Simulated Side Effects: FDA Uses Novel Computer Model to Guide Kratom Policy

By Mason Marks

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement on Tuesday about the controversial plant Mitragyna speciosa, which is also known as kratom. According to Gottlieb, kratom poses deadly health risks. His conclusion is partly based on a computer model that was announced in his recent statement. The use of simulations to inform drug policy is a new development with implications that extend beyond the regulation of kratom. We currently live in the Digital Age, a period in which most information is in digital form. However, the Digital Age is rapidly evolving into an Age of Algorithms in which computer software increasingly assumes the roles of human decision makers. The FDA’s use of computer simulations to evaluate drugs is a bold first step into this new era. This essay discusses the potential risks of basing federal drug policies on computer models that have not been thoroughly explained or validated (using the kratom debate as a case study).

Kratom grows naturally in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia where it has been used for centuries as a stimulant and pain reliever. In recent years, the plant has gained popularity in the United States as an alternative to illicit and prescription narcotics. Kratom advocates claim it is harmless and useful for treating pain and easing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, the FDA contends it has no medical use and causes serious or fatal complications. As a result, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) may categorize kratom in Schedule I, its most heavily restricted category.

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The Precision Medicine Initiative and Access

By Leslie Francis

Persistent differences in participation in clinical trials by race and ethnicity are well known; for example, the 2015 Report of the Working Group on Precision Medicine (PMI) relies on statistics that only 5% of clinical trial participants are African-American and only 1% are Hispanic. A recently-launched website of the FDA, “Drug Trials Snapshots,” confirms this dismal picture.

Designed to “make demographic data more available and transparent,” and to “highlight whether there were any differences in the benefits and side effects among sex, race and age groups,” the website reveals instead an impressive lack of information. Reported on the website are 70 new drug approvals for 78 different indications. These data report only evidence about differences by the census categories for race (White, Black or African-American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Unknown). In nine of the reported trials data were considered sufficient to report detected differences in efficacy or side-effects in all racial categories, in two data were considered sufficient to report these differences for African-Americans and Asians, in seven data were considered sufficient to report these differences for Asians, and in two data were considered sufficient to report these differences only for African-Americans. No data are reported about ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, or other categories that might be important to the PMI and the benefits data about the planned cohort might bring. Read More

Two forthcoming publications on (1) European Stem Cell Patenting, and (2) IP issues in Biobanking

By Timo Minssen

I am happy to announce the following publications:

1) Minssen, Timo and Nordberg, A., The Evolution of the CJEU’s Case Law on Stem Cell Patents: Context, Outcome and Implications of Case C‑364/13 International Stem Cell Corporation (March 11, 2015). Available at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2576807  (under review for journal publication)

Abstract:  

On 18th December 2014, the CJEU rendered its’ much-anticipated decision in C‑364/13 International Stem Cell Corporation v Comptroller General of Patents (ISCC). Qualifying its’ earlier ruling in Brüstle v. Greenpeace (Brüstle) with regard to non-fertilised human ova stimulated by parthenogenesis, the Court held that in order to constitute a ‘human embryo’ – and thus to be unpatentable under the EU Biotechnology Directive – the stimulated ovum must have the “inherent capacity to develop into a human being”. This would allow patents on innovative parthenotes which had not been genetically modified to achieve totipotent capabilities. Hence the judgment establishes a crucial limitation of the broad interpretation of “human embryos” in Brüstle, where the CJEU held that parthenotes are covered by the term “human embryo” since they are “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being”. The ISCC decision is to be welcomed since it provides an ethically justifiable leeway for patenting and offers reasonable support to the commercial viability of European cell therapy research. Yet, ISCC’s impact still depends on national implementations and only applies to certain hESC cells. Thus, further clarifications would be helpful concerning other non-totipotent hESCs.

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European Responses to the Ebola Crisis: Initiatives at the European Medicines Agency (EMA)

By Timo Minssen

The current Ebola outbreak already attracted much attention on “Bill of Health” resulting in some excellent blogs on a horrible topic.

