Limiting mass tort/class action exposure is a key part of the role of in-house litigators. In the drug and device areas, limiting plaintiffs’ ability to take unfair advantage of clinical trials research is becoming a real focus. Issues include limiting liability due to alleged inadequate monitoring during trials, and preventing off-label and product liability claims associated with alleged under-reporting and over-reporting of data. Litigators need to offer their input on the company’s determination of the extent to which data from ongoing clinical trials will be distributed, helping the company to assess the liability risks of disclosing and failing to disclose clinical trial data related to off-label uses. A thorny legal issue is the degree to which the First Amendment is a viable defense, and in a complex regulatory world the company needs to understand and comply with state as well as federal disclosure obligations.
Ideally, the company will be developing a framework for deciphering where scientific exchange ends and drug promotion begins, as a guide to avoiding language in describing clinical trials that could be construed as promotional while still providing fair and balanced information on clinical trials involving their products. The most prudent may be developing a strategic, long-term plan to protect clinical trial information from turning into grist for the plaintiff ’s case (and outside counsel can help with that too). That program may include training employees to recognize the litigation potential arising from clinical trials; maintaining protocols as to the language and terms that will be used in clinical trial reports; and minimizing common liability risks arising from posting of data by establishing thorough review processes.
Into this complex situation the FDA has issued new guidance for drug, biologic, and medical device companies about retaining data from clinical trial participants who no longer are participating in the trial, according to a notice just published in the Federal Register (73 Fed. Reg. 72807). The guidance document on Data Retention When Subjects Withdraw from FDA-Regulated Clinical Trials states that data must be retained for participants who decide to discontinue participation in a clinical study of an investigational product, who are withdrawn by their legally authorized representative, or who were discontinued from participation by the clinical investigator.
FDA’s reasoning is that data resulting from these clinical investigations are used to support research applications and new product approvals; thus it is critical that it has a complete and accurate data set available. While it may be appropriate to remove data from various reported figures, based on the study protocols, FDA worries that if data were to be removed from the study database altogether, the FDA may miss something that may be relevant to their decision-making.
The agency said it issued this guidance for immediate implementation to prevent the potential loss of important clinical trial data. If comments are received on the guidance, FDA said it will review the comments and revise the guidance as appropriate.