On April 17, 2019, several lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives released a bipartisan, bicameral framework for statutory reform of 35 U.S.C. § 101. The framework was released about two months after the revival of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. For the past several years, innovators, the Patent Office, and even judges on the Federal Circuit have raised concerns that Section 101 has become a runaway law for invalidating patents that reflect genuine advances in science and technology. The revival of the Senate subcommittee and the release of this framework indicate that Capitol Hill has heard, and is moving towards a response to, these concerns.
Last October, the Trump Administration announced its plan to lower prescription drug prices by adopting foreign price controls on certain drugs covered by Medicare Part B. Many Medicare Part B drugs treat serious illnesses such as cancer. Over the months that have followed, the announcement has stirred debate and led to competing proposals.
On January 7, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published new guidance for patent examiners intended to address concerns expressed by Federal Circuit judges, industry stakeholders, and others about the perceived lack of predictability and clarity in determining subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101. See 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance, 84 Fed. Reg. 50 (Jan. 7, 2019). The guidance, which is intended for use by USPTO personnel in evaluating subject matter eligibility, “revises the procedures for determining whether a patent claim or patent application claim is directed to a judicial exception (laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas).” Id. This new guidance represents an attempt by the USPTO to address “the legal uncertainty surrounding Section 101,” recognizing that “[m]any stakeholders, judges, inventors, and practitioners across the spectrum have argued that something needs to be done to increase clarity and consistency in how Section 101 is currently applied.” Id.
Two cases decided by the Federal Circuit in 2018, Aatrix Software, Inc. v. Green Shades Software, Inc., 882 F.3d 1121, en banc rehearing denied, 890 F.3d 1354 and Berkheimer v. HP Inc., 881 F.3d 1360, en banc rehearing denied, 890 F.3d 1369, address what qualifies as patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 and how courts should resolve that question. These cases expose divisions within the court on § 101 issues, however, and leave uncertainty in their wake. Many stakeholders, including judges, are therefore calling for guidance from the Supreme Court as to how to resolve such issues or seeking the aid of Congress.
Earlier this month, the President signed into law the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act (Public Law 115-263). The Act mainly focuses on eliminating so-called “gag clauses” that prevent pharmacists from telling patients when paying for a drug out of pocket is cheaper than paying through insurance. In addition, the Act amends the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-173) to require branded drug companies and biosimilar applicants to disclose settlement agreements relating to the “manufacture, marketing, or sale” of biosimilar products to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) for evaluation under the antitrust laws. The new legislation brings biosimilar litigation in line with ANDA litigation, for which the same disclosure requirements were already in place.
Generics and biosimilar makers have increasingly used inter partes reviews, proceedings made possible by the America Invents Act, to challenge patents protecting innovator small-molecule drugs and biologic medicines. Senator Orrin Hatch, co-author of the Hatch-Waxman Act, has introduced an amendment that would require these manufacturers either to take advantage of the abbreviated regulatory approval pathways provided by the Hatch-Waxman Act and BPCIA and challenge innovator patents in district court or to challenge innovator patents in IPRs before the PTAB, but not both. Senator Hatch explains that while he strongly supports IPRs and the America Invents Act and that IPRs are of particular importance to the tech community to fight “patent trolls,” they are also “producing unintended consequences in the Hatch-Waxman context” and “threaten to upend the careful Hatch-Waxman balance by enabling two separate paths to attack a brand patent.” If enacted, generics and biosimilar makers that choose to take advantage of the abbreviated regulatory process will challenge innovator patents in court rather than in IPRs before the PTAB.
Fourth Circuit Rules that Maryland’s Anti-Price Gouging Act for Off-Patent or Generic Drugs is Unconstitutional
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last month handed manufacturers and wholesalers of off-patent drugs a victory by ruling that Maryland’s anti-price gouging act violates the U.S. Constitution’s dormant commerce clause. The legislation, like many others, was enacted in the wake of the Martin Shkreli case, where the former Turing Pharmaceutical CEO raised the price of a vital and old prescription drug by 5,000 percent. Although the Circuit sympathized with consumers affected by this type of conduct, it held, in a majority opinion written by Judge Stephanie Thacker, that Maryland overstepped its constitutional limits in seeking to compel manufacturers of off-patent or generic drugs to act in accordance with Maryland law outside of Maryland.
This post, Part III, of a three-part series (Part I and Part II) on FDA’s interchangeability draft guidance highlights a number of open issues that stakeholders have identified in their comments to FDA. These include the naming and labeling for interchangeable products as well as the relationship between multiple interchangeable products for the same reference product. Biosimilar makers also wanted FDA to make clear that physician-mediated switching is possible for non-interchangeable biosimilar products even if pharmacy-level substitution is not. A number of patient groups, by contrast, expressed concern that payers were in effect mandating pharmacy-level substitution for non-interchangeable biosimilars by taking innovator products off formularies.
This post, Part II, of a three-part series (Part I) on FDA’s interchangeability draft guidance, highlights the key issues that were raised in the stakeholder comments provided to FDA. FDA received 52 comments in total from a variety of stakeholders, including patients, physicians, insurers, innovators and biosimilar makers. The stakeholders were divided in their views in a number of areas. Patient and physician groups and innovators urged FDA to adopt more stringent requirements for interchangeability assessments. Biosimilar makers and insurers, by contrast, generally pressed for a loosening of the guidance provided by FDA as well as clarification that interchangeable biosimilar products were not more similar to the innovator product than the non-interchangeable ones. The comments also raised a number of issues not addressed by the guidance, which will be discussed in the third post in this series.
