people waiting in a line.

How the Government Can Prevent Individuals from Using Wealth to Cut the Vaccine Line

Cross-posted from COVID-19 and The Law, where it originally appeared on January 27, 2021. 

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Since the Food & Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in December 2020, there have been many debates on vaccine allocation and prioritization.

As noted by Harvard Law School Professor Glenn Cohen in a recent interview with Annie Kapnick for the COVID-19 and The Law series, the issue of vaccine distribution is “complicated” because of competing factors decision-makers must consider. The relative weights placed on these factors has led to very different prioritization schemes. Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended a hybrid plan that appeared to prioritize individuals who were most likely to contract the virus (e.g., first responders, grocery store workers) over individuals most vulnerable to severe symptoms or death from the virus if contracted (e.g., individuals over the age of 65 not in long-term care facilities). In the United Kingdom, the prioritization groups were primarily based on vulnerability. Similarly, when looking more narrowly at the various plans being implemented at the state level in the United States, there are high degrees of variation.

This post does not seek to evaluate the merits of these or other specific vaccine allocation plans. Rather, it will address a risk that all plans likely face: the potential of individuals using their wealth and access to “cut the line” and be vaccinated ahead of schedule.
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Vial and syringe.

4 Things to Know About Intellectual Property, Patent Pledges, and COVID-19 Vaccines

By Chloe Reichel

High-profile commentators have argued recently that vaccine scarcity needn’t exist. If vaccine manufacturers simply shared their patents with other pharmaceutical companies, supply would quickly ramp up. 

Others have pointed out that numerous bottlenecks exist in the manufacturing process, from the glass vials that hold the vaccine, to the lipids that encase the vaccine’s active ingredient, mRNA.

And even if these bottlenecks didn’t exist, the intellectual property argument may be a straw man.    

In fact, this past October, Moderna made a gesture toward opening access to its intellectual property, by pledging that it would not enforce its patents against “those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” That month, Jorge L. Contreras, a Presidential Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Utah, covered the patent pledge and its potential implications for Bill of Health.

We checked in with Contreras to ask about the implications of Moderna’s patent pledge now that its vaccine has been proven safe and effective. Here are the highlights from the conversation:

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Gavel surrounded by piles of money.

3 Challenges to Patents on Therapeutic Monoclonal Antibodies

By Gregory Curfman

Three new developments — two based on litigation and one based on a federal statute — may have significant effects on pharmaceutical manufacturers’ use of patents to fend off competition and maintain high prices for therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Highly specific monoclonal antibodies have played an increasingly important role as precision therapies for a growing number of diseases, including malignant, cardiovascular, and inflammatory conditions. As therapies derived from research and development, therapeutic monoclonal antibodies may be — and usually are — patented, providing manufacturers with protection from competition and the prospect of high revenues.

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Hundred dollar bills rolled up in a pill bottle

Ensuring 340B Discounts Trickle Down to Low-Income Patients

By Sravya Chary

The 340B prescription drug program was created with the original intent of providing discounted drugs to vulnerable patients. However, this program inadvertently created a revenue stream for for-profit retail pharmacies and intermediaries, which is cutting into the benefit received by low-income patients.

In a previous blog post, I discussed the pitfalls of a recent 340B advisory opinion released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The aim of this opinion was to provide more clarity regarding contract pharmacy use within the 340B program. However, the opinion ultimately did not alleviate the tension between pharmaceutical manufacturers and 340B representatives.

As one facet of a long-term solution to this ongoing issue, I proposed further investigation of 340B savings to analyze whether discounts are truly trickling down to vulnerable, low-income patients.

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Health care workers in personal protective equipment attend to a patient.

How Can Policymakers Overcome the Hurdles to Scaling up Antibody Manufacturing?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on February 18, 2021. 

By Rachel SachsJacob S. SherkowLisa Larrimore Ouellette, and Nicholson Price

In our last post, we introduced some of the clinical evidence supporting the use of therapeutic antibodies against COVID-19—including Regeneron’s casirivimab and imdevimab and Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab—and analyzed the existing problems in the distribution and administration of those therapies. Even in just the last few weeks, further clinical evidence has supported the use of these technologies, leading the FDA to issue an additional emergency use authorization for Lilly’s bamlanivimab and etesevimab cocktail. In the near future, though, problems in administering our existing supply of these new drugs may give way to problems producing enough of them—a challenge that is also affecting the vaccine rollout. In this post, we consider the difficult manufacturing issues involved in the therapeutic antibody context (a subject we’ve previously explored regarding vaccines), and what might be done to address them.

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Pill pack.

HHS’s 340B Advisory Opinion: Helpful or Harmful?

By Sravya Chary

A recent advisory opinion released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) left many 340B advocates hungry for answers and pharmaceutical manufacturers frustrated.

The 340B program discounts the price of drugs paid by safety net hospitals to pharmaceutical manufacturers. The program is of critical importance to low-income and uninsured patients, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HHS should take timely measures to resolve the concerns raised by the advisory opinion and resume the free flow of 340B discounted drugs to vulnerable patients.

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These patients’ samples were to be tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) serologic test.

Why Aren’t Therapeutic Antibodies Being Used More to Treat COVID-19?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on January 29, 2021. 

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

When former President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19 in fall 2020, he was treated with monoclonal antibodies, touted as potentially miraculous treatments. Unlike other treatments so touted, there is some rigorous evidence to support these assertions: antibody drugs look like the best treatments currently available to prevent COVID cases from progressing to hospitalization. But months later, the drugs are in limited use and seem to be only a moderately important part of the COVID-19 response. Why aren’t antibodies making more of a difference for ordinary Americans?

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Map of United States made up of pills.

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 January. The selections feature topics ranging from an analysis of recent regulatory and legal developments in drug-pricing transparency, to an argument for the extent to which political actors should have influence over the FDA, to a descriptive analysis of state-level drug product selection laws. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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

Pharmaceutical Patents on Manufacturing Methods: Groundless or Well-Supported?

By Laura Karas

Are manufacturing method patents — patents not on a pharmaceutical drug itself, but on a method of production of a drug — warranted intellectual property protections, or groundless obstacles to competition?

Patents protect and reward innovation by permitting the patent-holder the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention for a twenty-year period. Pharmaceutical companies have attracted scrutiny, criticism, and legal challenges for amassing large numbers of patents on pharmaceutical drugs, especially high-priced and high revenue-earning drugs.

Here I explore the topic of pharmaceutical patents on methods of production and translate into layman’s terms some thought-provoking recent scholarship by innovation scholars W. Nicholson Price and Arti Rai.

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close up photo of U.S. currency.

When “Pay-for-Delay” Becomes “Delay-Without-Pay”: Humira Antitrust Claims

By Laura Karas

In June 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed state and federal antitrust claims against AbbVie, maker of Humira (adalimumab), for accruing more than 130 patents on the top-selling drug and asserting allegedly unmeritorious patent infringement claims against makers of adalimumab biosimilars. AbbVie then settled the patent infringement litigation by entering into agreements with eight drug makers to allow adalimumab biosimilars to enter the U.S. market in 2023 and the European market in 2018.

In my last post, I discussed the district court’s memorandum opinion finding that “the vast majority” of AbbVie’s conduct was not “objectively baseless petitioning” and was therefore immunized under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. In this post, I explore several problematic aspects of the court’s reasoning for rejecting the claims of pay-for-delay and market allocation.

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