two watercolor silhouettes.

Neurodiversity and Psychedelics Decriminalization

By Dustin Marlan

Following over fifty years of the racist and corrupt war on drugs, drug decriminalization is now a social justice issue. As I explore in Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice, the decriminalization of psychedelic drugs, in particular, is a matter of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Psychedelics have long been prohibited under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, after successful efforts in Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Ann Arbor, there are now attempts underway to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and other natural psychedelics in over 100 cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., which will vote on Initiative 81 in November 2020.

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man lying on couch.

Psychedelics and America: A Digital Symposium

By Mason Marks

In 2020, the psychedelics research and policy reform renaissance is in full swing. Prohibited by federal law since the 1970s, psychedelic substances can alter how people see themselves, the world, and those around them. Clinical trials suggest they may help people overcome ingrained thought patterns associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Acknowledging their spiritual and therapeutic potential, universities have established new psychedelics research programs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed them breakthrough therapies for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This designation means they could be significant improvements over traditional treatments such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Accordingly, the FDA has put some psychedelics on an accelerated course toward approval. Eventually, they could help millions who have not benefitted from existing therapies.

However, despite their breakthrough status, psychedelics will not become FDA approved for several years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is making the country’s mental health crisis worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidal thoughts have risen in the past nine months.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

Federal COVID-19 Response Unlawfully Blocks State Public Health Efforts

By Barbara J. Evans and Ellen Wright Clayton

The federal government recently used preemption unlawfully to prevent state public health efforts to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19.

As 1,000 current and former CDC epidemiologists noted in an open letter, the federal government has failed to use legal powers it does have to manage the crisis, leaving states to “invent their own differing systems” to manage COVID-19. We add that the federal government is now asserting emergency powers it does not have to disable state public health responses.

Early this month, Nevada officials halted the use of two rapid coronavirus tests that produced high false-positive rates when used for screening vulnerable people in Nevada’s nursing homes, assisted-living, long-term care, and other congregate facilities. More than half the positive test results were false.

On October 8, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a letter threatening that the Nevada officials’ action was “inconsistent with and preempted by federal law and, as such, must cease immediately or appropriate action will be taken against those involved.” Nevada yielded to this threat and, on October 9, removed its directive to stop using the tests.

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Young male doctor in telehealth concept

COVID-19’s Impact on Clinical Trials: Meeting Participants Where They Are

By Sarah V. Ferranti and Shine Chen Schattgen

“Decentralized” clinical trials (referred to as “DCTs”) are not novel, but nevertheless failed to gain real momentum given the regulatory and operational complexities involved. In light of COVID-19, however, it seems almost certain that the remote and virtual study activities that characterize DCTs, and a site and sponsor’s ability to flex to “meet the participant where they are” will be critical to the conduct of clinical trials going forward.

In the first half of 2020, as health care facilities prepared for capacity-exceeding patient volumes and equipment shortages, non-essential clinical care and non-COVID-related clinical trials came to a screeching halt. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, 1473 clinical trials were suspended, terminated, or withdrawn between December 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020, with a reported reason that explicitly mentioned COVID-19.

At the same time, initiation of clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments exploded at speeds previously considered unachievable within the clinical trial industry. As of October 13, 2020, 811 COVID-19-related clinical trials had been initiated in the United States. To enable COVID-19 trials and, more recently, to restart previously paused non-COVID trials, clinical trial sponsors and sites have been forced to quickly adapt to protect participants and preserve the integrity of clinical trial data and results.

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computer and stethoscope

Is Real-World Health Algorithm Review Worth the Hassle?

By Jenna Becker

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should not delay their plans to regulate clinical algorithms, despite challenges associated with reviewing the real-world performance of these products. 

The FDA Software Pre-Certification (Pre-Cert) Pilot Program was designed to provide “streamlined and efficient” regulatory oversight of Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) — software products that are regulable by the FDA as a medical device. The Pre-Cert program, in its pilot phase, is intended to inform the development of a future SaMD regulatory model.