The comment period for FDA’s draft guidance Considerations in Demonstrating Interchangeability With a Reference Product closed on Friday, May 19, 2017. Innovators, biosimilar makers, patients, healthcare providers and other stakeholders have weighed in on the long-awaited guidance. Interchangeable biosimilars, unlike other biosimilars, may be substituted for the innovator product without the intervention of the healthcare provider who prescribed the innovator product. FDA’s guidance for interchangeable biosimilars is thus particularly important to stakeholders. This post, Part I of a three-part series, provides an overview of the key provisions of the guidance. Parts II and III will focus on the comments from stakeholders and open issues.
When a small pharmaceutical company discovers a new medicine, it’s not uncommon for the company – which may not itself have the resources or infrastructure to get that medicine to patients – to seek a distribution partner early in development. If the partners make a deal – say the distributor pays for the right to sell the drug (if it gets approved) – and the partners publicize the existence of the deal (but not the full details of the medicine), does the deal bar a patent filed more than one year later? In Helsinn Healthcare S.A v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc. (May 1, 2017), a unanimous panel of the Federal Circuit ruled that the on-sale bar of the America Invents Act (AIA) precludes such a patent, just as the pre-AIA on-sale bar would. But, in a decision with the potential to chill deals between small bio/pharma companies and potential commercialization partners, the court left unresolved some important questions about the meaning of the AIA’s on-sale bar.
President Donald J. Trump has now been in office for just over one hundred days. Observers have been quick to mark this milestone and assess the new administration’s performance, especially on headline-grabbing issues like immigration and foreign policy. Amidst the hubbub, however, few have commented on how President Trump’s opening moves could affect the multi-billion-dollar biologics industry. President Trump’s actions during his first hundred days on issues like trade, judges, and healthcare have the potential to shape the biologics industry for innovators and biosimilar makers alike for years to come.
This week’s election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States undoubtedly impacts many sectors of the American economy, and the bio/pharmaceutical industry is no exception. Two of Trump’s stated policies might bear directly on how biologics will be protected and litigated in this country and abroad: the repeal of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), also known as Obamacare, and the repudiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
This fall marks the tenth anniversary of the effective date of the European Medicines Agency's Guideline on Similar Biological Medicinal Products. Over the past ten years, the EMA has approved 19 biosimilars corresponding to 6 different reference drugs, under the Guideline, and a biosimilar of a seventh is nearing final approval. Since the EU system served as the model, in many respects, for the biosimilar approval process in the U.S. and other developed countries, the European experience sheds light on what we can expect in the development and commercializations of biosimilars in the U.S. in the next several years.
At long last, the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement among a dozen Pacific Rim nations, has now been made available to the public. The chapter on intellectual property, however, does not appear to have any material changes relating to exclusivity for new biologics from the leaked draft released by WikiLeaks last month. Just as the provisions in the leaked draft did, Articles 18.50 and 18.52 give countries a choice between, on the one hand, at least eight years of exclusivity or, on the other hand, at least five years of exclusivity plus unspecified “other measures” and protection through “market circumstances.” Additionally, the agreement seems to provide for only market exclusivity, not data exclusivity. The TPP bars biosimilar applicants from entering the market during the exclusivity period, but does not appear to prevent them from accessing innovators’ regulatory data.
After half a decade of negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to do little more than maintain the status quo for biologics. A leaked draft of the agreement appears to require member states to provide between five and eight years of exclusivity for new biologics. But almost all TPP signatories provide that duration under current law, and some governments have already said that the pact will not require them to change their laws. The United States will be able to maintain its current twelve years of protection. Additionally, the agreement appears to provide only market exclusivity, which prevents biosimilars from being sold, and not data exclusivity, which prevents biosimilar makers from using innovators’ regulatory data. Because the TPP largely reflects existing exclusivity periods for biologics, many view it as a missed opportunity for incentivizing global investment in new biologics.
A final agreement has been reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that could provide for as little as five years of exclusivity for biologics. The final text of the agreement is not yet officially available and its exact contours are unclear, but reports indicate that it includes a complicated compromise providing for between five and eight years of exclusivity. This represents a setback for the United States, which sought twelve years of exclusivity throughout the negotiations. Industry groups have also expressed disappointment.
The latest round of talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed Pacific Rim free-trade agreement, has ended with disagreement on a number of key issues, including the non-patent exclusivity period for biologic medications.
Debate continues over the exclusivity period for biologics in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have weighed in on the inclusion of a 12-year exclusivity period in the free-trade agreement.
Medicare Part B covers drugs prescribed and administered in an outpatient setting (e.g., a doctor’s office or outpatient clinic), including many biologic drugs (given that they are often injectable drugs that must be administered by a health practitioner). In the wake of the recent approval of Sandoz’s Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), the first FDA-approved biosimilar, the practical impact of Medicare Part B’s reimbursement policy will soon be tested in the marketplace.
The exclusivity period for biologic drugs has recently become a hot topic in both domestic and foreign policy. At home, the Obama administration’s latest budget proposes reducing the exclusivity period to seven years, down from its current 12. Abroad, the exclusivity period for biologics has developed into a sticking point in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Welcome to the Biologics Blog, which will track and analyze developments in intellectual property law related to biologic medical products as well as regulatory and legislative changes. Our impetus for starting the blog is the recent onset of regulatory activity and litigation under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (“BPCIA”), which created a new regulatory and legal framework for biosimilar and interchangeable biologic products.