We recently read a recent (3/15) Bloomberg piece (here, for those with a subscription) entitled “Off-Label Promotion Could Mean More Drug Company Liability.”  This article consists largely of the interviews with two avatars of the other side of the “v.”:  fellow blogger Max Kennerly (who regularly writes intelligent critiques of our posts) and Lou Bogrod, with whom we’ve tangled before over off-label issues.  Needless to say, we disagree with the “more liability” spin they put on any would-be FDA retreat on off-label promotion.

Here’s why – and we apologize to all of you who can’t read the article we’re responding to, but it’s behind a paywall, but Michael Bloomberg didn’t get to be a billionaire by giving things away that he could charge for (that’s what we do).  Like the Bloomberg article, we’re also limiting our focus to product liability, recognizing that truthful off-label promotion also arises frequently in False Claims Act cases.

The first contention is that, once truthful off-label promotion is legal, “drug companies would lose the protection afforded by preemption.”  We don’t think that’s grounds for “more liability.”  First of all, “drug companies” – at least those making innovative branded drugs, don’t have much of a preemption defense.  The Supreme Court unfortunately took care of that in Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), limiting preemption to cases of “clear evidence” that the FDA would have rejected the label change in question.  There are other possible preemption grounds concerning design defect claims (which we’ve advocated here), but off-label promotion doesn’t involve design.  So, while there may be liability issues raised concerning specific instances of off-label promotion, we don’t see any basis for calling it “more” liability than already exists for on-label promotion.  Most branded drug warnings don’t have a preemption defense now.

Indeed, the result could very well be less liability. Even if truthful off-label promotion were to become broadly legal, the off-label use itself remains off-label.  The FDA, however, can order a drug’s label to contain statements (usually warnings) about an off-label use.  21 C.F.R. §§201.57(c)(6)(i), 201.80(e) (both phrased in terms of “required by” the FDA).  That’s important because, as we discussed in more detail here, only the FDA can do this.  Drug companies are not allowed to discuss off-label uses in their labels whenever they want.  Without the FDA telling them to, that is a form of misbranding.

Continue Reading What If We Win? Off-Label Promotion & Product Liability

This post comes from the Cozen O’Connor side of the blog.

We’ve been following the Pinnacle MDL closely through the last two bellwether trials, starting with the news coming out of the second bellwether trial of particularly curious and prejudicial evidence being presented to the jury. Given that evidence, we expected a plaintiffs’ victory, an expectation that was borne out with a whopping $498 million verdict. It raised an immediate question: “What will the Fifth Circuit do?”

Well, we’re on our way to finding out. The defense recently filed their opening appellate brief. While it features the controversial evidentiary rulings, much more is in play. If you would like to take a look for yourself, here is the brief.  Below are some of the key issues, along with a quick description of the defense’s arguments:

Design Defect Claim against DePuy (Brief at 20-29): Claim that all metal-on-metal hip implants are defective is not viable under Texas law because a wholly different product cannot serve as a safer design; design claim is preempted because the FDA approved metal-on-metal hip implants; and design claim fails under Restatement (Second) of Torts 402A comment k (adopted in Texas), which recognizes that products like implantable devices are unavoidably unsafe and therefore not defective if properly made and warned about.

Continue Reading Briefing Underway in Appeal of Half-Billion-Dollar Verdict in Pinnacle MDL

Today’s post is on a short decision from the Court of Appeals of Florida, but it is important. In drug and device litigation, defendants are almost always required to produce the adverse event reports related to the product at issue based on the argument that they go to notice. Beyond notice we take strong issue with their admissibility. Take a look at our AER cheat sheet.  And with so many courts excluding them from evidence, extensive discovery of adverse events is something defendants should push back on. As part of that push back, defendants should never overlook raising the burden of redacting from any adverse event report any information that identifies either the voluntary reporter (physicians, consumers) or the person who used the drug or device (if not one and the same). If you’ve made that argument, you may have had a court question whether redaction is really necessary. The answer is an unequivocal yes.

The FDA requires manufacturers to maintain the confidentiality of this information.

The names and any information that would identify the voluntary reporter or any other person associated with an adverse event involving a human drug, biologic, or medical device product shall not be disclosed by the Food and Drug Administration or by a manufacturer in possession of such reports in response to a request, demand, or order. Information that would identify the voluntary reporter or persons identified in the report includes, but is not limited to, the name, address, institution, or any other information that would lead to the identities of the reporter or persons identified in a report.

