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.
Last January we kicked off the new year by posing “Five Questions for Personal Genomics in 2010.” Here were the five questions we asked:
1. Will the $1,000 genome live up to the hype?
2. Will personal genomics stay DTC?
3. How will the ongoing gene patent debate affect the progress of personalized medicine?
4. When and where will the next regulatory shoe fall?
5. Who will control the data?
A year later the question that comes first to mind is, has anything really changed?
The short answer is no, not fundamentally, although that is not meant to imply that nothing of note happened in 2010. Far from it, as significant legal, regulatory, policy and technological developments continued to reshape the personal genomics landscape.
With that in mind, we welcome 2011 with a look back at the year that was, and a look ahead at what to expect from 2011 and beyond.
Last fall we reported on the passage of the Human Genetic Examination Act by the German Bundestag. We characterized the Gendiagnostikgesetz (GenDG), as the act is known in Germany, as “a clear example of what is known as ‘genetic exceptionalism’—the belief that genetic information is qualitatively different from other forms of personal or medical information—staking out a position near the paternalistic end of genetic regulation.”
The GenDG (pdf) took effect early this year and, until recently, little news of its impact on German law, policy or business has made its way across the Atlantic. Last week, however, several prestigious German scientific academies released a report entitled “Predictive Genetic Diagnostics as an Instrument of Disease Prevention.” The “Academy Group,” as the report’s authors refer to themselves, consists of the Leopoldina, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German Academy of Science and Engineering Acatech. Astoundingly, according to a recent editorial in the journal Nature, the report is the first from the group in its 350 year existence.
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. In addition to the regular @genomicslawyer Twitter recap, this week I was also tweeting from the 6th annual Partners Healthcare conference on Personalized Medicine. So this version of the Twitter Roundup comes in two sections: tweets from the Partners conference, as well as a brief recap, followed by the regular Twitter roundup.
Part I: Personalized Medicine Conference. Much like last year’s conference, which I also attended and tweeted, the dominant theme voiced by both speakers and attendees was the need to overhaul the personalized medicine reimbursement model. From increasing up-front R&D costs to slowing patient and participant uptake, both of which depress investor interest, almost everybody agreed that reimbursement for personalized medicine products – and advanced diagnostics in particular – needs work.
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.
[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?
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.
Earlier today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will hold a public meeting July 19-20 to “discuss how the agency will oversee laboratory-developed tests (LDTs).” The FDA has made several high-profile announcements over the past month – particularly in the area of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing – but today’s development, despite its not receiving the same degree of media attention, is likely the most significant development to date.
Why? Until today, the FDA’s recent announcements have involved a series of letters to DTC genetic testing companies, beginning last month with Pathway Genomics and continuing last week with letters to five other prominent DTC companies. Despite all of the attention paid to these letters, the sum total of the FDA’s regulatory focus amounted to only a handful of products. Today’s announcement, on the other hand, declares the FDA’s intent to much more aggressively regulate the entire field of LDTs. While an exact count of the number of LDTs available is impossible, GeneTests.org lists more than 2,000 genetic tests from nearly 600 laboratories, numbers which do not even include genetic tests and other diagnostic products offered DTC. After having been criticized for a policy of case-by-case regulation, the FDA has answered with a move to regulate the entire field of laboratory-based testing.
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Last week the FDA sent letters to five personal genomics companies alleging that the companies are manufacturing and selling medical devices without appropriate FDA review. The FDA’s decision to substantially increase its regulatory oversight of some of the most prominent direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic service providers has met with a mixed reaction. Supporters of the move argue that these DTC products are medical in nature and require more stringent regulatory controls. Critics, including at least one of the companies receiving a letter (23andMe), fault the FDA for adopting a paternalistic stance to personal genetic information and imposing unnecessary regulatory controls.
What’s Next for DTC? In last week’s post, we outlined several possible responses available to DTC genetics companies, including (1) pulling products from market, (2) agreeing to comply with FDA regulatory requirements, (3) modifying products to avoid FDA oversight or (4) challenging the FDA’s regulatory authority over DTC genetic testing products. We also noted the possibility that the FDA’s decision to look more closely at DTC genetic tests could presage increased scrutiny of the genetic testing industry more broadly, including the many tests currently offered without FDA clearance or approval as laboratory developed tests (LDTs).