The deal will enable Crosscope’s digital pathology platform to layer around Clarapath’s histology automation hardware, a combination that could improve quality and efficiencies in diagnostic services for future customers, according to a Clarapath press release.
Clarapath’s goal with its products is to automate certain manual processes in histology laboratories, while at the same time reducing variability in how specimens are processed and produced into glass slides. In an exclusive interview with Dark Daily, Eric Feinstein, CEO and President at Clarapath said he believes the resulting data about these activities can drive further changes.
“A histotechnologist turns a microtome wheel and makes decisions about a piece of tissue in real time,” noted Feinstein, who will speak at the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management on April 25-26 in New Orleans. “All of that real-time data isn’t captured. Imagine if we could take all of that data from thousands of histotechnologists who are cutting every day and aggregate it. Then you could start drawing definitive conclusions about best practices.”
“Clarapath’s foundation is about creating consistency and standardizing steps in histology—and uncovering the data that you need in order to accomplish those goals as a whole system,” Eric Feinstein (above), CEO and President at Clarapath told Dark Daily. “A histology lab’s workflow—from when the tissue comes in to when the glass slide is produced—should all be connected.” Many processes in histology and anatomic pathology continue to be manual. Automated solutions can contribute to improved productivity and reducing variability in how individual specimens are processed. (Photo copyright: Clarapath.)
Details Behind Clarapath’s Deal to Acquire Crosscope
As part of its acquisition, Clarapath of Hawthorne, New York, has retained all of Crosscope’s employees, who are located in Mountain View, California, and Bombay, India. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Clarapath’s flagship histology automation product is SectionStar, a tissue sectioning and transfer system designed to automate inefficient and manual activities in slide processing. The device offers faster and more efficient sample processing while reducing human involvement. Clarapath expects SectionStar be on the market in 2023. The company is currently taking pre-orders.
Meanwhile, Crosscope developed Crosscope Dx, a turnkey digital pathology solution that provides workflow tools and slide management as well as AI and machine learning to assist pathologists with their medical decision-making and diagnoses.
Adoption of Digital Pathology and Automation Can Be Challenging
Digital pathology has experienced growing popularity in the post-COVID-19 pandemic world. This is not only because remote pathology case reviews have become increasingly acceptable to physicians but also because of the ongoing shortages in clinical laboratory staffing.
“A pain point today for clinicians and laboratories is labor. That’s across the board,” Feinstein said. “We can help solve that with SectionStar.”
Feinstein does not believe adoption of digital pathology and histology automation is proceeding slowly, but he does acknowledge barriers to healthcare organizations installing the technologies.
“There are lots of little things that—from a workflow perspective—people have outsized expectations about,” he explained. “Clinicians and administrators are not used to innovating in a product sense. They may be innovating on how they deliver care or treatment pathways, but they’re not used to developing an engineering product and going through alpha and beta stages. That makes adopting new technology challenging.”
Medical laboratory managers and pathologists interested in pursuing histology automation and digital pathology should first determine what processes are sub-optimal or would benefit from the standardization hardware and software can offer. Being able to articulate those gains can help build the case for a return on investment to decision-makers.
Another resource to consider: Feinstein will speak about innovations for remote histology laboratory workers at the upcoming Executive War College for Clinical Laboratory, Diagnostics, and Pathology Management on April 25-26 in New Orleans. His session is titled, “Re-engineering the Classic Histology Laboratory: Enabling the Remote Histotechnologist with New Tools That Improve Productivity, Automate Processes, and Protect Quality.”
But even though the College of American Pathologists (CAP) and nine other organizations signed a December 12 stakeholder letter to leaders of key House and Senate committees urging passage of legislation that would enable some regulation of LDTs, the VALID Act was ultimately omitted from the year-end omnibus spending bill (H.R. 2617).
That may be due to pressure from organizations representing clinical laboratories and pathologists which lobbied hard against the bill.