Last month, the FDA released an update on Pre-Cert, highlighting lessons learned from pilot testing and next steps for developing the program. One key lesson learned was the difficulty in identifying and obtaining the real-world performance data needed to analyze the clinical effectiveness of SaMDs in practice. Although this challenge will be difficult to overcome in the near future, the FDA’s plans to regulate should not be slowed by insufficient postmarket data.

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a pill in place of a model globe

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet SarpatwariBeatrice Brown, Neeraj Patel, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues.

Below are the citations for papers identified from the month of August. The selections feature topics ranging from a commentary on the need for rigorous scientific evaluation of COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the face of political and economic pressures, to an evaluation of patients’ and pharmacists’ experiences with pill appearance changes, to an examination of the extent and cost of potentially inappropriate prescription drug prescriptions for older adults. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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Washington, USA- January13, 2020: FDA Sign outside their headquarters in Washington. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the USA.

A New Step for the FDA in Regulating Digital Health Products

By Vrushab Gowda

On September 22, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the establishment of a new initiative to regulate digital health products – the Digital Health Center of Excellence (DHCoE).

In some ways, the announcement does not come as a surprise; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s predecessor, Scott Gottlieb, outlined the DHCoE in a press release two years ago. What does remain to be seen is whether DHCoE represents a true paradigm shift in FDA’s approach to regulating digital health products.

According to Hahn, the DHCoE aims to (1) build partnerships, (2) share knowledge across FDA and with stakeholders, and (3) innovate regulatory approaches. It will be led by the current Director of CDRH’s Division of Digital Health, Bakul Patel.

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Syringe and vials of vaccine.

How Does Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Work, and Who Is Funding Its Development?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on August 19, 2020. 

By Jacob S. Sherkow, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Nicholson Price, and Rachel Sachs

Moderna, Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based biotech company, is a leading contender in the race to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine, however, works using a completely novel mechanism, unlike any other vaccine currently approved anywhere in the world. Despite this, the U.S. government—and two agencies in particular, the NIH and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)—has invested, heavily, in the vaccine’s development. This week, we explore how these investments interact through different forms of research partnerships, and what this says about IP, novel technologies, and innovation policy.

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a pile of vaccine vials and a needle

COVID-19 Vaccine Advance Purchases Explained

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on August 5, 2020. 

By Nicholson PriceRachel SachsJacob S. Sherkow, and Lisa Larrimore Ouellette

No vaccine for the novel coronavirus has been approved anywhere. Nevertheless, governments and international organizations around the world are announcing deals for billions of dollars to procure tens of millions of doses of vaccines from companies that are still running clinical trials, including a $2.1 billion deal with Sanofi and GSK announced by the US on Friday. What’s going on? And what do these deals tell us about innovation policy for COVID-19 vaccines? In this post, we lay out the landscape of COVID-19 vaccine pre-purchases; we then turn to the innovation impact of these commitments, and finish by asking what role patents and compulsory licensing have to play.
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Dried psilocybe cubensis psilocybin magic mushrooms inside a plastic prescription medicine bottle isolated on white background.

As Cities Decriminalize Psychedelics, Law Enforcement Should Step Back

By Mason Marks

Amid rising rates of depression, suicide, and substance use disorders, drug makers have scaled back investment in mental health research. Psychedelics may fill the growing need for innovative psychiatric drugs, but federal prohibition prevents people from accessing their benefits. Nevertheless, some cities, dissatisfied with the U.S. war on drugs, are decriminalizing psychedelics.

In 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize mushrooms containing psilocybin, a psychedelic the FDA considers a breakthrough therapy for major depressive disorder (MDD) and treatment-resistant depression.

In a historic vote, Denver residents approved Ordinance 301, which made prosecuting adults who possess psilocybin-containing mushrooms for personal use the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority.” Since then, in Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, voters approved their own decriminalization measures.

As a Schedule I controlled substance, psilocybin remains illegal under federal law, and despite ongoing clinical trials, it is unlikely to become FDA approved for several years. Social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 are disrupting medical research causing further delays. But as the November election approaches, other U.S. cities prepare to vote on psychedelics.

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