Genomics & Society
On April 15, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. This was another significant step—probably the penultimate one—in the long-running Myriad drama. It began with a group of plaintiffs (including researchers, doctors, and breast cancer patients) joining an American Civil Liberties Union-organized lawsuit to invalidate Myriad’s patents on two breast cancer susceptibility genes (BRCA1 and 2) as well as patents on methods of interpreting genetic test results and testing anti-cancer drug efficacy. In a shocking decision, the federal district court in New York threw out all of Myriad’s patents. The Federal Circuit then reversed the district court’s rulings on the gene patents, with the three-judge panel holding unanimously that cDNA is patentable subject matter and holding 2-1 that isolated genomic DNA is patentable as well. The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that Myriad’s methods of interpreting mutations are not patentable, but reversed it in reinstating Myriad’s claims to methods of testing drug efficacy.
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Three days of hearings by a House of Representatives committee concluded yesterday with a pledge from an FDA official to finalize long-awaited guidance on the regulation of mobile medical applications “in coming weeks“; at the latest by the end of the FDA’s fiscal year (i.e., September 30th).
The hearings, convened jointly by several subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, were announced last week following a pointed letter to the FDA (pdf) from seven committee members on March 1st. In the letter, the Congressmen pressed the FDA for information on the agency’s mHealth regulatory timeline and the implications for innovation and industry of the proposed regulations.
A Preview of Guidance to Come. As covered previously here at the Genomics Law Report, in July 2011 the FDA released draft guidance (pdf) outlining its intent to regulate a limited subset of mobile medical applications based on their perceived risk to patients and consumers.
Last week, the FDA published on its website a warning letter to AMARC Enterprises, Inc., a marketer of a dietary supplement known as Poly-MVA. (Here is the company’s description of the supplement.) While the letter is not addressed to a high-profile company or product, given that the FDA’s action will likely have broader significance beyond just AMARC and its Poly-MVA supplement, all currently or potentially FDA-regulated entities, including consumer genomics companies, should take note.
The AMARC letter, issued by a regional compliance office and dating to this past December, is unremarkable in most respects. The majority of the letter focuses on website copy, printed information packets, customer testimonials and other materials that appear, at least to the FDA, to represent claims made by AMARC that the Poly-MVA supplement is “intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,” thus making it a drug subject to FDA regulatory approval.
Seating was in short supply to hear oral arguments before the Supreme Court in what J. Alito referred to as “the most important criminal procedural case that this court has heard in decades,” Maryland v. King. Eager spectators –including this contributor for the Genomics Law Report – lined up along the marble steps of the Supreme Court building and waited amidst biting winter temperatures in excess of four hours before being allowed inside. [I thought to myself, “if I can brave the cold for football, I can brave the cold to see our nation’s highest court in action.”] The second of two cases scheduled for the morning of February 26, 2013, oral arguments for Maryland v. King were already underway when the fortunate final spectators were ushered inside. Katherine Winfree and Michael Dreeben argued for the Petitioners (the State of Maryland) and Kannon Shanmugam argued on behalf of the Respondent (Alonzo King).
The Genomics Law Report has covered the brewing constitutional controversy of DNA fingerprinting upon arrest previously, as U.S. v. Mitchell tentatively settled the matter in the 3rd Circuit, as the 9th Circuit continued to wrestle with Haskell v. Harris, and as various state courts, including Minnesota and Colorado [pdf], faced similar questions.
Background on Maryland v. King. Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was arrested in 2009 and charged with first- and second-degree assault. As part of his initial arrest, King submitted to DNA fingerprinting collected by law enforcement under the Maryland DNA Collection Act. More than half the states [pdf] have statutes similar to Maryland’s, and there is also a similar federal statute (the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 [pdf]). King admitted to his involvement and was ultimately convicted of second-degree assault, a misdemeanor and an offense not qualifying on its own for DNA collection upon arrest under Maryland’s law.
A day after Amgen purchased deCODE Genetics for a whopping $415M, in part for access to its unique data (as described in yesterday’s post), 23andMe announced today it had raised $50M in new financing as part of a concerted effort to grow its genetic database to one million customers.