Responding to criticism of its stance on FDA oversight of LDTs, in a May 2022 open letter posted on the organization’s website, anatomic pathologist and CAP president Emily Volk, MD, said “we at the CAP have an honest difference of opinion with some other respected laboratory organizations. … We believe the VALID Act is the only viable piece of legislation addressing the LDT issue. … the VALID Act contains many provisions that are similar to policy the CAP has advocated for regarding the regulation of laboratory tests since 2009. Importantly, the current version includes explicit protections for pathologists and our ability to practice medicine without infringement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” (Photo copyright: College of American Pathologists.)
Organizations on Both Sides Brought Pressure to Bear on Legislators
The AAMC and AMP were especially influential, Bucshon told ProPublica. In addition to spending hefty sums on lobbying, AMP urged its members to contact legislators directly and provided talking points, ProPublica reported.
“The academic medical centers and big medical centers are in every state,” Bucshon said. As major employers in many locales, they have “a pretty big voice,” he added.
Discussing CAP’s reasoning behind its support of the VALID Act in a May 26 open letter and podcast, CAP president Emily Volk, MD, said the Valid Act “creates a risk-based system of oversight utilizing three tiers—low, moderate and high risk—in order to target the attention of the FDA oversight.”
While acknowledging that it had room for improvement, she lauded the bill’s three-tier risk-based system, in which tests deemed to have the greatest risks would receive the highest level of scrutiny.
She also noted that the bill exempts existing LDTs from an FDA premarket review “unless there is a safety concern for patients.” It would also exempt “low-volume tests, modified tests, manual interpretation tests, and humanitarian tests,” she wrote.
In addition, the bill would “direct the FDA not to create regulations that are duplicative of regulation under CLIA,” she noted, and “would require the FDA to conduct public hearings on LDT oversight.”
Pros and Cons of the VALID Act
One concern raised by opponents relates to how the VALID Act addressed user fees paid by clinical laboratories to fund FDA compliance activities. But Volk wrote that any specific fees “would need to be approved by Congress in a future FDA user fee authorization bill after years of public input.”
During the May 2022 podcast, Volk also cast CAP’s support as a matter of recognizing political realities.
“We understand that support for FDA oversight of laboratory-developed tests or IVCTs is present on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress,” she said. “In fact, it enjoys wide support among very influential patient advocacy groups.” These groups “are very sophisticated in their understanding of the issues with laboratory-developed tests, and they do have the ear of Congress. There are many in the laboratory community that believe the VALID Act goes too far, but I can tell you that many of these patient groups don’t believe it goes far enough and are actively pushing for even more restrictive paradigms.”
Also urging passage of the bill were former FDA commissioners Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Mark B. McClellan, MD, PhD. In a Dec. 5 opinion piece for STAT, they noted that “diagnostic technologies have undergone considerable advances in recent decades, owing to innovation in fields like genomics, proteomics, and data science.” However, they wrote, laws governing FDA oversight “have not kept pace,” placing the agency in a position of regulating tests based on where they are made—in a medical laboratory or by a manufacturer—instead of their “distinctive complexity or potential risks.”
In their May 22 letter, opponents of the legislation outlined broad areas of concern. They contended that it would create “an onerous and complex system that would radically alter the way that laboratory testing is regulated to the detriment of patient care.” And even though existing tests would be largely exempted from oversight, “the utility of these tests would diminish over time as the VALID Act puts overly restrictive constraints on how they can be modified.”
CLIA Regulation of LDTs also Under Scrutiny
The provision to avoid duplication with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) program—which currently has some regulatory oversight of LDTs and IVCTs—is “insufficient,” opponents added, “especially when other aspects of the legislation call for requirements and activities that lead to duplicative and unnecessary regulatory burden.”
Opponents to the VALID Act also argued that the definitions of high-, medium-, and low-risk test categories lacked clarity, stating that “the newly created definition of moderate risk appears to overlap with the definition of high risk.”
The opponents also took issue with the degree of discretion that the bill grants to the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. This will create “an unpredictable regulatory process and ambiguities in the significance of the policy,” they wrote, while urging the Senate committee to “narrow the discretion so that stakeholders may better evaluate and understand the implications of this legislation.”
