Researcher works at a lab bench

Do Pharmaceutical Patents Generate Unique Global Health Duties?

By Govind Persad

Imagine a Harvard MBA graduate trying to decide between jobs at Pfizer and at Snapchat. Both are immensely wealthy firms. Many of Pfizer’s products benefit global health. Snapchat’s are at best neutral and may even harm health. Yet many see Pfizer as distinctively culpable for global health deficits. These arguments often depend on the fact that Pfizer holds intellectual property (IP) in pharmaceuticals, whereas Snapchat holds cash and non-pharmaceutical IP.

In a recent paper in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics, Examining Pharmaceutical Exceptionalism: Intellectual Property, Practical Expediency, and Global Health, I argue for two conclusions:

  1.  Holders of pharmaceutical IP (like Pfizer) aren’t uniquely culpable for global health deficits. Other actors (like Snapchat) who fail to use available resources–including ordinary property and non-pharmaceutical IP–to address health deficits, or who affirmatively cause health deficits, also bear responsibility.
  2. But laws requiring pharmaceutical IP holders, but not others, to address global health deficits are nevertheless justifiable. Legal responsibility needn’t perfectly mirror moral responsibility.

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Ambassador-at-Large Deborah Birx giving a speech from a podium with an American flag and PEPFAR banner in the background

One of the Biggest Public Health Initiatives in History: PEPFAR and HIV

By Daniel Aaron

In October, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a conference of world-leading experts in HIV/AIDS to discuss one of the biggest public health successes in history: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR was launched in 2003 in response to a burgeoning global epidemic of HIV. The program offered $2 billion annually, rising to about $7 billion in 2019, to surveil, diagnose, treat, and reduce transmission of HIV around the world.

PEPFAR prevented what could have become an exponentially growing epidemic. It is estimated to have saved more than 17 million lives and avoided millions of new HIV infections. As a result, the speakers at the conference were quick to extol the virtues of the program. Professor Ashish Jha called it an “unmitigated success”; Professor Marc C. Elliott named it a “historic effort”; Dr. Ingrid Katz described PEPFAR as “nothing short of miraculous.”

However, several undercurrents within the conference, as well as more explicit points made by several panelists, suggested the importance of enlarging the discussion beyond PEPFAR itself to include other policies that impact HIV and AIDS, and even other diseases.

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Bottle of Truvada pills sitting on a bathroom sink

United States v. Gilead: The Fight for PrEP

By Phebe Hong

The Department of Health and Human Services’ patent suit against Gilead made headlines earlier this month (as described here and here). The government seeks damages for Gilead’s alleged infringement of HHS patents covering PrEP drugs for HIV prevention. The suit could set novel precedent in the realm of drug patent litigation – after all, very rarely does the government assert a patent against a large pharmaceutical company.

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Pile of colorful pills in blister packs

Promises and Perils of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: Workshop Report

This piece was part of a symposium featuring commentary from participants in the Center for Health Policy and Law’s annual conference, Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations, held on April 11-12, 2019 at Northeastern University School of Law. The symposium was originally posted through the Northeastern University Law Review Online Forum.

Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations Blog Symposium

We are pleased to present this symposium featuring commentary from participants in the Center for Health Policy and Law’s annual conference, Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations, held on April 11-12, 2019 at Northeastern University School of Law. As a note, additional detailed analyses of issues discussed during the conference will be published in the upcoming Winter Issue of the Northeastern University Law Review.

Throughout the two-day conference, speakers and attendees discussed how innovations, including artificial intelligence, robotics, mobile technology, gene therapies, pharmaceuticals, big data analytics, tele- and virtual health care delivery, and new models of delivery, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs), retail clinics, and medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), have entered and changed the healthcare market. More dramatic innovations and market disruptions are likely in the years to come. These new technologies and market disruptions offer immense promise to advance health care quality and efficiency, as well as improve provider and patient engagement. Success will depend, however, on careful consideration of potential perils and well-planned interventions to ensure new methods ultimately further, rather than diminish, the health of patients, especially those who are the most vulnerable.

In the final post of the Promises and Perils of Emerging Health Innovations blog symposium, Leo Beletsky and the team from Health in Justice Action Lab provide a summary of an event held in conjunction with the Center for Health Policy and Law’s 2019 annual health law conference. The Promises and Perils of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) workshop was held on April 13, 2019 and convened experts, practitioners, experts, and other stakeholders to brainstorm strategies with the goal to “maximize the benefits of PDMPs, while minimizing harms.” Visit the Health in Justice Action Lab website (linked below) for information on this and other projects underway. 

Promises and Perils of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: Workshop Report

By Health in Justice Action Lab

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An adult hold the hand of a child with an IV

Teva to Resume Production of Critical Pediatric Oncology Drug: Too Little, Too Late

By Beatrice Brown

In my last blog post, I reflected on the ethical issues relevant to a critical shortage of a widely used pediatric oncology drug, vincristine. The shortage occurred after one of two pharmaceutical companies producing the drug, Teva, withdrew from the market, and the other, Pfizer, was unable to keep up with the demand due to manufacturing delays. On November 13, Teva announced that they would resume production of vincristine. The announcement stressed that they have decided to re-introduce the product because of the anticipated lack of “reliable single supply in the near term.” They also seemed to shift the moral blame from their decision, stating that “When Teva removed vincristine from the market earlier in the year there was no indication at all of a possible shortage” and that they assumed that Pfizer, which supplied 97% of the market, could easily absorb the demand. Furthermore, Teva emphasized that before discontinuing a product, they “always evaluate the need” for it, noting the caveat that they usually do not know supply challenges that other manufactures may be facing. However, as noted by Forbes, there will be no “short-term impact on the ongoing shortage” as a result of Teva’s decision, as their new supply of vincristine will not be available until early in 2020.

