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.
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 →
Drug overdose is a leading cause of death in Americans under 50. Opioids are responsible for most drug-related deaths killing an estimated91 people each day. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In Part II I explore how the Commission dismissed medical interventions used successfully in the U.S. and abroad such as kratom and ibogaine. In this third part of the series, I explain how the Commission ignored increasingly proven harm reduction strategies such as drug checking and safe injection facilities (SIFs).
In its final report released November 1, 2017, the President’s Commission acknowledged that “synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl analogs, are by far the most problematic substances because they are emerging as a leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in the United States.” While speaking before the House Oversight Committee last month, the Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan stated that of the 1180 overdose deaths in his state this year, 850 (72%) were due to synthetic opioids. Street drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl and other synthetics. Dealers add them to heroin, and buyers may not be aware that they are consuming adulterated drugs. As a result, they can be caught off guard by their potency, which contributes to respiratory depression and death. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are responsible for the sharpest rise in opioid-related mortality (see blue line in Fig. 1 below). Continue reading →
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest illnesses out there. The five-year survival rate of patients with the disease is only about 7%. This is, in part, because few observable symptoms appear early enough for effective treatment. As a result, by the time many patients are diagnosed the prognosis is poor. There is an app, however, that is attempting to change that. BiliScreen was developed by researchers at the University of Washington, and it is designed to help users identify pancreatic cancer early with an algorithm that analyzes selfies. Users take photos of themselves, and the app’s artificially intelligent algorithm detects slight discolorations in the skin and eyes associated with early pancreatic cancer.
Diagnostic apps like BiliScreen represent a huge step forward for preventive health care. Imagine a world in which the vast majority of chronic diseases are caught early because each of us has the power to screen ourselves on a regular basis. One of the big challenges for the modern primary care physician is convincing patients to get screened regularly for diseases that have relatively good prognoses when caught early.
I’ve written before about the possible impacts of artificial intelligence and algorithmic medicine, arguing that both medicine and law will have to adapt as machine-learning algorithms surpass physicians in their ability to diagnose and treat disease. These pieces, however, primarily consider artificially intelligent algorithms licensed to and used by medical professionals in hospital or outpatient settings. They are about the relationship between a doctor and the sophisticated tools in her diagnostic toolbox — and about how relying on algorithms could decrease the pressure physicians feel to order unnecessary tests and procedures to avoid malpractice liability. There was an underlying assumption that these algorithms had already been evaluated and approved for use by the physician’s institution, and that the physician had experience using them. BiliScreen does not fit this mold — the algorithm is not a piece of medical equipment used by hospitals, but rather part of an app that could be downloaded and used by anyone with a smartphone. Accordingly, apps like BiliScreen fall into a category of “democratized” diagnostic algorithms. While this democratization has the potential to drastically improve preventive care, it also has the potential to undermine the financial sustainability of the U.S. health care system.
The legal status of medical marijuana in the United States is unique. On one hand, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no acceptable medical use and high potential for abuse. On the other hand, as of February 1, 2017, 27 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana. This discrepancy between federal and state regulation has led to a wide variation in the ways that medical marijuana is regulated on the state level.
In a study published today in Addiction, our team of researchers from the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research and the RAND Drug Policy Research Center finds that state laws mimic some aspects of federal prescription drug and controlled substances laws, and regulatory strategies used for alcohol, tobacco and traditional medicines.
In the past, studies on medical marijuana laws have focused on the spillover effect of medical marijuana to recreational use and not on whether the laws are regulating marijuana effectively as a medicine. Using policy surveillance methods to analyze the state of medical marijuana laws and their variations across states, this study lays the groundwork for future research evaluating the implementation, impacts, and efficacy of these laws.
The study focuses on three domains of medical marijuana regulation that were in effect as of February 1, 2017: patient protections and requirements, product safety, and dispensary regulation.
Critics call the plan crazy, unethical, and sure to fail. The likelihood of success is very low and the risk of Spiridinov dying is high. Spiridonov says that as soon as animal studies confirm the possibility of survival, the risks will be worth taking. He has Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, a genetic disorder that destroys muscle and nerve cells. He is confined to a wheelchair and has lived longer than expected. Body transplantation offers him the best chance at a life worth living. Continue reading →
Paul Erwin, Associate Editor of the American Journal of Public Health, recently wrote about the establishment of a Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance System for Policy Change Impact, or what might be called “sentinel policy surveillance.” The network of twelve diverse health officers will be trying to identify and share instances of harmful impact from Trump administration policies.
