The business of genetic testing has progressed rapidly, if unevenly, over the past several years. Like any business based on new and rapidly developing science, the promise of new products and markets is counter-balanced by the obstacles of developing commercial products from raw science, fostering markets for those products, constructing profitable business models and overcoming novel legal and regulatory hurdles.
The Regulatory Environment Turns Negative. Until May 2010, the regulatory challenges in the genetic testing world seemed relatively benign, with most attention focused on patent and related IP issues (e.g. the Myriad gene patent litigation) and a challenging economic climate which made commercial operations and capital raising difficult for most businesses.
Jeffrey N. Gibbs is a director at the law firm of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara and specializes in FDA-related matters.
For many years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the position that while it has the authority to regulate laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) as devices, the agency would exercise its enforcement discretion and not do so. More recently, FDA has taken a series of steps that backtrack from that approach, and indicated that it intends to regulate at least some LDTs as devices. Whether FDA has the legal authority to regulate LDTs or whether the agency can do so without going through notice-and-comment rulemaking will be hotly debated. The issue of whether FDA regulation is necessary or beneficial will also trigger sharply differing views. What is not debatable is that the regulation of LDTs as devices under the existing device regulatory regime, should it occur, would have a significant effect on the laboratories offering the tests that are regulated as devices, and will increase the regulatory costs for assays.
Meggan Bushee is a student at the Wake Forest University School of Law.
This past May, Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) re-introduced a personalized medicine bill to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill was originally introduced in 2006 by then-Senator from Illinois Barack Obama. While HR 5440, also known as the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2010 (GPMA 2010), has retained the name of the bill originally introduced by Senator Obama, its approach to the regulation of personalized medicine has taken a new direction.
GPMA 2010 is the fourth version of the GPMA since the original bill of 2006, and includes the most ambitious initiatives of all of its predecessors. Why has the GPMA re-surfaced after three prior versions failed to make it out of committee? According to Representative Kennedy, the bill has been re-introduced in response to increased public awareness and use of genomic tests. At present, GPMA 2010 is before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. This is the same committee that recently conducted high-profile hearings to review the current state of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing registry.
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:
- The next step in nanopore seq? RT @techreview: Graphene Could Improve DNA Sequencing http://bit.ly/aQMUvD
- Complete Genomics adds $39M in Series E, readies for IPO & prepares to defend against $ILMN infringement claim: http://bit.ly/9yMHva
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Back in March, we headlined our discussion of the district court judgment in the Myriad case “Pigs Fly.” Guess what?—they’re still aloft. On August 4, in a highly technical patent case that, appropriately enough, involved “porcine virus DNA,” one Federal Circuit judge—dissenting Judge Timothy B. Dyk—suggested that he might agree with the basic principle of the Myriad holding: that isolated DNA sequences are not necessarily patentable.
Judge Dyk’s comments were a bolt out of the blue, as he raised an issue that had not been addressed by the parties or the lower court. Because he is a member of the court that will decide Myriad in the next year or so, Judge Dyk’s comments might be more significant than the district court opinion itself. (The case is Intervet Inc. v. Merial Ltd., Fed. Cir. 8/4/2010.)
Tom Clarkson is a student at the University of Georgia School of Law.
The “Wrongful Birth” debate is in the news yet again. In a pair of previous posts (here and here) the Genomics Law Report highlighted several issues relevant to the debate over what happens when states recognize a cause of action for wrongful birth, wrongful life or wrongful conception. A recent example from Florida illustrates that the debate continues.
Aiden, Caleb and Smith-Lemli-Opitz. In 2002 Aiden Estrada was born with a number of severe birth defects. Despite multiple examinations, Dr. Boris Kousseff, Director of Medical Genetics of the University of South Florida College of Medicine, failed to diagnose the symptoms as Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome and informed Aiden’s parents that they could expect a “normal” pregnancy if they conceived again. Relying on these representations, Amara and Daniel Estrada conceived a second child in 2004. This second child, Caleb, was born with symptoms nearly identical to those of his brother Aiden. Within one hour of Caleb’s birth, a geneticist at the University of Florida diagnosed him with Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. The Estradas sued, and a Florida jury awarded them more than $20 million dollars in their wrongful birth suit in July 2007.
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As regular readers know, the Genomics Law Report is a publication of the law firm Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson focusing on the legal implications of important developments in the fields of genomics and personalized medicine. Due to the increasing number of litigation, legislation, regulatory and policymaking activities in this field, one of the challenges for the GLR staff is to identify and review on a timely basis the developments that are most relevant to our readers.
The Genomics Law Report is seeking an intern with a background in law and personalized medicine to assist in identifying and preparing content for the GLR. We expect that applicants will have a legal background with a strong interest in science, or vice versa. The internship will come with only a small stipend, but the work will provide the right individual the opportunity to learn and in the process to contribute to this important and growing area of the law.
Interested applicants should send a resume and a short statement of interest of no more than 300 words describing the applicant’s background in the relevant fields to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor’s Note: Newsweek science editor Mary Carmichael has a DNA Dilemma. As Carmichael debates whether to take a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test, she is soliciting feedback from the DTC community, from the public and from other commentators, including myself. At the end of the week, she will make her decision.
On Tuesday, Carmichael and five commentators examined what can be learned from a DTC genetic test. Yesterday, the topic was whether DTC genetic tests are trustworthy, and whether the results can be cause for concern. Today’s topic is the regulation of DTC genetic tests. In addition to several short commentaries, including a much shorter version of the piece below, Carmichael has also posted a lengthy interview with two top FDA officials on the subject of DTC genetic testing regulation.
The column below is an expanded version of what appears over at Newsweek. To see all of the commentaries in Carmichael’s series, click here.]
The recent media attention focused on direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests has left companies, investors, consumers and even regulators scrambling to figure out what comes next.
As the situation stands today, companies and their investors live in a climate of unprecedented regulatory uncertainty, causing delays in the introduction of new products and rendering an already inhospitable economic climate – for both fundraising and sales – even more challenging. Commentators and regulators caution consumers that some DTC genetic tests may be unreliable or, worse, harmful, but have yet to provide clear tools and guidelines for evaluating competing tests. And regulators, including the FDA, must balance their mandate to protect the health and safety of the public with that same public’s desire for autonomy, while also recognizing that innovation is a prerequisite for a healthcare system that must continue to improve outcomes while reducing costs.
Clearly, something must change. But what will that change be? And how will the field of DTC genetic testing evolve? Will DTC be able to continue its current business while regulators and companies engage in protracted negotiations? Will oversight weed out the “snake oil salesmen” and permit legitimate companies to flourish? Will it drive all genetic testing (temporarily) out of the hands of consumers?
Or will the field change in a dramatic and completely unexpected way?