Thursday, September 10, 2020

Defame And Fortune

As Michael Cassio laments in Othello, “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.”  William Shakespeare may have believed that, once lost, reputation may be lost for good.  However, the Supreme Court of Canada has reaffirmed that those who believe they have been defamed may have the right to be compensated and try restore their damaged reputations.

In Bent v. Platnick, the Supreme Court of Canada ("Court") dismissed an appeal opposing the rights of a physician to sue an attorney for defamation.  (Le jugement en français de la Cour suprême du Canada est ici.)  In its September 10, 2020, decision, the Court strengthened the legal right to defend one's reputation against negative allegations.  The Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:

B is a lawyer and partner at an Ontario law firm. She is a member and, at the relevant time, was the president‑elect of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (“OTLA”). The OTLA is an organization comprised of legal professionals who represent persons injured in motor vehicle accidents. P is a medical doctor who is typically hired through insurance companies to review other medical specialists’ assessments of persons injured in motor vehicle accidents and to prepare a final report with an ultimate assessment of the accident victim’s level of impairment. Following two insurance coverage disputes in which B was acting as counsel for an accident victim, B sent an email to a Listserv (i.e. an email listing) of approximately 670 OTLA members in which she made two statements that specifically mention P by name and allege that, in the context of those disputes, P “altered” doctors’ reports and “changed” a doctor’s decision as to the victim’s level of impairment. B’s email was eventually leaked anonymously by a member of the OTLA and as a result, an article was published in a magazine which reproduced B’s email in its entirety and referred to testimony from B.

P commenced a lawsuit in defamation against both B and her law firm, claiming damages in the amount of $16.3 million. B filed a motion under s. 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act (“CJA”) to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion judge allowed B’s motion and dismissed P’s defamation proceeding. The Court of Appeal set aside the motion judge’s determination, dismissed B’s motion, and remitted P’s defamation claim to the Superior Court for consideration.
The Court found that the attorney had met her burden because her "email constitutes an expression that relates to a matter of public interest and P’s defamation proceeding arises from that expression."  According to the Court, the burden then shifted to the physician "to show that there are grounds to believe that his defamation proceeding has substantial merit and that B has no valid defence to it".  Having "shown that there are grounds to believe that his defamation proceeding has substantial merit," the Court dismissed the attorney's appeal, allowing the physician to have his day in court.

Four Supreme Court Justices dissented.

The attorney in this dispute has pursued a very different path to that followed by basketball superstar, Charles Barkley, who once said, in response to a comment he found insulting, "My initial response was to sue her for defamation of character, but then I realized that I had no character."

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Vaccine The Light

On September 8, 2020, the chief executive officers of biopharmaceutical firms AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline plc, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Inc., Novavax, Inc., Pfizer Inc., and Sanofi, all of which are companies engaged in the search for a safe vaccine effective against SARS-CoV-2, signed onto the following pledge:

 We, the undersigned biopharmaceutical companies, want to make clear our on-going commitment to developing and testing potential vaccines for COVID-19 in accordance with high ethical standards and sound scientific principles.

The safety and efficacy of vaccines, including any potential vaccine for COVID-19, is reviewed and determined by expert regulatory agencies around the world, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA has established clear guidance for the development of COVID-19 vaccines and clear criteria for their potential authorization or approval in the US. FDA’s guidance and criteria are based on the scientific and medical principles necessary to clearly demonstrate the safety and efficacy of potential COVID-19 vaccines. More specifically, the agency requires that scientific evidence for regulatory approval must come from large, high quality clinical trials that are randomized and observer-blinded, with an expectation of appropriately designed studies with significant numbers of participants across diverse populations.

Following guidance from expert regulatory authorities such as FDA regarding the development of COVID-19 vaccines, consistent with existing standards and practices, and in the interest of public health, we pledge to:

  • Always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.
  • Continue to adhere to high scientific and ethical standards regarding the conduct of clinical trials and the rigor of manufacturing processes.
  • Only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.
  • Work to ensure a sufficient supply and range of vaccine options, including those suitable for global access.

We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved. 