Both events underscore the increasing importance of data to the business of personalized medicine. In addition, today’s news suggests that 23andMe’s efforts to refocus the company to maximize its most valuable asset – “an engaged, enthusiastic and growing community of customers-qua-research-participants” who supply the raw genetic, phenotypic and other material for 23andMe’s expanding database – continue apace.
Either way, in securing another massive round of financing and lowering its price to $99, the last company standing of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing pioneers appears unlikely to be joining deCODE, Navigenics and others in abandoning its consumer-facing approach any time soon.
The big biotech news of the day is the $415 million sale of deCODE Genetics to Amgen. Coverage of the deal is everywhere, including a typically excellent overview from Matthew Herper of Forbes.
We’ve written extensively about deCODE here at the Genomics Law Report over the years, including the company’s well-publicized bankruptcy and privatization two years ago. That transaction left plenty of deCODE shareholders out in the cold, and those shareholders aren’t likely to be feeling any better about things this winter.
Two years ago, questions were raised regarding how the newly private deCODE would utilize one of its most noteworthy assets: it’s database of genetic and other personal health information about Icelandic citizens. Those questions are likely to resurface now, as Amgen seeks to extract $415 million worth of a company that it bought – at least according to one of deCODE’s owners – in large part for access to deCODE’s data. Expect the usual assurances, but remember that those assurances are only as strong as the paper – and legal framework – upon which they are premised.
The Supreme Court today granted a writ of certiorari (meaning they agreed to hear the appeal) in Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., et al., the famous case centered on patents covering two human genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Of note is that the Court limited its grant of the appeal to the first of the three questions posed by the petitioners/plaintiffs: “Are human genes patentable?”
This morning, Gene By Gene, Ltd. – better known as the parent company of the popular genetic genealogy provider Family Tree DNA – formally announced a corporate reorganization that includes the debut of a new division, DNA DTC. (Apparently the news was also announced earlier this month at the Family Tree DNA Conference, although the company waited until today to launch press releases.)
The announcement from Gene By Gene is newsworthy for several reasons, including:
1. The Return of True DTC Whole Genome and Whole Exome Sequencing. According to DNA DTC, the company offers a range of products “utilizing next generation sequencing including the entire exome (at 80x coverage) and the whole genome.” The company’s website, while fairly spartan, appears to bear this out. Whole exomes ($695 at 80x coverage) and genomes ($5,495 at 30x coverage) are both listed as available products.
Now, Gene By Gene is not, as its Wikipedia page claims (as of this writing), “the first commercial company to offer whole genome sequencing tests.” Knome earned that honor more than four years ago, when it started selling whole genome sequences for $350,000; an astounding price, either low (given the cost of the first human genome was $3 billion) or high (given that, well, it was $350,000) depending on your perspective. Gene By Gene probably does represent, however, the only commercial company currently offering a whole genome sequence in a truly direct-to-consumer (DTC) manner.
Earlier this month, my colleagues John Conley, Robert Cook-Deegan, James Evans and I published a policy article in the European Journal of Human Genetics (EJHG) entitled “The next controversy in genetic testing: clinical data as trade secrets.”
The EJHG article is open access so you can read the entire article at the EJHG website, but here is the abstract:
ENCODE, CODIS, and the Urgent Need to Focus on what is Scientifically and Legally Relevant to the DNA Fingerprinting Debate
Sara Huston Katsanis, MS is an Associate in Research at the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University.
On September 5, 2012, a coordinated release of 30 articles in Nature, Cell, Science, Genome Research, Genome Biology and other journals published the long-awaited findings of The Encylopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Consortium. The press coverage of ENCODE data is deafening at this point, and ENCODE’s relevance to GLR readers may not be immediately apparent.
Across the U.S., numerous groups are challenging the integration of CODIS profiles (sometimes called “DNA Fingerprints”) into the routine booking procedures upon arrest for certain crimes (depending on the state), placing genetic profiling among other standard procedures such as fingerprinting and mug shot photographs. The GLR has covered these legal challenges previously (including here, here, and here).
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