Erwin is suitably circumspect about what such a network can do. It is, he writes, no replacement of research, and, indeed, may be reporting perceived or feared effects as often as real ones. I found the idea intriguing to ruminate on, though. What follows are some scattered thoughts about the concept. I hope readers will add theirs. Mostly I am interested in how the practice fits with general policy surveillance and public health law research. Continue reading →
Scholars and policymakers have long been concerned that the biomedical science literature — and thus the practice of medicine — is biased by the companies who fund research on their own products. Prior research has shown that industry-funded studies tend to produce results favorable to their company sponsors. One solution is disclosure of industry funding, so that physicians and other consumers of the biomedical literature can weigh scientific findings accordingly.
My prior work with Aaron Kesselheim, Susannah Rose, and others has found that adding such disclosures to biomedical abstracts could make a big difference — physicians understand them and will rely upon them. Nonetheless, most journals bury the disclosures at the end of articles, which are often hidden behind paywalls and not nearly as salient as the methods and findings displayed in the abstract. For the Institutional Corruption Lab of the Edmond J. Safra Center, I worked with a team of hackers to create a browser extension that proves the feasibility of adding those disclosures into PubMed, a Federal government database of the scientific literature.
Thankfully, that browser extension is becoming obsolete, as the National Library of Medicine (part of the NIH) has begun implementing such disclosures themselves, right in PubMed. A search reveals that nearly 80,000 abstracts now have such tags. While a lot in absolute terms, it is a small minority of the 17 million abstracts covered by PubMed. Commentators have suggested that as much as 70% of the funding for clinical trials comes from industry, so we should expect millions of abstracts to have such disclosures.
Thus we are still a long way from comprehensive and effective disclosure. There are two problems. Continue reading →
I am happy to announce the publication of our collaborative paper with Helen Yu and Jakob Wested on “Innovation and intellectual property policies in European Research Infrastructure Consortia (part I)” in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice (Oxford University Press). Taking the European Spallation Source ERIC as an example, our paper investigates ERIC Regulations and EU policies and discusses what issues and perspectives ERICs need to consider in their IPR policies to balance the core-objectives of multiple stakeholders and achieve sustainability in various research areas, including the health and life sciences.
The authors would like to express their special gratitude to Dr. Ohad Graber Soudry, Head of Legal, European Spallation Source ESS-ERIC in Lund, Sweden, for all his support and valuable comments. This paper is supported by the CoNeXT project (see http://conext.ku.dk/ last visited July 23, 2016) under the University of Copenhagen’s Excellence Program for Interdisciplinary Research.
Research and innovation are key pillars of the EU’s strategy to create sustainable growth and prosperity in Europe. Research infrastructures (RIs) are central instruments to implement this strategy. They bring together a wide diversity of expertise and interests to look for solutions to many of the problems society is facing today, including challenges in the health and life sciences. To facilitate the creation and operation of such RIs, the EU adopted legal frameworks for European Research Infrastructure Consortia (ERIC). On August 31, 2015, the European Spallation Source (ESS) was established as an ERIC. Under the ERIC Regulations and ESS Statutes, the European Spallation Source ERIC is required to adopt various policy documents relating to the operation and management of the facility. These cover a wide variety of issues such as user access, public procurement, intellectual property rights (IPR), data management, and dissemination. One of the main goals of the ESS policies is to ensure that the research environment at ESS is compatible with a wide variety of international users’ obligations to multiple stakeholder-interests. But how can these policies best be aligned with the EU objective to achieve economic growth and scientific excellence by encouraging international research collaborations? The complex relationship between scientific excellence, innovation, and IPRs must be carefully considered. Taking the European Spallation Source ERIC as an example, this article investigates ERIC Regulations and EU policies and discusses what issues and perspectives ERICs need to consider in their IPR policies to balance the core-objectives of multiple stakeholders and achieve sustainability. In Part II, we will analyze and compare the different IPR policies of the various ERICs in a subsequent article.
