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Archive for the ‘Law and Medicine Conflicts’ Category

US Responses to Coronavirus Outbreak Expose Many Flaws in Our Medical System


US Responses to Coronavirus Outbreak Expose Many Flaws in Our Medical System

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

The  coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every country in every continent however, after months of the novel advent of novel COVID-19 cases, it has become apparent that the varied clinical responses in this epidemic (and outcomes) have laid bare some of the strong and weak aspects in, both our worldwide capabilities to respond to infectious outbreaks in a global coordinated response and in individual countries’ response to their localized epidemics.

 

Some nations, like Israel, have initiated a coordinated government-private-health system wide action plan and have shown success in limiting both new cases and COVID-19 related deaths.  After the initial Wuhan China outbreak, China closed borders and the government initiated health related procedures including the building of new hospitals. As of writing today, Wuhan has experienced no new cases of COVID-19 for two straight days.

 

However, the response in the US has been perplexing and has highlighted some glaring problems that have been augmented in this crisis, in the view of this writer.    In my view, which has been formulated after social discussion with members in the field ,these issues can be centered on three major areas of deficiencies in the United States that have hindered a rapid and successful response to this current crisis and potential future crises of this nature.

 

 

  1. The mistrust or misunderstanding of science in the United States
  2. Lack of communication and connection between patients and those involved in the healthcare industry
  3. Socio-geographical inequalities within the US healthcare system

 

1. The mistrust or misunderstanding of science in the United States

 

For the past decade, anyone involved in science, whether directly as active bench scientists, regulatory scientists, scientists involved in science and health policy, or environmental scientists can attest to the constant pressure to not only defend their profession but also to defend the entire scientific process and community from an onslaught of misinformation, mistrust and anxiety toward the field of science.  This can be seen in many of the editorials in scientific publications including the journal Science and Scientific American (as shown below)

 

Stepping Away from Microscopes, Thousands Protest War on Science

Boston rally coincides with annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference and is a precursor to the March for Science in Washington, D.C.

byLauren McCauley, staff writer

Responding to the troubling suppression of science under the Trump administration, thousands of scientists, allies, and frontline communities are holding a rally in Boston’s Copley Square on Sunday.

#standupforscience Tweets

 

“Science serves the common good,” reads the call to action. “It protects the health of our communities, the safety of our families, the education of our children, the foundation of our economy and jobs, and the future we all want to live in and preserve for coming generations.”

It continues: 

But it’s under attack—both science itself, and the unalienable rights that scientists help uphold and protect. 

From the muzzling of scientists and government agencies, to the immigration ban, the deletion of scientific data, and the de-funding of public science, the erosion of our institutions of science is a dangerous direction for our country. Real people and communities bear the brunt of these actions.

The rally was planned to coincide with the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference, which draws thousands of science professionals, and is a precursor to the March for Science in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the world on April 22.

 

Source: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/02/19/stepping-away-microscopes-thousands-protest-war-science

https://images.app.goo.gl/UXizCsX4g5wZjVtz9

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/85438fbe-278d-11e7-928e-3624539060e8

 

 

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) also had marches for public awareness of science and meaningful science policy at their annual conference in Washington, D.C. in 2017 (see here for free recordings of some talks including Joe Biden’s announcement of the Cancer Moonshot program) and also sponsored events such as the Rally for Medical Research.  This patient advocacy effort is led by the cancer clinicians and scientific researchers to rally public support for cancer research for the benefit of those affected by the disease.

Source: https://leadingdiscoveries.aacr.org/cancer-patients-front-and-center/

 

 

     However, some feel that scientists are being too sensitive and that science policy and science-based decision making may not be under that much of a threat in this country. Yet even as some people think that there is no actual war on science and on scientists they realize that the public is not engaged in science and may not be sympathetic to the scientific process or trust scientists’ opinions. 

 

   

From Scientific American: Is There Really a War on Science? People who oppose vaccines, GMOs and climate change evidence may be more anxious than antagonistic

 

Certainly, opponents of genetically modified crops, vaccinations that are required for children and climate science have become louder and more organized in recent times. But opponents typically live in separate camps and protest single issues, not science as a whole, said science historian and philosopher Roberta Millstein of the University of California, Davis. She spoke at a standing-room only panel session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C. All the speakers advocated for a scientifically informed citizenry and public policy, and most discouraged broadly applied battle-themed rhetoric.

 

Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-really-a-war-on-science/

 

      In general, it appears to be a major misunderstanding by the public of the scientific process, and principles of scientific discovery, which may be the fault of miscommunication by scientists or agendas which have the goals of subverting or misdirecting public policy decisions from scientific discourse and investigation.

 

This can lead to an information vacuum, which, in this age of rapid social media communication,

can quickly perpetuate misinformation.

 

This perpetuation of misinformation was very evident in a Twitter feed discussion with Dr. Eric Topol, M.D. (cardiologist and Founder and Director of the Scripps Research Translational  Institute) on the US President’s tweet on the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine based on President Trump referencing a single study in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.  The Twitter thread became a sort of “scientific journal club” with input from international scientists discussing and critiquing the results in the paper.  

 

Please note that when we scientists CRITIQUE a paper it does not mean CRITICIZE it.  A critique is merely an in depth analysis of the results and conclusions with an open discussion on the paper.  This is part of the normal peer review process.

 

Below is the original Tweet by Dr. Eric Topol as well as the ensuing tweet thread

 

https://twitter.com/EricTopol/status/1241442247133900801?s=20

 

Within the tweet thread it was discussed some of the limitations or study design flaws of the referenced paper leading the scientists in this impromptu discussion that the study could not reasonably conclude that hydroxychloroquine was not a reliable therapeutic for this coronavirus strain.

 

The lesson: The public has to realize CRITIQUE does not mean CRITICISM.

 

Scientific discourse has to occur to allow for the proper critique of results.  When this is allowed science becomes better, more robust, and we protect ourselves from maybe heading down an incorrect path, which may have major impacts on a clinical outcome, in this case.

 

 

2.  Lack of communication and connection between patients and those involved in the healthcare industry

 

In normal times, it is imperative for the patient-physician relationship to be intact in order for the physician to be able to communicate proper information to their patient during and after therapy/care.  In these critical times, this relationship and good communication skills becomes even more important.

 

Recently, I have had multiple communications, either through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets with cancer patients, cancer advocacy groups, and cancer survivorship forums concerning their risks of getting infected with the coronavirus and how they should handle various aspects of their therapy, whether they were currently undergoing therapy or just about to start chemotherapy.  This made me realize that there were a huge subset of patients who were not receiving all the information and support they needed; namely patients who are immunocompromised.

 

These are patients represent

  1. cancer patient undergoing/or about to start chemotherapy
  2. Patients taking immunosuppressive drugs: organ transplant recipients, patients with autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis patients
  3. Patients with immunodeficiency disorders

 

These concerns prompted me to write a posting curating the guidance from National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers to cancer patients concerning their risk to COVID19 (which can be found here).

 

Surprisingly, there were only 14 of the 51 US NCI Cancer Centers which had posted guidance (either there own or from organizations like NCI or the National Cancer Coalition Network (NCCN).  Most of the guidance to patients had stemmed from a paper written by Dr. Markham of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle Washington, the first major US city which was impacted by COVID19.

 

Also I was surprised at the reactions to this posting, with patients and oncologists enthusiastic to discuss concerns around the coronavirus problem.  This led to having additional contact with patients and oncologists who, as I was surprised, are not having these conversations with each other or are totally confused on courses of action during this pandemic.  There was a true need for each party, both patients/caregivers and physicians/oncologists to be able to communicate with each other and disseminate good information.

 

Last night there was a Tweet conversation on Twitter #OTChat sponsored by @OncologyTimes.  A few tweets are included below

https://twitter.com/OncologyTimes/status/1242611841613864960?s=20

https://twitter.com/OncologyTimes/status/1242616756658753538?s=20

https://twitter.com/OncologyTimes/status/1242615906846547978?s=20

 

The Lesson:  Rapid Communication of Vital Information in times of stress is crucial in maintaining a good patient/physician relationship and preventing Misinformation.

 

3.  Socio-geographical Inequalities in the US Healthcare System

It has become very clear that the US healthcare system is fractioned and multiple inequalities (based on race, sex, geography, socio-economic status, age) exist across the whole healthcare system.  These inequalities are exacerbated in times of stress, especially when access to care is limited.

 

An example:

 

On May 12, 2015, an Amtrak Northeast Regional train from Washington, D.C. bound for New York City derailed and wrecked on the Northeast Corridor in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Of 238 passengers and 5 crew on board, 8 were killed and over 200 injured, 11 critically. The train was traveling at 102 mph (164 km/h) in a 50 mph (80 km/h) zone of curved tracks when it derailed.[3]

Some of the passengers had to be extricated from the wrecked cars. Many of the passengers and local residents helped first responders during the rescue operation. Five local hospitals treated the injured. The derailment disrupted train service for several days. 

(Source Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Philadelphia_train_derailment)

What was not reported was the difficulties that first responders, namely paramedics had in finding an emergency room capable of taking on the massive load of patients.  In the years prior to this accident, several hospitals, due to monetary reasons, had to close their emergency rooms or reduce them in size. In addition only two in Philadelphia were capable of accepting gun shot victims (Temple University Hospital was the closest to the derailment but one of the emergency rooms which would accept gun shot victims. This was important as Temple University ER, being in North Philadelphia, is usually very busy on any given night.  The stress to the local health system revealed how one disaster could easily overburden many hospitals.

 

Over the past decade many hospitals, especially rural hospitals, have been shuttered or consolidated into bigger health systems.  The graphic below shows this

From Bloomberg: US Hospital Closings Leave Patients with Nowhere to go

 

 

https://images.app.goo.gl/JdZ6UtaG3Ra3EA3J8

 

Note the huge swath of hospital closures in the midwest, especially in rural areas.  This has become an ongoing problem as the health care system deals with rising costs.

