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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Pile of colorful pills in blister packs

The Age of Orphans

Join the author today for the 2021 CeBIL Symposium. Register here!

By Sarah Rickwood

The 2020s are the age of orphan medicines.

Orphan medicines are available for a larger number of diseases and patients than ever before, a testament to the success of legislation established decades ago encouraging the development of these medicines in both the U.S. and European Union.

Orphan medicines were the majority of European Medicines Agency (EMA) approvals for the first time ever in 2016 (59%) and the majority of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals for the first time ever in 2018 (58%).

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person cuts salami sausage on a wooden cutting board.

Tackling Salami Slicing and Indication Stacking in Orphan Drug Innovation Incentives

Join the author on Friday, September 17, 2021 for the 2021 CeBIL Symposium. Register here!

By Sven Bostyn

The development of orphan drugs, so named for the rare diseases they treat, has been incentivized through regulation in the European Union. The primary reward is 10 years’ market protection (or exclusivity).

But are these incentive mechanisms working as they should? To date, only 131 orphan drugs have been brought to market. Findings from the European Commission’s long-awaited evaluation of the orphan drug system in Europe, 20 years after its inception, suggest there may be cause for concern.

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Blister pack of pills, but instead of bills dollar bills are rolled up in the packaging

Mortal Sins of Orphan Drug Development: How to Save the Lost Souls

Join the authors on Friday, September 17, 2021 for the 2021 CeBIL Symposium. Register here!

By Jakob Wested and John Liddicoat

In a working paper from November 2020, the EU Commission finds a significant inefficiency in the EU orphan drug regulation (a pan-EU piece of legislation): that it does not contain a provision to safeguard the affordability and accessibility of orphan medicines.

The working paper then entertains the idea of inserting such a provision into the regulation. But, is the orphan drug regulation the right place for this type of law?

Diagnosing the problem behind orphan drug pricing is the key issue to address before jumping to consider ways to address excessive pricing.

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Home innovation technology concept illustration.

Call for Abstracts — 2022 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference: Diagnosing in the Home

Contribute to the 2022 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference and subsequent book project!

Through October 14, 2021, the Petrie-Flom Center is accepting abstracts for its annual conference. The 2022 annual conference will focus on ethical, legal, and regulatory challenges and opportunities around at home digital health technology.

This conference will engage with the vision for a 21st century health care system that embraces the potential of at home digital products to support diagnoses, improve care, encourage caregivers, maximize pandemic resilience, and allow individuals to stay within the home when preferable. The goals of this conference and subsequent book project are to consider the ethical, sociological, regulatory, and legal challenges and opportunities presented by the implementation of digital products that support clinical diagnosis and/or treatment in patients’ homes over the next decade.

Interested in submitting an abstract, but want to know more about what we’re looking for? Read through the following frequently asked questions.

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Key Takeaways from Petrie-Flom Center Discussion on Vaccine Passports

As mask mandates fall to the wayside, COVID-19 digital health passes, often called vaccine passports, hold promise as a tool to verify whether individuals may enter a space without a face covering.

Vaccine passports, however, also pose a number of ethical and legal challenges. Panelists discussed these concerns during an April 28 webinar hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics titled, “Vaccine Passports: A Path to the New Normal?”

This article highlights key points made during the conversation.

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Scientist analyzes DNA gel used in genetics, forensics, drug discovery, biology and medicine

Transplant Genomics: Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications

By Tamar Schiff

The appeal of precision medicine is of particular significance in transplantation. Treatment options are already integrally dependent on genetic factors – the donor-recipient match – and the demand for transplantable tissues far outstrips the available supply.

And the potential is only growing. Advances in genetic and genomic studies have identified an increasing number of novel biomarkers of potential use in transplant-related care. These include predictors of disease course, graft survival, response to immunosuppression, and likelihood of disease recurrence or other complications.

With wider availability of sequencing technologies and innovations in databanking, future clinical applications in transplant care may require ever-growing considerations of the significance of genetic variants, fair access to precision medicine therapeutics and participation in research, ethical approaches to data aggregation, and social determinants of health.

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Young male doctor in telehealth concept

Call for Abstracts: Looking Forward to a Post-Pandemic Landscape

By Carmel Shachar and Katie Kraschel

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted virtually every facet of day-to-day life.

This disruption has forced us to examine baseline choices and assumptions about how to deliver health care, participate in public discourse, provide access to education, and support the workforce. This “great revision” will continue in several iterative stages: an immediate response to the crisis, a modulation as the pandemic continues, and a resolution into a “new normal.”

The Petrie-Flom Center and the Solomon Center for Health Law Policy are interested in tracking when crisis settles into the new normal and articulating how public policy and law should respond to that evolution.

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Return to work graphic.

A Conversation on Safeguarding Employee Health During COVID-19

By Sarah Rispin Sedlak

On July 9th, as part of an ongoing “Coronavirus Conversations” series hosted by the Duke University Initiative for Science and Society, three experts will gather to discuss how the novel coronavirus spreads in the workplace, the steps employers can and should be taking to provide for employee safety in light of that, and how to do so while respecting employee concerns about personal safety, privacy and autonomy.

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