Week in Review, March 6, 2015

A potential new law in California calls for greater drug pricing transparency, consumer advocacy groups and industry trade groups in Europe argue over clinical trial data transparency, a Maine law allowing the purchase of pharmaceuticals from foreign pharmacies is overruled, and the issue of off-label speech and free speech is back in the news.

In like a lion and out like a lamb; it’s hard to believe March is here. The really good news…spring is almost here as well (although looking at the seven inches of fresh snow outside the Week in Review windows, we find that hard to believe). Whether you subscribe to the meteorological or astronomical start of spring, one way or another it is/will be here this month, and that alone is reason to celebrate! We are on the downward slope of winter, folks and we couldn’t be happier. Another thing that makes us happing is sharing the news of the week with all of you, so let’s spring in to action and get this week’s Week in Review underway!

Nothing says spring like some sunshine, and nothing says sunshine like transparency laws. A California assemblyman has proposed a law that would require the disclosure of information related to the pricing of drugs. The law would apply to drugs costing $10,000 or more for a course of treatment, and companies would have to report information such as production costs, sales and marketing costs, and financial assistance provided through prescription assistance programs. If the law is passed, companies would submit annual reports to the state, and the information would be made available to the public.

Speaking of transparency and disclosure, there seems to be a kerfuffle blooming in Europe over clinical trial data transparency. Proposed rules by the European Medicines Authority (EMA) have prompted comments from industry trade groups and others regarding the confidentiality of commercial information. Industry groups have said certain data related to clinical trials could reveal trade secrets and compromise patient privacy. Consumer advocacy groups insist the more transparency the better in the name of protecting patients. In a press release, a Germany-based advocacy group accused the EMA of writing such a broad definition of commercial confidential information that the determination of what is confidential is left up the study sponsor. Two bio industry trade groups released a statement saying there should be a “deferral” for the disclosing information from Phase I trials due to the “commercial sensitivity” of the information.

Medical device manufacturer, ev3, had to spring for some past promotional issues allegedly committed by one of its recent acquisitions. The company agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act. The government claimed Fox Hollow Technologies, which was acquired by ev3, caused hospitals to improperly bill Medicare and Medicaid for medically unnecessary inpatient stays for patients undergoing atherectomies using a Fox Hollow device. The government alleged the company suggested the inpatient procedures in order to drive sales of the device to hospitals, thereby causing hospitals to be reimbursed more than they were entitled.

There’s been a late freeze on the Maine law that allows individuals to purchase prescription drugs from select foreign pharmacies. A federal judge has ruled the Maine law is overruled by federal law, which prohibits importing drugs from foreign countries. The decision nullifies the Maine law. The state can appeal if it chooses.

The seeds are being planted for another free speech case involving off-label statements. A federal district court in California is considering a whistleblower False Claims Act case against Millennium Pharmaceuticals in which the whistleblower claims that Millennium and Schering-Plough (now Merck) promoted a heart drug for off-label uses. In a motion to dismiss, Merck argued that the False Claims Act cannot be interpreted to prohibit the truthful, non-misleading exchange of scientific information. In making the argument, Merck sited both the Sorrell v. IMS Health and U.S. v. Caronia cases. The DOJ filed a brief with the court saying that truthful speech could be used as a basis for the False Claims Act. PhRMA filed a friend of the court brief in support of Merck’s argument.

With that, we end this “almost spring, we hope” edition of the Week in Review. Have a great week everyone!

 

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