 

Lesson:  Epidemic Stresses an already stressed out US healthcare system

 

Please see our Coronavirus Portal at

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/coronavirus-portal/

 

for more up-to-date scientific, clinical information as well as persona stories, videos, interviews and economic impact analyses

and @pharma_BI

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What drug interfered with the performance of Sharapova?

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

Meldonium — The Drug That Brought Down Sharapova

Gayle Nicholas Scott, PharmD

When tennis player Maria Sharapova recently revealed that she had tested positive for the banned drug meldonium, the reaction of most healthcare providers was, “What is it?”

Meldonium is manufactured and sold as Mildronate by the pharmaceutical company Grindeks in the Baltic nation of Latvia. Meldonium is not available in the United States or elsewhere in the European Union (it was grandfathered in Latvia) other than via purchase on the Internet.

The World Anti-Doping Agency classifies meldonium as a “metabolic modulator” and moved the drug from its watch list to its list of banned substances in January 2016.

Other “metabolic modulators” are insulin and trimetazidine, an anti-ischemic metabolic agent that increases myocardial glucose utilization through inhibition of fatty acid metabolism.[1,2] Trimetazidine is approved in the European Union for the treatment of angina, but it is not approved in the United States.

The chemical name for meldonium is trimethylhydrazinium propionate. Meldonium works by decreasing the availability of levocarnitine (L-carnitine). L-carnitine is found naturally in milk and meats, and also can be synthesized by the body from lysine and methionine with the help of gamma-butyrobetaine hydroxylase. L-carnitine helps move long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria for oxidation and energy production in the muscles.

Ironically, L-carnitine, which meldonium inhibits, is taken as a dietary supplement alone and as an ingredient in energy drinks to increase athletic performance. (L-carnitine is available in the United States as the prescription drug Carnitor®, which is indicated for carnitine deficiency owing to inborn errors of metabolism and for end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis.) After two decades of research, no consistent evidence has emerged indicating that carnitine supplements can improve exercise or physical performance. Carnitine supplements do not appear to increase the body’s use of oxygen or improve metabolic status when exercising, and may not increase the amount of carnitine in muscle.[3,4]Carnitine is not on the list of banned substances.[1]

As a modulator of L-carnitine metabolism, meldonium inhibits gamma-butyrobetaine hydroxylase and L-carnitine transmembrane transport of long-chain fatty acids, thus decreasing L-carnitine levels in tissue and plasma. Reducing the amount of bioavailable L-carnitine shifts the source of metabolic energy production from fatty acid oxidation to glucose metabolism. Aerobic glucose oxidation consumes less oxygen than fatty acid oxidation and increases the effectiveness of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generation. Additionally, meldonium appears to increase glucose uptake. In ischemic conditions (hypoxia), meldonium appears to restore the balance between cellular oxygen supply and demand, and prevents ATP transport impairment.[3,5]

All published clinical efficacy studies on meldonium, except one,[6] are in Russian. Abstracts of randomized controlled trials have reported the efficacy of meldonium in reducing angina, arrhythmias, and anxiety and other early sequelae of myocardial infarction[7-10]; as an “adaptogen” in patients with cardiovascular disease[11,12]; and in treating angina and reducing myocardial ischemia after percutaneous coronary intervention,[6,13,14] heart failure,[15] and diabetic peripheral neuropathy.[16] Doses, when included in the abstracts, ranged from 750 to 1000 mg per day. Only one abstract mentioned adverse effects, stating that none occurred.[7]

A pharmacokinetic study of meldonium showed that the drug has a dose-dependent half-life and volume of distribution with accumulation on multiple-dose administration. In eight healthy volunteers who received meldonium for 13 days, almost all reported insomnia, half reported burping, and one quarter reported “dreaminess.” No serious adverse effects were reported.[17]

A study in healthy, nonvegetarian volunteers receiving 1000 mg meldonium per day for 4 weeks showed that plasma concentrations of L-carnitine decreased by 18%. Urine samples showed an increase in L-carnitine excretion. Adverse effects were not mentioned.[18] Meldonium is excreted in the urine largely unchanged, making urine testing a valid monitor presence of meldonium.[19]

No long-term studies on the safety and efficacy of meldonium have been published. No studies on the effect of meldonium on athletic performance in humans have been published. One study on the reliability of urine testing in professional sports[19]mentions an article and an abstract, but neither of those appears in PubMed. The abstract purports to be a review of “recent studies on mildronate especially in fields associated with physical work capabilities and sport” but cites only the study mentioned in the urine testing review.[20] Most articles about meldonium cited on PubMed are by Latvian authors.

Animal research suggests the potential usefulness of meldonium in Alzheimer disease,[21-23] Parkinson disease,[24,25] and diabetes.[26-29] Meldonium increased sexual activity in boars[30] but not in male rats.[31] Research in rodents found that meldonium can cause carnitine deficiency in offspring, so the drug should not be taken in pregnancy.[32]

Because meldonium is excreted renally, serum levels may be higher in patients with reduced kidney function, and the drug may accumulate with repeated dosing.[19] L-carnitine appears to antagonize the effects of meldonium[33]; otherwise, drug interactions are not known.

To recap, meldonium is an interesting drug developed by Latvian researchers. Published research suggests that it may be an effective treatment for cardiovascular diseases, such as angina. Little information about its adverse effects has been published, however, and the long-term safety of meldonium is not known. And although reliable research on meldonium’s use for athletic performance is not available, the World Anti-Doping Agency has declared it a banned substance.

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The late Cambridge Mayor Alfred Vellucci welcomed Life Sciences Labs to Cambridge, MA – June 1976

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

How Cambridge became the Life Sciences Capital

Worth watching is the video below, which captures the initial Cambridge City Council hearing on recombinant DNA research from June 1976. The first speaker is the late Cambridge mayor Alfred Vellucci.

Vellucci hoped to pass a two-year moratorium on gene splicing in Cambridge. Instead, the council passed a three-month moratorium, and created a board of nine Cambridge citizens — including a nun and a nurse — to explore whether the work should be allowed, and if so, what safeguards would be necessary. A few days after the board was created, the pro and con tables showed up at the Kendall Square marketplace.

At the time, says Phillip Sharp, an MIT professor, Cambridge felt like a manufacturing town that had seen better days. He recalls being surrounded by candy, textile, and leather factories. Sharp hosted the citizens review committee at MIT, explaining what the research scientists there planned to do. “I think we built a relationship,” he says.

By early 1977, the citizens committee had proposed a framework to ensure that any DNA-related experiments were done under fairly stringent safety controls, and Cambridge became the first city in the world to regulate research using genetic material.

 

WATCH VIDEO

How Cambridge became the life sciences capital

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter@ScottKirsner and on betaboston.com.

SOURCE

How Cambridge became the life sciences capital

http://www.betaboston.com/news/2016/03/17/how-cambridge-became-the-life-sciences-capital/

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Supreme Court reverses Zimmer win in $20m knee implant lawsuit

Reported by: Irina Robu, PhD

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday reversed a state appeals court’s decision to overturn a $20 million verdict against in a knee implant lawsuit. Margo Pollet had a double knee replacement procedure in 2006 using Zimmer’s Gender Solutions devices but after making a Zimmer promotional video which included riding a bicycle and running on treadmill, she claimed that it damaged her knees. She sued for negligence saying the injuries occured during filming the video. A jury awarded Polett millions in damages after finding that Zimmer was 34% culpable. The jury also put 30% of the blame on Polett herself and 36% on the marketing firm Public Communications for its involvement with the ad.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court last October ruled that the lower court incorrectly shifted the burden of proof onto Zimmer by asking the company to provide alternative explanations for Polett’s revisions surgeries, thus leading the jury to a potentially false conclusion, and ordered a new trial. 

“In sum, the trial court’s ruling that Dr. Booth’s expert testimony as to causation was not barred by [Pennsylvania law] was amply supported by the evidence of record, and thus was reasonable. Consequently, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Dr. Booth to render an expert opinion at trial, and that the  Superior Court erred by reassessing the evidence relied upon by the trial court in making its ruling, and by supplanting the trial court’s findings with its own evaluation of that evidence. We, therefore, reverse the order of the Superior Court as to this issue,” McCloskey Todd wrote.

The Supreme Court ordered the Superior Court to review whether the trial court was wrong to deny the defendants’ bid to overturn the verdict.

Source

http://www.massdevice.com/pennsylvania-supreme-court-reverses-zimmer-win-in-20m-knee-implant-lawsuit/?utm_source=newsletter-151031&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter-151031&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=23330293&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–nywdqI8Oozk—hLR5sGhUzi28TI0dySIJ7JSoVr72yV8Y9K535Br78ZKs9nHBieb7asND2eZS2iTcUV9OHRqCaUTZlvqQHU7BNH4C6r82Zh13vQ&_hsmi=23330293

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pathway and network analysis of complex ‘omics data

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

While blood tests can be used to detect some cancers, the FDA said a San Diego company has no proof its blood test works in patients who have not already been diagnosed with some form of the disease.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (UPI) — A San Diego company selling an early cancer detection test was notified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration it can find no evidence the test actually works, and is concerned it could prove to be harmful for some people.

Pathway Genomics debuted its CancerIntercept test in early September with claims it can detect cancer cell DNA in the blood, picking up mutations linked to as many as 10 different cancers. The goal is to catch cancer early in people who are “otherwise healthy” and not showing symptoms of the disease.

“Based on our review of your promotional materials and the research publication cited above, we believe you are offering a high risk test that has not received adequate clinical validation and may harm the public health,” said FDA Deputy Director James L. Woods in a letter to the company.

CancerIntercept is billed by the company as a blood test looking for DNA fragments in the bloodstream and testing them for 96 genomic markers it says are found in several specific tumor types.

The direct-to-consumer test can be purchased through the Pathway Genomics website, with programs ranging from a one-time test to a quarterly “subscription” for people who want regular testing.

