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.
The European Commission adopted two proposals that adapt liability rules to the digital age, circular economy and the impact of global value chains. These proposals are related to the Revised Product Liability Directive, fit for the green and digital transition and global value chains, and the AI Liability Directive to provide easier access to redress.
Telemedicine and telehealth have significantly reshaped how consumers access health care services. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, online portals were jockeying to replace visits to primary care providers and urgent care clinics for minor illnesses or simple-to-prescribe medications. The last two years shifted that race into high gear, particularly with new products and platforms being introduced that range from virtual clinic platforms that allow patients—and their programmable implanted medical devices—to connect with their providers from the comfort of their own homes, to passive smart devices that remotely monitor patient vital signs, analyze that data using proprietary algorithms, and evaluate whether a patient is having a medical emergency or needs to schedule an appointment with their provider. These technologies are now so ubiquitous that they are being showcased at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show.
To be sure, regulatory changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic made telemedicine more permissible—and reimbursable—than in the past. But that alone is not driving medical device companies forward. Instead, medical device manufacturers are rapidly developing smart or algorithm-driven medical devices that take advantage of the ever-increasing power of those technologies and leveraging telemedicine to make the remote treatment and management of medical conditions less complicated. A recent article in Nature’s npj Digital Medicine confirmed the growth in this area, counting 64 separate smart- or algorithm-driven medical devices currently on the market as of 2020. See Stan Benjamens, et al., The State of Artificial Intelligence-Based FDA-Approved Medical Devices and Algorithms: An Online Database, 3 npj Digital Medicine Article No. 118 (2020). Each of these new devices endeavor to enable physicians to practice more effectively and efficiently than they could before. The future for smart or algorithm-driven medical devices looks promising.