What Happened, What You Missed: March 20-24, 2023


NIH Rejects March-In Rights Petition for Pricey Prostate Cancer Drug

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) rejected a petition to force drugmakers Pfizer and Astellas to lower the price of their prostate cancer drug Xtandi using its “march-in” authority, according to a letter the agency sent to the petitioners on Tuesday. March-in rights, which have never been used before, allow the federal government to forcibly relicense a patent that resulted from any amount of federal funding if an original patent holder does not make the product available to the public on reasonable terms. According to the letter, NIH declined the petition because Xtandi is already widely available, and the agency also noted that a lengthy administrative process and remaining patent life would render authorization of march-in right an ineffective means of lowering the drug’s cost. The same day, the federal government also announced an interagency effort to review the criteria used for determining march-in rights.

Administration Proposes Major Changes to Organ Transplantation System

On Wednesday, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced a new initiative to break up the private nonprofit overseeing the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) by seeking more contracts to operate the system.  In a statement, HRSA said the move is intended to bring more accountability and transparency to the OPTN.  The announcement follows years of bipartisan scrutiny of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which holds the sole federal contract to oversee the country’s organ procurement organizations and transplant centers.  HRSA also called on Congress to more than double annual program funding to $67 million, remove the appropriations cap on OPTN contracts, and expand the scope of eligible contractors.

Biden Signs Bill to Release DOE’s COVID-19 Origin Report

President Joe Biden signed legislation earlier this week to require the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify information within 90 days on any possible links between a lab in China and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, US intelligence agencies will still retain the right to redact information to protect sources and methods. The push to enact legislation to release classified information on the origins of the pandemic comes after the Energy Department concluded with “low confidence” that the virus is likely the result of an accidental laboratory leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Of note, the US intelligence community is split about the origin of COVID-19.

FDA Panel Sends Mixed Message About Biogen’s ALS Drug 

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel voted against recommending full approval of Biogen’s experimental amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) drug for a rare and aggressive form of the disease.  However, the panel voted unanimously to support “conditional accelerated approval” of the drug since the data suggests the drug could be effective in reducing a protein that is associated with disease severity. Conditional accelerated approval allows for faster approval of drugs for serious conditions that fill an unmet medical need. The agency will make a final decision on the drug by April 25th.

North Carolina Poised to Expand Medicaid 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) is expected to sign legislation to expand Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of residents into law in the coming days after state lawmakers gave the legislation final approval on Thursday.  This makes North Carolina the latest state with a Republican-controlled legislatures that has moved to expand Medicaid after years of opposition. Voters in South Dakota approved expansion in a referendum in November, and advocates in Alabama are urging state lawmakers to take advantage of federal incentives to expand Medicaid.  There are 2.9 million traditional Medicaid enrollees in North Carolina, and advocates have estimated that expansion could help 600,000 adults.

ICYMI: Potential Pay Cuts for Congressional Staff Sound Alarms

Historically underpaid staffers in the House of Representatives have been earning more since the passage of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 omnibus, which provided the largest increase to the Members Representational Allowance (MRA) since 1996 and set a minimum salary for staffers at $45,000.  However, an agreement among House Republican leaders to cut spending to FY 2022 could lead to cuts in the MRA and reverse progress in improving staffers’ pay.  Some advocates and staffers say higher pay is essential for reducing turnover on the Hill – especially among senior staff – and ensuring that congressional staff come from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

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