Earlier this month an FDA advisory panel met for two days to consider a range of issues pertaining to clinical direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing. The non-voting advisory panel’s discussion (pdf), including whether certain genetic tests or categories of tests should be made available only through qualified healthcare professionals, sparked considerable controversy (see here for a collection of links) and confusion.
In response, the FDA agreed to reopen the public docket in order to receive additional public input on scientific issues concerning DTC genetic tests. The docket will reopen tomorrow and will remain open through May 2nd (pdf).
For those with an interest in the FDA’s oversight of DTC genetic testing, this is the first of several opportunities to be heard. In addition to the newly reopened public docket, the FDA has also announced its next “town hall discussion” with top officials from the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the FDA center responsible for the regulation of medical devices, including genetic tests. Both CDRH director Jeffrey Shuren and OIVD Director Alberto Gutierrez are scheduled to participate in a public question-and-answer session on May 5th in Orlando, FL. An additional town hall discussion is slated for San Francisco, CA later in the year. The Genomics Law Report will post additional details for that meeting as they are made available.
Back on January 18, 2010, we reported on the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) refusal to exercise the government’s “march-in” rights under the Bayh-Dole Act with respect to the patent-protected drug Fabrazyme (agalsidase beta). The drug is an enzyme replacement produced from a recombinant mammalian cell line (i.e., a biologic) and is used to treat the symptoms of Fabry disease, a rare genetic condition that impairs the victim’s ability to metabolize fat and can lead to kidney failure and heart disease. Fabrazyme was developed at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, which obtained two patents related to its manufacture and granted Genzyme an exclusive manufacturing license. After contamination at Genzyme’s facility led to a severe shortage and Fabrazyme rationing, a lawyer for three patients petitioned the NIH to march in and grant licenses to other manufacturers. As it has in all other cases, NIH denied the request.
Now, those same patients, joined by eight others, have sued Genzyme and Mt. Sinai (which the complaint erroneously describes as part of the public City University of New York, when in fact it is affiliated with the private New York University) over the shortage. The complaint (pdf) was filed on March 9, 2011 in the federal district court in Pittsburgh. The plaintiffs are represented by C. Allen Black, the same Pennsylvania patent lawyer who filed the NIH march-in petition.
Beginning this week, we are unveiling a new format for the Genomics Law Report’s regular Twitter Roundup. In addition to cataloging Dan’s @genomicslawyer tweets, we will also be offering short summaries of several key developments pulled from those tweets which, for one reason or another, did not find their way into a full-length post. Think of this as a combination between the always informative Friday Links posts at Genomes Unzipped and The Cross-Border Biotech Blog’s semi-regular feature “This Week in the Twitterverse,” which was the original inspiration for the GLR’s Twitter Roundup.
The FDA’s public meeting on the future of clinical direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing (which we have covered here, here and here) is continuing to draw significant attention from the media and other commentators. Most of the coverage, especially over the past 7-10 days, has added little that is new in the way of either reporting or analysis. One exception, however, comes from Robert VerBruggen of National Review in his column on “The FDA’s Genetic Paternalism.”
What’s new and interesting here is not the substance of VerBruggen’s analysis. Whether or not you agree with Verbruggen’s particular formulation, the “paternalism” critique of proposed FDA regulation of DTC genetic testing is not new. What caught our eye is a comment from deCODE genetics’ CEO Kári Stefánsson. When questioned by VerBruggen about his company’s marketing of its DTC genetic test offering, deCODEme (see screenshot) – which includes statements such as “your genes are a road-map to better health” – here is how Stefánsson responded:
“I think that is both cheesy and somewhat incorrect. I don’t know who came up with that, but whoever it is, is going to be duly punished,” [Stefánsson] said. “I think it’s safe to say we’ll probably be removing that statement and putting up something that at least sounds better.”
After its well-publicized 2009 bankruptcy, deCODE emerged in 2010 as a privately-held company and so it is unlikely the public will know whether Stefánsson follows through with his promise to “duly punish” the source of the “road-map” statement. On the other hand, whether and how deCODE follows through with Stefánsson’s not-quite-a-promise to change deCODEme’s marketing and claims is something that will happen in full view of the public.
Last month we examined Massachusetts’ proposed Genetic Bill of Rights. Last week, we looked at a similar proposal to expand individuals’ property and privacy rights in genetic information proposed in the Vermont legislature. Today, we head west to California to examine another piece of recently introduced genetic legislation.
A New Padilla Proposal. The California proposal comes from state Senator Alex Padilla. If Padilla’s name sounds familiar, it is likely because he is the same Senator Padilla who introduced a widely discussed “bioinformatics bill” to the California legislature two years ago. That bill (S.B. 482) was drafted with the close participation of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing company 23andMe, and 23andMe and Senator Padilla later co-sponsored a policy forum in San Francisco on “genomics and the consumer” (at which I presented).
