| Name: Chris White
|Job Title: Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel, AdvaMed
|Drinker Biddle practice and years: 1988 to 2001, Health Care
|Education: Brown University, A.B. 1998; New York University School of Law, J.D. 2000
|Hobbies, Family, Civic Activities: Attending his three daughters’ sailing competitions, cycling, beekeeping
Medical technology association gives AdvaMed’s Chris White worldview of tech and business innovation.
When Chris White arrived in Washington, DC, 31 years ago as an aspiring health care lawyer, the industry was blooming. Medicare was consuming a larger share of the federal budget, health business models expanded, and early work on health care reform was taking shape. Health care law was emerging as a specialty within the bar and the first health care groups such as the National Health Lawyers Association were formed.
“One attractive aspect of health care law that’s kept me in Washington is the ever evolving nature of the practice. Regulations and changes in the law are complex and change so frequently in the field that it level sets. New regulations, a key decision or a new law requires everyone to become a beginner again,” he said. “This brings everyone, even the deans of the health care bar, back to the same point and provides an opportunity to learn together. That dynamic and collaborative environment is something that I enjoy.”
Chris is Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel at AdvaMed, an international trade association that represents nearly 750 medical technology companies, including medical device and medical diagnostics manufacturers. Medical technology is a diverse, highly differentiated industry that crosses over with the biotech, digital and pharmaceutical industries and requires a sophisticated understanding of science and innovation. It’s a competitive, global industry, and innovation moves at a rapid pace. In the 11 years since he became the association’s first-ever general counsel, Chris has built up the group’s legal committee and working groups, now made up of over 750 in-house counsel from the companies that the association represents, and he plays an important role in industry policy and advocacy for medical technology before regulatory agencies, Congress and governmental entities abroad. He has also led international initiatives, such as industry codes of ethics to address FCPA and compliance issues through a self-regulatory approach.
Supporting innovation and patient access
Chris studied electron microscopy and cell biology as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, and after taking a class in the school of law, he got hooked on combining his intellectual passion for science and law. Chris went to The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, and shortly after graduation he joined Gardner, Carton & Douglas in Washington, DC, in 1988. As a young associate, he had the opportunity to work with multiple practice groups, including energy, communications, and health care and eventually rose to partner in the firm. Among his favorite memories of Drinker Biddle is the collegial environment and group collaboration that took place among lawyers. The health care lawyers used to meet in person monthly in Chicago.
“To convene all health lawyers in Chicago was a big investment of time but it was always worth it. We would all come away enlightened by practice group members’ experience on cutting edge issues and enriched by stronger connections with our colleagues,” he said. “That personal contact helped us build better teams to serve our clients’ complex needs. I believe some of those skills that we developed in those early interactions have [also] helped me better serve the clients whom I now serve.”
Among the highlights of his work with AdvaMed are drafting and advancing provisions of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act in the Affordable Care Act. The Sunshine Act provides patients with transparency into the relationships that health care providers have with life sciences manufacturers, such as pharmaceutical and medical technology companies. The original version of the law was overbroad and threatened to stifle med-tech innovation. Chris testified before the Senate Aging Committee and engaged to improve the law.
Although transparency is an important goal, Chris said it initially was punitive legislation that overlooked how medical innovation could be stifled. The final law doesn’t restrict industry–physician collaboration or interactions. Instead, it created a nationwide reporting system that requires parties to track and report certain categories of payments and other transfers of value.
Chris also has responsibility for management and governance issues at AdvaMed. He says the work that he did at the firm in the health care space, particularly experience in developing governance best practices and handling antitrust risk for extremely complicated corporate organizations helped to shape his development of policies and training at the Association today.
Developing industry codes of ethics
Chris is also proud of is his work with international groups on developing codes of ethics for medical technology companies. The medical device industry has many small companies and entrepreneurs who often develop new technologies that quickly gain traction in emerging markets such as Colombia, Brazil, and China before there is a commercial or sales infrastructure in those countries. Small companies may not have the robust compliance, distribution, or internal procedures and capacity in place to manage risks in an emerging market. A chief concern is anticorruption, he said, and in some countries gift-giving is culturally tied to business transactions, which is against the industry’s code of ethics in Western countries.
“When med tech companies were entering these markets and were challenged by expectations of gifts, kickbacks or other unethical payments, it presented a real challenge for the companies and ultimately impeded patient access to the most advanced and appropriate medical technologies,” he said.
Chris worked with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Group (APEC) to form a public–private partnership with the region’s leading trade, health, and finance ministers to develop a voluntary, region-wide code of ethics. This common set of ethical standards are now known as the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Principles. It harmonized the legal environment, which makes it more receptive and easier for US businesses to navigate and facilitated the transfer of scientific knowledge and collaboration, he said, which ultimately benefits patient access to medical technology.
Looking ahead, Chris notes how device manufacturers are becoming more instrumental in the delivery of care and patient outcomes. Beyond innovating, designing and manufacturing lifesaving products, the medical device companies increasingly provide integrated solutions to clinical conditions and clinical needs in a community.
“That’s transformative,” he said. “I began my career as a health lawyer when manufacturers were considered vendors, and the system is evolving to a point where manufacturers may look more like integrated providers; I’ve been working with companies to better understand the legal environment that would foster and facilitate the growth of that business model because … we in this industry think we can provide a solution to many of the world’s greatest health care challenges and problems.”