What does the FDA Approval of the MiSeqDx Platform Mean for DTC?

FDA v DTCOn November 19, 2013—three days before the highly-publicized warning letter to 23andMe (See here and here)—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it had given approval for the marketing of four Illumina MiSeqDX medical devices. They include two cystic fibrosis genetic assays as well as the Illumina MiSeqDX instrument platform and Illumina Universal Kit reagents. The FDA’s press release characterizes them as “devices that can be used for high throughput gene sequencing, often referred to as ‘next generation sequencing’” (NGS). These instruments, reagents, and test systems allow labs to sequence a patient’s DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

What does the FDA’s approval of the MiSeqDx platform for the clinical market mean for the DTC industry? For example, does this mean that 23andMe could just switch platforms from the Illumina HumanOmniExpress-24 format chip to MiSeqDx and be free from future FDA meddling? Could new companies enter the industry free from regulatory burdens by using Illumina’s MiSeqDx platform? Don’t bet on it.

It is likely that the FDA would take the position that its 510(k) premarket approval (a process John explained briefly on December 3) of the MiSeqDx instrument and MiSeqDx Universal Kit was not intended to be a blanket “go ahead” for DTC providers to offer a service like 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service®. Rather, it is more likely that the FDA would insist on review and pre-market approval of MiSeqDx as an next-generation sequencing in vitro diagnostic (or NGSIVD) if it were used for any purpose other than return of raw genomic data (i.e., if any interpretation were provided along with that raw data). It is also unclear to what extent these FDA approvals will allow future applicants to rely on the approved MiSeqDX products as “predicate devices” to clear some of the regulatory hurdles more easily. (Specifically, the future applicant would claim that its device was “substantially equivalent” to the already-approved device.)

The FDA’s own press release nowhere mentions a non-patient consumer. The press release emphasizes how next-generation sequencing technologies are “becoming more accessible for use by physicians,” underscoring the FDA’s continued insistence that clinicians be the gatekeepers for accessing information about one’s genome. The press release states front and center: “The new technology also gives physicians the ability to take a broader look at their patients’ genetic makeup and can help in diagnosing disease or identifying the cause of symptoms.”

The FDA’s approval of the MiSeqDx platform is thus intriguing, but the future regulation of DTC genomic testing remains uncertain. The 510(k) approval of the MiSeqDx platform may signal that raw data provided DTC might be acceptable to the FDA but that interpretation of that genomic data in any way related to health would still provoke FDA scrutiny and, possibly, hostility. Could a DTC provider use the MiSeqDx platform and successfully argue that its interpretation of raw data is a Laboratory Developed Test (LDT; a test manufactured and used within a single CLIA-certified lab) and, therefore, potentially outside the reach of the FDA? We can’t say for sure at this point. As for the implications of this for 23andMe, as I reported on December 6, current indications suggest that the company is still trying to gain FDA approval of its Personal Genome Service.

Filed under Badges, Direct-to-Consumer Services, FDA LDT Regulation, Genomic Policymaking, Genomic Sequencing, Industry News, Legal & Regulatory

Update: 23andMe appeases FDA

FDA v LDTIn an effort to quiet the storm, 23andMe has announced that it does intend to continue seeking FDA approval and that, while that process is ongoing, it will no longer provide health-related information to new customers. Customers whose Personal Genome Service® kits were ordered prior to November 22, 2013 will still have access to that information; however, customers whose PGS was ordered after the FDA warning letter will only have access to ancestry information and their raw data. The company also announced that it would offer a refund to those who ordered the PGS on or after November 22, 2013.

So is this a victory for the FDA? Is this a loss for 23andMe? A setback for consumers? A win for anyone?
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Filed under Badges, Direct-to-Consumer Services, FDA LDT Regulation, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Pending Regulation, Uncategorized

The Revolt of the Cs: Class Action Filed Against 23and Me

The “Cs” in DTC have revolted, in the form of a consumer class action filed November 27, 2013, in a California federal court (Case 3:13-cv-02847-H-JMA). The suit, called Casey v. 23andMe, alleges that 23andMe falsely and misleadingly advertises its Personal Genome Service (PGS) test kit. The suit charges that these advertising practices violated numerous California statutes as well as other laws pertaining to misrepresention, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment.

A class action is a suit brought by a limited number of “named plaintiffs” or “class representatives” (here just one, 23andMe customer, Linda Casey) on behalf of a large number of other, similarly situated people (the class members) who don’t actually participate in the litigation but would share in any recovery. The class here consists of all of 23andMe’s customers. The case seeks unspecified monetary damages, including at a minimum a refund of whatever the class members paid for the PGS, as well as an order (an injunction) prohibiting 23and Me from engaging in false advertising in the future. If there have been, as estimated, almost half a million PGS purchasers who paid the list price of $99, then the damages are potentially big. The complaint in this case also asks that 23andMe be ordered to pay the fees of the class lawyers. Attorneys’ fees can be huge in class actions, sometimes—and very controversially—running into the millions of dollars.

The complaint makes extensive reference to the November 22, 2013, FDA warning letter as evidence of 23andMe’s false advertising, so it is reasonable to ask whether that letter prompted this suit. That is, did the lawyers see an opportunity to free-ride on the FDA’s work and the negative publicity attendant on the letter? Hard to say: On the one hand, the complaint is long, detailed, and carefully prepared, evidence that’s in been in preparation for a while. On the other, the timing coincidence and the symbiosis of the allegations are suggestive. Across the legal spectrum, class action filings have a tendency to follow bad news for the defendant.