Decades ago, clinical laboratory researchers were allowed to develop assays in tandem with clinicians that were intended to provide accurate diagnoses, earlier detection of disease, and help guide selection of therapies. Since the 1990s, however, an industry of investor-funded laboratory companies have brought proprietary LDTs to the national market. Many recognize that this falls outside the government’s original intent for encouragement of laboratory-developed tests to begin with.
Company also launches Amazon Clinic virtual healthcare services and announces it will terminate Amazon Care by end of year
Clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists may understandably struggle to keep abreast of Amazon’s moves in the healthcare space. For years, Amazon has tried to develop medical services that disrupt the US healthcare industry in the same way its digital book business upended traditional book publishing. It is clear that Amazon is heavily investing in healthcare ventures that deliver what it believes are better alternatives to existing primary care, clinical laboratory, and retail pharmacy options.
Now, the Seattle-based global e-commerce company has announced plans to acquire One Medical, a membership-based primary care organization, for $3.9 billion according to a news release.
Headquartered in San Francisco, One Medical has primary care offices in 12 major US markets and offers its members 24/7 virtual care, according to the company’s website.
“We think healthcare is high on the list of experiences that need reinvention,” said Neil Lindsay (above), SVP of Amazon Health Services, in a news release announcing the planned acquisition of One Medical. “We love inventing to make what should be easy easier, and we want to be one of the companies that helps dramatically improve the healthcare experience over the next several years,” he added. However, clinical laboratory leaders have watched Amazon’s efforts to disrupt healthcare come and go. (Photo copyright: Advertising Age/Daniel Berman.)
As One Medical Grows, Amazon Launches Virtual Care Clinic
“One Medical’s philosophy is rooted in quality care, patient-centered design, and a smart application of technology,” Greg Hayes, MD, District Medical Director for One Medical, Preston Center, Dallas, told Texas News.
For its part, One Medical, which currently has more than 125 clinic locations, sees opportunity to grow its services as part of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). “Joining Amazon is a tremendous next step in innovating and expanding access to high-quality, high-value healthcare,” said Amir Dan Rubin, One Medical Chief Executive Officer, in a blog post.
One Medical (NASDAQ:ONEM) is the operating name for 1Life Healthcare, Inc., a chain of primary care clinics that has 815,000 members, a 14% increase over last year. According to a news release on the company’s third quarter 2022 financial results, its revenue was $261.4 million, up 73% over the same period last year. More than 8,000 companies and organizations work with One Medical, the company’s website notes.
Meanwhile, Amazon is also launching Amazon Clinic, a virtual health service “that delivers convenient, affordable care for common conditions” to people in 32 states, an Amazon news release states.
Amazon Clinic offers virtual care services for 20 common conditions including allergies, acne, migraines, and urinary tract infections. Patients complete a questionnaire through a message-based portal prior to meeting with clinicians.
Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will want to note that Amazon Clinic will need medical laboratory testing performed to properly diagnose patients and determine the best treatments. Since Amazon Clinic will be a virtual care service, Amazon can be expected to explore such options as sending collection kits directly to individuals using the virtual care service, allowing them to collect needed samples that can be returned to traditional clinical laboratories for testing. Amazon’s existing courier and delivery service would make it easy for the internet giant to deliver either specimen collection kits or home-test kits to obtain the necessary diagnostic data.
“Amazon Pharmacy and One Medical (once the deal closes) are two key ways we’re working to make care more convenient and accessible. But we also know that sometimes you just need a quick interaction with a clinician for a common health concern. … That’s why today were also introducing Amazon Clinic, a message-based virtual care service,” Amazon said in its news release.
What’s Next for Amazon?
Separately, Amazon announced it will terminate Amazon Care at the end of 2022. Amazon Care is a virtual and in-home care service it launched in 2019.
However, in a 2022 internal email, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services Neil Lindsay said Amazon Care wasn’t a sustainable, long-term solution for its enterprise customers, according to Fierce Healthcare.
“This decision wasn’t made lightly and only became clear after many months of careful consideration,” he said. “Although our enrolled members have loved many aspects of Amazon Care, it is not a complete enough offering for the large enterprise customers we have been targeting and wasn’t going to work long-term.”
Will Amazon Provide Clinical Laboratory Services?