The company states, in several sections of its website, “the presence of one or more of these genomic markers in a patient’s bloodstream may indicate that the patient has a previously undetected cancer. However, the test is not diagnostic, and thus, follow-up screening and clinical testing would be required to confirm the presence or absence of a specific cancer in the patient.”

The FDA is concerned that people may seek treatment for tumors that do not require medical attention, or spend money and possibly seek out treatment they do not need at all — in either case, unnecessary treatment for cancer is potentially harmful to people, the agency said.

CancerIntercept has not been approved by the FDA for use as a medical device, nor has it been subjected to peer review as most tests of its type would be. The company published a white paper on its website which outlines how the test works, supporting its efficacy with references to several clinical trials on detection of mutated DNA in the bloodstream.

Glenn Braunstein, Chief Medical Officer at Pathway Genomics, told The VergePathway had validated its tests with “hundreds” of patients, though those patients had well-defined, often advanced cancers.

In the letter from the FDA, Woods requests the company provide a timeline for meeting with the agency to review plans for future longitudinal studies on the product and specific details on studies that have been conducted before it was made available to consumers.

http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2015/09/25/FDA-Start-ups-cancer-blood-test-may-be-harmful/4191443181676/

The clinical laboratory is an essential player in the treatment of cancer providing a diagnostic, potentially a prognostic, and follow-up treatment armamentarium.  The laboratory diagnostics industry has grown over the last half century into  a highly accurate, well regulated industry with highly automated and point of care technologies.  Prior to introduction, the tests that are put on the market have to be validated prior to introduction.

How are they validated?

The most common approach is for the test to be used concomitantly with treatment in a clinical trial. Measurements may be made prior to surgical biopsy and treatment, and at a month or 6 months to a year later.  The pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries are independent, even though a large company may have both pharmaceutical and diagnostic divisions.  Consequently, the integration of diagnostics and therapeutics occurs on the front lines of patient care.

How this discrepancy between the FDA and the manufacturer could occur is not clear because prior to introduction, the test would have to be rigorously reviewed by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, the largest and most competent organization to cover the scientific work, having industry-based committees.  The only problem is that the companies may have products that are patented and have competing claims or interests. This is perhaps most likely to be problematic in the competitive environment of  genomics testing.

The company here reported on is Pathway Genomics, that offers Ingenuity for pathway and variant analysis.  There is no concern about the analysis methods, that are well studied.  The concern is the validation of such method for screening of patients without prior diagnosis.

Model, analyze, and understand the complex biological and chemical systems at the core of life science research with IPA

QIAGEN’S Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) has been broadly adopted by the life science research community and is cited in thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles.

https://youtu.be/_HDkjuxYRcY

https://youtu.be/_HDkjuxYRcY?t=25

For the analysis and interpretation of ’omics data
Market Leading Pathway Analysis
Unlock the insights buried in experimental data by quickly identifying relationships, mechanisms, functions, and pathways of relevance.
Predictive Causal Analytics
Powerful causal analytics at your fingertips help you to build a more complete regulatory picture and a better understanding of the biology underlying a given gene expression study.
NGS/RNA-Seq Data Analysis
Get a better understanding of the isoform-specific biology resulting from RNA-Seq experiments.
Identify causal variants from human sequencing data
Ingenuity IPA Interpret Biological Meaning Graphic

http://www.ingenuity.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/variant-analyisis-interpretation.png

Rapidly Identify and Prioritize Variants

Ingenuity Variant Analysis combines analytical tools and integrated content to help you rapidly identify and prioritize variants by drilling down to a small, targeted subset of compelling variants based both upon published biological evidence and your own knowledge of disease biology. With Variant Analysis, you can interrogate your variants from multiple biological perspectives, explore different biological hypotheses, and identify the most promising variants for follow-up.

Variant Analysis used in NCI-60 Interpretation of Genomic Variants

The NCI-60 Data Set offers tremendous promise in the development and prescription of cancer drugs

97% of surveyed researchers are satisfied with the ease of use of Ingenuity Variant Analysis and we are honored that they chose to share the data through our Publish tool.

See the research verified by TechValidate

“Being a bioinformatician, I appreciated the speed and the complexity of analysis. Without Variant Analysis, I couldn’t have completed the analysis of 700 exomes in such a short time …. I found Variant Analysis very intuitive and easy to use.”

Francesco Lescai, Senior Research Associate in Genome Analysis, University College of London.

This appears to be the new rocky road to verification for validity in diagnostic and treatment application.

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The Vibrant Philly Biotech Scene: Focus on KannaLife Sciences and the Discipline and Potential of Pharmacognosy

Curator and Interviewer: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

 

philly2nightThis post is the third in a series of posts highlighting interviews with Philadelphia area biotech startup CEO’s and show how a vibrant biotech startup scene is evolving in the city as well as the Delaware Valley area. Philadelphia has been home to some of the nation’s oldest biotechs including Cephalon, Centocor, hundreds of spinouts from a multitude of universities as well as home of the first cloned animal (a frog), the first transgenic mouse, and Nobel laureates in the field of molecular biology and genetics. Although some recent disheartening news about the fall in rankings of Philadelphia as a biotech hub and recent remarks by CEO’s of former area companies has dominated the news, biotech incubators like the University City Science Center and Bucks County Biotechnology Center as well as a reinvigorated investment community (like PCCI and MABA) are bringing Philadelphia back. And although much work is needed to bring the Philadelphia area back to its former glory days (including political will at the state level) there are many bright spots such as the innovative young companies as outlined in these posts.

In today’s post, I had the opportunity to talk with both Dr. William Kinney, Chief Scientific Officer and Thoma Kikis, Founder/CMO of KannaLife Sciences based in the Pennsylvania Biotech Center of Bucks County.   KannaLifeSciences, although highlighted in national media reports and Headline news (HLN TV)for their work on cannabis-derived compounds, is a phyto-medical company focused on the discipline surrounding pharmacognosy, the branch of pharmacology dealing with natural drugs and their constituents.

Below is the interview with Dr. Kinney and Mr. Kikis of KannaLife Sciences and Leaders in Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence (LPBI)

 

PA Biotech Questions answered by Dr. William Kinney, Chief Scientific Officer of KannaLife Sciences

 

 

LPBI: Your parent company   is based in New York. Why did you choose the Bucks County Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center?

 

Dr. Kinney: The Bucks County Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center has several aspects that were attractive to us.  They have a rich talent pool of pharmaceutically trained medicinal chemists, an NIH trained CNS pharmacologist,  a scientific focus on liver disease, and a premier natural product collection.

 

LBPI: The Blumberg Institute and Natural Products Discovery Institute has acquired a massive phytochemical library. How does this resource benefit the present and future plans for KannaLife?

 

Dr. Kinney: KannaLife is actively mining this collection for new sources of neuroprotective agents and is in the process of characterizing the active components of a specific biologically active plant extract.  Jason Clement of the NPDI has taken a lead on these scientific studies and is on our Advisory Board. 

 

LPBI: Was the state of Pennsylvania and local industry groups support KannaLife’s move into the Doylestown incubator?

 

Dr. Kinney: The move was not State influenced by state or industry groups. 

 

LPBI: Has the partnership with Ben Franklin Partners and the Center provided you with investment opportunities?

 

Dr. Kinney: Ben Franklin Partners has not yet been consulted as a source of capital.

 

LPBI: The discipline of pharmacognosy, although over a century old, has relied on individual investigators and mainly academic laboratories to make initial discoveries on medicinal uses of natural products. Although there have been many great successes (taxol, many antibiotics, glycosides, etc.) many big pharmaceutical companies have abandoned this strategy considering it a slow, innefective process. Given the access you have to the chemical library there at Buck County Technology Center, the potential you had identified with cannabanoids in diseases related to oxidative stress, how can KannaLife enhance the efficiency of finding therapeutic and potential preventive uses for natural products?

 

Dr. Kinney: KannaLife has the opportunity to improve upon natural molecules that have shown medically uses, but have limitations related to safety and bioavailability. By applying industry standard medicinal chemistry optimization and assay methods, progress is being made in improving upon nature.  In addition KannaLife has access to one of the most commercially successful natural products scientists and collections in the industry.

 

LPBI: How does the clinical & regulatory experience in the Philadelphia area help a company like Kannalife?

 

Dr. Kinney: Within the region, KannaLife has access to professionals in all areas of drug development either by hiring displaced professionals or partnering with regional contract research organizations.

 

LPBI  You are focusing on an interesting mechanism of action (oxidative stress) and find your direction appealing (find compounds to reverse this, determine relevant disease states {like HCE} then screen these compounds in those disease models {in hippocampal slices}).  As oxidative stress is related to many diseases are you trying to develop your natural products as preventative strategies, even though those type of clinical trials usually require massive numbers of trial participants or are you looking to partner with a larger company to do this?

 

Dr. Kinney: Our strategy is to initially pursue Hepatic Encephalophy (HE) as the lead orphan disease indication and then partner with other organizations to broaden into other areas that would benefit from a neuroprotective agent.  It is expected the HE will be responsive to an acute treatment regimen.   We are pursuing both natural products and new chemical entities for this development path.

 

 

General Questions answered by Thoma Kikis, Founder/CMO of KannaLife Sciences

 

LPBI: How did KannaLife get the patent from the National Institutes of Health?

 

My name is Thoma Kikis I’m the co-founder of KannaLife Sciences. In 2010, my partner Dean Petkanas and I founded KannaLife and we set course applying for the exclusive license of the ‘507 patent held by the US Government Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health (NIH). We spent close to 2 years working on acquiring an exclusive license from NIH to commercially develop Patent 6,630,507 “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.” In 2012, we were granted exclusivity from NIH to develop a treatment for a disease called Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE), a brain liver disease that stems from cirrhosis.

 

Cannabinoids are the chemicals that compose the Cannabis plant. There are over 85 known isolated Cannabinoids in Cannabis. The cannabis plant is a repository for chemicals, there are over 400 chemicals in the entire plant. We are currently working on non-psychoactive cannabinoids, cannabidiol being at the forefront.

