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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yellow capsules on a blue background.

Fatty Acids, Skinny Labels: Fish Oil Patent Battle Back in Court

By Gregory Curfman

An ongoing patent battle over omega-3 fatty acids, colloquially known as as fish oils, may have broad implications for the marketing of generic drugs.

Icosapent ethyl (Vascepa®) is an omega-3 fatty acid preparation used to treat high triglycerides.  It was explicitly designed to be different from most other omega-3 fatty acid preparations — instead of containing a mixture two fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid), it is a purified preparation of just the latter, and it is a much higher dose than what is typically used.

On the basis of the ANCHOR and MARINE clinical trials, in 2012 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Vascepa for the treatment of persons with severe hypertriglyceridemia.

In 2015, Hikma Pharmaceuticals, a generic drug company, filed an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) for its generic formulation of icosapent ethyl.

The manufacturer of branded Vascepa, Amarin Corporation, promptly filed a patent infringement lawsuit citing six method of use patents (the ‘728, ‘715, ‘677, ‘652, ‘560, ‘929 patents) on Vascepa that the company believed were infringed by Hikma’s ANDA.

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Traditional countryside scene in the Netherlands with windbreak lane of poplar trees in the wind under summer sky. Ens, Flevoland Province, the Netherlands.

Q&A with Mason Marks on New Psychedelics Law and Regulation Initiative

By Chloe Reichel

On June 30th, the Petrie-Flom Center announced the launch of a three-year research initiative, the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR), which is supported by a generous grant from the Saisei Foundation.

The Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School will advance evidence-based psychedelics law and policy.

In 2017, the FDA designated MDMA a breakthrough therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, and in 2018 the agency recognized psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy for treatment-resistant depression. These designations indicate that psychedelics may represent substantial improvements over existing treatments for mental health conditions. Many other psychedelics, including ibogaine, ketamine, and dimethyltryptamine, are the focus of ongoing psychiatric research and commercialization efforts.

Despite the proliferation of clinical research centers and increasing private investment in psychedelic drug development, there is a relative lack of research on the ethical, legal, and social implications of psychedelics research, commerce, and therapeutics.

In the following interview, which has been edited and condensed, Senior Fellow and POPLAR Project Lead Mason Marks explains how POPLAR will fill this gap, and previews some of the initiative’s topics of inquiry.

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image of the US Supreme Court

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Again Survives Supreme Court Review

By Gregory Curfman

For the generic drug and biosimilar industries, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Arthrex, Inc. comes as a relief.

In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts allowed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to survive and to continue to provide an alternative route for generic drugs and biosimilars to gain early market entry.

Patients, who may rely heavily on these less costly alternatives for their prescription drugs, will also benefit significantly from the Court’s decision in this case.

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Returns to the Supreme Court  

By Gregory Curfman

For the second time in the span of just three years, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is under scrutiny by the Supreme Court.

How the Supreme Court decides this latest PTAB case, United States v. Arthrex, will have important implications for patent law and for administrative law more generally.

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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

AbbVie Wins First Round in Humira Antitrust Lawsuit

By Ryan Knox and Gregory Curfman

Since receiving FDA approval for Humira® (adalimumab) in 2002, AbbVie, the drug’s manufacturer, has filed hundreds of submissions to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for secondary patents – almost half of which were filed after 2014, just two years before the expiration of its core patent.

These patents were largely directed to methods of use and potential formulation changes, but they did not include claims that affect the clinical efficacy of the biologic, which is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis, among other conditions. Instead, the purpose of the secondary patent filings was to assemble a thicket of patents, 132 in all, to prohibit competition from biosimilar companies.

And so far, the strategy has worked. AbbVie remains the sole U.S. manufacturer of the biologic, and has successfully defended its domain: in June 2020, a federal district court judge in Chicago dismissed an antitrust lawsuit against AbbVie.

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Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone.

Clash of Titans? A Brewing Dispute between Telehealth Giants

By Vrushab Gowda

Competition between rival telehealth providers spilled into open conflict last month, as incumbent Teladoc Health, Inc. (Teladoc) filed a patent infringement suit against relative upstart American Well Corporation (Amwell).

This development marks a significant escalation in what has been a lengthy arms race between the two publicly traded entities. Both having witnessed skyrocketing sales in recent months, aided by a shift to virtual care and a host of regulatory flexibilities, although neither has turned a profit to date.

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Vaccine.

Compulsory Licensing for Pharmaceuticals in the EU: A Reality Check

By Caranina (Nina) Colpaert

As pharma races to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, researchers and governments are working in parallel to pinpoint strategies to secure its widespread access.

To that end, many countries plan to seek refuge in a long-existing strategy: compulsory licensing.

In the European Union (EU), however, compulsory licensing is not as self-evident as it might seem. This blog post focuses on four specific challenges that come with compulsory licensing in the EU and potential alternative solutions.

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Deconstructing Moderna’s COVID-19 Patent Pledge

By Jorge L. Contreras, JD

On October 8, Cambridge-based biotech company Moderna, Inc., a leading contender in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, publicly pledged not to enforce its COVID-19 related patents against “those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.”

It also expressed willingness to license its intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines to others after the pandemic. In making this pledge, Moderna refers to its “special obligation under the current circumstances to use our resources to bring this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible.”

Moderna holds seven issued U.S. patents covering aspects of an mRNA-based candidate vaccine directed to COVID-19 which entered Phase III clinical trials in July. The potential market for a COVID-19 vaccine is potentially enormous. As of this writing, the U.S. government has committed approximately $1.5 billion to acquire 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine if it proves to be safe and effective (with an option for 100 million more), and the Canadian government has agreed to purchase 20 million doses for an undisclosed amount.

In the high-stakes market for COVID-19 vaccines, it is worth considering the full range of factors that might motivate a private firm to relinquish valuable intellectual property rights for the public good. A better understanding of these factors could help policymakers to secure additional pledges from firms that have not yet volunteered their intellectual property in the fight against the pandemic.

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