Black and white photograph of the front of the Supreme Court. Pro-abortion protestors stand holding signs, one of which reads "I stand with Whole Woman's Health"

Call for Submissions: Journal of Law and the Biosciences Special Issue on Abortion Law

American law on reproduction seems likely to change, perhaps radically, in 2022, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers challenges to state laws limiting abortion. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court is considering a substantive Mississippi ban on almost all abortions after 15 weeks; in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas, the Court is considering the more procedural Texas “bounty hunter” statute for enforcing a ban on abortions after about five weeks.

In anticipation of the Court rulings on these cases, the Journal of Law and the Biosciences will publish a limited number of submissions as a two-part special issue on this general topic. The issue will focus on abortion law, but also include near-future issues for other human reproductive practices and technologies.

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BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 29, 2019: NIH NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH sign emblem seal on gateway center entrance building at NIH campus. The NIH is the US's medical research agency.

Will NIH Learn from Myriad when Settling Its mRNA Inventorship Dispute with Moderna?

By Jorge L. Contreras

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently embroiled in a dispute over the ownership of patent rights to Moderna’s flagship mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA-1273).

The NIH, which funded much of Moderna’s research on the COVID-19 vaccine, should be assertive in exerting control over the results of this taxpayer-funded research. Failing to do so would be a missed opportunity for the public sector to have a say in the distribution and pricing of this critical medical technology.

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Gloved hand grabs beaker with rolled currency.

Leverage COVID-19 Frameworks to Prepare for the Next Pandemic

By Matthew Bauer

How should scientists, policy makers, and governments balance efforts to address the current pandemic with initiatives to prevent the next one?

We have seen this play out before during the 2003 SARS crisis. A burst of research funding and resources were thrown at tackling the health emergency that spread to 29 different countries. Ultimately, enormous efforts across the globe were able to halt the crisis, but as scientific research continued post-outbreak, it became difficult to sustain funding.

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Photo of person with gloved hand holding flask at lab bench.

In Academia, Innovators Receive Unfair Compensation for Their Discoveries

By Matt Bauer

In academia, many of the scientists who are recognized as inventors on patents see little economic gain from these agreements.

Instead, royalties are primarily assigned toward their home institutions.

The scientists who drive discoveries within the walls of academia are not receiving an equitable share of the benefits of their innovations. Despite being the source of these discoveries, students and postdoctoral researchers don’t see the financial upside of the commercialization of their inventions.

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Globe and vaccine.

Decolonizing the Pandemic Treaty Through Vaccine Equity

By Tlaleng Mofokeng, Daniel Wainstock, and Renzo Guinto

In recent years, there have been growing calls to “decolonize” the field of global health. Global health traces its roots back to colonial medicine when old empires sought to address tropical diseases which, if not controlled, could be brought by colonizers back home.

Today, many countries in the Global South may have already been liberated from their colonizers, but the colonial behavior of global health continues to manifest in policies, funding, research, and operations.

Unlike the tropical diseases of the past, SARS-CoV-2 has affected rich and poor countries alike, but the tools for putting this pandemic under control — most notably vaccines — remain unevenly distributed across the world. As of October 27, 2021, 63.5% of individuals in high-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, only 4.8% of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

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Concept illustration of DNA and genes.

The Civil Rights Challenge to Gene Patenting

By Jorge L. Contreras

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a unique lawsuit against Myriad Genetics, challenging fifteen claims of seven patents covering various aspects of the BRCA1/2 genes and their use in diagnosing risk for breast and ovarian cancer. In mounting this case, the ACLU assembled a coalition of lawyers, scientists, counselors, patients and advocates in an unprecedented challenge not only to one company’s patents, but the entire practice of gene patenting in America. And, against the odds, they won. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring DNA sequences are not patentable, a ruling that has had repercussions throughout the scientific community and the biotechnology industry.

In The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA (New York: Hachette/Algonquin, 2021), I describe the long road that led to this unlikely Supreme Court victory. It began in 2003 when the ACLU hired its first science advisor, a Berkeley-based cellist and non-profit organizer named Tania Simoncelli. At the ACLU, Simoncelli’s job was to identify science-related issues that the ACLU could do something about, from DNA fingerprinting to functional MRI brain imaging. A couple of years into the role, Simoncelli mentioned gene patenting to Chris Hansen, a veteran ACLU litigator who had been involved in cases covering mental health to school desegregation to online porn. At first, Hansen didn’t believe her. How could a company patent something inside the human body? But Simoncelli persisted, showing him articles and statistics demonstrating that, by 2005, more than 20% of the human genome was covered by patents. The realization led to Hansen’s oft-quoted exclamation, “Who can we sue?”

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Vial and syringe.

The Pandemic Treaty and Intellectual Property Sharing: Making Vaccine Knowledge a Public Good 

By Ellen ‘t Hoen

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lack of regulation for the sharing of intellectual property (IP) and technology needed for an effective and equitable response to the crisis.

The Pandemic Treaty (or other legal instrument) scheduled for discussion at the World Health Assembly in the fall of 2021 should focus on establishing the norm that the IP and knowledge needed to develop and produce essential pandemic health technologies become global public goods. It should also ensure predictable and sufficient financing for the development of such public goods.

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Globe and vaccine.

Promoting Vaccine Equity

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief longstanding equity problems surrounding the allocation of newly developed vaccines against emerging pathogens.

In my upcoming book, Vaccines as Technology: Innovation, Barriers, and the Public Health, I examine these problems and look into possible solutions to incrementally build more equitable frameworks of access to vaccines targeting emerging pathogens. These solutions focus on ensuring that vaccines are made available affordably to the populations that need them the most according to public health parameters.

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Globe and vaccine.

Access-to-Medicines Activists Demand Health Justice During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Brook K. Baker 

It was apparent from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic that a business-as-usual approach — perpetuating the biopharmaceutical industry’s intellectual property-based monopolies and allowing artificial supply scarcity and nationalistic hoarding by rich countries — would result in systemic failure and gross inequity.

The world had seen it all before, from the Big Pharma blockade of affordable antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS, to the hoarding of vaccines by the global north during the H1N1 bird flu outbreak in 2009 and its stockpiling of Tamiflu.

Activists in the access-to-medicines movement quickly mobilized to combat the threat of vaccine/therapeutic apartheid.

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Medical staff work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID-19 patients in University Hospital of Liege in Belgium on May 5th, 2020.

The Legality of Pandemic Detection and Prevention Technology

*This article is adapted from a longer paper published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. To access the original paper, please click here.

By April Xiaoyi Xu  

A test-and-isolate system for detecting and monitoring new pathogens could avert future pandemics, but may face legal challenges in implementation.

The test-and-isolate model is described in a 2020 Scientific American article by biochemist David Ecker. Ecker recommends strategically placing modern, high-speed metagenomic sequencing technology in urban hospitals across the United States to flag previously-unknown pathogens before the infectious agents have the opportunity to spread widely and potentially start a new pandemic.

Under this model, during a time period without any apparent pandemics, the 200 biggest metropolitan hospitals in the U.S. would automatically run diagnostic tests up-front for novel causative agents among patients who visit the emergency room with severe respiratory symptoms that are possibly infectious. If such a system detects a sufficiently serious pathogen, public health agencies will send out diagnostic tests to all residents in the affected geographical area(s) within weeks and isolate those who test positive. This system also will be integrated with contact tracing and more standard outbreak response.

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