The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has communicated a commitment to ensuring that firms marketing dietary supplements are not misleading particularly vulnerable consumers (e.g., elderly, cancer patients, or children) with baseless disease treatment or prevention product claims. Prior FDA leadership was vocal about the need to closely monitor the dietary supplement industry because of the significant footprint the industry has established. Couple the bustling supplement industry with the awakening cannabis and cannabis derived industry, and there is colossal business opportunity. The opportunity, however, must be married with measured restraint, particularly in advertising and marketing claims.

Trailing the 2018 Farm Bill, FDA is pushing forward with its information-gathering efforts to determine if it will embark on a rule making process to allow the marketing of cannabidial (CBD) as a dietary supplement. Currently, dietary supplement products containing CBD cannot be legally marketed in the United States. As previously explained, under current federal law, marketing is prohibited because CBD is an active ingredient in an FDA approved drug that was the subject of substantial clinical investigations.

On July 22, Curaleaf Inc., a Massachusetts firm, received a warning letter from the FDA, citing the company for marketing products containing CBD (i.e., CBD lotion, pain-relief patch, tincture and vape pen) in violation of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). Curaleaf operates online and has dispensaries in 12 states. The company markets medical marijuana and sells dietary supplement products containing CBD derived from hemp, under its Curaleaf Hemp brand and Bido brand for pets. This is the fourth letter this year that the agency has issued to a firm that markets products containing CBD. The Agency’s letter identified a number of statements from Curaleaf’s website that FDA says establishes that the “products are drugs under section 201(g)(1) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 321(g)(1), because they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease and/or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.” The FDA specifically called out product claims and social media promotion that touted these products as treating Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, cancer, opioid withdrawal and Parkinson’s disease. Curaleaf was also cited for marketing CBD products for use in pets that suffer from arthritis and pain associated with aging.


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In 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), which contained provisions to help accelerate medical product innovation while reducing regulatory burden, as well as to increase efforts for critical research and increase the involvement of patients and their perspectives in research and the product development process. The Cures Act specifically provided the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to modernize product development and review, and create greater efficiencies and predictability in product development and review. In June 2018, in response to this congressional mandate and corresponding new authorities, as well as reauthorizations of FDA’s user fee agreements, FDA made a series of announcements for a proposal to modernize new drug development.

Highlights of FDA’s initial proposal included:

  • Focusing on recruiting talent across disciplines;
  • Building multidisciplinary teams for more efficient collaboration;
  • Prioritizing operational excellence through a single and consistent review process;
  • Improving knowledge management through enhancements to information technology and honed expertise within review divisions;
  • Emphasizing safety and risk-benefit analysis before and after approval; and
  • Incorporating the patient voice into product development.

As articulated by former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, “[a] principal aim of these proposed changes is to elevate the role of . . . scientists and medical officers to take on even more thought leadership in their fields.”  The agency contemplates implementing organizational and structural changes that make drug review divisions more therapeutically-focused to promote efficient review and transparency in – as well as patient and stakeholder access to – the review process. According to the agency, these and other changes that are part of the Cures Act will result in a 20 percent improvement in efficiency.


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In today’s competitive and fast-paced life sciences dealmaking environment, buyers and investors are often unable to spend as much time on due diligence as they might like. Market players are often highly focused on the science itself and, as a result, may pay less attention to issues such as supply chain, intellectual property components and

Pharmaceutical outsourcing has emerged as a robust—and rapidly growing—subsector of the life sciences industry. As the push for efficiency continues, more pharmaceutical, biotech and medtech companies are turning to contract research organizations (CROs), contract development organizations, medical affairs outsourcing and other service providers for help bringing products to market, manufacturing and distributing products, and improving

The life sciences marketplace has been ripe for collaboration for the past decade, but new players, new technologies and new regulations are changing the space. Traditional life sciences companies are working together in new and exciting ways, bringing a variety of deal structures and new complexities into the landscape. Our Collaborative Transformation podcast episode “Driving the Deal: Life Sciences Partnership Opportunities, Pitfalls and Impact” with Emmanuelle Trombe and Gary Howes explores these issues in depth. Below are key takeaways from the episode, which you can listen to in full here.

It’s not just new players changing the space—it’s new approaches by traditional players. “It’s not only about pharma and biotech,” Trombe said. “We are seeing collaboration with health care players such as payers, insurers and providers.” Technology companies are also entering the space, bringing financial and philanthropic investments to the table. “People are still trying to do the same things, but they’re getting there in slightly different ways,” Howes said. Collaborations are also shifting from exclusive collaborations to more open collaborations, where partners are more closely involved in the product lifecycle, co-developing products and sharing technology, data and profits.

Bridging the gap between different industry cultures is crucial to building a successful collaboration. Product lifecycles and regulatory regimes vary across industries, but the gap between technology and health care/life sciences is particularly broad. “Life sciences health care companies looking at a lifecycle for their product is something like 20-odd years. That’s not the model that pure tech companies are used to,” Howes said. “There has to be some sort of realignment, so that both parties on either side of the collaboration understand each other’s business enough to make them a success.”

