International News

Comment on ACB v. Thompson Medical

In a recent conversation with John Conley about his April 25 post on the ACB v. Thompson Medical ruling by the Court of Appeal of Singapore, I made a couple of points, and he asked me to write them up to briefly comment on the topic for the Genomics Law Report.

First, the real damage caused by loss of genetic affinity is that the couple’s baby will never share any of the inherited (genetic) traits of the husband. For the mother who brought the case, this is significant because those traits (presumably) are an important part of the couple’s initial attraction and, ultimately, the mother’s implicit desire to have a child with a man with those specific traits. For the husband, of course–who is not the named plaintiff–the fact that the child is not biologically related to him is an even more definitive loss.

Second, it is curious that the husband was not the plaintiff (or at least a plaintiff) in the case. Given that his total genetic exclusion was not by his choosing, it could be argued that the husband was even more injured than the mother. After all, it is the husband who had the total “fracture of biological parenthood,” not the mother, as she has provided 50% of the child’s genetic makeup.

Jennifer Hutchens is a Robinson, Bradshaw lawyer who focuses on health care and life sciences.

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Singapore Court Awards Damages for Loss of “Genetic Affinity”

In its March 22, 2017 decision in ACB v. Thomson Medical, the Court of Appeal of Singapore (the city-state’s supreme court) approved an award of damages for loss of “genetic affinity” against a fertility clinic that negligently fertilized a mother’s egg with sperm from an anonymous donor rather than her husband. The plaintiff and her husband had sought help from the four defendants, a group of related medical entities and practitioners, to conceive a child in vitro. The wife is an ethnically Chinese Singaporean and the husband is a Caucasian of German descent. After multiple attempts at fertilization, the wife gave birth to a baby girl (referred to in the opinion as “Baby P”). The family noticed that Baby P’s skin tone did not match that of either parent, nor that of their older child. They also learned that Baby P had a blood type that could not be reconciled with the parents’ types. Further medical investigation revealed that the wife’s egg had been fertilized not with the husband’s sperm, as the couple had intended, but with the sperm of an anonymous donor of Indian ethnicity.
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Australian appeals court upholds patents on isolated BRCA1 DNA

Robert Cook-Deegan, MD

Bob Cook-Deegan 0546.05 © Duke University Photography Jim WallaceOn September 5, the Federal Court of Australia (the appeals court) upheld a claim on isolated DNA from the BRCA1 gene. It dismissed Yvonne D’Arcy’s appeal of a case that has attracted international attention. Australian patent 686,004 has never been enforced, so the court decision has little real-world concrete impact. As Richard Gold and Julia Carbone explained in their classic case study, “Myriad Genetics: In the Eye of the Policy Storm,” the patent rights on BRCA1 and BRCA2 were exclusively licensed for use in Australia and New Zealand to Genetic Technologies, Ltd. (GTG), which in turn made them a “gift to the people of Australia.” When the CEO of GTG proposed taking back that gift in the summer of 2008, he provoked a firestorm and the company backed down in October, restating that it would not enforce its patent rights against laboratories offering BRCA testing. The Australian Senate held a series of hearings, and a bill proscribing DNA sequence patents was proposed, but the new government opposed it, and it lapsed. Instead, Australia enacted patent reforms in 2012 that raised the bar for utility and clarified the Australian law’s exemption from infringement liability for research and regulatory approval. Most of the provisions of that law took effect on April 15, 2013, the very day Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics (AMP v Myriad) was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.


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Filed under Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Sequencing, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, International Developments, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP

Revisions to the Ethical Standards for Research

HelsinkiThe World Medical Association published revisions to the Declaration of Helsinki (DoH) in JAMA on October 19, 2013. As noted previously on the Genomics Law Report, the DoH was adopted in 1964 and is considered a foundational guiding document for ethical medical research. The DoH has been revised six times previously, and these are the first revisions since 2008. The revised DoH was announced following the Working Group’s public consultation from April to June 2013 on the text of proposed changes, though the Working Group has apparently spent at least two years contemplating revisions and consulting with experts. In the United States, the DoH has been an important foundational document promoting the creation of institutional review boards (IRBs) but has had relatively little practical influence since it was effectively abandoned by the administration of former President George W. Bush. Nonetheless, the DoH continues to exert significant influence over international ethical standards.
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Filed under Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Informed Consent, International Developments, International News

Implications of Amgen/deCODE Deal for Genetic Testing Consumers

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.