New technologies in biology offer a brave new world of possibilities. Promising solutions to some of the most urgent challenges faced by humanity: climate change, environmental protection, growing population, renewable energy and improved health care. Scientific and technological progress has been remarkable. Simultaneously, emerging life science technologies raise outstanding ethical, legal and social questions.
In this research seminar, Prof. Esther Van Zimmeren from the University of Antwerp joins Prof. Timo Minssen, Postdoc Ana Nordberg and Ph.D. Student Jakob Wested from the Centre for Information and Innovation Law, debating bold new policies for intellectual property law and incentive to life science innovation.
15:00 – 15:10
Welcome Prof. Timo Minssen, CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.
15:10 – 15:30
Waiting for the Rumble in the Jungle: – An overview of current CRISPR/CAs9 patent disputes, central legal issues and some thoughts on conditioning the innovation system. PhD Student Jakob Wested, CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.
15:30 – 15:50
From FRAND to FAIR for Synthetic and Systems Biology? The Implications of Openness, IP Strategies, Standardization and the Huawei-case. Prof. Esther van Zimmeren, Faculty of Law, University of Antwerp.
15:50 – 16:10
Keeping up with the technologies: IP Law and Regulation in the age of gene editing. Postdoc Ana Nordberg, CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.
As Persad sees it, dilemmas in medical ethics and health policy often involve two questions. One is a factual or descriptive question concerning “which benefits an intervention will have.” (183) The other is an ethical question concerning “how to distribute those benefits.” (183) Persad provides the following example to tease out the distinction:
determining who should receive priority for scarce vaccines in a pandemic involves answering two questions: the descriptive (factual) question of which benefits these vaccines are expected to have for their recipients and the normative (value) question of how those prospective benefits should be distributed. (183)
Persad is interested in considering how fair procedures can be used to address questions of the first sort—the “epistemological and factual questions in medicine.” (183) He sets for himself the following task: to “consider how fair procedures have been and can be used to develop and weigh factual evidence in medicine.” (184) Persad foresees an increase in both the significance and frequency of “debates over the validity and weight of medical evidence” as the amount of medical evidence that is both required and amassed increases. He foresees an acceleration in this trend, which he credits to
the expansion of clinical data collection and analysis; the growing relevance of scientific evidence to medical practice…; and the use of evidence to support payment and insurance coverage decisions that have financial implications for patients and providers. (184)
Peter Drahos and a roster of the minds that have made RegNet at the Australian National University the hub of regulatory research and theory have put (it seems) all they know into a new, FREE ebook, Regulatory Theory: Foundations and Applications. It is a comprehensive account of the field, written to serve both as a reference for the essentials and a text book for classes in regulation and governance. It even has a chapter on regulatory research methods in public health by this correspondent.
I am hoping to conduct a serial book review over the next couple of weeks. Here goes:
The first chapter is an introduction to the field by Drahos and Martin Krygier. It usefully orients the reader to the breadth of the field, a breadth that reflects the spread of regulatory activity beyond the state and across networks. Attention to those two phenomena, indeed, is properly presented as the foundation of the field. There is a bit of intellectual history, highlighting the sigificance of Ayres and Braithwaite’s Responsive Regulation, and the emergence of RegNet as an intellectual gathering place. (I saw that first hand, and had a little experience of RegNet collegiality, when I spent a semester there and ended up writing an article on Nodal Governance with Drahos and Clifford Shearing — still my most downloaded paper.) Continue reading →
When people fall acutely ill, they deserve a non-sleep deprived doctor—but they also deserve an adequately-trained doctor. There are only so many hours to the day, and so in medical education a resident’s need for self-care must be balanced against the need for maximum clinical exposure. Since 2003, when restrictions to resident duty hours were first enacted, there has been disagreement about how to best navigate the tension. Recently, the debate resurfaced when the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) proposed a change to the policy governing resident duty hour limits. Perhaps the most surprising part of the announcement was that their proposal increased the time limit that interns (first year residents) can care for patients without sleep. The policy ACGME enacted in 2011 had capped interns at 16 hours on-call, and the proposal increases the limit to 28 hours.
