Legal & Regulatory

A Constitutional Challenge to Alaska’s Genetic Privacy Statute

As part of its defense of a class action lawsuit that began in 2014, a genetic genealogy company (or DNA ancestry company as they are sometimes called) is challenging the constitutionality of the Alaska Genetic Privacy Act, arguing that the statute’s provisions are unconstitutionally vague. The State of Alaska is intervening in the lawsuit to defend the statute.

The Alaska Genetic Privacy Act (AK ST §18.13.010 et seq.) was passed into law in 2004. The state statute imposes a consent requirement that effectively prohibits surreptitious genetic testing and declares that a DNA sample and the results of any genomic analysis are the “exclusive property of the person sampled or analyzed.” More specifically, it requires prior written informed consent for the collection, analysis, retention, or disclosure of DNA samples and test results. The statute makes exceptions to the consent requirement for DNA identification registries like CODIS, law enforcement purposes, paternity testing, newborn screening, and emergency medical services. There are both civil and criminal enforcement mechanisms in the statute. Affected individuals can bring private civil court actions against violators of the statute (AK ST §18.13.020), while another provision criminalizes violations as Class A Misdemeanors (AK ST §18.13.030). The statute (AK ST §18.13.020) provides that a victim is entitled to compensation from the violator in the amount of $5,000 or, in instances in which the violation “resulted in profit or monetary gain to the violator,” $100,000.
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Filed under Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Society, Informed Consent, Pending Litigation, Privacy

LabMD Update

Last September, I reported on the Federal Trade Commission’s decision upholding its enforcement action against the now-defunct clinical laboratory LabMD, Inc. In 2013, the FTC brought an administrative complaint against LabMD, alleging that its lax cybersecurity practices resulted in the exposure of patient data. As I wrote last year, exposure was the key word, as the FTC did not allege any actual data theft or other tangible harm to patients.
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Filed under Legal & Regulatory, Privacy

Keeping an Eye on “Perceived Disability” Litigation in California: Chadam v. Palo Alto Unified School District

We mentioned in January that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s earlier decision to grant a motion to dismiss and is instead allowing the case of Chadam v. Palo Alto Unified School District to move forward. At that time, we explained that this case should remain high on the watch list for genetic rights advocates, as it involves whether a genotype (such as carrier status for an autosomal recessive condition like cystic fibrosis) is a “perceived disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C.A. §§12131 et seq.) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C.A. § 794).
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Filed under Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Pending Litigation, Privacy

Disputes Continue over Foundational Patents for Gene Editing

CRISPR-Cas9 editing of the genome

As we noted early last year, a major dispute over patent rights to CRISPR-Cas systems broke out in January 2016 between Feng Zhang, the Broad Institute, and MIT on one side and Jennifer Doudna and the University of California-Berkeley as well as Emmanuelle Charpentier, Krzysztof Chylinski, and the University of Vienna on the other. CRISPR-Cas systems are powerful tools for genome editing that allow researchers to activate or deactivate target genes. As a reminder of this patent dispute, at issue is whether Zhang was first to invent the application of CRISPR-Cas9 in mammalian and human cells or whether Doudna’s invention of CRISPR-Cas9 was broad enough to encompass application in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells (including mammalian and human cells).

A few noteworthy events have occurred since our last coverage in February 2016. The two sides are engaged in what is called an interference proceeding. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) determined preliminarily that the two sides were claiming patent rights to the same technology and initiated the interference to let them fight over who had priority. Under the pre-2013 version of the Patent Act that applies here, the key question would be who invented first.
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Filed under General Interest, Genomics & Society, Legal & Regulatory, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP

Some Thoughts on the New Common Rule for Human Subjects Research

On January 18, 2017, in one of its last official acts, the outgoing Obama administration issued a final revised version of the Common Rule—the regulation that governs the treatment of human subjects in all federally funded research. This was the culmination of a process that began in 2011 when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or ANPRM, that envisioned major changes to the original 1991 Common Rule. Then, on September 8, 2015, HHS and 15 other federal departments and agencies released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that proposed specific changes to the Common Rule and opened a 90-day public comment period.
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Filed under Genomics & Medicine, Informed Consent, Patents & IP

Williams v. Athena Motion to Dismiss Hearing—SC Supreme Court May Be Asked to Decide Whether a Diagnostic Laboratory Qualifies as a Healthcare Provider

Foreword by John Conley 

Back on May 31, 2016, Contributing Editor Jennifer Wagner wrote a lengthy report on the newly filed case of Williams v. Quest Diagnostics, et al. As Jen recounted, plaintiff Amy Williams sued Athena Diagnostics and its corporate parent, Quest Diagnostics, alleging that Athena negligently misclassified a genetic variant it identified in testing the DNA of her late son. Ms. Williams claims that the misclassification caused the boy’s doctors to prescribe a potentially dangerous course of treatment that ultimately led to his death. The case was originally filed in a South Carolina state court and was then removed to federal court by the defendants, which they were able to do because the parties are citizens of different states.
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Filed under General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomics & Medicine, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Litigation

Update on Chadam v. Palo Alto Unified School District

About a year ago we reported on a case involving allegations of genetic discrimination by a school district in California. According to the allegations, in fall 2012 the Palo Alto Unified School District used genetic information regarding cystic fibrosis in deciding to transfer a student away from his neighborhood school to another school.