21 C.F.R. §20.63(f) (emphasis added). So, whether plaintiffs request them or the court orders their production, the manufacturer is obligated to redact adverse event reports before producing them. So, from a practical standpoint, time must be built into any schedule to allow for this redaction to take place. Further, if plaintiffs’ adverse event request is overly broad, you might have grounds to ask for cost-shifting or at least cost-sharing. May help to refocus plaintiffs on what they really want/need.

Continue Reading Protecting Foreign Adverse Events

Remember how Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470 (1996), dismissed the §510k “substantially equivalence” medical device clearance as non-preemptive because it was supposedly “focused on equivalence, not safety”?  Id. at 493.  In the same vein:

“[S]ubstantial equivalence determinations provide little protection to the public. These determinations simply compare a post − 1976 device to a pre − 1976 device to ascertain whether the later device is no more dangerous and no less effective than the earlier device. If the earlier device poses a severe risk or is ineffective, then the later device may also be risky or ineffective.”

Id. (quoting from pro-plaintiff law review article).

Most of our readers know that this characterization, assuming it was true for the 1980s-era (implanted 1987) device that the Court considered in Lohr, was no longer true, even at the time Lohr was decided, and certainly hasn’t been the case since the FDAAA was passed a year after Lohr was decided.  Still, this anachronistic view of §510k has flourished for twenty years, affecting first preemption and now (thanks mostly to Mesh MDL rulings) admissibility of evidence.

That’s why we were interested in what the FDA had to say about today’s §510k clearance process in its recent memorandum entitled “Public Health Interests and First Amendment Considerations Related to Manufacturer Communications Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products,” which is available here.  One of our guest bloggers, Liz Minerd, recently discussed the First Amendment aspects of that document, here.

Continue Reading FDA Off-Label Promotion Memo Should Affect §510k Preemption & Evidence

This guest post is from Liz Minerd, an associate at Reed Smith.  She previously wrote the post on the FDA’s off-label promotion meeting last November, so when she indicated that she’d like to write about the FDA’s “Midnight Memo” on the same topic, we were only too happy to say “yes.”  So here is some in-depth analysis of the FDA’s rather unusual decision to, in effect, comment on its own meeting.  As always, our guest posters deserve all the credit, and any blame, for their efforts.

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As this blog reported here, last week—two days before the change in administrations—the FDA released a memorandum entitled “Public Health Interests and First Amendment Considerations Related to Manufacturer Communications Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products” available here. The Agency characterizes this 12th hour memorandum as a follow up to the two-day public meeting it held on November 9-10 regarding off-label promotion (or what the Agency refers to as “communications regarding unapproved uses of approved/cleared medical products”).  In particular, the Agency claims that it is issuing this memorandum to provide “additional background” in response to frustrations expressed by certain speakers during the November meeting regarding the Agency’s failure to adequately address the First Amendment in the public hearing notice.

However, the real purpose of the memorandum appears to be to set forth the Agency’s justification for their current restrictions on off-label promotion before a new administration and a new FDA commissioner could have a chance to revisit them. Indeed, after briefly noting the First Amendment concerns raised at the November meeting, the Agency spends the first twenty pages of the memorandum detailing its oft-repeated policy justifications for its current restrictions before addressing any of the First Amendment jurisprudence that has called those restrictions into question.  Its attitude is reflected in the memorandum’s first case citation—to the dissent in United States v. Caronia, 703 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2012).  [Memorandum, at p. 2. fn. 3]  The Agency’s lengthy policy discussion demonstrates that the outgoing policymakers at the FDA find very little benefit in communications from manufacturers regarding off-label uses even, though it recites that off-label uses can be the standard of care in some circumstances.  This attitude, that only the Agency can keep the public sufficiently safe, is classic governmental paternalism of the sort that the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly condemned in its First Amendment decisions over the past several decades.

For example, the Agency asserts that it seeks to “motivate” the creation of “robust scientific data” about the safety and effectiveness of drugs. [Memorandum at 4-5]  However, the current prohibitions only do so prior to approval of a product.  After approval—a time period usually much longer than the approval process itself—the current prohibitions prevent the same manufacturers from providing the same sorts of scientific data to the same audience.  Thus, the Agency’s current prohibitions actually interfere with the continued creation of robust scientific data after approval.  For example, a manufacturer can be required to post clinical trial results concerning an off-label use [Memorandum at 17-18], but is prohibited from informing doctors that they can view the results on ClinicalTrials.gov and decide whether their patients might benefit from the studied use.

