Life sciences and medical device companies are dealing with an unprecedented crisis. The industry is not only managing the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19), they are also a solution provider. Companies are rapidly adapting products, services, facilities and distribution channels to aid in the pandemic response. Simultaneously, they must maintain shareholder value, navigate highly complex regulatory hurdles and compliance obligations while rethinking strategies for growth in a post-COVID-19 world. McDermott Will & Emery and EY co-hosted a webinar to discuss critical COVID-19-related operational, regulatory and legal developments. Below are top takeaways from the program. For a deeper dive into these issues, listen to our webinar recording. 

  1. FDA enforcement discretion is a flexible, risk-based approach, not a free pass. Companies operating under FDA’s enforcement policies to provide COVID-19 countermeasures should have a strategy to ensure that products comply with the standard applicable requirements if the products will still be in distribution after the public health emergency ends. FDA will prioritize areas for follow-up and review after this crisis; clear documentation and protocols describing deviations from standard FDA procedures or requirements will be important in a post-COVID-19 environment.
  2. Clinical trials remain an important FDA priority, and COVID-19 presents an opportunity to transform the clinical development model. The agency has been very flexible in terms of the approaches it is taking to allow trials to continue, including through the use of technology, such as remote patient monitoring, video consent and telemedicine, as well as the use of home health. Such innovations may break down traditional barriers in clinical trials and make them simpler, faster and more patient-friendly. Despite the flexibility, launching new trials and enrolling and monitoring patients will remain a challenge.
  3. Pivot toward COVID-19 responses and changes to prescription demand will disrupt life sciences supply chains for months to come. Companies will need to ramp up manufacturing and put new distribution channels in place to meet demand. This will need to be done despite a limited and constrained workforce. There may be delays in foreign and domestic inspections and potentially delays in products coming to market.
  4. Antitrust compliance remains an important priority, particularly as competitors have begun collaborating to address supply chain issues. While regulators and companies have been engaged in finding creative solutions to supply chain challenges, the pandemic does not offer carte blanche to engage in anti-competitive activity. Companies should consider proactively engaging with the government where possible with respect to partnerships. When not possible, they should  review DOJ and FTC guidance to mitigate enforcement risk down the road.
  5. Life sciences companies with international footprints can take advantage of government assistance programs from more than one country. US companies with operations in Europe and European companies with US subsidiaries can take advantage of government assistance programs in the countries in which they operate, depending on corporate structure and asset locations.
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This blog was originally published on McDermott’s Antitrust Alert Blog.

On February 4, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released joint guidance concerning competition for biologics, including biosimilars. The joint guidance seeks to enhance competition for biologics and reduce manufacturers’ use of false or misleading statements or promotional communications concerning the efficacy or safety of biosimilars and other biologics. This guidance appears to be part of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce the cost of medications for consumers, as it is aimed at increasing the level of competition biosimilars can offer and raising awareness of the safety and efficacy of biosimilars.

The fast-growing biologics market has become an important sector of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. According to the joint guidance, private insurers spent over $125 billion on biologics in 2018 alone. Biologics treat many serious conditions that often lack alternative treatment options. Although Congress enacted an abbreviated FDA-approval process for biosimilars nearly a decade ago, adoption of biosimilars has been relatively slow. The FTC and the FDA will focus on competition for biologics in hopes of improving patient access to important treatment options and curbing costs. The joint guidance highlights the agencies’ efforts to transfer recent investigatory and enforcement efforts to biologics markets.

The joint guidance sets forth goals for which the FTC and the FDA will agree to collaborate in their efforts to support adoption of biosimilars and enhance competition in biologics markets. These goals build on recent efforts by both agencies to deter anticompetitive conduct in the pharmaceutical industry more broadly. The joint goals include:


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2019 was a robust year for the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) regulatory agenda. The agency continued to implement initiatives and mandates required by the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), and navigated leadership and staffing changes at many levels. Most notably, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned on April 5. Norman Sharpless and Brett Giroir

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