Now that Amazon is set with primary care, pharmacy, and virtual health services, might it next explore medical laboratory testing or other diagnostics relationships?
But this apparently has not slowed Amazon’s drive to gain a foothold in the primary care and virtual health services market. Therefore, clinical laboratory leaders should advance their outreach to healthcare providers who are caring for Amazon employees, customers, and soon patients, in new ways and offer their lab services.
The Department of Justice steps beyond the law’s original focus on opioid-related lab testing fraud
An interesting aspect with enforcement of the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (EKRA) is the government’s willingness to go after charges tied to fraudulent COVID-19 testing.
The case U.S. vs. Malena Badon Lepetich provides a good example of this approach. A grand jury indicted Lepetich on various healthcare fraud charges last year, including that she allegedly offered to pay kickbacks for referrals of specimens for COVID-19 testing.
“The government had really only used EKRA in the context of addiction treatment space,” attorney Alexander Porter, a Partner at law firm Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles, said in the latest issue of The Dark Report. “The Lepetich case shows that the government’s going to use EKRA beyond that context and go into other areas where they think that it can be useful—in particular, in the area of COVID-19 testing.”
Clinical laboratories and pathology groups should take note of this development.
Defendant Allegedly Filed $10 Million in Fraudulent Lab Claims
Lepetich was the owner of MedLogic, a clinical laboratory in Baton Rouge, La.
In addition to the fraudulent COVID-19 testing charges, she allegedly solicited and received kickbacks in exchange for referrals of urine specimens for medically unnecessary tests, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
EKRA Provisions Rose from the Opioid Crisis in the U.S.
EKRA is a criminal law that falls under the Communities and Patients Act, which lifted restrictions on medications for opioid treatment and sought to limit overprescribing of opioid painkillers. Originally, EKRA targeted fraudulent practices at sober homes and substance abuse treatment centers. However, the final draft of the bill added clinical laboratories to the list of providers under potential scrutiny.
At the time Congress passed EKRA, the law was primarily aimed at fraudulent activity in opioid treatment centers, including related lab testing.
A contentious part of EKRA for clinical laboratories and pathology groups is that certain conduct protected under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute is treated as a criminal offense under EKRA. Some common lab practices come under that confusing designation, such as paying lab sales reps on a commission-based formula based on testing volumes they generate.
In an out-of-court settlement, two commercial clinical laboratory companies also agreed to reduce their prices for rapid antigen tests as well
How clinical laboratory companies were pricing their COVID-19 tests caught the attention of government authorities in South Africa. Government agencies in that country are establishing what they view as fair clinical laboratory pricing for private COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and rapid antigen tests without turning to litigation or fines.
The Competition Commission (Commission) is an organization charged with reviewing and acting on business practices in South Africa. In a December 11, 2021, news release, the Commission said it had reached a “ground-breaking agreement” with two private laboratories—Ampath and Lancet—to reduce their COVID-19 PCR test prices from 850 South African rand (R850) to R500 (from US$54.43 to US$31.97).
As of December 12, a third private laboratory company that also had been investigated, PathCare, had not agreed to the court settlement, Daily Maverick reported.
Also effective are lower prices for rapid antigen tests, the Commission said in a separate December 23 news release.
COVID Test Prices ‘Unfairly Inflated’
The changes in PCR test prices in South Africa followed a formal complaint by the Council for Medical Schemes which alleged the private pathology labs [the term for clinical laboratories in South Africa] were “supplying” COVID-19 PCR tests at “unfairly inflated, exorbitant, and/or unjustifiable” prices, Daily Maverick reported.
According to the Daily Maverick, as part of the investigation, which began in October 2021, the Commission asked the private clinical laboratory companies for financial statements and costs of COVID-19 testing.
“We did, then, further interrogation in order to strip out what we saw was potentially padding the costing and unrelated costs. And on the basis of that, we came to the figure of R500,” James Hodge, told the Daily Maverick. Hodge is Chief Economist, Economic Research Bureau, and Acting Deputy Commissioner at the Competition Commission South Africa.
For its part, Lancet, Johannesburg, said in a statement that it “Appreciates the spirit of constructive engagement with the Commission which has resulted in an outcome that best serves the people of South Africa as they confront the fourth COVID wave. We are sensitive to the plight of the public and agree that reducing the COVID-19 PCR price is in best national interest.”
