Justia U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Drugs & Biotech
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Merck’s drug Fosamax treats and prevents osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. When the FDA approved Fosamax in 1995 (21 U.S.C. 355(d)), its label did not warn of the then-speculative risk of atypical femoral fractures associated with the drug. Stronger evidence connecting Fosamax to such fractures developed later. The FDA ordered Merck to add a warning to the Fosamax label in 2011. Individuals who took Fosamax and suffered atypical femoral fractures sued, claiming that state law imposed upon Merck a legal duty to warn. Merck asserted that the FDA would have rejected any attempt to change the label. The district court agreed with Merck’s pre-emption argument and granted Merck summary judgment. The Third Circuit vacated. The Supreme Court remanded. The Third Circuit incorrectly treated the pre-emption question as one of fact. A state-law failure-to-warn claim is pre-empted where there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved a change to the label. “Clear evidence” shows the court that the manufacturer fully informed the FDA of the justifications for the warning and that the FDA would not approve a label change to include that warning. FDA regulations permit drug manufacturers to change a label to “reflect newly acquired information” if the changes “add or strengthen a . . . warning” for which there is “evidence of a causal association.” The pre-emption question can only be determined by agency actions taken pursuant to the FDA’s congressionally delegated authority. The question of agency disapproval is primarily one of law for a judge to decide. Judges, rather than juries, are better equipped to evaluate an agency’s determination and to understand and interpret agency decisions in the statutory and regulatory context. While contested facts will sometimes prove relevant, they are subsumed within a tightly-circumscribed legal analysis and do not warrant submission to a jury. View "Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht" on Justia Law

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Helsinn makes a treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea using the chemical palonosetron. While developing that product, Helsinn granted another company the right to market a 0.25 mg dose of palonosetron in the United States; that company was required to keep proprietary information confidential. Nearly two years later, in 2003, Helsinn filed a provisional patent application covering a 0.25 mg dose of palonosetron. Helsinn filed four patent applications that claimed priority to the 2003 date. Helsinn’s fourth application, filed in 2013 (the 219 patent), is covered by the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). In 2011, Teva sought approval to market a generic 0.25 mg palonosetron product. Helsinn sued for infringement. Teva countered that the 219 patent was invalid under the “on sale” provision of the AIA, which precludes a person from obtaining a patent on an invention that was “in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention,” 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1), arguing the 0.25 mg dose was “on sale” more than one year before Helsinn filed the 2003 application. The Federal Circuit held, and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed, that the sale was publicly disclosed, regardless of whether the details of the invention were publicly disclosed in the agreements. A commercial sale to a third party who is required to keep the invention confidential may place the invention “on sale” under section 102(a). The patent statute in force immediately before the AIA included an on-sale bar. Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent interpreting that provision indicated that a sale or offer of sale need not make an invention available to the public to constitute invalidating prior art. The Court applied the presumption that when Congress reenacted the “on sale” language in the AIA, it adopted earlier judicial constructions. View "Helsinn Healthcare S. A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, concerning FDA approval of a drug that is biosimilar to an already-licensed biological “reference product,” 42 U.S.C. 262(k), treats submission of a biosimilar application as an “artificial” patent infringement. An applicant must provide its biosimilar application and manufacturing information to the reference product’s sponsor. The parties collaborate to identify patents for immediate litigation. Second phase litigation is triggered when the applicant gives the sponsor notice at least 180 days before commercially marketing the biosimilar. Amgen claims patents on methods of manufacturing and using filgrastim. Sandoz sought FDA approval to market a biosimilar, Zarxio, and notified Amgen that it had submitted an application, that it intended to market Zarxio immediately upon receiving FDA approval, and that it did not intend to provide application and manufacturing information. Amgen sued for patent infringement and asserted that Sandoz engaged in “unlawful” conduct under California law by failure to provide its application and manufacturing information and by notification of commercial marketing before obtaining FDA licensure. The FDA licensed Zarxio. Sandoz provided Amgen another notice of commercial marketing. The Supreme Court unanimously held that section 262(l)(2)(A) is not enforceable by injunction under federal law, but the Federal Circuit should determine whether a state-law injunction is available. Submitting an application constitutes artificial infringement; failing to disclose the application and manufacturing information does not. Section 262(l)(9)(C) provides a remedy for failure to turn over the application and manufacturing information, authorizing the sponsor, but not the applicant, to bring an immediate declaratory-judgment action, thus vesting in the sponsor the control that the applicant would otherwise have exercised over the scope and timing of the patent litigation. An applicant may provide notice under section 262(l)(8)(A) before obtaining FDA licensure. View "Sandoz Inc. v. Amgen Inc." 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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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 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