Articles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court

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The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before marketing any brand-name or generic drug in interstate commerce, 21 U.S.C. 355(a). The manufacturer of an approved drug is prohibited from making any major change to the "qualitative or quantitative formulation of the drug product, including active ingredients, or in the specifications provided in the approved application." Generic manufacturers are also prohibited from making any unilateral change to a drug’s label. In 2004, a patient was prescribed Clinoril, a brand-name nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) sulindac, for shoulder pain. Her pharmacist dispensed a generic form of sulindac manufactured by Mutual. The patient developed an acute case of toxic epidermal necrolysis and is severely disfigured, has physical disabilities, and is nearly blind. At the time of the prescription, sulindac’s label did not specifically refer to toxic epidermal necrolysis. By 2005, the FDA had recommended changing all NSAID labeling to contain a more explicit toxic epidermal necrolysis warning. A jury found Mutual liable on a design-defect claim and awarded the patient more than $21 million. The First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. State-law design-defect claims based on the adequacy of a drug’s warnings are preempted by federal law under a 2011 Supreme Court decision, PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing. It is impossible for Mutual to comply with both its federal-law duty not to alter sulindac’s label or composition and its state-law duty to either strengthen the warnings on the label or change sulindac’s design. Redesign was not possible because the FDCA requires a generic drug to have the same active ingredients, route of administration, dosage form, strength, and labeling as its brand-name drug equivalent and, due to sulindac’s simple composition, the drug is chemically incapable of being redesigned. Mutual could only ameliorate sulindac’s "risk-utility" profile, therefore, by strengthening its warnings, an action forbidden by federal law. View "Mut. Pharma. Co. v. Bartlett" on Justia Law

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The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 (Hatch-Waxman Act), 21 U.S.C. 355(j)(2)(A)(vii)(IV) established procedures for identifying and resolving patent disputes between brand-name and generic drug manufacturers. One procedure requires a prospective generic manufacturer to certify to the FDA that any listed, relevant patent is invalid or will not be infringed by the manufacture, use, or sale of the generic drug (paragraph IV). Generic manufacturers filed paragraph IV applications for generic drugs modeled after Solvay’s FDA-approved, patented drug AndroGel. Solvay claimed patent infringement, 35 U.S.C. 271(e)(2)(A). The FDA approved the generic product, but the generic companies entered into “reverse payment” settlements, agreeing not to bring the generic to market for a number of years and to promote AndroGel to doctors in exchange for millions of dollars. The FTC sued, alleging violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by agreeing to abandon patent challenges, to refrain from launching low-cost generic drugs, and to share in Solvay’s monopoly profits. The district court dismissed. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, calling for application of a “rule of reason” approach rather than a “quick look.” Although the anti-competitive effects of the reverse settlement might fall within the exclusionary potential of Solvay’s patent, the agreement is not immune from antitrust attack. It would be incongruous to determine antitrust legality by looking only at patent law policy, and not at antitrust policies. The Court noted the Hatch-Waxman Act’s general pro-competitive thrust, facilitating challenges to a patent’s validity and requiring parties to a paragraph IV dispute to report settlement terms to antitrust regulators. Payment for staying out of the market keeps prices at patentee-set levels and divides the benefit between the patentee and the challenger, while the consumer loses. That a large, unjustified reverse payment risks antitrust liability does not prevent parties from settling their lawsuits; they may settle in other ways, e.g., by allowing the generic to enter the market before the patent expires without payment to stay out prior to that point. View "Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Actavis, Inc." on Justia Law

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Myriad obtained patents after discovering the precise location and sequence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which can dramatically increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The discovery enabled Myriad to develop medical tests for detecting mutations for assessing cancer risk. Myriad’s patents would give it the exclusive rights to isolate an individual’s BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and to synthetically create BRCA composite DNA. The district court entered summary judgment, finding the patents invalid under 35 U.S.C. 101 because they covered products of nature. On remand following the Supreme Court’s decision, Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs, Inc., the Federal Circuit found both isolated DNA and composite DNA patent-eligible. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, noting that the case did not involve “method claims” for new applications of knowledge about the genes or the patentability of DNA in which the order of the naturally occurring nucleotides has been altered. A naturally-occurring DNA segment is not patent-eligible merely because it has been isolated, but composite DNA is patent-eligible because it is not naturally-occurring. Myriad did not create or alter the genetic information encoded in the genes or the genetic structure of the DNA. Even brilliant discovery does not alone satisfy the section 101 inquiry. Myriad’s claims are not saved by the fact that isolating DNA from the human genome severs chemical bonds that bind gene molecules together. The claims are not expressed in terms of chemical composition, nor do they rely on the chemical changes resulting from the isolation of a particular DNA section. Composite DNA, however, is not a “product of nature;” a lab technician unquestionably creates something new when introns are removed from a DNA sequence to make composite DNA. View "Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc." on Justia Law