How many other vaccine developers will join this pledge remains to be seen.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Revived And Restored

Its mission to "to enhance biodiversity through the genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species", Revive & Restore announced on September 6, 2020, that
The world’s first successfully cloned endangered Przewalski’s horse was born on August 6, 2020. Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine collaborated to clone from a cell line of a genetically important stallion that had been cryopreserved since 1980 at the SDZG Frozen Zoo. This groundbreaking achievement was conceived as a new strategy to help restore genetic diversity to the Przewalski’s horse species.
Here is a video of the foal clone:

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Caveat Editor

On September 3, 2020, the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing ("Commission") released its new report:  Heritable Human Genome Editing.  Here is a webinar from the Commission, explaining its findings and recommendations:

International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing from The National Academies on Vimeo.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Russian Vaccine

On September 4, 2020, in The Lancet, Lagunov et al. published a peer reviewed study entitled "Safety and immunogenicity of an rAd26 and rAd5 vector-based heterologous prime-boost COVID-19 vaccine in two formulations: two open, non-randomised phase 1/2 studies from Russia".  The article concludes,

these data collectively show that the heterologous vaccine based on rAd26-S and rAd5-S is safe, well tolerated, and does not cause serious adverse events in healthy adult volunteers. The vaccine is highly immunogenic and induces strong humoral and cellular immune responses in 100% of healthy adult volunteers, with antibody titres in vaccinated participants higher than those in convalescent plasma.

Though these results are based on limited sample sizes, Bloomberg greeted the news positively, with the headline "Russia’s Covid Vaccine Shows Potential in Peer Review, Lancet Reports".

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Nature Of The Firm

The journal Ecological Economics has published an article entitled "“Environment-selected directors”: An interactive simulation experiment of environmental representation on corporate boards" written by my colleagues and me. Here is the abstract:
In many legal frameworks, corporate directors are selected by shareholders.  Proposed legislature in the US seeks to enable employee representation on corporate boards as well.  Nevertheless, current approaches to corporate board selection could result in the systematic discounting of the needs of other, unrepresented stakeholder groups beyond shareholders and employees.  To investigate this issue, we envisioned a new kind of corporate director—the environment-selected director—to complement shareholder-selected and employee-selected directors.  We conducted an online simulation experiment where human participants were assigned to act as corporate directors, with some being told they were selected by shareholders, some by employees, and some via a “vote by a committee of scientists who study the local and global environment in question”.  Results found that participants assigned as environment-selected directors exhibited balanced preferences across stakeholder groups, behavior significantly different from both shareholder-selected directors and employee-selected directors.  Further results from 3000 “virtual boards of directors” suggest that boards composed solely of environment-selected directors produce more balanced benefits across all three stakeholder groups studied (shareholders, employees, and the environment) than other configurations of boards.  These results suggest that it may be useful for future legislation to consider including this novel form of director, the environment-selected director, on corporate boards.

Huge credit is due Professor Bill M. Tomlinson (University of California Irvine), who spearheaded this research project.  The full article is available for free here. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Boston Wheeze Party

In an August 25, 2020, preprint article by Lemieux et al. posted on Medrxiv, entitled "Phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in the Boston area highlights the role of recurrent importation and superspreading events", a collaborative group of scientists from the Broad Institute and other institutions analyzed 772 complete SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences to trace the early spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Boston, including possibly at a fateful conference attended by participants from around the worldAmong their findings, the authors
present here an analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomic epidemiology primarily in the Boston area, which was severely affected early in the US COVID-19 epidemic. Through dense sampling of the early phase of the epidemic we show the frequency of importation events—over 80 independent introductions—and the impact of early superspreading events in driving amplification and community transmission, likely accelerating the transition from containment to mitigation strategies.
This study provides direct evidence that superspreading events may profoundly alter the course of an epidemic and implies that prevention, detection, and mitigation of such events should be a priority for public health efforts.
Rapid sequencing of full genomes and powerful phylogenetic inference methods are proving themselves vital in our emerging understanding of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

From Kendall To Kure

 Today I watched a wonderful documentary, entitled From Controversy to Cure: Inside the Cambridge Biotech Boom, about the birth and growth of the biotechnology hotspot that has emerged in Kendall Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Here is the film:

FROM CONTROVERSY TO CURE - Inside the Cambridge Biotech Boom from MVP on Vimeo.