Recent Developments in European Law with Implications for the U.S. Life Sciences Industry

Safe HarborThe last several months have seen several developments in European privacy and intellectual property that have significant implications for life sciences interests—both commercial and academic—in this country. Here is a brief review:

1. Final Approval of Pending EU General Data Protection Regulation

On April 14, 2016, the Parliament of the European Union gave final approval to the long-discussed GDPR. It will replace the current regime of country-by-country laws under the 1995 Data Protection Directive. Whereas an EU Directive requires implementation by individual EU member states, the GDPR is a Regulation (much like a federal law in this country) that will take immediate effect in all EU countries in the spring of 2018.
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Filed under General Interest, International Developments, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation, Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

Genetic information as “perceived disability”: Chadam v. PAUSD

Chadam v. PAUSD, as previously covered on Genomics Law Report, is a case in which parents of a school boy are alleging that a school district violated their son’s rights when it made the decision that it would transfer the boy to another school because of his genetic information. Specifically, the allegation is that when the boy moved to the area and registered for school, (1) the school district learned of the boy’s genetic information related to cystic fibrosis, (2)  the boy was regarded as disabled by the school district, and (3) on the basis of this perceived disability, the school district decided to transfer the boy to another school to protect two other students at the school who have cystic fibrosis. The school district’s decision was apparently based on the idea that the boy, because of his genetic markers, posed a cross-infection risk to the students with cystic fibrosis. Individuals with cystic fibrosis, because their respiratory symptoms create host environments favorable to microbiological pathogens, are often separated from one another to minimize risk of spreading germs to one another. Mere carriers of the genetic markers associated with cystic fibrosis do not pose such cross-infection risks.

This case unequivocally does not involve GINA, a federal nondiscrimination statute that has very limited scope and does not protect individuals from discrimination in education. While the facts alleged could have supported a clear claim for violation of California’s genetic nondiscrimination statute, CalGINA, which affords broader protections than the federal statute, the attorney for the Chadams did not raise that claim. Instead, this case alleges violations of two federal antidiscrimination statutes, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Title II of the ADA requires public education to be free from discrimination, and Section 504 requires all federally funded programs and activities to be free from discrimination. Under both provisions, individuals cannot be excluded from participating in or enjoying the benefits of education because of disability. The statutes protect three basic classes of individuals: (1) those who have a disability (i.e., those who have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity); (2) those with a history or record of having a disability; and (3) those with a perceived disability (i.e., those “regarded as” having a disability). (For more information, see A Guide to Disability Rights Laws published by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice)

The plaintiffs in Chadam have appealed the trial court’s decision to grant the school district’s motion to dismiss the case (a Rule 12(b)(6) motion). In granting the school district’s motion, the court basically decided that even if it assumed all of the facts alleged by the plaintiffs to be true and drew all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs, there would not be a valid claim upon which relief could be granted. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers California, will focus on whether the district court erred in reaching that decision. The court of appeals will consider the motion de novo—that is, will give no deference to the trial court’s decision—and determine whether the facts alleged in the pleadings, when read in the light most favorable to the plantiffs, state a claim for relief that is plausible. The amicus brief filed by the United States (Department of Justice and Department of Education) urges the Ninth Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision and remand the case, stating that the plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to support a claim of intentional discrimination under Title II of the ADA and Section 504.

Is there judicial precedent for ADA protection of genetic information?

About 15 years ago, long before Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, there was a case in which individuals sought ADA protection from genetic discrimination. That case involved the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), which allegedly had been using employees’ genetic information in connection with work-related carpal tunnel syndrome claims. The case was never decided by a court, however. In 2001 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and BNSF settled the EEOC’s request for injunctive relief to stop the company’s genetic testing, and in 2002 the EEOC and BNSF settled the request for damages with an agreement to compensate individuals with up to $2.2 million. While the settlement agreement was subject to approval by the Eastern District of Wisconsin (see 2002 WL 32155386), this case did not set judicial precedent that the ADA protects individuals from decisions based on genetic information.

Does the relevant legislative history suggest that individuals are protected from genetic discrimination because of “perceived disability”?

To answer this question, it is useful to start with legal scholar Mark Rothstein’s thorough 1992 analysis of the law regarding genetic discrimination and possible protection under the ADA as it existed at that time. See Mark A. Rothstein, Genetic Discrimination in Employment and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 29 Hous. L. Rev. 23 (1992).

In the early 1990s, in a letter to a Congressional committee chair, the EEOC actually rejected the idea that the ADA prohibits genetic discrimination against asymptomatic individuals, instead taking the position that the ADA would only protect an individual once the condition existed and symptoms were present. The EEOC’s technical assistance manual in 1992 also noted that genetic predisposition and family history are not “impairments” protected by the ADA. Nearly 10 years later, following the issuance of the Executive Order 13145 in 2000 that protects federal employees from genetic discrimination, the EEOC provided guidance indicating that instances of disparate treatment on the basis of genetic test results or family medical history would support a claim that an individual was “regarded as” having a disability and thus protected under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.