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The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 established a no-fault compensation system to stabilize the vaccine market and expedite compensation to injured parties. Under the Act, a proceeding for compensation is “initiated” by service upon the Secretary of Health and Human Services and “the filing of a petition containing” specified documentation with the clerk of the Court of Federal Claims, who forwards the petition for assignment to a special master. 42 U. S. C. 300aa–11(a)(1). An attorney may not charge a fee for services in connection with such a petition, but a court may award attorney’s fees and costs incurred by a claimant in any proceeding on an unsuccessful petition, if that petition was brought in good faith. In 1997, shortly after receiving her third Hepatitis-B vaccine, Cloer began to experience symptoms that led to a multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis in 2003. In 2004, she learned of a link between MS and the Hepatitis-B vaccine, and in 2005, she filed a NCVIA claim. The special master concluded that Cloer’s claim was untimely because the Act’s 36-month limitations period began to run when she had her first MS symptoms in 1997.The Federal Circuit agreed. Cloer then sought attorney’s fees and costs. The Federal Circuit ruled in Cloer’s favor. The Supreme Court affirmed. Nothing in the attorney’s fees provision suggests that the reason for the subsequent dismissal of a petition, such as untimeliness, nullifies the initial filing. An NCVIA petition delivered to the court clerk, forwarded for processing, and adjudicated before a special master is a “petition filed under section 300aa–11.” The government’s contrary position is inconsistent with the fees provision’s purpose, which was to avoid limiting petitioners’ ability to obtain qualified assistance by making awards available for “non-prevailing, good-faith claims.” View "Sebelius v. Cloer" on Justia Law

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Once the FDA has approved a brand manufacturer's drug, another company could seek permission to market a generic version pursuant to legislation known as the Hatch-Waxman Amendments. See Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, 98 Stat. 1585. The relevant statute at issue in this case provided that a generic company "may assert a counterclaim seeking an order requiring the [brand manufacturer] to correct or delete the patent information [it] submitted... under [two statutory subsections] on the ground that the patent does not claim... an approved method of using the drug." 117 Stat. 2452, 21 U.S.C. 355(j)(5)(C)(ii)(I). At issue in this case was whether Congress had authorized a generic company to challenge a use code's accuracy by bringing a counterclaim against the brand manufacturer in a patent infringement suit. The Court held that a generic manufacturer could employ this provision to force correction of a use code that inaccurately described the brand's patent as covering a particular method of using the drug in question. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Federal Circuit. View "Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Ltd. v. Novo Nordisk A/S" on Justia Law

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The patent claims at issue covered processes that help doctors who use thiopurine drugs to treat patients with autoimmune diseases determine whether a given dosage level was too low or too high. The claims purported to apply natural laws describing the relationships between the concentration in the blood of certain thiopurine metabolites and the likelihood that the drug dosage would be ineffective or induce harmful side-effects. At issue was whether the claimed processes have transformed these unpatentable natural laws into patent-eligible applications of those laws. The Court concluded that they have not done so and that therefore the processes were not patentable. The steps in the claimed processes involved well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by researchers in the field. At the same time, upholding the patents would risk disproportionately tying up the use of the underlying natural laws, inhibiting their use in the making of further discoveries. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Federal Circuit. View "Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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These consolidated lawsuits involved state tort law claims based on certain drug manufacturers' alleged failure to provide adequate warning labels for the generic drug metoclopramide. State tort law required a manufacturer that was, or should be, aware of its drug's danger to label it in a way that rendered it reasonably safe. On the other hand, federal drug regulations, as interpreted by the FDA, prevented the manufacturers from independently changing their generic drug safety labels. At issue was whether such federal drug regulations applicable to generic drug manufacturers directly conflicted with, and thus preempted, the state law claims. The Court concluded that the federal drug regulations preempted the state law claims because, if manufacturers had independently changed their labels to satisfy their state law duty to attach a safer label to their generic metoclopramide, they would have violated the federal requirement that generic drug labels be the same as the corresponding brand-name drug labels. Thus, it was impossible for the manufacturers to comply with federal and state law. Even if the manufacturers had fulfilled their federal duty to ask for FDA help in strengthening the corresponding brand-name labels, assuming such a duty existed, they would not have satisfied their state tort law duty. State law demanded a safer label, it did not require communication with the FDA about the possibility of a safer label. Therefore, the Court held that when a party could not satisfy its state duties without the Federal Government's special permission and assistance, which was dependent on the exercise of judgment by a federal agency, that party could not independently satisfy those state duties for preemption purposes. The Court also noted that Congress and the FDA retained authority to change the law and regulations if they so desired. Accordingly, the case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "PLIVA, Inc., et al. v. Mensing; Actavis Elizabeth, LLC v. Mensing; Actavis, Inc., v. Demahy" on Justia Law

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Vermont's Prescription Confidentiality Law, Vt. Stat. Ann., Tit. 18, 4631(d), restricted the sale, disclosure, and use of pharmacy records that revealed the prescribing practices of individual doctors. Respondents, Vermont data miners and an association of brand-name drug manufacturers, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against state officials, contending that section 4631(d) violated their rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. At issue was whether section 4631(d) must be tested by heightened judicial scrutiny and, if so, whether Vermont could justify the law. The Court held that the Vermont Statute, which imposed content-based and speaker-based burdens on protected expression, was subject to heightened judicial scrutiny. The Court also held that Vermont's justifications for section 4631(d) did not withstand such heightened scrutiny and therefore, affirmed the Second Circuit's judgment that section 4631(d) unconstitutionally burdened the speech of pharmaceutical marketers and data miners without adequate justification. View "Sorrell, et al. v. IMS Health Inc., et al." on Justia Law