While it is evident that the current health crisis requires both immediate responses and more sustainable changes in health care policy, research and regulation, medicines regulators are collaborating internationally to find innovative solutions enhancing evaluation of and access to potential new medicines to fight Ebola outbreaks. In a statement announced by the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) in September 2014, regulators around the world led by the FDA and the EMA have vowed to collaborate in supporting accelerated evaluation of experimental new drugs to treat Ebola virus infections and say they will encourage submission of regulatory dossiers. This clearly backs up the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to test experimental Ebola treatments in infected patients in the current outbreak region in West Africa and to speed up the development of vaccines.

In the following I would like to summarize and discuss some of the recent European responses to the current crisis starting with an overview on recent initiatives at the EMA.

Like its US counterpart, the EMA leads a close and consistent dialogue with public and private developers of Ebola products and spends much effort in reviewing available information on the various experimental Ebola treatments currently under development. These experimental drugs range from experimental antivirals or vaccines based on the adenovirus or stomatitis vaccine to experimental therapies based on mono- and polyclonal antibody technologies. One of these unapproved antibody combination drugs – MAPP Biologicals’  ZMapp – has already been used in some care workers affected by Ebola. Other experimental drugs that are currently reviewed by the EMA include Biocryst’s BCX 4430, Fab’entech’s Hyperimmune horse sera, Sarepta’s AVI-7537, Toyama Chemicals and MediVector’s Favipiravir and Tekmira’s TKM-Ebola.

Other companies such as Bavarian Nordic  and the Russian Mikrogen are close to follow.

In addition to monitoring experimental drugs and enhancing global collaboration, the European Medicines Agency has like the FDA initiated several activities in order to support and speed up the development of these drugs towards market approval.  Read More

The Medical Liability Climate: The Calm Between Storms Is the Time For Reforms

By: Michelle Mello, JD, PhD
Stanford Law School and Stanford University School of Medicine

On November 4, Californians will vote on Proposition 46, a ballot initiative to adjust the $250,000 state’s noneconomic damages cap in medical malpractice cases for inflation, raising it to $1.1 million virtually overnight.  It’s a long overdue move – California has one of the most stringent damages caps in the country, and the cap really affects access to the legal system.  Now is the perfect time to do it, because after years of turbulence, the medical liability environment has calmed.

In an analysis published October 30 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), David Studdert, Allen Kachalia and I report that data from the National Practitioner Data Bank show that the frequency and average cost of paid malpractice claims have been declining.  The rate of paid claims against physicians decreased from 18.6 to 9.9 paid claims per 1,000 physicians between 2002 and 2013, with an estimated annual average decrease of 6.3% for MDs and a 5.3% decrease for DOs. Among claims that resulted in some payment, the median amount paid increased from $133,799 in 1994 to $218,400 in 2007, an average annual increase of 5%. Since 2007 the median payment has declined, reaching $195,000 in 2013, an average annual decrease of 1.1%.

Trends in insurance premiums vary more according to which market you’re looking at, according to data from the Medical Liability Monitor’s Annual Rate Survey, but also look pretty favorable overall. None of the locations we examined showed large increases over the last 10 years, and most showed flat or declining premiums.  Read More

10/22/14: “Human Subjects Research Regulation” Book Launch

Human_Subjects_Research_slideBook Launch: “Human Subjects Research Regulation: Perspectives on the Future”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall 4th Floor, Caspersen Room, 1557 Massachusetts Ave.

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served. For a list of our panelists, please visit our website.

MIT Press recently published Human Subjects Research Regulation: Perspectives on the Future (2014), co-edited by Petrie-Flom Center Faculty Director, I. Glenn Cohen, and Executive Director, Holly Fernandez Lynch. This edited volume stems from the Center’s 2012 annual conference, which brought together leading experts in a conversation about whether and how the current system of human subjects research regulation in the U.S. ought to change to fit evolving trends, fill substantial gaps, and respond to identified shortcomings.