As a matter of history, Congress and advocates alike did not believe that the ADA or Section 504 were sufficient to protect individuals from genetic nondiscrimination. In the statutory text of GINA, Congress found, “Federal law addressing genetic discrimination…is incomplete in both the scope and depth of its protections.” (PL 110-233, Finding 5).

To date, there are no direct cases on point deciding that genetic information is a “perceived disability” under the ADA and Section 504 or, conversely, ruling out that possibility.

What are the implications of this case?

Ultimately, a broad ruling in Chadam that genetic information alone is a sufficient basis to bring an action for “perceived disability” could dramatically expand individual genetic nondiscrimination protection—at least in the Ninth Circuit. Courts in other federal circuits would not be bound by a Ninth Circuit decision and could choose whether or not to follow it. That reality, combined with the strong public reactions to this case, suggests that Congress has important work to do to strengthen genetic nondiscrimination protections in education and other sectors of society currently not addressed directly by federal statutes.

Filed under Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, GINA, Pending Litigation

The Patent Dispute Over Gene Editing Technologies: The Broad Institute, Inc. vs. The Regents of the University of California

CRISPR-Cas9 editing of the genomeThe patent dispute already called “the biggest in biotech history” is only getting started. On January 11, 2016, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Deborah Katz officially declared an interference over patents for the CRISPR-Cas gene editing technologies. An interference is a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) administrative proceeding conducted to determine which of multiple claimants to a particular invention has priority rights. Since the patents in question were filed before the March 2013 effective date of the America Invents Act, priority will be awarded to the claimant who was the first to invent the technology in question. This dispute pits Feng Zhang, the Broad Institute, and MIT against Jennifer Doudna and the University of California-Berkeley as well as Emmanuelle Charpentier, Krzysztof Chylinski, and the University of Vienna. Law professor Jacob S. Sherkow has followed the case closely and has provided useful background information on Stanford’s Law and Biosciences Blog.
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Filed under Genomics & Society, Legal & Regulatory, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation

Genetic Discrimination Case Against School District is Appealed to Ninth Circuit

classroom-1534186As Stephanie M. Lee reported for Buzzfeed in a well-written account (which contains links to the relevant court documents), an appeal was filed in January with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Chadam v. Palo Alto Unified School District (4:13-CV-04129-CW). At issue in the case is whether the school district violated a boy’s rights when it decided to force him to transfer schools. The student’s parents allege the transfer decision was because he is a carrier of a genetic variant associated with Cystic Fibrosis or CF (although he has not exhibited symptoms of the disease), and the appeal argues the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint that the school district’s decision to transfer violated his rights under Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act or ADA (42 U.S.C.A. §12131 et seq.), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C.A. § 794), and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. At the trial court level, the school district successfully defended its decision to transfer the boy by arguing it relied on medical advice and made the decision in an attempt to protect other children at the school who have CF.
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Filed under Badges, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, GINA, Privacy

EEOC Tries to Harmonize ACA’s Promotion of Employer Wellness Programs with GINA’s Ban Against Employer Access to Genetic Information of Employees and Employees’ Family Members

Gina name tagThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits employers from requesting genetic information (defined broadly) from their prospective, current, or former employees. GINA contains only six limited exceptions to this prohibition, one of which is an exception for wellness programs in which the employee’s participation is voluntary.

On October 30, 2015 the EEOC issued a proposed rule to amend GINA regulations in an attempt to harmonize them with the Affordable Care Act’s promotion of employer wellness programs to lower health care costs.
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Filed under Badges, General Interest, GINA, Legal & Regulatory, Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

Australia revokes Myriad’s three patent claims on isolated BRCA1 DNA

genome sequenceIn a decision issued on October 7, 2015, the High Court of Australia (High Court) ruled unanimously in D’Arcy v. Myriad Genetics Inc., [2015] HCA 35, that three BRCA1 patent claims held by Myriad Genetics, Inc. under Australian Patent 686,004 were invalid. While Myriad’s patent had actually expired on August 11, 2015, the court decision set important precedent relevant to intellectual property in genetics/omics and precision medicine.