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Myriad Updates: Clinical Data as Trade Secrets and a Pending Certiorari Decision

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:


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Filed under Biobanking, General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomic Sequencing, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Industry News, International Developments, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation

Big Changes Coming in EU Privacy Law

The European Union is about to make major changes in its privacy law that will have a significant impact on U.S. companies that do even modest amounts of business in Europe. On January 25, 2011, the European Commission (the EU’s executive branch) released a long-awaited Draft Regulation on the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data (pdf).

While it will likely be a year or more before a final regulation takes effect, and there will almost certainly be amendments along the way, American companies – including those involved in the field of personalized medicine, where personal data is paramount by definition – should start paying attention now, since they may have to change the way that they do business in Europe.


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News Roundup: Patent Reform Passes House, Human Provenance Project Pulled by UK

With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there is 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 this post we recap several recent key developments and, at bottom, round up all of the recent tweets from @genomicslawyer.

Patent Reform Legislation Passes House. Several months after the U.S. Senate passed patent reform legislation that would make sweeping changes to America’ patent system, including a switch from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system for awarding patents, the U.S. House of Representatives finally followed suit yesterday, passing a similar piece of legislation by a vote of 304-117. The version passed by the House, while similar to that passed by the Senate, contained a number of last-minute amendments (pdf).

One change of particular relevance to the personalized medicine community was the removal of a proposed safe harbor for second opinion genetic diagnostic testing, which was replaced by a requirement that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) investigate the relationship between genetic diagnostic tests, gene patents and exclusive licenses. The USPTO would be given nine months to complete its investigation and to return to Congress recommendations for ensuring the availability of second opinion genetic diagnostic testing. (The USPTO study on genetic diagnostic testing was not included in the bill passed by the Senate in March.)


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Society, Industry News, International Developments, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Patents & IP, Pending Litigation, Privacy

Forensic DNA Fights Terrorism

The big news from the past 24 hours is the death of Osama Bin Laden, which was reported late Sunday evening by President Barack Obama. That’s front page news the world over. But Genomics Law Report readers might be interested to note that DNA appears to have played a significant role in confirming that it was, in fact, Bin Laden who was killed in a shootout with U.S. military forces yesterday in Pakistan.

As reported by The Telegraph earlier today, Bin Laden’s identity was confirmed by government officials only after they matched DNA taken from the body in Pakistan with DNA extracted from a preserved tissue sample from Bin Laden’s sister, who died of brain cancer several years ago.  The identification happened rapidly, but, according to Christie Wilcox in a guest post at Scientific American, that’s not all that surprising. Wilcox outlines, step by step, how such an ID could have easily occurred in under 5 hours.

We have covered the use of forensic DNA techniques numerous times here at the GLR, and regular readers know identification through partial or familial DNA matching is not without both social and scientific critics. However, lest there be any doubt, CNN reports that the Obama administration used several methods, including facial recognition and eyewitness corroboration, to positively identify Bin Laden.

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Weekly Roundup: UK Insurance Genetics Moratorium Renewed & Breast Cancer Patents, Research in the News

With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there is 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 this post we recap several recent key developments and, at bottom, round up all of the recent tweets from @genomicslawyer.

UK Insurers Continue Moratorium on Predictive Genetic Tests. In 2008 the United States passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Title I of GINA prohibits health insurers from using genetic information to deny coverage or to set premiums or payment rates. Title II of GINA addresses the use and misuse of genetic information by employers. In the United Kingdom, which provides universal health coverage through the government-funded National Health Service (NHS), discussion of genetic nondiscrimination has largely focused on the employment context (see, e.g., the 2009 report on Genomic Medicine from the House of Lords). To date, however, the United Kingdom has not enacted a formal prohibition on the use of genetic information by either employers or insurers.


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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, GINA, Industry News, International Developments, International News, Legal & Regulatory, Myriad Gene Patent Litigation, Patents & IP