Unlike Padilla’s earlier effort, which would have significantly altered the regulatory environment for so-called “post-CLIA bioinformatics services” (basically, genetic interpretation performed after the generation of genetic genotype or sequence data in a CLIA environment), 2011’s effort (S.B. 559 (pdf)) will almost certainly be viewed as a much less controversial proposal.
The movement to confer greater legal protection to individuals’ genetic information has added another participant. Last month, we examined newly introduced legislation in Massachusetts which, if passed, would create a “Genetic Bill of Rights,” significantly expanding Massachusetts residents’ personal property and privacy rights in their genetic information. Since then, in what the Council for Responsible Genetics has termed a “groundswell for genetic privacy building in states,” state legislators in both California and Vermont have introduced new legislation that would confer greater protection upon individuals’ genetic information.
What should we make of this three state “groundswell?” Although not identical in scope or substance to the Massachusetts Genetic Bill of Rights (“MA GBR”), both the Vermont and California proposals appear to reflect a concern (shared by the MA GBR) that, at least when it comes to the use and misuse of genetic information, the current system of federal oversight is inadequate. Then again, as the legislative findings section of the California proposal (pdf) puts it, perhaps “the current explosion in the science of genetics” simply “compels legislative action in this area.”
Earlier this week, I attended a public two-day meeting of the FDA’s Molecular and Clinical Genetics Panel (“MCGP”) in Gaithersburg, MD. The meeting was not particularly well attended (approximately 100 people were in the room) but the topic of the panel’s deliberations – how to appropriately regulate direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests – has sparked intense and ongoing public debate.
Numerous private and public conversations following the meeting indicate that there is considerable confusion about what actually happened at the meeting, including what the MCGP “recommended” to the FDA and what the FDA is likely to do with those recommendations. With that in mind, I followed up today with Dr. Alberto Gutierrez and Dr. Elizabeth Mansfield of the FDA’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Evaluation and Safety (OIVD) to seek clarification.
Day one of the FDA’s two-day public meeting on the future of clinical DTC genetic testing is in the books. Those unable to attend in person were, unfortunately, forced to resort to Twitter coverage of the proceedings as the government declined to provide a live webcast. (I’m told there will not be a recorded webcast either. Perhaps the FDA is engaging in preventative cost-cutting.)
The first day was divided into three roughly equal parts: background presentations from the FDA and invited speakers, a second set of “public presentations” by companies and individuals who requested time to present their views and, finally, public deliberations by the Molecular and Clinical Genetics Panel (“MCGP”). Tomorrow will feature more public presentations, several more sessions of MCGP deliberations and, at the end of the meeting, recommendations from the MCGP to the FDA on the questions presented (pdf) by the FDA.
A Familiar Feeling to Day One. The first two sessions, which featured presentations to the MCGP, followed a fairly familiar script. Opponents of clinical DTC genetic testing worried that incorrect or misinterpreted tests could produce harmful outcomes, and questioned whether there was anything of value to be gained from the tests in the first place. Proponents argued that the DTC model empowered patients to explore their genetic selves without any ill effects. For those who attended or followed last summer’s two-day public meeting to discuss the FDA’s proposal to regulate laboratory developed tests (LDTs), much of the conversation echoed what was said on day two of that meeting during the direct-to-consumer (DTC) session.
In a few hours, the FDA will kick off a two-day public meeting to consider the future of clinical direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests. Few corners of the personal genomics landscape have generated as much attention from regulators, consumers and, especially, the media as DTC genetic testing. Thus, when the meeting was first announced last month, we applauded the FDA’s attempt to examine DTC’s unique set of issues separate from other larger and ongoing regulatory conversations, including whether and how to regulate the far more numerous category of laboratory developed tests (LDTs).
So just what should we expect from the next two-days? 2010 saw a flurry of DTC-related regulatory and legislative activity but, ultimately, little in the way of new oversight or concrete guidance. Both regulators (including the FDA) and industry appear to have responded in 2011 with a more measured approach, and this week’s meeting is an opportunity to thoroughly examine the state of DTC genetic testing and develop a clear, sensible strategy for future oversight of the industry.
Over at Genetic Future, Daniel MacArthur has already weighed in, adopting a tone of cautious optimism in advance of the DTC meeting. Meanwhile, with just a few hours left until the meeting kicks off, here are three key points I’ll be emphasizing in my own talk tomorrow morning (slides):
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 @wilbanks: As an aside, the more i dig into it, the more I am loving @genomesunzipped
- RT @wilbanks: Summer legal internship @creativecommons – see http://bit.ly/earj5B
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