I raised the question in my last blog post on the shortage of vincristine of whether pharmaceutical companies have a moral obligation to continue producing a critical drug, even if the decision is announced in advance. I argued that it would have been more ethically permissible for Teva to have reduced production over time, eventually halting production, in order to alleviate the issue of manufacturing delays that Pfizer subsequently faced. I would like to further explore this question in light of Teva’s recent decision to resume production. Read More

Eighth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review: Looking Back & Reaching Ahead

This post is part of our Eighth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium. You can read all of the posts in the series here. Review the conference’s full agenda and register for the event on the Petrie-Flom Center’s website.

By Prof. I. Glenn Cohen and Kaitlyn Dowling

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is excited to host the Eighth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review to be held at Harvard Law School December 6, 2019. This one-day conference is free and open to the public and will convene leading experts across health law policy, health sciences, technology, and ethics to discuss major developments in the field over the past year and invites them to contemplate what 2020 may hold. This year’s event will focus on developments in health information technology, the challenge of increasing health care coverage, immigration, the 2020 election, gene editing, and drug pricing, among other topic areas.

As we come to the end of another year in health law, the event will give us both a post-mortem on the biggest trends in 2019 and also some predictions on what’s to come in 2020.

Among the topics we will discuss: Read More

Illustration of a robber wearing a mask runs off with a bag of money

Patient Advocacy Groups – Pharma in Disguise?

By Phebe Hong

The mission of the Patient Access Network Foundation (PANF) is “[t]o help underinsured people with life-threatening, chronic and rare diseases get the medications and treatments they need by assisting with their out-of-pocket costs and advocating for improved access and affordability.” PANF proudly boasts that since 2004, it has “provided nearly 1 million underinsured patients with over $3 billion in financial assistance, through close to 70 disease-specific programs.”

Despite its altruistic mission statement, PANF recently found itself in hot water. On October 24th, PANF agreed to a $4 million settlement with the Department of Justice over allegations that the group paid kickbacks to Medicare patients purchasing specific medications. In parallel, another patient group called Good Days settled for $2 million with the DOJ over similar allegations.

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Close up of the Lady of Justice statue

The Privatization of Opioid Litigation

By Dan Aaron

As the opioid litigation continues over the shadow of one of our nation’s most pressing public health crises, some criticism has been levied at private lawyers representing the cities, counties, states, and individuals harmed by the crisis. For example, see the following tweet:

Let’s work out tax and healthcare financing policy county by county, with private lawyers taking a 25% cut every time. Judge Polster seems to like this idea.

The critiques are many, but can be summarized: (1) private lawyers are being enriched; (2) private lawyers are setting opioid policy; (3) private lawyers have misaligned incentives; and (4) private lawyers will not support public health.

Arguably, all these arguments bear some truth. However, do they suggest that the opioid litigation is incorrigibly tainted and tort litigation the improper avenue to address mass torts such as the opioid crisis?

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A sick child lies in a hospital bed. An IV pole is visible in the foreground

Ethical Reflections on the Recent Critical Shortage of Pediatric Cancer Drug

By Beatrice Brown

Recently, news broke that there is a critical shortage of vincristine, a drug that is integral for treating pediatric cancers. According to the Children’s Oncology Group, Pfizer communicated that they were experiencing a shortage of the drug due to a manufacturing delay. Pfizer is now the sole supplier of vincristine in the United States after the other supplier, Teva Pharmaceuticals, ceased production of the drug after making a “business decision.” Although the FDA announced that deliveries of the drug should resume in late October, it is predicted that there will still be a supply shortage until December or January.

Vincristine is “the single most widely used chemotherapeutic in childhood cancer,” according to Yoram Unguru, MD, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai and Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore, Maryland. Unguru stated, “Nearly every child with cancer in the U.S. will receive multiple doses of vincristine over the course of their treatment. For some children with cancer, vincristine comprises one half of all chemotherapy administered.”

The shortage is even more critical given that there is no other manufacturer that can pick up the slack. According to Unguru, the shortage was predictable once Teva halted production. Given that there is no substitute for vincristine, doctors are in a tough position. Thus, there are two ethical issues I wish to explore here: 1) the issue of resource allocation/drug rationing; and 2) the moral obligations of pharmaceutical companies to patients. I will take up each of these issues in turn. Read More

Stack of colorful books in front of a wood paneled wall

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

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Charlie Lee, Frazer Tessema, 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 relevant to current or potential future work in the Division.

Below are the abstracts/summaries for papers identified from the month of September. The selections feature topics ranging from the contributions of academia and industry to lung cancer survival gains, to the savings from the EpiPen authorized generic, to the association between FDA advisory committee recommendations and agency actions. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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