 

As we started our work on HE and saw promising results in the area of neuroprotection we sought out another license from the NIH on the same patent to treat CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), in August of 2014 we were granted the additional license. CTE is a concussion related traumatic brain disease with long term effects mostly suffered by contact sports players including football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, boxing and active military soldiers.

 

To date we are the only license holders of the US Government held patent on cannabinoids.

 

 

LPBI: How long has this project been going on?

 

We have been working on the overall project since 2010. We first started work on early research for CTE in early-2013.

 

 

LPBI: Tell me about the project. What are the goals?

 

Our focus has always been on treating diseases that effect the Brain. Currently we are looking for solutions in therapeutic agents designed to reduce oxidative stress, and act as immuno-modulators and neuroprotectants.

 

KannaLife has an overall commitment to discover and understand new phytochemicals. This diversification of scientific and commercial interests strongly indicates a balanced and thoughtful approach to our goals of providing standardized, safer and more effective medicines in a socially responsible way.

 

Currently our research has focused on the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD). Exploring the appropriate uses and limitations and improving its safety and Metered Dosing. CBD has a limited therapeutic window and poor bioavailability upon oral dosing, making delivery of a consistent therapeutic dose challenging. We are also developing new CBD-like molecules to overcome these limitations and evaluating new phytochemicals from non-regulated plants.

 

KannaLife’s research is led by experienced pharmaceutically trained professionals; Our Scientific team out of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center is led by Dr. William Kinney and Dr. Douglas Brenneman both with decades of experience in pharmaceutical R&D.

 

 

LPBI: How do cannabinoids help neurological damage? -What sort of neurological damage do they help?

 

Cannabinoids and specifically cannabidiol work to relieve oxidative stress, and act as immuno-modulators and neuroprotectants.

 

So far our pre-clinical results show that cannabidiol is a good candidate as a neuroprotectant as the patent attests to. Our current studies have been to protect neuronal cells from toxicity. For HE we have been looking specifically at ammonia and ethanol toxicity.

 

 

– How did it go from treating general neurological damage to treating CTE? Is there any proof yet that cannabinoids can help prevent CTE? What proof?

 

We started examining toxicity first with ammonia and ethanol in HE and then posed the question; If CBD is a neuroprotectant against toxicity then we need to examine what it can do for other toxins. We looked at CTE and the toxin that causes it, tau. We just acquired the license in August from the NIH for CTE and are beginning our pre-clinical work in the area of CTE now with Dr. Ron Tuma and Dr. Sara Jane Ward at Temple University in Philadelphia.

 

 

LPBI: How long until a treatment could be ready? What’s the timeline?

 

We will have research findings in the coming year. We plan on filing an IND (Investigational New Drug application) with the FDA for CBD and our molecules in 2015 for HE and file for CTE once our studies are done.

 

 

LPBI: What other groups are you working with regarding CTE?

 

We are getting good support from former NFL players who want solutions to the problem of concussions and CTE. This is a very frightening topic for many players, especially with the controversy and lawsuits surrounding it. I have personally spoken to several former NFL players, some who have CTE and many are frightened at what the future holds.

 

We enrolled a former player, Marvin Washington. Marvin was an 11 year NFL vet with NY Jets, SF 49ers and won a SuperBowl on the 1998 Denver Broncos. He has been leading the charge on KannaLife’s behalf to raise awareness to the potential solution for CTE.

 

We tried approaching the NFL in 2013 but they didn’t want to meet. I can understand that they don’t want to take a position. But ultimately, they’re going to have to make a decision and look into different research to treat concussions. They have already given the NIH $30 Million for research into football related injuries and we hold a license with the NIH, so we wanted to have a discussion. But currently cannabinoids are part of their substance abuse policy connected to marijuana. Our message to the NFL is that they need to lead the science, not follow it.

 

Can you imagine the NFL’s stance on marijuana treating concussions and CTE? These are topics they don’t want to touch but will have to at some point.

 

LPBI: Thank you both Dr. Kinney and Mr. Kikis.

 

Please look for future posts in this series on the Philly Biotech Scene on this site

Also, if you would like your Philadelphia biotech startup to be highlighted in this series please contact me or

http://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com at:

sjwilliamspa@comcast.net or @StephenJWillia2  or @pharma_BI.

Our site is read by ~ thousand international readers DAILY and thousands of Twitter followers including venture capital.

 

Other posts on this site in this VIBRANT PHILLY BIOTECH SCENE SERIES OR referring to PHILADELPHIA BIOTECH include:

The Vibrant Philly Biotech Scene: Focus on Computer-Aided Drug Design and Gfree Bio, LLC

RAbD Biotech Presents at 1st Pitch Life Sciences-Philadelphia

The Vibrant Philly Biotech Scene: Focus on Vaccines and Philimmune, LLC

What VCs Think about Your Pitch? Panel Summary of 1st Pitch Life Science Philly

1st Pitch Life Science- Philadelphia- What VCs Really Think of your Pitch

LytPhage Presents at 1st Pitch Life Sciences-Philadelphia

Hastke Inc. Presents at 1st Pitch Life Sciences-Philadelphia

PCCI’s 7th Annual Roundtable “Crowdfunding for Life Sciences: A Bridge Over Troubled Waters?” May 12 2014 Embassy Suites Hotel, Chesterbrook PA 6:00-9:30 PM

Pfizer Cambridge Collaborative Innovation Events: ‘The Role of Innovation Districts in Metropolitan Areas to Drive the Global an | Basecamp Business

Mapping the Universe of Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence: The Model developed by LPBI and the Model of Best Practices LLC

 

 

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Why did this occur? The matter of Individual Actions Undermining Trust, The Patent Dilemma and The Value of a Clinical Trials


Why did this occur? The matter of Individual Actions Undermining Trust, The Patent Dilemma and The Value of a Clinical Trials

Reporter and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

he large amount of funding tied to continued research and support of postdoctoral fellows leads one to ask how following the money can lead to discredited work in th elite scientific community.

Moreover, the pressure to publish in prestigious journals with high impact factors is a road to academic promotion.  In the last twenty years, it is unusual to find submissions for review with less than 6-8 authors, with the statement that all contributed to the work.  These factors can’t be discounted outright, but it is easy for work to fall through the cracks when a key investigator has over 200 publications and holds tenure in a great research environment.  But that is where we find ourselves today.

There is another issue that comes up, which is also related to the issue of carrying out research, and then protecting the work for commercialization.  It is more complicated in the sense that it is necessary to determine whether there is prior art, and then there is the possibility that after the cost of filing patent and a 6 year delay in obtaining protection, there is as great a cost in bringing the patent to finasl production.

I.  Individual actions undermining trust.

II. The patent dilemma.

III. The value of a clinical trial.

IV. The value contributions of RAP physicians
(radiologists, anesthesiologists, and pathologists – the last for discussion)
Those who maintain and inform the integrity of medical and surgical decisions

 

I. Top heart lab comes under fire

Kelly Servick

Science 18 July 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6194 p. 254 DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6194.25

 

In the study of cardiac regeneration, Piero Anversa is among the heavy hitters. His research into the heart’s repair mechanisms helped kick-start the field of cardiac cell therapy (see main story). After more than 4 decades of research and 350 papers, he heads a lab at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston that has more than $6 million in active grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is also an outspoken voice in a field full of disagreement.

So when an ongoing BWH investigation of the lab came to light earlier this year, Anversa’s colleagues were transfixed. “Reactions in the field run the gamut from disbelief to vindication,” says Mark Sussman, a cardiovascular researcher at San Diego State University in California who has collaborated with Anversa. By Sussman’s account, Anversa’s reputation for “pushing the envelope” and “challenging existing dogma” has generated some criticism. Others, however, say that the disputes run deeper—to doubts about a cell therapy his lab has developed and about the group’s scientific integrity. Anversa told Science he was unable to comment during the investigation.

“People are talking about this all the time—at every scientific meeting I go to,” says Charles Murry, a cardiovascular pathologist at the University of Washington, Seattle. “It’s of grave concern to people in the field, but it’s been frustrating,” because no information is available about BWH’s investigation. BWH would not comment for this article, other than to say that it addresses concerns about its researchers confidentially.

In April, however, the journal Circulation agreed to Harvard’s request to retract a 2012 paper on which Anversa is a corresponding author, citing “compromised” data. The Lancet also issued an “Expression of Concern” about a 2011 paper reporting results from a clinical trial, known as SCIPIO, on which Anversa collaborated. According to a notice from the journal, two supplemental figures are at issue.

For some, Anversa’s status has earned him the benefit of the doubt. “Obviously, this is very disconcerting,” says Timothy Kamp, a cardiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but “I would be surprised if it was an implication of a whole career of research.”

Throughout that career, Anversa has argued that the heart is a prolific, lifelong factory for new muscle cells. Most now accept the view that the adult heart can regenerate muscle, but many have sparred with Anversa over his high estimates for the rate of this turnover, which he maintained in the retracted Circulation paper.

Anversa’s group also pioneered a method of separating cells with potential regenerative abilities from other cardiac tissue based on the presence of a protein called c-kit. After publishing evidence that these cardiac c-kit+cells spur new muscle growth in rodent hearts, the group collaborated in the SCIPIO trial to inject them into patients with heart failure. In The Lancet, the scientists reported that the therapy was safe and showed modest ability to strengthen the heart—evidence that many found intriguing and provocative. Roberto Bolli, the cardiologist whose group at the University of Louisville in Kentucky ran the SCIPIO trial, plans to test c-kit+ cells in further clinical trials as part of the NIH-funded Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network.

But others have been unable to reproduce the dramatic effects Anversa saw in animals, and some have questioned whether these cells really have stem cell–like properties. In May, a group led by Jeffery Molkentin, a molecular biologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, published a paper in Nature tracing the genetic lineage of c-kit+ cells that reside in the heart. He concluded that although they did make new muscle cells, the number is “astonishingly low” and likely not enough to contribute to the repair of damaged hearts. Still, Molkentin says that he “believe[s] in their therapeutic potential” and that he and Anversa have discussed collaborating.

