As we ring in the new year, it is time once again to reflect on some of the most significant legal developments for drug and device companies this year. The list below is by no means exhaustive (who could forget the Rule 702 updates that took place this year, which will carry over into 2023?), but provides a brief recap and assessment of five of the most interesting and consequential developments affecting drug and device law in 2022.
Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is driving innovation across industries and is playing an increasing role in everyday life. AI (and, more broadly, algorithms) is being used in diagnostics, enabled medical devices, device manufacturing, drug discovery and manufacturing, industrial manufacturing, smart home and wearable devices, and vehicles. AI has the potential to benefit society in a number of ways, including by boosting efficiency, providing invaluable insights, and informing decisions. But to borrow from the likes of Winston Churchill (or Spider-man), with great AI capabilities comes great responsibility.
Many of the risks and benefits of AI systems are unique in comparison to other technologies. Regulators, governmental agencies, and consumer advocates are keenly focused on addressing unintended consequences that may result from the development and use of algorithms and AI. These issues, like the technology, are complex, and policymakers, stakeholders, and regulators are grappling with how best to address them.
On April 14, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft conclusions in a report updating its analysis regarding formaldehyde exposure, suggesting that long-term exposures to small amounts of formaldehyde in the environment can increase the risk of rare head and neck tumors, leukemia, and other threats to health. The conclusions are not final agency action. Still, manufacturers should be aware of the potential for EPA’s analysis to influence both regulation and litigation at both the state and federal levels.
For over a decade, there has been much debate and study on the long-term effects of exposure to formaldehyde. The EPA’s new analysis is an update of a 2010 draft EPA report that was heavily panned by scientists, legislators, and chemical manufacturers and that drove the EPA back to the drawing board. For example, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine criticized the 2010 draft EPA report for failing to describe the rationale behind its methodology and failing to sufficiently support its conclusions.
Is the decision to submit a 510(k) application versus a Premarket Application (PMA) at the sole discretion of a medical device manufacturer? The answer is not always clear to product liability lawyers, judges, and juries. FDA recently published revised guidance on its “Refuse to Accept Policy for 510(k)s” that reinforces and clarifies that the regulatory path may be analyzed multiple times by FDA before it clears a 510(k) device. This clarification underscores the reality that the type of application submitted is largely dictated by the agency, not the applicant. This post discusses some key takeaways from this new guidance before briefly discussing how this guidance may be implicated in medical device litigation.
On March 14, 2022, a bipartisan trio of U.S. Senators introduced a bill (S.3830) that would require manufacturers to provide the tools and documentation necessary for consumers and third parties to repair electronic equipment. Dubbed the Fair Repair Act of 2022, the bill is the Senate version of a similar bill (H.R.4006) introduced in the House last June. The proposed legislation covers products ranging from agricultural equipment to consumer electronics and is the latest in a series of federal and state proposed laws seeking to codify the “right to repair.” If the bill becomes law, manufacturers will not only have to comply with the Act’s requirements, but they will also need to prepare for potential liability implications.
Attempts at codifying a right to repair are not new in the United States. Calls for automotive right-to-repair legislation go back to the 1970s. But the movement has hit its stride in the last decade. In 2013, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a right-to-repair law requiring vehicle manufacturers to sell their proprietary diagnostic tools and software to third-party repair shops, spurring a flurry of similar bills across the nation and bringing attention to the right-to-repair movement. Though the movement has had little success in codifying a right to repair so far, the tides may be shifting. Indeed, in July 2021, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping executive order that, among other things, encourages the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to enact regulations prohibiting manufacturers from barring the repair of equipment and devices by consumers and independent repair shops.
FDA recently issued final guidance regarding the initiation of voluntary product recalls and its related suggestions on how to be “recall ready.” The guidance – covering voluntary recalls of food, drugs, devices, biological products, cosmetics, and tobacco – emphasizes the importance of a company’s recall readiness at all stages of a product’s distribution chain and provides companies with suggested measures to prepare for and implement voluntary recalls. It also advises companies on best practices for working with FDA to initiate a timely voluntary recall.