Data drives efficiency and efficacy in treatments, but the regulatory environment continues to present challenges to using it. Data collection is restricted in most countries, particularly for pharmaceutical companies and insurers, which makes it challenging to structure deals around data. Data regulations such as GDPR “could be a hurdle for the development of digital therapeutics, because they limit the ability to use the data collected in a meaningful fashion,” Trombe said. Overcoming these hurdles will be crucial to unlocking the potential solutions in medical data.
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Technology companies are pouring unprecedented capital, time and energy into the health care and life sciences industry, and are reshaping the deal landscape in the process. The top 10 US tech companies have made $4.7 billion in acquisitions in the health care space since 2012, according to CB Insights. Key market factors driving health care joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions include the merger of molecular science and computer technology, a growing focus on patient-centric care, increased mobility of consumer health products and services, and deep capital markets. In this fast-paced, proactive deals environment, traditional health players have exciting—and disruptive—new opportunities to enter into unexpected partnerships and pursue transformative innovation.

With Great Disruption Comes Great Opportunity

A helpful analogy for understanding the role of tech companies in this rapidly evolving sector is Uber’s disruption of the ride-hailing industry. When Uber came on the scene, on-demand ride-hailing was only available through taxicabs, and frequently only available in major cities. Now on-demand ride hailing is available through numerous companies and in areas that previously did not have such services available. Ride-hailing companies have also expanded their services offering to include food delivery.

Tech companies entering the health industry today are doing the same thing: reimagining and redefining the fundamentals of consumer access to health care. These companies often have deep insight into distribution and consumer purchasing behavior, and are willing to invest more capital and take on more risk than traditional health industry players in order to explore and develop creative health care offerings. Furthermore, the solutions they are developing don’t just offer incremental improvements—creating a more expensive service or drug option doesn’t cut it. Instead, they want to create dramatic solutions that make health care better overall. Tech companies in the health care space are pursuing innovation that carries value in context of the entire health ecosystem.
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It’s the industry disruptors, the unusual partnerships, and the cross-border and cross-sector relationships that are driving Collaborative Transformation in the health care and life sciences organizations. But a Collaborative Transformation takes more than signing paperwork and shaking hands. A successful Collaborative Transformation takes cultural integration between non-traditional partners, incorporating new technologies into health care regulatory compliance structures, and so much more. At McDermott, we’ve recently had the opportunity to help our clients pursue their own Collaborative Transformations, and are proud to showcase their achievements.

Innate Pharma Expands its Collaboration with AstraZeneca

McDermott Will & Emery advised Innate Pharma, a French oncology-focused biotech company, in signing a multi-term agreement with AstraZeneca and MedImmune – AstraZeneca’s global biologics research and development arm. This agreement broadens the existing collaboration, aimed at accelerating the development of an oncology portfolio of each of the parties and to provide patients with more rapid access to new therapeutic options. This extended collaboration will permit Innate Pharma to develop and commercially strengthen its investment ability to develop its immuno-oncology portfolio (IO) and its R&D platform. For its part, AstraZeneca will enrich its IO portfolio with new clinical and preclinical programs. For more information on this collaboration, click here.

CVS + Aetna

McDermott is one of the firms that has advised CVS Health in connection with its $69 billion purchase of Aetna. The transaction, one of this year’s largest M&A deals, is expected to transform the US health care sector. For more information on this collaboration, click here.


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For biotechs, success involves a several year hike through mazes of complex, cross-border, business, scientific, financial and regulatory issues. During this year’s BIO2018 conference in Boston, McDermott gathered a panel of industry leaders and McDermott practitioners and led a case study assessment of cross-border biotech M&A, linking life sciences hubs in Europe, Asia and North

As the health care and life sciences fields experience ever-increasing levels of disruption, diverse entities across the industry are teaming up to embrace and foster innovation. These new pairings are shaping the future of health care, as organizations come together to tackle the industry’s most pressing issues with redoubled agility and pooled resources.

In an

It has now been one month since the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) sent its proposed information blocking rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for required review.

We expect OMB to approve the much-anticipated proposed rule and ONC to release it soon with the usual opportunity for public comment. While we wait, there are some things that health information technology developers, health information exchanges, health information networks and health care providers who may be subject to the information blocking prohibition and enforcement actions can do to prepare for the upcoming comment period. But before we get to comments, let’s remind ourselves about how we got to this point.

By way of background, Congress asked ONC to produce a report describing the extent of information blocking and a strategy to address it. ONC submitted that report to Congress in 2015 (the 2015 Report) noting, among other things, enforcement authority gaps and indicating that successful information blocking prevention strategies would likely require congressional intervention. In the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law in 2016, Congress granted the HHS Office of Inspector General investigative and enforcement authorities for prohibited information blocking conduct. The Cures Act defined information blocking as a practice that “except as required by law or specified by the Secretary…, is likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or use of electronic health information [(EHI)].” As part of the law, Congress tasked the Secretary of HHS with issuing rules that identify “reasonable and necessary activities” that will not be considered prohibited information blocking. This is one purpose of ONC’s proposed rule.

At this point, we do not know precisely what kinds of activities ONC will propose to permit by carving them out of the broad information blocking prohibition. However, from the Cures Act we do know the types of practices Congress believed “may” be information blocking, namely:

  • restricting authorized access, exchange and use of EHI for treatment and other permitted purposes, and
  • implementing technology in ways that are:
    • nonstandard and likely to substantially increase the burden or complexity of access, exchange and use of EHI;
    • likely to impede EHI with respect to exporting complete information sets and in transitioning between health IT systems; or
    • likely to lead to fraud, waste and abuse, or impede innovation and advancements in health information access, exchange or use.

These track closely to the types of practices ONC identified as raising information blocking concerns in the 2015 Report, which also provided a few illustrative examples, including:
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