COVID-19 Treatment Approvals Accelerated by New FDA CTAP Program

On March 31, 2020, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) introduced a specially designed “emergency program”—dubbed the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP)—to provide patients with faster access to new COVID-19 treatments. The CTAP allows FDA to “move new therapies to patients as quickly as possible, while at the same time finding out whether they are helpful or harmful.”

Given the rapidly increasing rate of COVID-19 confirmed cases and fatalities in the United States, efforts to streamline FDA processes may prove crucial to uncovering and delivering viable treatments.

To read the full text of this Duane Morris Alert, please visit the firm website.

FDA Virtual Town Hall for Laboratories and Manufacturers Developing Diagnostics Tests for COVID-19

FDA is hosting a virtual town hall April 1, 2020, at 12:15 p.m. Eastern for clinical laboratories and commercial manufacturers developing diagnostic tests for the COVID-19 virus. FDA intends to help answer technical questions about validation and development of tests and FDA’s recently issued Guidance from March 16, 2020 outlining FDA policy for development of diagnostic tests during the COVID-19 public health emergency.  FDA will host subsequent virtual town halls for clinical laboratories and commercial manufacturers each Wednesday of April at 12:15 p.m. Eastern. Registration not required. Details to join the call are available on the event page.

For additional information, please contact Dana J. AshFrederick R. BallPatrick C. Gallagher, Ph.D.Jonathan LourieVicki G. Norton, Ph.D., or Sandra G. Stoneman of Duane Morris’ LIfe Sciences Industry Group.

A Cannabidiol Catalyst? Recent Events Increase Pressure on FDA to Regulate CBD

By Justin M.L. Stern and Frederick R. Ball

For consumers, the widespread availability of products containing cannabidiol (CBD) is old news. But for those in the cannabis industry—and in particular, those monitoring applicable regulatory developments—the state of CBD remains largely in flux and continues to be marred by uncertainty.

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) retained its regulatory authority over products derived from hemp, including CBD incorporated into products it traditionally regulates, such as food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. Unfortunately for the industry, FDA has yet to propose or issue formal regulations concerning the manufacture, distribution, or sale of such products. At the same time, FDA has issued numerous warning letters to producers and retailers incorporating CBD into products operating in the complex gray area between state and federal law. Nevertheless, recent events occurring across all three federal branches of government may reflect an impetus for change in FDA’s approach to CBD products.

To read the full article, please visit the FDLI website.

Protecting the Company’s Crown Jewels: Best Practices for Growth Stage Biotechnology Companies Using Contract Vendors in Support of Basic Research Activities

By Patrick C. Gallagher, Ph.D. and Sandra G. Stoneman

Emerging growth biotechnology companies often need to rely on third-party vendors and collaborators to fuel their research and development efforts.  These vendors and collaborators may perform crucial aspects of the R&D process, such as candidate screening, assay development and validation, and lead generation. To enable this work, biotechnology companies may be required to share their “secret sauce” (or the building blocks to an eventual secret sauce), like antibodies and their targets.  The following recommendations should be taken to account when working with third parties to balance the need to advance R&D with limited internal capacity and the need to maintain confidentiality of trade secrets and other proprietary information:

  • Strong work-product language—Ensure the contract has strong invention assignment and “work-for-hire” language.  Consider calling out specific antibodies and their targets as your “background intellectual property” or your materials. 
  • Confidentiality—Confidentiality obligations in the contract for trade secrets should survive for so long as the information qualifies as a trade secret under applicable law.
  • Subcontracting—Limit the ability of the vendor or collaborator to use subcontractors.  Understand the full supply chain and work flow, and the companies involved in each step.  For example, often vendors and collaborators want the ability to assign/subcontract to affiliates.  If that affiliate not qualified, this could present regulatory and IP protection issues.  Make sure you know who will actually have access to your confidential information and proprietary biological material.
  • Material transfer—If biological material is being transferred, consider entering into a separate “material transfer agreement” because most contract service agreements may not adequately address protections around sharing of material, and each time biological material is shared there likely will be specific limitations that will be appropriate to specify for the vendor.  At a minimum, ensure the contract limits the scope and nature of what the vendor is allowed to do with the biological material.  Also ensure that the contract requires return of all physical materials (often, the return obligations only apply to confidential information), and prohibits copying or replication except to the extent necessary for the contracted work.
  • Diligence your vendor or collaborator—ask for references, visit their location, periodically exercise audit and inspection rights under the contract.

It almost goes without saying that if a company is going to outsource R&D functions, there is some inherent risk that cannot be eliminated, but a good deal of the risk can be mitigated.

FDA Guidance Aims to Accelerate Availability of COVID-19 Tests

On March 16, 2020, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued new guidance aimed at accelerating the availability of COVID-19 diagnostic tests developed by laboratories and commercial manufacturers. The guidance, which took immediate effect upon release, contains recommendations for clinical laboratories and commercial manufacturers regarding development of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 during the current public health emergency.

