this way, potential impact on patients, and the recent statement by the American College of Surgeons
  • I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Professor, Harvard Law School; Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center – Legal and ethical perspectives: Institutional risk, medical malpractice, informed consent, and applicable regulations
  • Moderator: Robert Truog, MD, Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Medical Ethics, Anaesthesia, & Pediatrics and Director, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School; Executive Director, Institute for Professionalism & Ethical Practice and Senior Associate in Critical Care Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital

Sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and theCenter for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund.

The Once and Future Regulation of Biotechnology

By Seán Finan

whitehouse_slideOn 16th September, 2016, the White House released two documents jointly authored by the FDA, the EPA and the USDA. Together, the “Update to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology” (the “Update”) and the “National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products” (the “Strategy”) will form the basis for the federal government’s regulatory policy for biotech for the foreseeable future. So, where did these documents come from? What do they contain?

Background

Last year, the federal government asked the FDA, the EPA and the USDA to

  1. Clarify the current roles and responsibilities of the EPA, FDA, and USDA in the regulatory process;
  2. Develop a long-term strategy to ensure that the Federal regulatory system is equipped to efficiently assess the risks, if any, of the future products of biotechnology; and
  3. Commission an expert analysis of the future landscape of biotechnology products

(Source)

14 months, three public meetings and 900 responses to a Request for Information later, the two documents were released. The Update sets out to respond to the first of the above prompts and the Strategy aims to respond to the second. An answer to the third is still in the pipeline.

Aims

The underlying policy is made explicit in the first paragraph of the Strategy’s Executive Summary (p4):

The policy of the United States Government is to seek regulatory approaches that protect health and the environment while reducing regulatory burdens and avoiding unjustifiably inhibiting innovation, stigmatizing new technologies, or creating trade barriers

Apart from clarifying the current roles of the FDA, EPA and USDA and setting out the path for future developments, both documents make it clear that they aim

  • to help the public understand how the safety of biotechnology products is evaluated and
  • to help businesses navigate the current regulatory structure.

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Initial Quick Thoughts on the Announcement of the Birth Through Mitochondrial Replacement in Mexico

The science media is abuzz about the birth of a child using mitochondrial replacement techniques in Mexico to Jordanian parents at the hands of NY Doctors. A few quick reactions (I am heading to this unrelated NAS/IOM Committee meeting tomorrow evening so may have some more thoughts when that settles down).

  • This is the first time this particular technique has been used to produce a live, but I am not sure from an ethical standpoint the arguments are all that different. That said, for those deeply interested in the more philosophical question of harm to children and the propriety of best interests argument in light of Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem (my take here and here) it may matter whether mitochondrial replacement is done through Pronuclear Transfer or Maternal Spindle Transfer as argued quite well here.
  • The fact that the doctors are from New York, the Patients are from Jordan, and the procedure took place in Mexico is not insignificant. This is a form of medical tourism, a topic I wrote a book on, most similar to cases of fertility and stem cell therapy tourism I cover in the latter half of the book. Absent making domestic prohibitions extraterritorial, something that I argue is permitted by international law and justified in some instances, there is very little that a home country can do about this. The going abroad is likely in part at least a function of some U.S. laws on the subject Eli Adashi and I wrote about for JAMA prohibiting FDA from considering approval of the technology.
  • As I wrote on this blog in February in relation to the IOM report “whatever the US policy in a world where medical tourism is possible and other countries adopt their own systems, so long as not everyone adopts the approach of the US some of these problems will manifest no matter what. So this is about harm reduction not harm avoidance.” This was a bit quicker than even I thought, but is not surprising. More generally if your concern about MRT is harm to offspring and transmission to future generations, people born elsewhere through the technology will inevitably enter the United States and/or marry, and procreate with U.S. citizens who themselves become U.S. citizens. To sound a bit X-Files about it “THEY WILL BE AMONG US!” This is a great example of the limits of unilateral regulation in a world of globalized health care.
  • Interesting that it was a male birth. This may be coincidence or in keeping with the IOM recommendation that only male embryos be transferred (to get rid of germ line transmission). Eli Adashi and I raised some ethical questions in Nature about whether that was an ethically problematic form of sex selection or not but in the reporting I have seen so far it has not been clear that they used only male embryos on purpose.
  • I wish we could stop calling it in the media “Three Parent IVF” or “Three Parent Reproduction.” That assumes the answer to what I think of as a subtle and interesting set of questions — is the mitochondrial donor a “parent” and what sense of the word do we mean.

More soon, I hope!

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Right-To-Try Laws For The Terminally Ill Are Bad Policy

A new piece by Bill of Health contributor Art Caplan in Forbes:

Nathan Nascimento thinks that right-to-try laws aimed at the terminally ill are sound public policy. He is wrong.

Mr. Nascimento’s commentary misrepresents the complexities of the drug development process and the issues surrounding granting access to experimental medicines before they have been fully tested.

The overarching issue, despite his rhetoric to the contrary, is that the safety and efficacy profile of a new medicine is not sufficiently understood until after the drug has completed at least a pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial.