Continue Reading Guest Post – Midnight Madness − The FDA Continues To Discount First Amendment Implications Of Restrictions On Off-Label Promotion

We haven’t digested it yet, so this isn’t a substantive post, but we wanted to make our readers aware that today the FDA made an announcement, which states in pertinent part:

We have also added a document to the docket for the public hearing titled “Memorandum: Public Health Interests and First Amendment Considerations Related to Manufacturer Communications Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products,” which provides additional background on the issues the FDA is considering as part of our comprehensive review of our rules and policies relating to firm communications regarding unapproved uses of approved or cleared medical products, including a discussion of First Amendment considerations. We are requesting input on the Memorandum as it relates to the questions set forth in the initial notice of public hearing.

Thus, two days before a new administration takes office, the FDA has released an official document, albeit a “memorandum” with no particular regulatory significance, taking positions on the First Amendment protection (or more likely, lack of same) of truthful off-label speech by regulated entities – breaking literally years of silence.

Here is a link to the actual memorandum.  We haven’t read it yet, but we will – as certainly will many of you.  The timing suggests, rather blatantly, an attempt to put “agency” views on record before the change in administration potentially results in a much different approach.  Since we know from Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 (2009), that changes in FDA position adversely affects the scope of deference granted that position, the memorandum may also be a preemptive attempt to undercut that different approach in court.

We’ll have more to say later.

Ever since Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001), held that state-law claims alleging fraud on the FDA are preempted, plaintiffs have been attempting to find some other way of bringing claims that attribute FDA actions to a defendant’s false pretenses.  Since preemption is based on the Supremacy Clause, and the constitutional relationship between the federal and state legal systems, the doctrine doesn’t apply where recovery is sought under a federal statute.  Since the False Claims Act (“FCA”) is a federal statute, sporadic attempts have been made to bring private fraud-on-the FDA-claims under that statute.  Bexis, who invented what became the Buckman fraud-on-the-FDA/implied-preemption defense in the Bone Screw litigation, even worked on an amicus brief in one such case, United States ex rel. Gilligan v. Medtronic, Inc., 403 F.3d 386 (6th Cir. 2005), that was ultimately decided (favorably to the defense) on other grounds.

A little less than a year ago we reported on an excellent FCA result in United States ex rel. D’Agostino v. EV3, Inc., 153 F. Supp.3d 519 (D. Mass. 2015).  Ever since we’ve been holding our breath, because the First Circuit has been known for pro-plaintiff rulings in cases against our drug and medical device clients.  Indeed, the First Circuit once led our list the worst drug/medical device cases of the year for two years running – in 2012 and 2013.  Whether something’s changed since then in the First Circuit, we can’t say.  But we can report that the district court’s dismissal of fraud-on-the-FDA-based FCA claims in D’Agostino has just been affirmed with an excellently reasoned decision.  See D’Agostino v. EV3, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 7422943 (1st Cir. Dec. 23, 2016).

The facts in D’Agostino were thoroughly explained in our prior post.  Briefly, the relator (a fired sales rep) alleged that the defendants pulled fast ones on the FDA with respect to the approvals/supplemental approvals of two medical devices, one called “Onyx” and the other “Axium” (these defendants evidently like “x” as much as did the former Standard Oil of New Jersey).  The relator-plaintiff claimed that the defendants:  (1) sought approval of Onyx for a narrow indication, but intended to promote it more broadly off-label (exactly the claim in Buckman); (2) failed to live up to promises made to the FDA concerning extensive surgeon training in using Onyx (also a form of fraud on the FDA); (3) concealed the failure of Onyx’s active ingredient in a different device (ditto); and (4) failed to recall earlier versions of Axium after obtaining FDA approval (not fraud on the FDA, but a theory that could dangerously penalize innovation).  See D’Agostino, 2016 WL 7422943, at ??? (for some reason WL has omitted star paging, so we’ll also cite to the slip opinion), slip op. at 4-8.  Critically, although the FDA was informed of all of these claims, the Agency never instituted any enforcement action, nor did the government elect to join the D’Agostino FCA action.  Id. at 9, 15.  As discussed in the prior post, the district court dismissed all of these claims with prejudice as futile.

