It has been a busy few weeks for the Genomics Law Report. We provided extensive live-Twitter coverage of several recent events, including the FDA’s public LDT meetings (Day 1, Day 2) and last week’s Congressional hearing on DTC genetic testing. However, with so much going on at the intersection of genomics and the law, not every interesting story found its way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. Here is a recap of what else I was Tweeting recently @genomicslawyer:
- Excellent per usual: @dgmacarthur on the costs of protecting consumers from their own genetic info: http://bit.ly/99DD7D
- GLR Post: European Court Issues Gene Patent Ruling Against Monsanto—A Myriad Connection? http://bit.ly/9EbufG
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In another significant international development, on July 6, the Court of Justice of the European Union (more commonly known by its old name, the European Court of Justice or ECJ) ruled against Monsanto Technology LLC (pdf) in its suit against an Argentine company called Cetera and several other parties.
The Court sat in a 13-member Grand Chamber, which is eurojargon for “really big deal,” and issued a ruling which leaves gene patents essentially intact but warns national courts to construe them carefully. (Travel advisory aside: If you ever have a chance to visit the Court in Luxembourg, do. Its magnificently robed judges sit in medieval splendor in a hideous modern building. Lawyers (usually several per case), robed almost as magnificently, read long and pompous arguments that are translated into many languages. The judges, apparently having already decided the case, ask no questions and seem to pay no attention. The rulings are logically convoluted and delivered in baroque language. Everyone seems immensely pleased with the spectacle.)
It has been a busy week in Washington for direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing companies. Following public FDA meetings and a new round of FDA device notification letters earlier in the week, representatives from three major DTC genetic testing companies (23andMe, Navigenics and Pathway Genomics) were hauled in front of Congress today to defend their companies, their industry and the practice of DTC genetic testing.
The hearing on “Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to Public Health” was conducted by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The meeting was chaired by Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan. Materials from the hearing, including a briefing memorandum, opening statements from Stupak and Representative Henry Waxman of California and witness testimony are available on the Committee’s website. Also available are materials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into DTC genetic tests. These materials include the report the GAO submitted to Congress – “Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests: Misleading Test Results Are Further Complicated by Deceptive Marketing and Other Questionable Practices” (pdf) – as well as a YouTube video featuring excerpts from undercover phone calls made by the GAO to DTC companies as part of their investigation (both of which are discussed in detail below).
Earlier this week the FDA held a widely publicized two-day public meeting to discuss its planned regulation of laboratory developed tests (LDTs) (for more see: Day One Recap and Day Two Recap). Other than Monday morning, when the FDA presented background information on LDTs and some of the considerations that have pushed the Agency to pursue a “risk-based application of oversight to LDTs,” the top Agency officials at the meeting were conspicuously quiet. Elsewhere, however, the FDA was doing plenty of talking.
In letters dated July 19th, the first day of the FDA’s public LDT meeting, the Agency continued its crackdown on direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test providers, mailing letters to 14 providers of genetic tests. A list of all 14 companies and tests appears below.
The second and final day of the FDA’s “Public Meeting on Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests” (LDTs) brought forth many of the same comments and themes as the first. The primary difference was that, whereas the first day began with some comments from the Agency that provided a few hints about what the FDA has in store for LDTs, the second day was notable for the FDA’s near-total silence (although key officials were present and listening). Indeed, perhaps the loudest applause of the day was reserved for Sharon Terry of Genetic Alliance, who remarked that while she was glad the FDA had invited so many comments, “it would be nice [if the Agency] would say something back.”
Something Old, Something New. In addition to a reiteration of yesterday’s themes – especially the need for additional data demonstrating how LDTs are used and what harms, if any, they have inflicted on consumers and patients – a few new areas of discussion emerged over the course of the day. Those included:
Welcome to Hyattsville, MD, where we have just completed day one of FDA’s two day “Public Meeting on Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests” (LDTs). The session was civil, well-organized and largely devoid of surprises. It did, however, mark the official kick-off of the FDA’s highly publicized decision to develop a “risk-based application of oversight” for all LDTs.