What can we say about the likelihood of success, or at least a valuable settlement, for the plaintiff class and their lawyers? It’s too early to do much more than speculate. Nonetheless, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, the proposed class has to be initially approved, or “certified,” by the court before the case can continue as a class action. That’s a long (often a year or much more) and complex process involving difficult legal standards. As classes go, this one seems pretty coherent, so at first glance it would seem to have decent prospects for certification. As far as an ultimate winner and loser, the FDA has significantly helped the plaintiff class by setting out in its warning letter several specific advertising claims that it says are unsubstantiated. The class would have to prove at trial that the FDA’s charges are true, but those charges give the class a considerable head start. It is certainly a case with significant potential.

Filed under Direct-to-Consumer Services, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, Uncategorized

Troubles keep coming for 23andMe

As if the FDA warning letter wasn’t enough, 23andMe, Inc. now has a lawsuit on its hands. The suit, known as Casey v. 23andMe, was initiated on November 27, 2013, in federal court for the Southern District of California (Case 3:13-cv-02847-H-JMA). The suit is being brought as a class action and on the general basis of breach of implied warranties, unjust enrichment, and misrepresentation.
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Filed under Direct-to-Consumer Services, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Pending Litigation, Uncategorized

Reader Response . . .

James P. Evans, Bryson Distinguished Professor of Genetics & Medicine and Editor-in-Chief of Genetics in Medicine, responds to my post on the FDC “warning letter” to 23andMe:

I liked your piece – with one exception. You say you are “libertarian” in the medical realm. This could make sense if you paid for all of your medical care. But you don’t – and I warrant even Bill Gates doesn’t. We’re all in some kind of insurance scheme, be it private or public. Thus, the libertarian argument (“It’s my body, I want this test/treatment/etc”.) doesn’t fly in my mind.

When medical tests are misused, we all pay – even if you pay for the initial test itself – because of downstream costs. If I give someone antibiotics inappropriately because they make the libertarian argument and even offer to pay for the prescription out of pocket, the problem is that the complications of antibiotic resistance may well cause downstream complications for them that their insurance (and thus I) have to pay for.

By the same token, if people use that argument to get inappropriate complex testing (e.g. a 23andMe profile or a whole-body MRI), we all end up paying for the (inevitable) downstream costs. Simply put, we all have a stake in seeing that complex medical tests are used appropriately. Thus, the FDA’s action was entirely reasonable and appropriate.

So, since your hand is in my pocket when it comes to medical care, I just don’t see the libertarian argument working, even putting aside my concerns about harm to people (which we all, I think, want to avoid) and my (admittedly paternalistic) view that we have to protect people from slick advertisements and themselves.

Filed under FDA LDT Regulation, General Interest, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Legal & Regulatory

If 23andMe Falls in the Forest, and There’s No One There . . .

FDA v LDTGenomics Law Report has paid close attention to the FDA’s potential regulation of laboratory developed tests (or LDTs) over the years. We have decided to address the most recent development – a cease and desist letter sent by the FDA to 23andMe – in two posts — by Jennifer Wagner and by John Conley.

On November 22, 2103, the Food and Drug Administration issued a “warning letter” to Google-backed 23andMe demanding that the company “immediately discontinue marketing” its Saliva Collection Kit and Personal Genome Service (PGS), a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genomic testing service. The letter states that 23andMe markets the PGS as a source of “health reports on 254 diseases and conditions,” and “specifically as a ‘first step in prevention’ that enables users to take ‘steps toward mitigating serious diseases’ such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer.” Consequently, the FDA concludes, the PGS is a medical device subject to FDA regulation, as opposed to a mere source of information, as 23andMe has long contended. Because 23andMe has not obtained required approvals, the FDA claims the authority to order its removal from the market.

The letter has already generated tremendous interest in the media and among investors. Jen Wagner and I have been deluged with questions from both groups. Here are my thoughts on some of the most frequently asked questions. As you’ll see, my overall reaction is: calm down, take a deep breath, it’s not that big a deal. Jen has posted her views here.
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Filed under Badges, FDA LDT Regulation, General Interest, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Legal & Regulatory

The Sky is Falling for Personal Genomics! Oh, nevermind. It’s just a cease & desist letter from the FDA to 23andMe.

FDA v LDTGenomics Law Report has paid close attention to the FDA’s potential regulation of laboratory developed tests (or LDTs) over the years. We have decided to address the most recent development – a cease and desist letter sent by the FDA to 23andMe – in two posts — by Jennifer Wagner and by John Conley.

A brief background for the newcomers

23andMe, Inc. was founded in 2006. Its personal genomics service launched in 2007 and was named Time Magazine’s Invention of the Year in 2008. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday in 2009, 23andMe split its all-in-one service into two separate editions for ancestry and health and raised its price. The following year, just before the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday, 23andMe scratched its business model with separate health and ancestry editions in favor of a return to the all-in-one service with a new mandatory annual subscription fee. By June 2011, the company boasted 100,000 users and in late 2012 lowered its price to $99 to aim for one million users. Recently, 23andMe ramped up its marketing, launching its very first TV ad campaign called “Portraits of Health” in August 2013.

Company’s run-ins with the FDA

On June 10, 2010, the company—along with several other direct-to-consumer (DTC) providers—received a cease & desist letter from the FDA. A full two years later, on July 30, 2012, the company touted it was the first of its kind to
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Filed under FDA LDT Regulation, General Interest, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Legal & Regulatory