Please join us for a discussion of the book, pending efforts to amend federal research regulations, and some of the biggest unresolved questions in this space.

This event is co-sponsored with the Harvard Law School Library

Research Assistant III: Work with Professors Eyal, Hammitt, Freedberg, Kuritzkes, and collaborators on HIV cure studies’ risks, risk perceptions, and ethics

The research assistant will work with the principal investigator Nir Eyal and collaborators from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Duke University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as the ACTG HIV trial site network. The multidisciplinary team uses methods of clinical epidemiology, economics, simulation modeling, and normative theory to predict risks in early-phase HIV cure studies, assess how much likely candidates for participation understand those risks, and make ethical recommendations on the conduct of HIV cure studies.

The research assistant will help prepare, conduct and analyze a pilot survey expected to take place in a US site of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG). The survey will assess perceptions of HIV cure and of cure study risks. The research assistant will also promote other research and grant-related activities, through literature reviews and assistance in the preparation of abstract, poster, and manuscripts for publication, grant applications, a simple project website (using Harvard’s user-friendly OpenScholar platform), and slides for lectures and seminars. The research assistant will be in touch with top researchers in HIV cure, medical decision making, and ethics from around the country, to facilitate our meetings, a workshop, and regular conversations to plan the research and debate ethical issues around early-phase HIV cure studies.

For the full job ad:
https://jobs.brassring.com/1033/asp/tg/cim_jobdetail.asp?partnerID=25240&siteID=5341&AReq=33776BR

The Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance: Important recent publications

By Timo Minssen

One of my previous blogs discussed the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). I concluded that antimicrobial resistance is a growing and complex threat involving multifaceted legal, socio-economic and scientific aspects. This requires sustained and coordinated action on both global and local levels.

A recent medical review on drug resistant tuberculosis supports these findings and provides further fodder to the debate. In their study, which was published in April 2014 in The Lancet – Respiratory Medicine, the authors analyzed the epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, management, implications for health-care workers, and ethical and medico-legal aspects of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis and other resistant strains. In particular, the authors discussed the increasing threat of functionally untreatable tuberculosis, and the problems that it creates for public health and clinical practice. The paper concludes that the growth of highly resistant strains of tuberculosis make the development of new drugs and rapid diagnostics for tuberculosis—and increased funding to strengthen global control efforts, research, and advocacy—even more pressing.

This was also recognized in the recent WHO’s Global Surveillance Report on AMR, which was published this April. It is the first WHO report that studied the problem of AMR on a global level. Noting that resistance is occurring across many different infectious agents, the report concentrates on antibiotic resistance in seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea. The results demonstrate a wide-spread growth of resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics. In particular the report reveals that this serious threat is no longer a mere forecast for the future. AMR is a contemporary problem in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Consequently the WHO report concludes that antibiotic resistance is now a major threat to public health that needs to be tackled on a global level.

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Good news for many South African HIV patients—with a big glitch

On Wednesday, South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that, as of January 2015, HIV-positive patients in the country would start receiving free antiretroviral treatment once their CD4 count fell below 500, instead of current threshold of less than 350. Some patient groups would start receiving antiretrovirals immediately upon being diagnosed with HIV infection, regardless of their clinical stage.

Last month, Till Bärnighausen, Dan Wikler and I predicted in PLoS Medicine that sub-Saharan nations would move in the direction that South Africa is now moving, and pointed out a big complication. This policy change might make several gigantic trials of so-called treatment-as-prevention in sub-Saharan Africa impossible to complete successfully. As we explained, these trials remain important for assessing the potential of treatment-as-prevention to curb the spread of HIV in general populations (with many different relationship types and different levels of care delivery and support).

In treatment-as-prevention, antiretrovirals are offered to patients immediately upon their diagnosis with HIV. The hope is that very early treatment would be better for these patients and prevent them from infecting others. We also offered some ways out of this mess, but they involve untraditional approaches to research conduct and to policy. Our piece was featured in the June issue of UNAIDS’ HIV This Month.