“I really enjoy uncovering the mysteries of law, the puzzles, why a case or law is the way it is, what makes it all work or not work.”
Professor Sachs Finds Her Focus at the Intersection of Law, Innovation, and Health Care
A scholar of innovation and health care policy, Associate Professor Rachel Sachs’ work is at the heart of a field that is constantly evolving as regulators grapple with emerging technologies and new treatment options.
Her research explores the dynamic interaction of intellectual property, food and drug regulation, health law, and ethics—all with the goal of finding better solutions for patients. Her cutting-edge analysis also examines the problems of innovation and access, including the ways the law helps or hinders these problems.
Sachs’ insightful scholarship has appeared in law journals that include the Harvard Law Review, University of California-Davis Law Review, the Yale Journal of Law & Technology, the peer-reviewed Journal of Law and the Biosciences, and medical journals, including the Annals of Internal Medicine. Her most recent law review article, “Prizing Insurance: Prescription Drug Insurance as Innovation Incentive,” is forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology.
“A problem perennially facing scholars of both intellectual property and health law is the need to incentivize appropriately the development of new pharmaceuticals,” she writes. “Although physicians have an arsenal of drugs to treat conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol, they lack effective treatments for some of the diseases that are most devastating to our healthcare system.”
Sachs observes that these diseases disproportionately affect the poor, and proposes a solution that would realign the Medicaid prescription drug rebate system to encourage drug innovation that would specifically address diseases prevalent among low-income populations.
Sachs is passionate about addressing these issues from public policy and interdisciplinary perspectives, and relishes the dialogue this creates among colleagues with diverse backgrounds. “I’m lucky to be working in a field with professionals who like to gather and talk about their work,” she says. “One of the great virtues of studying law is that you learn to appreciate both sides of an issue. I try to take a middle ground, so of course I get criticized by both sides, but I also try to offer an unbiased viewpoint and guidance.”
All of this is quite different from Sachs’ original career intentions. When she enrolled at Princeton University, she envisioned becoming a scientist. Sachs soon discovered, however, that the policies surrounding science and health care fascinated her more so than the time she spent in wet labs and conducting computational research in neuroscience.
To that end, she convinced the faculty and administration at Princeton to allow her to create a specialized major in “Bioethics.” Her thesis, “Research Involving Human Biological Materials: Legal and Ethical Issues,” was the ideal culmination of her undergraduate studies.
From there, she decided to pursue graduate school, combining her passions for science, health, and public policy. “I wanted a career that explored how laws affect our understanding of science of and issues involving health,” she recalls. Her Master of Public Health and JD from Harvard University proved the perfect combination.
After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, Sachs’ professional path was effectively launched through a clerkship with Judge Richard Allen Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A leading figure in the field of law and economics and a prolific author, Judge Posner was identified by The Journal of Legal Studies as the most cited legal scholar of the 20th century.
“Judge Posner has a reputation for turning out clerks who become academics,” Sachs says. “And so it was with me. I really enjoy uncovering the mysteries of law, the puzzles, why a case or law is the way it is, what makes it all work or not work.”
After her clerkship, Sachs served as an academic fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics and as a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School. In 2016, she was invited to join the faculty of Washington University School of Law, where she is already finding her niche.
“My colleagues are unmatched here at the law school,” Sachs says. “Dean Staudt is certainly one of the most dynamic deans I have had the pleasure of meeting. But it is her clear vision for the future of the law school and her emphasis on nurturing the faculty, staff, and students here that really compels me.
“Another one of the beauties of teaching at Washington University is the opportunity I have to collaborate with professionals in different disciplines and schools, including the schools of Social Work and Medicine,” she says. “The emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration is supported and encouraged here, and I love that.”
Sachs brings an equally high level of enthusiasm into the classroom, where she is teaching Property and a seminar in Innovation in Pharmaceutical Technologies this academic year.
“Without a doubt, the most important thing I do professionally is teach my students, for they are future of the legal profession,” she observes. “To watch them ‘get it’ is so rewarding, and the energy that generates in the classroom is amazing. My students come from many different disciplines and backgrounds, which allows them to bring many different experiences to the table. I learn so much from them every day; as much as they learn from me.”
Sachs’ advice to her students? “Explore the many options available to you. Try new things. You may think you know what you want to study and the area of law you’d like to practice, but there are so many choices out there. Be open to changing your mind. You never know where that one random class, club, or chance meeting may lead you. Say ‘yes.’”