Clinical Laboratory Test Prices: Market Dynamics
So, were the prices too high? In the US, clinical laboratories are reimbursed considerably more by Medicare for COVID-19 testing (about $100), as compared to the South Africa private clinical lab prices.
After another Commission review, PathCare, Lancet, and Ampath agreed to reduce prices for rapid antigen tests to a maximum of R150 or $9.74 (from a range of R250 to R350 or $16.28 to $22.79), a news release noted.
“The reduction of COVID-19 rapid antigen test prices will help alleviate the plight of consumers and widen accessibility and affordability of COVID-19 rapid antigen testing, which is a critical part of the initiatives to avoid escalation of the pandemic,” said Bonakele in the news release, which also stated that the Commission would receive financial statements from the three labs every few months.
The Commission also is reviewing a “large retail pharmacy chain’s” rapid antigen prices, which “follows a complaint lodged by the Department of Health (DOH), on December 14 2021, against service providers delivering COVID-19 Rapid Antigen tests in South Africa to consumers,” Cape Town Etc reported. The specific pharmacy chain was not identified.
Data Show COVID Plight in South Africa
More than 21.6 million COVID-19 tests have been offered by healthcare providers in South Africa, and 3.5 million cases were detected, according to the Department of Health, Republic of South Africa.
Considering those data, one wonders if the South African government acted fast enough on test pricing.
For medical laboratory leaders, it’s important to recognize that not only are lab services in the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic, business practices and prices also are being monitored by officials in this country.
WSJ reporter affirms that the pathologist was his “first and most important source” in confirming the problems at the now-defunct medical lab testing company
During the federal fraud trial of Theranos Founder and former-CEO Elizabeth Holmes, no one has spent more days on the witness stand than ex-Theranos Laboratory Director Adam Rosendorff, MD, the pathologist who testified for the prosecution that he repeatedly warned Holmes about problems with Theranos’ flawed Edison blood-testing device.
Dark Daily’s previous ebrief on the ongoing Holmes’ fraud trial reported that Rosendorff, who is board certified in clinical pathology, had testified, “I told her that the potassium was unreliable, the sodium was unreliable, the glucose was unreliable, [and] explained why. She was very nervous. She was not her usual composed self. She was trembling a bit, her knee was tapping, her voice was breaking up. She was clearly upset.”
It should come as no surprise that in response Holmes’ lawyers attempted to paint Rosendorff as an “incompetent” lab director with a resume littered with failures at other biotech companies. According to court documents, Holmes faces 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly misleading investors, clinical laboratories, patients, and healthcare providers about Theranos’ proprietary blood-testing technology.
Carreyrou Declares Ex-Theranos Lab Director Adam Rosendorff a Hero
“So, I’ve been fielding queries from reporters asking me to confirm that former Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff, who is currently testifying at Elizabeth Holmes’ trial, was my source. I can now confirm it. Alan Beam = Adam Rosendorff,” Carreyrou tweeted.
“I’ll add this: Adam was my first and most important source. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to break the Theranos story. Hats off to his courage and integrity. He’s one of the real heroes of this story,” Carreyrou added in a subsequent Tweet.
Inside the San Jose, Calif., courtroom, pathologist Rosendorff took centerstage, completing six days on the witness stand as Holmes’ defense attorney Lance Wade, JD, sought to undermine Rosendorff’s earlier testimony for the prosecution and question his competence as a laboratory leader.
Rosendorff Testifies About Another CMS Investigation at Lab Where He is Medical Director
Rosendorff acknowledged during cross examination that he risked losing his license as a lab director after the CMS inspectors uncovered testing deficiencies at PerkinElmer’s Valencia (California) Branch Laboratory as well, where Rosendorff currently serves as Laboratory and Medical Director.
According to the WSJ, Rosendorff testified that most of the CMS inspection involved reviewing documents. During cross examination, it was revealed that the same CMS inspectors who investigated Theranos also conducted the PerkinElmer lab investigation.