In my prior post I raised arguments for and against the proposed changes to duty hour limits. Here I will unpack the conclusions and limitations of the best empirical evidence available to ACGME: the Flexibility in Duty Hour Requirements for Surgical Trainees (FIRST) Trial. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 2016, the FIRST Trial randomized 117 surgical residency programs nationwide to have either “standard” duty hour policies, which included the current 16-hour cap on interns, or “flexible” policies, which reflect the recent ACGME proposal. Data were collected from July 2014 to June 2105. The sister-study involving medical residencies nationwide has regrettably not yet published.
The FIRST Trial warrant close attention because, like a Rorschach test, different people see different things in the data. For instance, take the finding that neither group caused significantly more or less harm to patients, though shorter duty hours were associated with more handoffs of patient responsibility. Taken at face value, these results neither clearly bolster nor contradict the proposed duty hour changes; yet they are used to both support and undermine the tentative changes to ACGME policy. The study’s first author told NPR that, “We believe the trial results say it’s safe to provide some flexibility in duty hours.” On the other hand, an editorial published in NEJM alongside the study argues that, “The FIRST Trial effectively debunks concerns that patients will suffer as a result of increased handoffs and breaks in the continuity of care.” Is there a right conclusion to draw from the study? Continue reading →
I just watched the movie Concussion (2015) as an assignment for one of my bioethics courses. The movie is about a physician, Dr. Bennet Omalu, as he unravels the association between playing in NFL and an acquired neurodegenerative disease, a condition he calls, “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” (CTE). At one point Dr. Omalu tries to convince a prominent researcher that, despite suffering head traumas similar to those of football players, animals like the woodpecker have the means of avoiding CTE;
“The woodpecker’s tongue comes out the back of the mouth through the nostril and goes around the top of its head. Basically, it’s one big safety belt for the brain.” (source)
The tongue shoots out through the nostril? As a medical student, I found this trivial aside absolutely fascinating. But when I tried to learn more I quickly realized–to my dismay–that most experts would balk at this characterization. Woodpeckers don’t develop CTE for a variety of reasons, including; (1) smaller mass means less force from deceleration; (2) no head rotation during each peck as to decrease angular forces, and; (3) their skulls have a physiologic protective cushion. I won’t delve further into the weeds about where exactly the movie’s assertions depart from reality, but to put it generously, this crucial argument totally misrepresents the science.
The problem with all of this is that it’s tempting to watch Concussion and feel better informed about the controversies surrounding professional football and CTE. To be honest, I was mesmerized watching familiar events brought to life on screen, and it all seemed credible as it used the actual names of people involved. Movie reviews by Rolling Stone even suggest that it should be mandatory for football fans, and The New York Times remarks on how it, “sells a complex issue.” Sure, everyone knows Concussion is “for entertainment purposes only,” but can’t stories that are true also be entertaining? However, the seemingly-trivial inaccuracy about woodpeckers was a potent reminder that this film is not a documentary. Concussion should be viewed as it is–a major Hollywood blockbuster starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin.
The symposium, which was inspired by the wonderful recent PFC & Berkman Center Big Data conference, featured enlightening speeches by former PFC fellows Nicholson Price on incentives for the development of black box personalized medicine and Jeff Skopek on privacy issues. In addition we were lucky to have Peter Yu speaking on “Big Data, Intellectual Property and Global Pandemics” and Michael J. Madison on Big Data and Commons Challenges”. The presentations and recordings of the session will soon be made available on our Center’s webpage.
Thanks everybody for your dedication, inspiration, great presentations and an exciting panel discussion.
“Legal Dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences – From Intellectual Property Rights and Global Pandemics to Privacy and Ethics”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6.4 million US children 4-17 years old have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The percentage of US children diagnosed with ADHD has increased by 3-5 percent per year since the 1990s. Relatedly, the percentage of children in this age group taking ADHD medication also has increased by about 7 percent per year from 2007-2008 to 2011-2012.
In response, some state Medicaid programs have implemented policies to manage the use of ADHD medications and guide physicians toward best practices for ADHD treatment in children. These policies include prescription medication prior authorization requirements that restrict approvals to patients above a certain age, or require additional provider involvement before approval for payment is granted.