As the guidance recognizes, there is currently an outbreak of a respiratory virus named SARS-CoV-2, which causes a disease named Coronavirus Disease 2019 (hence COVID-19). The guidance also acknowledges that COVID-19 poses a high potential public health threat “both globally and to the United States.” Effectively responding to the COVID-19 outbreak requires “rapid detection of cases and contacts, appropriate clinical management and infection control, and implementation of community mitigation efforts.”

To that end, the guidance describes a number of important policies concerning the circumstances under which certain entities may perform laboratory testing or distribute test kits on a more expedient timeline than would normally be permitted under FDA regulations and policies.

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.

Declaration Provides Immunity for Certain COVID-19 Pandemic Medical Countermeasure Activities

In an effort to encourage development of drugs, devices and biologics useful for the treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of COVID-19 respiratory illness, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has issued a declaration providing statutory immunity under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. This declaration is separate from the Public Health Emergency declared under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act on January 31, 2020, and is a part of the continued effort by the federal government to expedite development and distribution of medical products that can address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Declaring a public health emergency under the PREP Act provides covered persons with immunity from liability under federal or state law for all claims arising from administration to or use by an individual of a Covered Countermeasure. Under the statute, 42 U.S.C. § 247d-6d, immunity applies if the medical countermeasure:

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.

FDA’s Report on CBD Reaffirms Status Quo

Consumers want answers from FDA on how it plans to regulate the multibillion dollar market for CBD-related products—and they’re not alone. Under the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94), Congress directed FDA to provide a report concerning the agency’s progress in receiving and evaluating data to help inform a policy of enforcement discretion and a process by which FDA will evaluate cannabidiol (meeting the definition of hemp) in FDA-regulated products.

On March 5, 2020, FDA submitted the requested report, painting a more detailed view of its CBD-related activities than the public has seen to date. From a high level, FDA noted that it remains concerned about the potential safety risks posed by mislabeled or contaminated CBD-infused products. At the same time, FDA stated that it “is actively working to evaluate potential lawful pathways for the marketing of CBD.”

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.

U.S. Trade Rep. Implements New Section 301 Exclusions for Certain Medical Products in Wake of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As concerns surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) escalate, U.S. trade policy is aligning with the country’s medical needs. On March 10, 2020, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced new Section 301 exclusions for certain kinds of Chinese-origin medical products. Although the USTR previously levied Section 301 duties as high as 15 percent against these products, the announced exclusions exempt them from Section 301 duties until September 1, 2020. Significantly, the new exclusions are retroactive in nature so that entities can seek refunds of the Section 301 duties that they have paid on the excluded products dating back to September 1, 2019. Assuming the USTR continues prior procedures, it is expected that the importing community will be allowed to submit written comments to support extensions of the exclusions.

This round of exclusions follows previous rounds granted by the USTR, but it represents the first since the coronavirus has taken center stage for the Trump administration. Although the USTR did not identify the coronavirus or the nation’s healthcare infrastructure as a factor in deciding to grant certain exclusions, these most recent exclusions may have been influenced by the current medical emergency. Additionally, a prime consideration was whether a particular product is only available from China, among other reasons.

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.

FDA Postpones Foreign Inspections Through April in Response to COVID-19

FDA announced on March 10, 2020, that the agency is postponing most foreign inspections through April, effective immediately. FDA will consider whether to conduct inspections outside the U.S. deemed mission-critical on a case-by-case basis.

Postponing foreign inspection will likely delay product application reviews that require facility inspections. FDA has committed to trying to mitigate any potential impact that the COVID-19 outbreak and suspension of foreign inspections may have regarding FDA action on product applications. The extent of that impact will likely depend on how soon foreign inspections can resume and the resources, including personnel, available to FDA once they resume.

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.

USDA Delays DEA Registration Requirement for Hemp Testing Laboratories

On February 26, 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) took a significant step toward allaying industry concerns by announcing that it delaying enforcement of the interim final rule (IFR) requirement that hemp producers only use testing laboratories registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

When the IFR was published in late October of 2019, it faced near-immediate criticism from industry participants and stakeholders who, among other things, voiced concerns that the DEA registration requirement would create a bottleneck given capacity issues. Appearing to respond to those critiques, the USDA explained that its enforcement discretion “will allow additional time to increase DEA registered analytical lab capacity.”

Notwithstanding other applicable provisions of law, the requirement that hemp testing labs be DEA-registered largely foreclosed the potential for a single laboratory facility to test both hemp and marijuana, as the DEA, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, continues to treat marijuana as an illegal, Schedule I controlled substance. While this delay may provide an opportunity for labs that currently test medical and recreational marijuana pursuant to state law to also test hemp for compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill, it is not certain that the DEA registration requirement will not be reinstated. It is also not clear what further requirements states may impose.

Under the USDA’s guidance, hemp testing may be “conducted by labs that are not yet DEA registered until the final rule is published, or Oct. 31, 2021, whichever comes first.” Until that time, labs conducting hemp testing are still subject to the other compliance requirements of the IFR, including those related to methods of testing.