The D’Arcy case itself, along with other litigation in the U.S. involving Myriad’s gene patents, has been discussed previously on Genomics Law Report (See generally here). Mutations in the BRCA1 gene confer increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The Myriad scientists were first to clone and sequence BRCA1, the gene that Mary-Claire King had linked to cancer susceptibility in a landmark paper in Science in 1990. Myriad identified several BRCA1 mutations. Myriad’s Australian Patent 686,004 contains 30 separate claims. Yvonne D’Arcy challenged the validity of the first three claims in Myriad’s patent, which claimed the isolated BRCA1 sequences with mutations conferring increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
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Filed under Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Medicine, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP

How Privacy Law Affects Medical and Scientific Research

eyeball_nOver the last five or so years my law practice has focused increasingly on privacy law, both domestic and international. In hindsight, this was a predictable outcome: as an intellectual property lawyer, many of my clients do business on the Internet or are engaged in scientific research and development, with many of the latter in the health care area. These are the very kinds of people who need to worry about privacy—of their customers, users, patients, and subjects. As they started on focusing on privacy concerns, these clients turned to their IP lawyers for help, and my Robinson Bradshaw colleagues and I have tried to stay ahead of their needs.

As a consequence of my growing privacy practice, I am regularly called on to give overviews to other lawyers as well as non-lawyers in the scientific and business communities. I thought it might be useful to devote a GLR post to a privacy law summary targeted at readers who conduct medical and other scientific research. Privacy law is a transnational mess, so this will be a bit longer than I’d like—my apologies, and please don’t shoot the messenger—but I’ll try to cut through the legal jargon.
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Filed under International Developments, Legal & Regulatory, Privacy

Are Software Patents Dead?—Alice’s Implications for Life Sciences

Not too long ago, getting patents on software and business methods was all the rage. And concern about their effects was profound. In fact, in 2003 I spoke at a Federal Reserve Bank conference devoted to the question of whether such patents were an existential threat to the financial industry. Now, after a series of Supreme Court cases that brought about a dramatic shift in the approach taken by the lower courts and the Patent Office, the question is whether those patents are still alive. The answer is that they are, but barely, and their prognosis is bad.

Do these developments matter to people in the life sciences? The answer is a resounding yes. If we then ask why software patentability matters, the answer is that life sciences are increasingly focused on software-dependent data analysis.

These points were brought home to me when I spoke at another, more recent conference—the Bio-IT World Conference in Boston this past April.
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Filed under Bioinformatics/IT, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP

Conley Q & A on LDTs and the FDA

FDA v LDTIn her recent post on the FDA’s draft guidance on its proposed oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs), Jen Wagner mentioned my interview with Genome Web’s Turna Ray on January 15, 2015. Turna asked me to address some arguments made in a “white paper” written by former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe on behalf of their client, the American Clinical Laboratory Association. The main point that Clement and Tribe made was that the FDA lacks legal authority to oversee LDTs, at least in the way that it’s proposing to do so. As I told Turna, I don’t necessarily disagree with their position; in fact, I’m skeptical about the FDA’s authority to do this. Also, like Jen, I’m not persuaded the proposed FDA initiative is likely to work well from a practical perspective. Nonetheless, I agreed to play along in a devil’s advocate exercise, making the counterarguments I’d make if representing the FDA. Here’s a brief summary of my arguments:
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Filed under Badges, FDA LDT Regulation, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation, Uncategorized

Groundhog Day: FDA and Proposed Oversight of LDTs

FDA v LDTOnce again, attention in Washington, DC has turned to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its proposed oversight of all laboratory developed tests (LDTs). The occasion for this attention was the FDA’s separate releases on October 3, 2014 of its proposed LDT framework and proposed notification and medical device reporting guidance. The former describes the basic structure for how the FDA intends to exercise its authority over LDTs as medical devices (e.g., risk classification and enforcement discretion categories), and the latter describes the process by which laboratories offering LDTs must notify the FDA of all LDTs (i.e., registration) and the adverse event reporting requirements that would apply to LDTs as medical devices (i.e., reporting of deaths, serious injuries, malfunctions, etc.). The agency hosted a public meeting on January 8-9, 2015 to discuss the proposed guidance and is accepting written public comments until February 2, 2015. [No joke: Comments are, in fact, due on Groundhog Day.]

• Comments on the proposed LDT framework (Docket No. FDA-2011-D-0360) can be submitted here.
• Comments on the proposed notification and medical device reporting (Docket No. FDA-2011-D-0357) can be submitted here.

The public meeting featuring speakers and panelists was organized into six topical sessions covering test components and labeling; clinical validity and intended use; categories for continued enforcement discretion; notification and adverse event reporting; classification and prioritization; and quality system regulation. The FDA has promised to post the transcript (and, in the meantime, some live tweets from the meeting will remain available on @DNAlawyer’s feed). Dr. Jeff Shuren started the meeting with a reminder that the FDA’s proposed guidance was based on discussions held five years ago, in 2010. (Prior GLR coverage is here.)
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Filed under Badges, FDA LDT Regulation, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Pending Regulation