Now, an anonymous blogger claims that problems in the Anversa lab go beyond controversial findings. In a letter published on the blog Retraction Watch on 30 May, a former research fellow in the Anversa lab described a lab culture focused on protecting the c-kit+ cell hypothesis: “[A]ll data that did not point to the ‘truth’ of the hypothesis were considered wrong,” the person wrote. But another former lab member offers a different perspective. “I had a great experience,” says Federica Limana, a cardiovascular disease researcher at IRCCS San Raffaele Pisana in Rome who spent 2 years of her Ph.D. work with the group in 1999 and 2000, as it was beginning to investigate c-kit+ cells. “In that period, there was no such pressure” to produce any particular result, she says.

Accusations about the lab’s integrity, combined with continued silence from BWH, are deeply troubling for scientists who have staked their research on theories that Anversa helped pioneer. Some have criticized BWH for requesting retractions in the midst of an investigation. “Scientific reputations and careers hang in the balance,” Sussman says, “so everyone should wait until all facts are clearly and fully disclosed.”

 

II.  Trolling Along: Recent Commotion About Patent Trolls

July 17, 2014

PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently released a study about 2014 Patent Litigation. PwC’s ultimate conclusion was that case volume increased vastly and damages continue a general decline, but what’s making headlines everywhere is that “patent trolls” now account for 67% of all new patent lawsuits (see, e.g., Washington Post and Fast Company).

Surprisingly, looking at PwC’s study, the word “troll” is not to be found. So, with regard to patent trolls, what does this study really mean for companies, patent owners and casual onlookers?

First of all, who are these trolls?

“Patent Troll” is a label applied to patent owners who do not make or manufacture a product, or offer a service. Patent trolls live (and die) by suing others for allegedly practicing an invention that is claimed by their patents.

The politically correct term is Non-practicing Entity (NPE). PwC solely uses the term NPE, which it defines as an entity that does not have the capability to design, manufacture, or distribute products with features protected by the patent.

So, what’s so bad about them?

The common impression of an NPEs is a business venture looking to collect and monetize assets (i.e., patents). In the most basic strategy, an NPE typically buys patents with broad claims that cover a wide variety of technologies and markets, and then sues a large group of alleged patent infringers in the hope to collect a licensing royalty or a settlement. NPEs typically don’t want to spend money on a trial unless they have to, and one tactic uses settlements with smaller businesses to build a “war chest” for potential suits with larger companies.

NPEs initiating a lawsuit can be viewed positively, such as a just defense of the lowly inventor who sold his patent to someone (with deeper pockets) who could fund the litigation to protect the inventor’s hard work against a mega-conglomerate who ripped off his idea.

Or NPE litigation can be seen negatively, such as an attorney’s demand letter on behalf of an anonymous shell corporation to shake down dozens of five-figure settlements from all the local small businesses that have ever used a fax machine.

NPEs can waste a company’s valuable time and resources with lawsuits, yet also bring value to their patent portfolios by energizing a patent sales and licensing market. There are unscrupulous NPEs, but it’s hardly the black and white situation that some media outlets are depicting.

What did PwC say about trolls?

Well, the PwC study looked at the success rates and awards of patent litigation decisions. One conclusion is that damages awards for NPEs averaged more than triple those for practicing entities over the last four years. We’ll come back to this statistic.

Another key observation is that NPEs have been successful 25% of the time overall, versus 35% for practicing entities. This makes sense because of the burden of proof the NPEs carry as a plaintiff at trial and the relative lack of success for NPEs at summary judgment. However, PwC’s report states that both types of entities win about two-thirds of their trials.

But what about this “67% of all patent trials are initiated by trolls” discussion?

The 67% number comes from the RPX Corporation’s litigation report (produced January 2014) that quantified the percentage of NPE cases filed in 2013 as 67%, compared to 64% in 2012, 47% in 2011, 30% in 2010 and 28% in 2009.

PwC refers to the RPX statistics to accentuate that this new study indicates that only 20% ofdecisions in 2013 involved NPE-filed cases, so the general conclusion would be that NPE cases tend to settle or be dismissed prior to a court’s decision. Admittedly, this is indicative of the prevalent “spray and pray” strategy where NPEs prefer to collect many settlement checks from several “targets” and avoid the courtroom.

In this study, who else is an NPE?

If someone were looking to dramatize the role of “trolls,” the name can be thrown around liberally (and hurtfully) to anyone who owns and asserts a patent without offering a product or a service. For instance, colleges and universities fall under the NPE umbrella as their research and development often ends with a series of published papers rather than a marketable product on an assembly line.

In fact, PwC distinguishes universities and non-profits from companies and individuals within their NPE analysis, with only about 5% of the NPE cases from 1995 to 2013 being attributed to universities and non-profits. Almost 50% of the NPE cases are attributed to an “individual,” who could be the listed inventor for the patent or a third-party assignee.

The word “troll” is obviously a derogatory term used to connote greed and hiding (under a bridge), but the term has adopted a newer, meme-like status as trolls are currently depicted as lacking any contribution to society and merely living off of others’ misfortunes and fears. [Three Billy Goats Gruff]. This is not always the truth with NPEs (e.g., universities).

No one wants to be called a troll—especially in front of a jury—so we’ve even recently seen courts bar defendants from referring to NPEs as such colorful terms as a “corporate shell,” “bounty hunter,” “privateer,” or someone “playing the lawsuit lottery.” [Judge Koh Bans Use Of Term ” Patent Troll” In Apple Jury Trial]

Regardless of the portrayal of an NPE, most people in the patent world distinguish the “trolls” by the strength of the patent, merits of the alleged infringement and their behavior upon notification. Often these are expressed as “frivolity” of the case and “gamesmanship” of the attorneys. Courts are able to punish plaintiffs who bring frivolous claims against a party and state bar associations are tasked with monitoring the ethics of attorneys. The USPTO is tasked with working to strengthen the quality of patents.

What’s the take-away from this study regarding NPEs?

The study focuses on patent litigation that produced a decision, therefore the most important and relevant conclusion is that, over the last four years, average damages awards for NPEs are more than triple the damages for practicing entities. Everything else in these articles, such as the initiation of litigation by NPEs, settlement percentages, and the general behavior of patent trolls is pure inference beyond the scope of the study.

This may sound sympathetic to trolls, but keep in mind that the study highlights that NPEs have more than triple the damages on average compared to practicing entities and it is meant to shock the reader a bit. One explanation for this is that NPEs are in the best position to choose the patents they want to assert and choose the targets they wish to sue—especially when the NPE is willing to ride that patent all the way to the end of a long, expensive trial. Sometimes settling is not an option. Chart 2b indicates that the disparity in the damages awarded to NPEs relative to practicing entities has always been big (since 2000), but perhaps going from two-fold from 2000 – 2009 to three times as much in the past 4 years indicates that NPEs are improving at finding patents and/or picking battles to take all the way to a court decision. More than anything, this seems to reflect the growth in the concept of patents as a business asset.

The PwC report is chock full of interesting patterns and trends of litigation results, so it’s a shame that the 67% number makes the headlines—far more interesting are the charts comparing success rates by 4-year periods (Chart 6b) or success rates for NPEs and practicing entities in front of a jury verusin front of a bench (Chart 6c), as well as other tables that reveal statistics for specific districts of the federal courts. Even the stats that look at the success rates of each type of NPE are telling because the reader sees that universities and non-profits have a higher success rate than non-practicing companies or individuals.

What do we do about the trolls?

The White House has recently called for Congress to do something about the trolls as horror stories of scams and shake-downs are shared. A bill was gaining momentum in the Senate, when Senator Leahy took it off the agenda in early July. That bill had miraculously passed 325-91 in the House and President Obama was willing to sign it if the Senate were to pass it. The bill was opposed by trial attorneys, universities, and bio-pharmaceutical businesses who felt as though the law would severely inhibit everyone’s access to the courts in order to hinder just the trolls. Regardless, most people think that the sitting Congressmen merely wanted a “win” prior to the mid-term elections and that patent reform is unlikely to reappear until next term.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court has recently reiterated rules concerning attorney fee-shifting on frivolous patent cases, as well as clarifying the validity of software patents. Time will tell if these changes have any effects on the damages awards that PwC’s study examined or even if they cause a chilling of the number of patent lawsuit filings.

Furthermore, new ways to challenge the validity of asserted patents have been initiated via the America Invents Act. For example, the Inter Partes Review (IPR) has yielded frightening preliminary statistics as to slowing, if not killing, patents that have been asserted in a suit. While these administrative trials are not cheap, many view these new tools at the Patent Trial and Appeals Board as anti-troll measures. It will be interesting to watch how the USPTO implements these procedures in the near future, especially while former Google counsel, Acting Director Michelle K. Lee, oversees the office.

In the private sector, Silicon Valley has recently seen a handful of tech companies come together as the License on Transfer Network, a group hoping to disarm the “Patent Assertion Entities.” Joining the LOT Network comes via an agreement that creates a license for use of a patent by anyone in the LOT network once that patent is sold. The thought is that the NPEs who consider purchasing patents from companies in the LOT Network will have fewer companies to sue since the license to the other active LOT participants will have triggered upon the transfer and, thus, the NPE will not be as inclined to “troll.” For instance, if a member-company such as Google were to sell a patent to a non-member company and an NPE bought that patent, the NPE would not be able to sue any members of the LOT Network with that patent.

Other notes

NPEs are only as evil as the people who run them—that being said, there are plenty of horror stories of small businesses receiving phantom demand letters that threaten a patent infringement suit without identifying themselves or the patent. This is an out-and-out scam and a plague on society that results in wasted time and resource, and inevitably higher prices on the consumer end.