Defense attorneys also had hoped to question Rosendorff about his previous work at uBiome Inc., a startup that was the target of a 2019 federal probe into its lab test billing practices, CNBC reported.
The Mercury News reported that during an October 5 hearing to determine the extent to which Holmes’ legal team could cross examine Rosendorff about his past employment, Wade told US District Judge Edward Davila that Rosendorff had a failed record as a lab leader. The Holmes defense lawyer alleged a link between “unreliable test results” at the biotechnology company Rosendorff went to after leaving Theranos and claimed that Rosendorff’s work at PerkinElmer resulted in the CMS notice of “serious deficiencies” at the lab.
“[Rosendorff] pointed the finger at many other people, including my client,” Wade told Davila. “He appears to almost never have competently done his job. He was incompetent at Theranos, too, and that is the reason many of the failures happened. He’s the person who’s ultimately responsible in the laboratory,” he added.
Nevertheless, Judge Davila prohibited questions regarding Rosendorff’s employment at uBiome and limited the scope of questions about his current role at PerkinElmer.
Holmes’ Attorneys Challenge Rosendorff’s Testimony During Cross Examination
After leaving Theranos, Rosendorff’s LinkedIn profile shows he served as Laboratory Director at San Francisco-based Invitae from December 2014 to September 2017 before moving to Millennium Health in San Diego as Medical Director from December 2017 to January 2021. He joined PerkinElmer in January.
The WSJ reported that Rosendorff’s ties to uBiome showed up in Theranos court records.
The WSJ also noted that during the multiday cross examination of Rosendorff, the Holmes defense team scored points by “pointing to contradictions in his testimony and challenging his assertions that he wanted to expose Theranos’ testing practices to the government.”
In making his point, Wade read aloud from a deposition Rosendorff gave during a separate case in which he claimed that Theranos did not have a greater number of anomalous test results than other labs where he had previously worked.
“And that’s 180 degrees from what you answered in your direct testimony,” Wade said to Rosendorff during cross examination.
“Yes, it seems to be different,” Rosendorff replied, but also noted that Theranos should have fewer errors than a lab with a much higher volume of tests.
Wade also introduced a November 2014 email in which Rosendorff told a colleague he knew of only one time when Theranos provided to a patient an obviously incorrect test result. Rosendorff had previously testified that he alerted Holmes on numerous occasions about his concerns with ongoing testing errors.
Wade also questioned whether Rosendorff had a financial motive for considering a whistleblower lawsuit against Theranos, pointing out that Rosendorff would be entitled to a portion of any damages recovered. Rosendorff responded that he did not have a profit motive in mind when he forwarded more than 150 Theranos emails to his personal account.
Former WSJ Reporter Carreyrou May Be Called to Testify
Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will be fascinated with another twist that surfaced as this trial continued. Former WSJ reporter Carreyrou became personally intertwined with the Holmes’ trial after it came to light that the investigative reporter—whose podcast “Bad Blood: The Final Chapter” spotlights the ongoing fraud trial—is on Holmes’ potential witness list.
The motion, The Mercury News reported, states that “Placing Carreyrou on the witness list was done in bad faith and was designed to harass him,” and calls his placement on the list “a cynical ruse” that violates Carreyrou’s First Amendment rights.
CNN reported that Carreyrou’s attorneys are asking that the exclusion order (which prevents some witnesses from being inside the courtroom during other witness testimonies) or the gag order (which allows witnesses to discuss their testimonies only with their attorneys) not be applied to Carreyrou.
For clinical laboratory scientists awaiting the next installment in the now six-week-old trial, former Safeway CEO Steven Burd (now founder and CEO of Burd Health) will continue his testimony on the failed partnership between the grocery store chain and Theranos.
As part of that agreement, Safeway spent $350 million to remodel 800 of its grocery stores to have a patient service center (PCS) and laboratory space where the unproven Edison device would be used to perform the clinical laboratory tests.
The testimony in this next phase of trial about the Safeway agreement with Theranos, and Holmes’ role in convincing the Safeway executive team to invest a third of a billion dollars to build 800 PSCs and lab spaces in 800 stores, should be as interesting as the witness testimony given earlier in this trial.