The underlying principle of every clinical development program is to understand, via testing first for safety usually in a small number of patients afflicted with the target condition, and, subsequently, in increasing numbers of patients, the benefits as well as the risks of new medicines. Like it or not, this is a time-consuming, expensive, but appropriate and necessary process. []

Read the full post here.

The Federal Government Should Consider Medical Marijuana a Potential Ally in the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

By Shailin Thomas

The United States is in the midst of what many are calling an opioid epidemic. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, more than 1.9 million people in the U.S. have a substance use disorders involving prescription pain medications, and another 580,000 have substance abuse issues with heroin. The human costs of these rates of addiction are staggering.   Of the approximately 50,000 lethal drug overdoses that happen each year, almost 20,000 are the result of prescription opioids, and another 10,000 are the result of heroin. While prescription painkillers traditionally aren’t as dangerous as heroin, the connection between the two is well established. According to a 2013 survey, about 80% of heroin users started out abusing opioid painkillers.

Despite continued efforts at nearly every level of government, the rates of opioid addiction and overdose have continued to climb. However, researchers have identified an unlikely ally that may have quietly been slowing the rise of opioid use in certain states: medical marijuana.

A study recently released by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health suggests that medical marijuana availability is linked to decreases in opioid usage. The study looked at opioid prevalence in autopsy reports from fatal car accidents over 14 years, and found that states that passed medical marijuana laws in that period saw a relative decrease in opioid prevalence compared to states that didn’t. While this study is making a splash, it’s just the most recent piece in a long line of research into the connection between medical marijuana availability and opioid use. One study published in Health Affairs in July showed that states which implemented medical marijuana laws between 2010-2013 saw a significant decrease in Medicare Part D prescriptions filled for medications for which marijuana is a possible alternative therapy — including opioids. Another study from 2014 showed a 25% decrease in deaths from prescription pain medication overdoses in states that implemented medical marijuana laws. Continue reading

Sarepta: Where Do We Go From Here?

By Rachel Sachs

This morning, the FDA finally reached a decision in the closely watched case of Sarepta Therapeutics and its drug for the treatment of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).  The FDA granted accelerated approval to Sarepta’s drug, Exondys, on the condition that Sarepta complete a new trial demonstrating the drug’s clinical effectiveness.  As regular FDA observers already know, Exondys’ path to approval has been highly contentious.  The key clinical trial used to support approval contained just twelve patients and no placebo, and the FDA Advisory Committee voted against both full approval of the drug and accelerated approval.  The FDA’s 126-page Summary Review, released today with their approval letter, reveals the intense disagreements within the agency over Exondys’ approval.  FDA staff scientists charged with reviewing the drug recommended against approval but were overruled by Dr. Janet Woodcock, Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.  FDA Commissioner Califf deferred to her decision.

Sarepta presented the FDA with a series of bad options.  DMD is a rare, heartbreaking, and ultimately fatal genetic disease with no other real treatments, and it is clear why patients and their families would fight for access to anything that might work.  At the same time, the FDA has rarely if ever approved a drug on less evidence than that provided by Sarepta, and approving the drug might send a dangerous signal to both the public and other companies investigating rare disease drugs.  The FDA has now made its choice.  Where do we go from here?  In my view, there are at least three key issues to watch going forward. Continue reading

Mylan Announces Generic EpiPen; Baffles Health Policy Wonks Everywhere

For weeks now, the list price of Mylan’s EpiPen ($600 for a two-pack) has been exhaustively covered by journalists, debated by academics, and skewered by policymakers as an example of the pricing excesses of even generic pharmaceutical companies.  Mylan’s latest response to the outrage?  Announce that soon, it will be launching a generic EpiPen at a list price of $300 for a two-pack.  I and others who study these issues full time cannot understand why Mylan thought this would work to quell the widespread indignation over its pricing practices.

The first red flag came when Mylan stated it would launch the product “in several weeks.”  I often find myself defending the FDA against charges that it is too slow to approve new technologies, but let’s face it: it would be shocking news if they were able to approve a new version of anything in just a few weeks.  Mylan has not had this in the works for months, so it seems that the new generic product is literally identical to the branded EpiPen – just with a different label.  So, essentially, Mylan is preparing to cut the price of its product in half.  (Even though that’s still higher than the price was just three years ago, before Mylan began its regular price hikes, and even though this should make us question their justifications for the $600 price.) Great, right?  Not so fast.

What reasons (other than public relations) might Mylan have for introducing an authorized generic of this type and how might they attempt to use the two products to maintain their current level of revenues?  By bringing the first generic EpiPen to market, Mylan has now planted its flag in the generics space.  Although epinephrine (the drug inside the EpiPen) is now generic and cheap to produce and sell, companies do seem to find it difficult to replicate the device portion of the EpiPen, with Sanofi’s product recently removed from the market due to dosing issues and Teva’s application for a generic denied by the FDA with no public explanation just a few months ago.  Mylan has now benchmarked a new price for those products if they return – they must price below $300 for a two-pack to compete effectively with Mylan. Continue reading