It is a sin and a shame that patent rights can be misused in scams and shake-downs of businesses around us, but there is a reason that U.S. courts are so often used to defend patent rights. The PwC study, at minimum, reflects the high stakes of the patent market and perhaps the fragility. Nevertheless, merely monitoring the courts may not keep the trolls at bay.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*This is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal or financial advice. The information expressed is subject to change at any time and should be checked for completeness, accuracy and current applicability. For advice, consult a suitably licensed attorney or patent agent.

 

III. Large-scale analysis finds majority of clinical trials don’t provide meaningful evidence

Ineffective TreatmentsMedical Ethics • Tags: Center for Drug Evaluation and ResearchClinical trialCTTIDuke University HospitalFDAFood and Drug AdministrationNational Institutes of HealthUnited States National Library of Medicine

04 May 2012

DURHAM, N.C.— The largest comprehensive analysis of ClinicalTrials.gov finds that clinical trials are falling short of producing high-quality evidence needed to guide medical decision-making. The analysis, published today in JAMA, found the majority of clinical trials is small, and there are significant differences among methodical approaches, including randomizing, blinding and the use of data monitoring committees.

“Our analysis raises questions about the best methods for generating evidence, as well as the capacity of the clinical trials enterprise to supply sufficient amounts of high quality evidence to ensure confidence in guideline recommendations,” said Robert Califf, M.D., first author of the paper, vice chancellor for clinical research at Duke University Medical Center, and director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute.

The analysis was conducted by the Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI), a public private partnership founded by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Duke. It extends the usability of the data in ClinicalTrials.gov for research by placing the data through September 27, 2010 into a database structured to facilitate aggregate analysis. This publically accessible database facilitates the assessment of the clinical trials enterprise in a more comprehensive manner than ever before and enables the identification of trends by study type.

 

The National Library of Medicine (NLM), a part of the National Institutes of Health, developed and manages ClinicalTrials.gov. This site maintains a registry of past, current, and planned clinical research studies.

“Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration Amendment Act has required registration of clinical trials, and the expanded scope and rigor of trial registration policies internationally is producing more complete data from around the world,” stated Deborah Zarin, MD, director, ClinicalTrials.gov, and assistant director for clinical research projects, NLM. “We have amassed over 120,000 registered clinical trials. This rich repository of data has a lot to say about the national and international research portfolio.”

This CTTI project was a collaborative effort by informaticians, statisticians and project managers from NLM, FDA and Duke. CTTI comprises more than 60 member organizations with the goal of identifying practices that will improve the quality and efficiency of clinical trials.

“Since the ClinicalTrials.gov registry contains studies sponsored by multiple entities, including government, industry, foundations and universities, CTTI leaders recognized that it might be a valuable source for benchmarking the state of the clinical trials enterprise,” stated Judith Kramer, MD, executive director of CTTI.

The project goal was to produce an easily accessible database incorporating advances in informatics to permit a detailed characterization of the body of clinical research and facilitate analysis of groups of studies by therapeutic areas, by type of sponsor, by number of participants and by many other parameters.

“Analysis of the entire portfolio will enable the many entities in the clinical trials enterprise to examine their practices in comparison with others,” says Califf. “For example, 96% of clinical trials have ≤1000 participants, and 62% have ≤ 100. While there are many excellent small clinical trials, these studies will not be able to inform patients, doctors and consumers about the choices they must make to prevent and treat disease.”

The analysis showed heterogeneity in median trial size, with cardiovascular trials tending to be twice as large as those in oncology and trials in mental health falling in the middle. It also showed major differences in the use of randomization, blinding, and data monitoring committees, critical issues often used to judge the quality of evidence for medical decisions in clinical practice guidelines and systematic overviews.

“These results reinforce the importance of exploration, analysis and inspection of our clinical trials enterprise,” said Rachel Behrman Sherman, MD, associate director for the Office of Medical Policy at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Generation of this evidence will contribute to our understanding of the number of studies in different phases of research, the therapeutic areas, and ways we can improve data collection about clinical trials, eventually improving the quality of clinical trials.”

Related articles

 

IV.  Lawmakers urge CMS to extend MU hardship exemption for pathologists

 

Eighty-nine members of Congress have asked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to give pathologists a break and extend the hardship exemption they currently enjoy for all of Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program.In the letter–dated July 10 and addressed to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner–the lawmakers point out that CMS had recognized in its 2012 final rule implementing Stage 2 of the program that it was difficult for pathologists to meet the Meaningful Use requirements and granted a one year exception for 2015, the first year that penalties will be imposed. They now are asking that the exception be expanded to include the full five-year maximum allowed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Pathologists have limited direct contact with patients and do not operate in EHRs,” the letter states. “Instead, pathologists use sophisticated computerized laboratory information systems (LISs) to support the work of analyzing patient specimens and generating test results. These LISs exchange laboratory and pathology data with EHRs.”

Interestingly, the lawmakers’ exemption request is only on behalf of pathologists, even though CMS had granted the one-year hardship exception to pathologists, radiologists and anesthesiologists.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), one of the members spearheading the letter, had also introduced a bill (H.R. 1309) in March 2013 that would exclude pathologists from the incentives and penalties of the Meaningful Use program. The bill, which has 31 cosponsors, is currently sitting in committee. That bill also does not include relief for radiologists or anesthesiologists.

CMS has provided some flexibility about the hardship exceptions in the past, most recently by allowing providers to apply for one due to EHR vendor delays in upgrading to Stage 2 of the program.

However, CMS also noted in the 2012 rule granting the one-year exception that it was granting the exception in large part because of the then-current lack of health information exchange and that “physicians in these three specialties should not expect that this exception will continue indefinitely, nor should they expect that we will grant the exception for the full 5-year period permitted by statute.”

To learn more:
– read the letter (.pdf)

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Reason in Hobby Lobby

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

This is a Part 4 followup of the Hobby Lobby legal precedent.

  • Where has the reason gone?

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/07/where-has-reason-gone-2/

  • Justice Ginsberg written dissent – Third Part

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/justice-ginsberg-written-dissent/

  • The physicians’ view of Supreme Court on an issue of public health

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/the-physicians-view-of-supreme-court-on-an-issue-of-public-health/

  •  Reason in Hobby Lobby

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/reason-in-hobby-lobby/

 

 Reason in Hobby Lobby

 

 

Reason #1 SCOTUS Will Regret Hobby Lobby byMan from Wasichustan

After oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, I wrote a very misnamed but widely read diary in which I echoed Attorney and Ring of Fire radio host Mike Papantonio’s argument that the SCOTUS would never rule in favor of Hobby Lobby for a really Big Business reason: It pierces the corporate veil.  If Hobby Lobby’s owners can give their Corporation religion, their religion gives Hobby Lobby’s owners–and any other owner, shareholder, officer, whatever–liability for the actions of the corporation.  Mr. Papantonio, who happens to be one of America’s preeminent trial lawyers, sees it as an opportunity to sue owners for the company’s negligence. Some other people, it turns out, agree with his assessment and expand on what it means….

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the “corporate veil,” and it’s fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it’s in question. By letting Hobby Lobby’s owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.  So says Alex Park, writing in Salon today.

“If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?” Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email. That’s a question raised by 44 other law professors, who filed a friends-of-the-court brief that implored the Court to reject Hobby Lobby’s argument and hold the veil in place. Here’s what they argued: Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.

Creating such an unprecedented and idiosyncratic tear in the corporate veil would also carry with it unintended consequences, many of which are not easily foreseen. This is definitely going to complicate things for the religious extremists on the SCOTUS and empire wide as these lawsuits inevitably proliferate.  Putting on the popcorn….now.

George Takei’s blistering response to #HobbyLobby: Could a Muslim Corp impose Sharia Law?

byVyan   THU JUL 03, 2014 AT 09:12 AM PDT “The ruling elevates the rights of a FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION over those of its women employees and opens the door to all manner of claims that a company can refuse services based on its owner’s religion,” Takei wrote.

(O)ne wonders,” he said, “whether the case would have come out differently if a Muslim-run chain business attempted to impose Sharia law on its employees.” “Hobby Lobby is not a church. It’s a business — and a big one at that,” he continued. “Businesses must and should be required to comply with neutrally crafted laws of general applicability.

Your boss should not have a say over your healthcare. Just as Justice Ginsberg and Mr Takei have suggested, the Hyper-Religious are already attempting to capitalize on the SCOTUS new granting of the rights of an individual to a corporate entity. In this decision the SCOTUS Majority opinion claimed that they were not granting the equal legitimacy of such follow on requests, but they’ve kicked open the door. Takei – bless his soul – also pointed out the basic hypocrisy of Hobby Lobby’s business practices in regards to religion.  Noting that… …Hobby Lobby has invested in multiple companies that manufacture abortion drugs and birth control. The company receives most of its merchandise from China, a country where overpopulation has led to mandatory abortions and sterilizations for women who try to have more than one child.

What the battle over birth control is really about     byteacherken

in a 2012 piece at Alternet by Sara Robinson. Conservative bishops and Congressmen are fighting a rear-guard action against one of the most revolutionary changes in human history. Robinson suggests 500 years from now looking back, the three great achievements of the 20th Century are likely to be the invention of the integrated circuit (without which the internet does not exist), the Moon landing (which she thinks will carry the same impact as Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe), and the mass availability of nearly 100% effective contraception.

 Free Birth Control is Emerging Standard for Women   RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press       07/07/2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control under President Barack Obama’s health law, a major coverage shift that’s likely to advance. This week the Supreme Court allowed some employers with religious scruples to opt out, but most companies appear to be going in the opposite direction. Recent data from the IMS Institute document a sharp change during 2013. The share of privately insured women who got their birth control pills without a copayment jumped to 56 percent, from 14 percent in 2012. The law’s requirement that most health plans cover birth control as prevention, at no additional cost to women, took full effect in 2013. The average annual saving for women was $269. “It’s a big number,” said institute director Michael Kleinrock. The institute is the research arm of IMS Health, a Connecticut-based technology company that uses pharmacy records to track prescription drug sales. The core of Obama’s law — taxpayer-subsidized coverage for the uninsured — benefits a relatively small share of Americans. But free preventive care— from flu shots to colonoscopies —is a dividend of sorts for the majority with employer coverage.