If you’re interested in the details of what was said and by whom you’ll find links at the bottom to all of the relevant transcripts, video feeds and Twitter coverage. For my part, here are the three key take-away points from day one:
Timing. Last week I wrote that it was unlikely that this meeting, or any of the other myriad regulatory and legislative proposals for LDT regulation, would produce a significant shift in the legal and regulatory landscape any time soon. One day of FDA meetings has done nothing to change that opinion.
Next week, the eyes of the personal genomics world will be focused on Washington, D.C., where the FDA and Congress will be meeting separately to consider the industry’s future. First, the FDA will convene a highly-anticipated public meeting (July 19th and 20th) to “discuss how the agency will oversee laboratory-developed tests (LDTs).” The FDA announced last month a proposal to develop a “risk-based” approach to oversight of all LDTs – a broad category that includes the vast majority of genetic tests, including high-complexity diagnostic tests (IVDMIAs) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests. Hot on the heels of the FDA meeting, on July 22nd, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce – which two months ago launched its own investigation into the personal genomics industry – will hold a subcommittee hearing on “Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to the Public Health.”1
While the genomics and personalized medicine communities anxiously await the upcoming FDA and Congressional meetings, yesterday the future of personal genomics was being debated on the opposite coast, at a policy forum in San Francisco entitled “Genomics and the Consumer: The Present and Future of Personalized Medicine” (pdf). The forum, which was hosted by California State Senator Alex Padilla (sponsor of S.B. 482, the so-called “bioinformatics bill”) and personal genomics company 23andMe, was filled with speculation from personal genomics investors, providers, customers and commentators about what the FDA and Congress might have in store for the field.
Last week, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it had captured a man suspected of being the “Grim Sleeper”: a serial killer linked with at least 10 murders over 25 years.1 The case marks the first time in the United States that a DNA search technique known as familial searching has led to an arrest in a homicide case.
As we’ve previously discussed, a partial match between two DNA profiles may indicate that the donors of the corresponding samples may be related. In familial searching, a database is searched for the purpose of identifying partial, rather than exact, matches against the sample of unknown origin. Those partial matches are then used as investigatory leads.
Though familial searching has been used with some success in other countries, few states openly endorse its practice. Those states that permit the use of partial matches at all generally prohibit the intentional search for those matches, requiring instead that they be discovered inadvertently. California began using familial searching in 2008 in a first attempt to identify the Grim Sleeper. At the time, the failure to produce a suspect was seen as a strike against the technique: if familial searching could implicate privacy concerns and subject innocent individuals to excessive genetic surveillance, it certainly could not be justified without being able to point to positive results.2 Since then, one DNA profile of particular interest was added to California’s database: that belonging to the son of the man now identified as the Grim Sleeper.
I’m pleased to announce the beta launch of a new community resource for personal genomics, Genomes Unzipped.
I’ve been working with a group of colleagues on this project for quite a while now. Some of the group members will be familiar to regular readers of the Genomics Law Report, including Daniel MacArthur from Genetic Future, Luke Jostins from Genetic Inference and Caroline Wright from the PHG Foundation. Others are new to the online personal genomics community, but have scientific training in genomic analysis, statistical genetics and other fields that allow them to offer valuable insight into personal genomics issues. We’ll be adding more names to that list over the next few weeks.
With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there are often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. Here is a recap of what I was Tweeting recently @genomicslawyer:
- RT @ldtimmerman: Palo Alto’s DNAnexus seeks to capitalize on the DNA pile-up, become leader in genomic analysis. http://bit.ly/bfYoXg
- RT @ewencallaway: @23andMe questions the centenarian GWAS and says it won’t use it with their customers. http://bit.ly/8X96KY
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