Continue Reading Fraud on the FDA Doesn’t Fly Under the FCA Either

Today’s guest post is by Liz Minerd, a Reed Smith associate, who closely followed the online feed of  the recent FDA meeting that the Agency called to discuss what changes would be appropriate in its off-label promotion restrictions – although the official agenda steered away from both the terms “off-label” and “promotion”.  What follows is her summary of two days of testimony from over 60 speakers, some of whom thought that it was crazy that any damn fool can say whatever s/he wants about off-label uses, except for manufacturers, who can’t even tell the truth although knowing the most about them due to ongoing pharmacovigilance obligations, and other speakers who … do not.

As always, our guest poster deserves 100% of the credit (and any blame) for her post.  We’re only the piano-players.  Take it away Liz.

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Last Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 9-10, 2016), the FDA conducted a public meeting on “Manufacturer Communications Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products.”  The FDA’s notice of the meeting (available here) stated:

FDA is engaged in a comprehensive review of its regulations and policies governing firms’ communications about unapproved uses of approved/cleared medical products, and the input from this meeting will inform FDA’s policy development in this area.

What that means, stripped of regulatory jargon, is that the FDA public meeting involved potential updating of the FDA’s decades-old prohibition on truthful promotion of off-label uses by regulated manufacturers.

Continue Reading Guest Post – The FDA’s Two-Day Meeting on Manufacturer Off-Label Communications

We’re pleased to report the demise of a plaintiff’s firm’s attempt to punish the FDA for rejecting the firm’s attempt to force the agency to create evidence helpful to plaintiffs in litigation. The ploy began in 2012, when “a law firm that represents hundreds” of plaintiffs in prescription drug mass tort litigation “on a contingency fee basis” “filed a citizen petition with the [FDA].”  Sheller, P.C. v. U.S. Dep’t of HHS, 119 F. Supp.3d 364, 368 (E.D. Pa. 2015). Plaintiff sought agency action that it could, in turn, parade before juries in the underlying mass tort, specifically: “that the FDA immediately revoke the [relevant] indication for the . . . [d]rugs” at issue or alternatively “require that labeling for those drugs include a black box warning based on the lack of sufficient data to prove their safety.”  Id.  In addition, the plaintiff law firm sought to enlist the FDA in evading a confidentiality order (originally agreed to by the law firm) that protected discovery which the defendant in the underlying litigation had provided.  Id.

So far, so what?  While annoying, attempts of this nature to embroil the FDA in mass tort prescription medical product litigation are part of the other side’s play book.  (((Bexis))) recalls similar machinations during the Bone Screw litigation whereby the plaintiffs did everything they could (ultimately unsuccessfully) to prevent the Agency from adding to those products’ labeling previously off-label uses that had become the medical standard of care – because the Bone Screw plaintiffs’ litigation strategy was based on the procedures in question being off label.

The Bone Screw plaintiffs failed, 63 Fed. Reg. 40025-41 (FDA Jul. 27, 1998) – as did the law firm plaintiff in Sheller (119 F. Supp.3d at 368) – since the FDA normally has little patience for the junk science that the other side routinely peddles in mass tort litigation.  The plaintiff law firm in Sheller would have been off not filing the petition at all, since according to plaintiff, “the FDA decision to deny its petition “has been used as the basis to assert federal preemption and other [defense] arguments against [plaintiff’s] clients in [mass-tort] litigation.”  Id.

No kidding.  That’s the down side this sort of litigation strategy.  Attempts to involve the FDA in litigation have the risk that, if one loses, the FDA’s actions can create a positive narrative for the other side.

But plaintiffs believe in the doctrine of “heads I win; tails you lose.”

So in Sheller the plaintiff law firm attempted to gin up, from their failed strategy, a tort cause of action – not an administrative claim – against the FDA.  Talk about a bootstrap.  The plaintiff law firm was the one that involved the FDA in the first place.  The bizarre theory of liability postulated that, if the FDA wouldn’t cooperate in creating pro-plaintiff evidence/themes in the underlying litigation, that required the plaintiff law firm to work harder and spend more money to come up with something that juries might believe.  So the law firm sued the FDA to recover its purportedly increased litigation costs:

Plaintiff [claims] . . . that the FDA denial of [its] citizen petition increased [its] costs in litigating [because] . . . the defendant . . . has argued that the FDA’s denial of the Petition proves, as a matter of law, that the [drug’s] label is adequate. . . . Plaintiff argues that it must continue to expend resources in defending against that argument, and it faces the risk that a Court will accept it, lowering [plaintiff’s] contingent fee recovery.