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Where has Reason Gone?

 

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

UPDATED on  8 July 2014

 

This will be a series of presentations on the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, it’s impact, and the distamce it places on Chief Justic Roberts’ decision to go with a 5-4 majority after this year achieving a direction of concensus largely undivided decisions.  Both Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts could have taken a different position with a much appreciated decision, or the alternative was to send the case back to the lower court.  That did not happen, and the consequences are unfolding.

  • Where has the reason gone?

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/07/where-has-reason-gone-2/

  • Justice Ginsberg written dissent – Third Part

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/justice-ginsberg-written-dissent/

  • The physicians’ view of Supreme Court on an issue of public health

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/the-physicians-view-of-supreme-court-on-an-issue-of-public-health/

  •  Reason in Hobby Lobby

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/reason-in-hobby-lobby/

 

Where has the Reason Gone?

We are in a period of widespread instability that is bereft of  comprehensibility, not just in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, but also imposing constrainsts on our constitutional government.  This web sight is concerned with science and also health.  Science is challenged to figure out the complexity of biology and the physical world.  But it has been challenged for centuries by an uncompromizing view of how to organize a society, driven by hatred and violence, and excused by fanatical views. We have a most advanced society in the US, self selected to be the leader of nations.  Yet we have a separation of powers in the presidency, two houses of Congress, and a judiciary that cannot function for the good of the people.  The Congress is at war within itself , unable to carry out its obligations, and only functioning to blockade the presidential authority.

But most disconcerting is a third branch, the judiciary, with Supreme Court Justices, all of whom are political appointmnt for LIFE, and half of who have shown sufficient incompetence to wonder how they can stay in office.  Perhaps, what we don’t have to keep them in line is a periodic review of performance by the American Association of Legal Constitutional Scholars.  What we have is as good as it gets, but not good enough. I refrain from saying more, and proceed to the most recent ABSURD events.   In the Hobby Lobby case, the Court’s conservative majority held that closely held corporations are entitled to some of the same religious rights as people. That means corporations can decide whether or not birth control is covered in the health plans of female employees. Corporations are not people, period. A boss’s religious views should not trump a physician’s medical judgement or a woman’s considered need .

The White House must move fast on expanding contraception coverage.

One proposal…would assign companies’ insurers or health plan administrators for contraceptive coverage… Another would give the administration itself a larger role.” Robert Pear and Adam Liptak in The New York Times.

A rare but potentially important dissent?

“Dissents to Supreme Court orders are rare, and a 17-page dissent to a curt, four-paragraph order is extraordinary. But Sotomayor is on to something: What the majority did in Hobby Lobby, was to allow the plaintiff also to determine what constitutes a ‘substantial burden’ upon it.” Daniel Fisher in Forbes.

Here’s what everyone has been missing in this debate.

“Ginsburg, in her scathing dissent…made an important point about women’s health that’s been almost entirely overlooked elsewhere: For many American women, the birth-control pill has nothing to do with controlling births. It’s a life-saving medicine….The decision…may affect millions of women who suffer from a variety of medical conditions. These women depend on the pill to regulate their hormones and do everything from ease pain to reduce the risk of cancer. These medical benefits have nothing to do with sex or the prevention of pregnancy….Even if these women never have sex once in their lives, they need to be on birth control.” Lucia Graves in National Journal.

“The share of privately insured women who got their birth control pills without a copayment jumped to 56 percent, from 14 percent in 2012. The law’s requirement that most health plans cover birth control as prevention, at no additional cost to women, took full effect in 2013. The average annual saving for women was $269.” Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in the Associated Press.

In Hobby Lobby, Supremes grant religious objection rights to for-profit corporations.

by Adam  B In a widely-awaited-but-still-85 percent-as-sucky-as-you-feared 5-4 decision this morning,the Supreme Court of the United States has held that for-profit corporations are “persons” for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that their religious rights were unduly burdened by the contraceptive mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Because the contraceptive mandate was not the least restrictive means available for the government to provide such coverage—in the Court’s mind, the Government could just assume the costs itself, and already provided an opt-out for religious non-profit employers—the mandate on private employers violates the law. The Court was careful to limit its opinion (in theory) to these facts.

  • It applies only to closely held corporations, and not publicly traded ones.
  • It applies to the contraceptive mandate and
  • not religious objections to all laws in general,

believing that the “compelling interest” struck a sensible balance between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests. But … we’ll see about that. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the four dissenting Justices, refers to the decision thusly:

In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Compelling governmental interests in uniform compliance with the law, and disadvantages that religion-based opt-outs impose on others, hold no sway, the Court decides,

  • at least when there is a “less restrictive alternative.”

And such an alternative, the Court suggests, there always will be whenever, in lieu of tolling an enterprise claiming a religion-based exemption, the government, i.e., the general public, can pick up the tab….

Religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers.

For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.

Moreover, history is not on the Court’s side. Recognition of the discrete characters of “ecclesiastical and lay” corporations dates back to Blackstone, see 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 458 (1765), and was reiterated by this Court centuries before the enactment of the Internal Revenue Code. See Terrett v. Taylor, 9 Cranch 43, 49 (1815) (describing religious corporations); Trustees of Dartmouth College, 4 Wheat., at 645 (discussing “eleemosynary” corporations, including those “created for the promotion of religion”). To reiterate,

“for-profit corporations are different from religious non-profits in that they use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate [the] religious value[s] [shared by a community of believers].”

Let’s be clear, explains Justice Alito for the five majority opinion, corporations are people too (in aggregate) (for purposes of this statute): As we will show,

  • Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons.”

It is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And …   protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies…

This statement extends the rights beyond the statement above in that it cannot apply to a closely held corporation with only the owner having fiduciary interest

Indeed, the opinion claims, you can go back over 50 years and find the Court not questioning that a for-profit corporation’s had religious rightsin that 1961 case, a kosher supermarket seeking the right to be open on Sundays despite Massachusetts blue laws. [To which the dissent counters, “The suggestion is barely there. True, one of the five challengers to the Sunday closing law … was a corporation owned by four Orthodox Jews. The other challengers were human individuals, not artificial, law-created entities, so there was no need to determine whether the corporation could institute the litigation.”]

The Court insists that this isn’t something publicly traded companies are going to get involved in. We could use corporate law principles to suss out what their religious beliefs are: HHS contends that Congress could not have wanted RFRA to apply to for-profit corporations because it is difficult as a practical matter to ascertain the sincere “beliefs” of a corporation. HHS goes so far as to raise the specter of “divisive, polarizing proxy battles over the religious identity of large, publicly traded corporations such as IBM or General Electric.” These cases, however, do not involve publicly traded corporations, and it seems unlikely that the sort of corporate giants to which HHS refers will often assert RFRA claims. HHS has not pointed to any example of a publicly traded corporation asserting RFRA rights, and numerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring. For example,

  • the idea that unrelated shareholders—including institutional investors with their own set of stakeholders—would agree to run a corporation under the same religious beliefs seems improbable. In any event, we have no occasion in these cases to consider RFRA’s applicability to such companies.
  • The companies in the cases before us are closely held corporations, each owned and controlled by members of a single family, and no one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs.

HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection…. HHS and the principal dissent express concern about the possibility of disputes among the owners of corporations, but that is not a problem that arises because of RFRA or that is unique to this context. The owners of closely held corporations may—and sometimes do—disagree about the conduct of business. Even if RFRA did not exist, the owners of a company might well have a dispute relating to religion…. Courts will turn to that structure and the underlying state law in resolving disputes.

So, what about the contraceptive mandate?

Interestingly, the Court concedes for sake of argument that it serves a compelling state interest. But, still, that’s not enough. By requiring the Hahns and Greens and their companies to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs. If the Hahns and Greens and their companies do not yield to this demand, the economic consequences will be severe. If the companies continue to offer group health plans that do not cover the contraceptives at issue, they will be taxed $100 per day for each affected individual. For Hobby Lobby, the bill could amount to $1.3 million per day or about $475 million per year; for Conestoga, the assessment could be $90,000 per day or $33 million per year; and for Mardel, it could be $40,000 per day or about $15 million per year. These sums are surely substantial. … Are their religious beliefs loony? The Court’s not going to look into that.

The sincerity is what counts, and that creates a burden: …If I may ask—how do you measure sincerity?

How much it will spend on litigating its case!

The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the

destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage.

This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.

Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs

  • that their beliefs are flawed. …
  • we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.

See, e.g., Smith, 494 U. S., at 887 (“Repeatedly and in many different contexts, we have warned that courts must not presume to determine . . . the plausibility of a religious claim”)

Incredible!!      So, RFRA applies,   there’s a burden, and the contraceptive mandate fails the test.

The least-restrictive-means standard is exceptionally demanding, and it is not satisfied here.  HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by the objecting parties in these cases. See §§2000bb–1(a), (b) (requiring the Government to “demonstrat[e] that application of [a substantial] burden to the person . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest” (emphasis added)).

The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections. This would certainly be less restrictive of the plaintiffs’ religious liberty, and HHS has not shown that this is not a viable alternative. HHS has not provided any estimate of the average cost per employee of providing access to these contraceptives, two of which, according to the FDA, are designed primarily for emergency use. Nor has HHS provided any statistics regarding the number of employees who might be affected because they work for corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel. Nor has HHS told us that it is unable to provide such statistics. It seems likely, however, that the cost of providing the forms of contraceptives at issue in these cases (if not all FDA-approved contraceptives) would be minor when compared with the overall cost of ACA.

