The Orphan Drug Act aims to incentivize treatment of rare disorders or conditions affecting fewer than 200,000 persons in the United States through: (1) federal funding of grants and contracts to perform clinical trials of orphan products; (2) a tax credit of 50 percent of clinical testing costs; and (3) an exclusive right to market the orphan drug for approved orphan indications for 7 years from the date of marketing approval. While these financial incentives certainly make the business decision to engage in orphan drug development more palatable, the FDA does not approve orphan drugs on a separate pathway, despite the limited understanding of the diseases in question that presents developers of these drugs with problems stemming from small sample size and lack of well-defined efficacy endpoints.
Continue Reading FDA guidance may improve pediatric orphan drug success

New Hampshire law applies a hybrid design-defect standard that imposes liability for harm caused by a drug product if the drug product, in light of the manufacturer’s warning on the label, is unreasonably dangerous. Does such a framework avoid federal preemption issues that have doomed failure to warn negligence claims premised on taking allegedly dangerous generic pharmaceuticals? That was the question addressed by the Supreme Court at oral argument in Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, the third in a trilogy of cases addressing preemption of state tort claims against drug manufacturers based on federal laws mandating prescription drug labeling requirements. While several justices appeared uncomfortable with the possibility of creating a system that allowed for FDA approval to serve as both a ceiling and a floor for generic drug liability, overall it appeared that the Court would find preemption, consistent with the defendant and Solicitor General’s arguments.

Three years ago in Wyeth v. Levine, the Court held that a state law failure-to-warn claim related to a branded pharmaceutical was not preempted federal drug laws. The next year in a 5-4 decision, the Court held in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing that a negligence claim for failure to warn by a generic manufacturer was preempted by federal law because the Hatch-Waxman Act (which sets up the generic pharma framework) allowed for no discretion in what a generic pharmaceutical manufacturer can put on its label.

Mutual comes to the Supreme Court after the First Circuit upheld a New Hampshire Federal District Court’s jury verdict premised on the finding that a generic version of sulindac was unreasonably dangerous. The arguments before the Court centered on whether a design defect claim was somehow different from a failure to warn claim, and therefore merited a different result than the one reached in PLIVA.
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Addresses “Failure to Warn” Negligence Claims in Rx Warning Labels