In a new article published this afternoon in MMWR, CDC researchers compared Medicaid and employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) claims for “psychological services” (the procedure code category that includes behavior therapy) and ADHD medication among children aged 2–5 years receiving clinical care for ADHD.
The article references a newly released LawAtlas map that examines features of state Medicaid prior authorization policies that pertain to pediatric ADHD medication treatment, including applicable ages, medication types, and criteria for approval.
States with Medicaid programs that have a policy that requires prior authorization for ADHD medications prescribed to children younger than 28 years old.
Addressing the high cost of drugs was at the top of President Obama’s list in his fiscal year 2017 budget, released last week. Many of his proposals were familiar. The President hoped to increase manufacturer contributions to prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D and wanted to shorten the length of biologic market exclusivity from twelve to seven years. These proposals were also in the President’s fiscal year 2016 budget but were not put into place.
However, the budget also included a number of surprising, new proposals that underscore how post-market evidence might play an increasing role in controlling drug prices in coming years. Rachel Sachs has written about the role that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can play in keeping down drug prices, and it seems like some of these ideas are gaining traction:
Modify reimbursement of Part B drugs. The White House estimates that changes to Medicare Part B payments could save the country $7.75 billion over ten years. Medicare Part B covers drugs and services dispensed in an outpatient setting. Many of the most expensive biologic drugs are currently covered under Medicare Part B. The budget proposal did not elaborate on how the White House hopes to change Part B payments, but the proposal likely refers to recommendations released by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) last June. MedPAC’s 2015 report recommended that Congress link Part B payments to clinical effectiveness evidence. For example, the government could group drugs with similar health effects and pay all drugs in each group the rate of least costly product in the group. This approach relies on having reliable clinical effectiveness data so that researchers can easily compare the relative effectiveness of two or more drugs. Continue reading →
Last week, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) placed a hold on the Senate’s nomination of Robert Califf’s as head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The move was less against Califf and more as political leverage against FDA’s approval of OxyContin. In August 2015, FDA approved OxyContin, a prescription painkiller, for pediatric patients ages 11 to 17. OxyContin is the painkiller most associated with United State’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, accounting for an increase in drug overdose and death over the last decade. FDA’s approval of OxyContin for children drew concern from Markey and others that the approval would lead to an increase in drug misuse for children and their family members. Markey, who has prioritized the fight against opioid addiction in his legislative agenda, hopes he can use the hold to convince FDA to reverse its August decision.
Senator Markey’s message is well intentioned, but may ultimately do more harm than good for children.
Before FDA approved OxyContin in August, children who suffered from severe, chronic pain due to cancer, extensive trauma, or serious surgeries had few drugs approved to treat their pain. Many physicians treating severe pain in children prescribed OxyContin off-label, without proof that OxyContin could safely and effectively treat children. These physicians often relied on their experience or intuition to not under or overprescribe the drug. FDA’s approval in August meant the pharmaceutical manufacturer finally provided physicians with instructions, backed by controlled studies, explaining how physicians could safely use OxyContin to treat children with severe pain. Continue reading →
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) not only wants to be your president; he wants to decide what medicines you can get. On Dec. 10, Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation intended to speed up Food and Drug Administration review of drugs and devices that have been approved in certain foreign countries. The Reciprocity Ensures Streamlined Use of Lifesaving Treatments (RESULT) Act would require FDA to approve or reject within 30 days of application any drug or device that has been approved in a “trusted” foreign country — specifically, Canada, Australia, Israel, Japan, and the European Union members. Should the FDA reject an application, Congress can override the agency. […]
On November 19, 2015, the FDA de-regulated the AquAdvantage Salmon. This salmon is genetically engineered to grow faster. This is the first time the FDA has de-regulated a genetically engineered animal.
Let me just say from the outset that the scientific consensus is clear that genetically engineered food is as safe as conventional food. Despite the onslaught of public outrage against GMO food, most of the main arguments against GMO food are just hype.
The genie came out of the bottle a long time ago and it’s not going back in. This happens time and again with scientific advances. Over the past few decades, our ability to understand, manipulate, edit, and otherwise employ the DNA of various organisms to facilitate human understanding has grown exponentially. Efforts to resist, combat, or villain-ize the application of biotechnology to impact society might delay, but will not ultimately succeed in keeping the application of scientific discoveries at bay.