According to one of the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent forecasts, ACA’s insurance-coverage provisions will cost the Federal Government more than $1.3 trillion through the next decade. If, as HHS tells us, providing all women with cost-free access to all FDA-approved methods of contraception is a Government interest of the highest order, it is hard to understand HHS’s argument that it cannot be required under RFRA to pay anything in order to achieve this important goal.

HHS contends that RFRA does not permit us to take this option into account because “RFRA cannot be used to require creation of entirely new programs.”  But we see nothing in RFRA that supports this argument, and drawing the line between the “creation of an entirely new program” and the modification of an existing program (which RFRA surely allows) would be fraught with problems. And don’t worry, Justice Alito insists! This is a really, really narrow holding, and doesn’t create religious exemptions to good laws: HHS and the principal dissent argue that a ruling in favor of the objecting parties in these cases will

  • lead to a flood of religious objections regarding a wide variety of medical procedures and drugs, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions,

but HHS has made no effort to substantiate this prediction. HHS points to no evidence that insurance plans in existence prior to the enactment of ACA excluded coverage for such items. Nor has HHS provided evidence that any significant number of employers sought exemption, on religious grounds, from any of ACA’s coverage requirements other than the contraceptive mandate. …

What are the credentials for Alito and associates in the domain of medical therapies?  None!

[O]ur decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate.

Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them. The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal. Justice Kennedy adds an additional concurrence to remind everyone that Justice Kennedy believes in the Court, America, and his own importance:

In our constitutional tradition, freedom means that all persons have the right to believe or strive to believe in a divine creator and a divine law. For those who choose this course, free exercise is essential in preserving their own dignity and in striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts. Free exercise in this sense implicates more than just freedom of belief. It means, too, the right to express those beliefs and to establish one’s religious(or nonreligious) self-definition in the political, civic, and economic life of our larger community.

But in a complex society and an era of pervasive governmental regulation, defining the proper realm for free exercise can be difficult. … “[T]he American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths.” Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U. S. __ (2014) (Kagan, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 15). Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion. Yet neither may that same exercise unduly restrict other persons, such as employees, in protecting their own interests, interests the law deems compelling.

In these cases the means to reconcile those two priorities are at hand in the existing accommodation the Government has designed, identified, and used for circumstances closely parallel to those presented here. RFRA requires the Government to use this less restrictive means. Justice Ginsburg writes the principal dissent, and begins by reminding us of the importance of sexual autonomy, and the economic stakes for women in this litigation: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 856 (1992).Congress acted on that understanding when, as part of a nationwide insurance program intended to be comprehensive, it called for coverage of preventive care responsive to women’s needs.

… The [ACA] had a large gap, however; it left out preventive services that “many women’s health advocates and medical professionals believe are critically important.” 155 Cong. Rec. 28841 (2009) (statement of Sen. Boxer). To correct this oversight, Senator Barbara Mikulski introduced the Women’s Health Amendment, which added to the ACA’s minimum coverage requirements a new category of preventive services specific to women’s health…Women paid significantly more than men for preventive care, the amendment’s proponents noted; in fact, cost barriers operated to block many women from obtaining needed care at all. See, e.g., id., at 29070 (statement of Sen. Feinstein) (“Women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men.”); id., at 29302 (statement of Sen. Mikulski) (“copayments are [often] so high that [women] avoid getting [preventive and screening services] in the first place”). And increased access to contraceptive services, the sponsors comprehended, would yield important public health gains. See, e.g., id., at 29768 (statement of Sen. Durbin) (“This bill will expand health insurance coverage to the vast majority of [the 17 million women of reproductive age in the United States who are uninsured] . . . . This expanded access will reduce unintended pregnancies.”). And the dissenters deride as unfounded the Court’s new recognition of religious rights for for-profit corporations: Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.

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Justice Ginsberg Written Dissent

Curator and Reporter: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

This is the third of a series of four articles on Hobby Lobby and the consequences.

 

  • Where has the reason gone?

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/07/where-has-reason-gone-2/

  • Justice Ginsberg written dissent – Third Part

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/justice-ginsberg-written-dissent/

  • The physicians’ view of Supreme Court on an issue of public health

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/the-physicians-view-of-supreme-court-on-an-issue-of-public-health/

  •  Reason in Hobby Lobby

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/reason-in-hobby-lobby/

 

 

Justice Ginsberg Written Dissent

The dissenters deride as unfounded the Court’s new recognition of religious rights for for-profit corporations: Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.

The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. As Chief Justice Marshall observed nearly two centuries ago,   a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.

 Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 636 (1819). Corporations, Justice Stevens more recently reminded, “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 466 (2010) (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). The First Amendment’s free exercise protections, the Court has indeed recognized, shelter churches and other nonprofit religion-based organizations. “For many individuals, religious activity derives meaning in large measure from participation in a larger religious community,” and “furtherance of the autonomy of religious organizations often furthers individual religious freedom as well.”  The Court’s “special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations,” however, is just that. No such solicitude is traditional for commercial organizations.

Indeed, until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in “the commercial, profit-making world.”  The reason why is hardly obscure. Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations.

The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight. But even if these for-profit corporations can maintain religious beliefs, this doesn’t really burden them: Undertaking the inquiry that the Court forgoes, (dissent) would conclude that

the connection between the families’ religious objections and the contraceptive coverage requirement is too attenuated to rank as substantial. The requirement carries no command that Hobby Lobby or Conestoga purchase or provide the contraceptives they find objectionable.

Instead, it calls on the companies covered by the requirement to direct money into undifferentiated funds that finance a wide variety of benefits under comprehensive health plans. Those plans, in order to comply with the ACA, must offer contraceptive coverage without cost sharing, just as they must cover an array of other preventive services.

Importantly, the decisions whether to claim benefits under the plans are made not by Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, but by the covered employees and dependents, in consultation with their health care providers.

Should an employee of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga share the religious beliefs of the Greens and Hahns, she is of course under no compulsion to use the contraceptives in question. But “[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physician—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action.”

It is doubtful that Congress, when it specified that burdens must be “substantia[l],” had in mind a linkage thus interrupted by independent decisionmakers (the woman and her health counselor) standing between the challenged government action and the religious exercise claimed to be infringed. Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.

And let’s be clear: these are truly compelling governmental interests: To recapitulate, the mandated contraception coverage enables women to avoid the health problems unintended pregnancies may visit on them and their children.The coverage helps safeguard the health of women for whom pregnancy may be hazardous, even life threatening. See Brief for American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists et al. as Amici Curiae 14–15. And the mandate secures benefits wholly unrelated to pregnancy, preventing certain cancers, menstrual disorders, and pelvic pain. …

It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage; that almost one-third of women would change their contraceptive method if costs were not a factor; and that only one-fourth of women who request an IUD actually have one inserted after finding out how expensive it would be. See also Eisenberg, supra, at S60 (recent study found that women who face out-of-pocket IUD costs in excess of $50 were “11-times less likely to obtain an IUD than women who had to pay less than $50”); Postlethwaite, Trussell, Zoolakis, Shabear, & Petitti, A Comparison of Contraceptive Procurement Pre- and Post-Benefit Change, 76 Contraception 360, 361–362 (2007) (when one health system eliminated patient cost sharing for IUDs, use of this form of contraception more than doubled).

As for the “let the government pay” alternative, the dissenters find it lacking: Impeding women’s receipt of benefits “by requiring them to take steps to learn about, and to sign up for, a new [government funded and administered] health benefit” was scarcely what Congress contemplated. Ibid. More-over, Title X of the Public Health Service Act  “is the nation’s only dedicated source of federal funding for safety net family planning services … Safety net programs like Title X are not designed to absorb the unmet needs of . . . insured individuals.”

And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?… Conestoga suggests that, if its employees had to acquire and pay for the contraceptives (to which the corporation objects) on their own, a tax credit would qualify as a less restrictive alternative.

A tax credit, of course, is one variety of “let the government pay.” In addition to departing from the existing employer-based system of health insurance, Conestoga’s alternative would require a woman to reach into her own pocket in the first instance, and it would do nothing for the woman too poor to be aided by a tax credit.

In sum, in view of what Congress sought to accomplish, i.e., comprehensive preventive care for women furnished through employer-based health plans, none of the proffered alternatives would satisfactorily serve the compelling interests to which Congress responded. And, in conclusion, the dissenters warn about what’s next: Hobby Lobby and Conestoga surely do not stand alone as commercial enterprises seeking exemptions from generally applicable laws on the basis of their religious beliefs.

See, e.g.,Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 256 F. Supp. 941, 945 (SC 1966) (owner of restaurant chain refused to serve black patrons based on his religious beliefs opposing racial integration); In re Minnesota ex rel. McClure, 370 N. W. 2d 844, 847 (Minn. 1985) (born-again Christians who owned closely held, for-profit health clubs believed that the Bible proscribed hiring or retaining an “individua[l] living with but not married to a person of the opposite sex,”

“a young, single woman working without her father’s consent or a married woman working without her husband’s consent,” and any person “antagonistic to the Bible,” including “fornicators and homosexuals” (internal quotation marks omitted)), appeal dismissed, 478 U. S. 1015 (1986) ; Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 2013–NMSC–040, _ N. M. _, 309 P. 3d 53 (for-profit photography business owned by a husband and wife refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners), cert. denied, 572 U. S. _ (2014).

Would RFRA require exemptions in cases of this ilk? And if not, how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not? Isn’t the Court disarmed from making such a judgment given its recognition that “courts must not presume to determine . . . the plausibility of a religious claim”? Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?

According to counsel for Hobby Lobby, “each one of these cases . . . would have to be evaluated on its own . . . apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision. … There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts “out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,” or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held. Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield by its immoderate reading of RFRA. I would confine religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed “for a religious purpose,” “engage[d] primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,” and not “engaged . . . substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.” ORIGINALLY POSTED TO ADAM B ON MON JUN 30, 2014 AT 09:05 AM PDT. TAGS  1st Amendment Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate Health Care Hobby Lobby   Religious Freedom SCOTUS Supreme Court

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