Genetic nondiscrimination laws are stronger in California than anywhere else in the United States. CalGINA (S.B. 559), which took effect five years ago, extended genetic nondiscrimination rights beyond the narrow scope of the federal statute known as GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which prohibits genetic discrimination in employment and health insurance contexts. However, this case was interesting to Genomics Law Report largely because the plaintiffs did not rely on CalGINA in their complaint against PAUSD but instead focused on protections against “perceived disability” provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA (42 U.S.C.A. §§12131 et seq.) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C.A. § 794). The school district had convinced a federal district court to dismiss the complaint, but the plaintiffs filed an appeal in January 2016.
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Filed under Genomic Policymaking, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Pending Litigation, Privacy

FTC Muscles in on Health Privacy

600px-US-FederalTradeCommission-Seal.svgIn its July 29, 2016 decision in LabMD, Inc., the Federal Trade Commission clearly signaled its intent to get more involved in the regulation of health privacy. Specifically, the case indicates that the agency intends to go well beyond its traditional role of protecting consumers against deception and to begin scrutinizing the nuts and bolts of companies’ health data security practices.
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Filed under Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation, Privacy, Privacy

New Federal Trade Secret Act and Its Impact on Life Sciences

918333_u_s__capitol_buildingOn May 11, 2016, a new federal trade secrets law called the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) took effect. Its primary impact is to allow the victims of trade secret misappropriation to sue in federal court. It also provides some new civil remedies that exceed what is usually available under state law. The DTSA will be slotted into the U.S. Criminal Code (chapter 90 of Title 18), which already makes industrial espionage and trade secret theft a federal crime. In terms of what companies have to do to comply, the answer is almost nothing—the sole exception being a change in future employee contracts that is discussed below. In this post I’ll describe and analyze the new law and offer some thoughts about its potential impact on the life sciences industry.

Until now, civil trade secret protection has been entirely a matter of state law. The law is very consistent from state to state, as 47 states have enacted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA). The exceptions are New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, though the North Carolina statute is generally similar to UTSA. Enforcement actions must usually be brought in state court, though federal courts can take jurisdiction if the plaintiff and defendant are citizens of different states. Even then, however, the federal court must apply state law in deciding the case.
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Filed under Direct-to-Consumer Services, Genetic Testing/Screening, Patent Litigation, Patents & IP

FDA Issues Guidance for Next Generation Sequencing

On July 8, 2016, the FDA issued draft guidance on the subject of next generation sequencing (NGS) activities: (1) “Uses of Standards in FDA Regulatory Oversight of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)-Based In Vitro Diagnostics (IVDs) Used for Diagnosing Germline Diseases” and (2) “Use of Public Human Genetic Variant Databases to Support Clinical Validity for Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)-Based In Vitro Diagnostics.” The first focuses on the FDA’s proposed use of standards to help establish the safety and efficacy of NGS-based tests. The second focuses on the importance of high quality and publicly accessible databases to provide robust scientific evidence for understanding genomic variation, to inform decision-making, and to assess the clinical validity of NGS-based tests. Guidance is not a formal regulation, but rather an agency’s statement about how it will interpret or apply a regulation in the future. Draft guidance is a proposed policy that means the agency is formulating a position, whereas a final guidance is a document that represents what the agency has settled on as its interpretive policy. In theory, guidance is intended to serve as additional instructions for complying with rules and not intended to serve as the rules themselves.

The premise underlying the draft guidance is the controversial and—as yet—legally untested assertion that genomic analyses of all kinds are “medical devices” that Congress has, by statute, authorized the FDA to regulate. If they are, then the FDA would have the power to bring them under its current risk-based classification scheme for medical devices or to create a new scheme for them. If they are not medical devices, then the effort to regulate them might exceed the FDA’s statutory authority and conceivably amount to an unconstitutional regulatory overreach. Both draft guidance documents avoid any mention of the overarching debate, a subject covered extensively on Genomics Law Report, surrounding FDA oversight of all laboratory developed tests (LDTs) and in vitro diagnostic multivariate index assays (IVDMIAs). As others have noted, it is impossible to consider these new pieces of draft guidance outside of that context. Nonetheless, even the FDA asserts (via Twitter and elsewhere) that the two new drafts are intended to facilitate the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) and are distinct from the agency’s expressed intention to regulate LDTs. These pieces of draft guidance also give a policy-based reason for pause, as they could be another example of governance by guidance, a highly problematic approach as highlighted recently by John Conley with regard to the HIPAA right to access lab data and results.
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Filed under Badges, Direct-to-Consumer Services, FDA LDT Regulation, General Interest, Genetic Testing/Screening, Genomic Sequencing, Genomics & Medicine, Genomics & Society, Legal & Regulatory, Pending Regulation