Yesterday, California federal district court judge Jesus G. Bernal on his own adjourned the the FDA’s trial against Cell Surgical Network (“CSN”) and their owners Mark Berman and Elliot Lander. The parties were ordered to meet and confer about a new trial date to take place after November, 2020. The trial had been scheduled to commence on July 28th. Because of my deep interest in the case, I have been checking the Riverside Ca. Covid-19 numbers and once the numbers started to rise, and based on what has been happening in California in general (which is another area of interest and which I write about), I was pretty sure the the judge would have to knock the case off the docket. This is too big and too important to do via Zoom, and the judge really had no choice. Too bad, as this is for sure the most important stem cell case in the country right now, and in general, and for reasons having to do with my stem cell work, I was really hoping to get some clarity, or more specifically, another ruling similiar to the judge’s seminal summary judgement decision.
For my own needs, I have recently reviewed some of the pre-trial filings in the case, and in particular the proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law filed by the parties. (Findings of fact and conclusions of law are the main documents filed in a bench trial. In a jury trial, the parties would file proposed jury instructions. But in a bench trial, the findings of fact and conclusions of law are what the parties expect to show fact wise, and what they argue how the law applies to the facts, and of course, present the proposed outcome. In case you were wondering, there is no federal (7th Amendment) right to a jury trial in cases in which the relief is equitable, like injunctions and declaratory judgments).
CSN’s findings and conclusions, prepared by Venerable’s LA office’s team headed by Celeste Brecht are about the best I have ever seen in an FDA case (or maybe in any case). They clearly lay out CSN’s position in the case. If you want to understand exactly what the defendants did and why they think all of it is legal, and how the FDA improperly used industry guidance procedures to substantively change the law without going through the proper and required procedure, then read this document. (I know I am being alittle redundant, but I just love saying how the government acted improperly; it’s a defense lawyer’s thing, and spoiler alert, I’m not done yet!) Here it is.
This document also cogently and succinctly lays out the evolution of the same day surgical procedure exception, from whence MSC/SVF procedures were considered 21 CFR 1271.15 EXEMPT, to the FDA’s illegal transformation of the procedure and a person’s body part into an illegal, unapproved, adulterated and misbranded drug.
In all my years doing this law thing, this one action, (and did I mention that it was illegal and improper?) is the single stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Your body part removed and reimplanted during the same surgical procedure is a drug! In my opinion, this is perhaps the most extreme case of over regulation and lack of common sense that I have ever seen in the field.
For a long time, I thought the FDA would get away with its improper transformation, and that this case would reach a similiar result as the US Stem Cell case in Florida, because of the deference federal courts are required to give federal agencies like the FDA when it interprets its own regulations. However, in 2019, (after a few Justices gave some heart warming hints), the Supreme Court came out with a couple decisions which limit deference to laws and regulations which were ambiguous. This might well prove to be the death-knell of the FDA’s decade plus effort to (improperly) rewrite the the same day surgical exception.
So getting back to Venerable’s findings of fact and their succinct history of the FDA’s regulation of this issue, here it is:
“Regulatory History of the SSP Exception
6. Until 1997, the FDA exerted little to no control over human cellular and tissue-based products.
7. In 1997, the FDA introduced Guidance providing that:
the agency would not assert any regulatory control over cells or tissues that are removed from a patient and transplanted back into that patient during a single surgical procedure. The communicable disease risks, as well as the safety and effectiveness risks, would generally be no different than those typically associated with surgery.
(Ex. 88 (emphasis added).)
8. In 2001, the FDA then promulgated the Same Surgical Procedure Exception (“SSP Exception”) based on the 1997 Guidance.
9. The SSP Exception exempts from any FDA regulation:
[A]n establishment that removes HCT/P’s from an individual and implants such HCT/P’s into the same individual during the same surgical procedure.
21 C.F.R. § 1271.15(b).
10. The FDA has not amended the SSP Exception since its promulgation.
11. HCT/Ps are defined as “articles containing or consisting of human cells or tissue that are intended for implantation, transplantation, infusion, or transfer into a human recipient.” 21 C.F.R. § 1271.15(b).
12. In 2014, the FDA released a draft guidance that sought to create ambiguity in the SSP Exception. (Ex. 89.)
13. The draft guidance proposed substantive changes that interpret the SSP Exception to exclude surgical procedures that would otherwise qualify for exemption by requiring that the patient’s transplanted HCT/P be implanted in its
“original form,” which is very narrowly defined and otherwise limits the types of surgical procedures that would fall within the SSP Exception. (Id.)
14. The “original form” language is not included anywhere in the regulation, see 21 C.F.R. § 1271.15(b). Instead, the SSP Exception unambiguously states that a tissue or human cell is not a drug if it is removed from an individual and then re-implanted in the same individual.
15. The FDA adopted the draft guidance, which was improperly signed by Ana Abrams, in December 2017. (Ex. 87.)”
Ahh, this is music to my ears and will be to many in the stem cell field (on this side of the fence anyway). Only thing that’s needed is the judge’s signature. But alas, that can’t/won’t happen until sometime after November. We’ll all have to stay tuned until then.
Rick Jaffe, Esq.