Sheller, 119 F. Supp.3d at 369-70 (quotation marks omitted).

Continue Reading Bootstrapped Claim Against the FDA Gets the Boot

We have been following issues related to the interplay of off-label use, manufacturer statements about off-label use, the First Amendment, and FDA enforcement for a long time.  (Like here, here, and here, among many posts.)  The court battles that have garnered so much attention recently can be traced back to at least the 1990s, with the famed decision in Washington Legal Foundation v. Henney, 56 F. Supp. 2d 81, 85 (D.D.C. 1999), vacated as moot by 202 F.3d 331 (D.C. Cir. 2000).  There can be lots of talk about what FDA’s policy is on what a manufacturer can and cannot say about unapproved uses for its drug or device.  Discussions about changing 21 C.F.R. § 201.128 (drugs) & 801.4 (devices) have dragged on for a while, even with the Amarin settlement and with other FDA statements suggesting that the regs do not reflect current policy.  FDA policy, of course, involves more than just a few sentences in a regulation or guidance document.  Particularly for a prohibition that has long been the crux of FDA enforcement—like warning letters and prosecutions—and has spawned or played a major role in subsidiary FCA, RICO, and product liability litigation, a decision to stop prohibiting truthful, non-misleading statements about unapproved uses for drugs and devices is not exactly the end of the story.  For one thing, criminal prosecutions that are based at least in part on manufacturer statements about unapproved uses are always on-going and U.S. cannot just hit the reset button in those cases.

We do not often post about decisions from, let alone briefs filed in, criminal cases brought pursuant to the FDCA.  That FDA enforcement sometimes results in prosecutions is something that comes up in our cases and posts, often in the context of preemption and primary jurisdiction—the FDA does not just have the authority to root out misbranded and adulterated medical products and fraud in connection with approval or post-approval reporting, but companies and individuals get prosecuted, so you should be comfortable respecting FDA’s authority, Your Honor.  It also comes up sometimes when there has been a prosecution that resulted in an indictment, plea, conviction, or sentencing memorandum that the plaintiffs want to use as evidence of something—or for issue preclusion—in a separate case.  When it comes to prosecutions based at least in part on manufacturers or their representative making statements about unapproved uses, we have an opportunity to see what FDA’s policy on off-label promotion really is these days and how it might affect behavior.  While we generally think manufacturers and their representatives try to follow applicable guidance documents, they definitely want to avoid being convicted.

Today, we take a look at two criminal prosecutions involving off-label promotion allegations, each of which has now been tried to a jury verdict.  In the first, the court denied all of the defendants’ motions in limine before the case proceeded to a defense verdict at trial. See U.S. v. Vascular Solutions, Inc., No. SA-14-CR-926-RCL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133717 (W.D. Tex. Jan. 27, 2016).  That opinion showed up in our searches recently, well after the acquittal of the device manufacturer and its CEO produced its own fall out, including a letter from Senator Grassley—hardly a known industry champion—to DOJ about prosecutorial misconduct.  The Vascular Solutions defendants were charged with misbranding (and conspiracy to misbrand) of its Vari-Lase device.  This device was cleared—the opinion says “approved”—for treatment of varicose veins, specifically, per the indictment’s allegations, superficial veins and not deeper perforator veins.  The U.S. contended that the company failed to seek an expanded indication and failed to provide revised labeling to account for the use of the device to treat perforator veins. Id. at *3.  Defendants filed various motions in limine based on the First Amendment and the definition of “intended use” in § 801.4.  We will discuss only two of them, particularly the government’s position.  The government announced that it would not “use promotional speech to doctors to prove the intended use of the devices for perforator vein ablation” to avoid the “possibility that the misbranding offenses criminalize promotional speech.” Id. at **6-7.  It planned, however, to use such promotional speech as an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy.  The court agreed with the government that a lawful act, including constitutionally protected truthful commercial speech, could be used as an overt act. Id. at **7-8.

Continue Reading Update on Prosecution for Truthful Off-Label Promotion