A Blueprint for Helping Children with Rare Diseases

Editor’s Note: This blog has been updated to provide additional information about our use of expedited programs to speed rare disease medical product development.

By Jill Hartzler Warner, J.D.

Jill WarnerThe U.S. Congress and the Food and Drug Administration have long focused on bringing new therapies to patients with rare diseases, including children.

Two years ago this week, Congress made another contribution to this effort by enacting the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA). The law directs our agency to take two actions to further the development of new therapies for children affected by rare diseases: (1) to hold a meeting with stakeholders and discuss ways to encourage and accelerate the development of new therapies for pediatric rare diseases, and (2) issue a report that includes a strategic plan for achieving this goal.

There are unique challenges when developing drugs, biological products and medical devices for the pediatric population. Not only is there the potential for children to respond differently to products as they grow but there are also additional ethical concerns for this patient population.

But these challenges are further compounded when developing therapies for pediatric rare diseases. For example, rare disease product development, by definition, means there is only a small potential group of patients available to participate in clinical studies that can help determine whether a product is safe and effective.

In our FDASIA meeting in January, we heard a variety of suggestions on clinical trial design and data collection from hundreds of the participating stakeholders from academia; clinical and treating communities; patient and advocacy groups; industry and governmental agencies.

These discussions helped inform our Strategic Plan for Accelerating the Development of Therapies for Pediatric Rare Diseases, which we posted on our website today. It outlines how we plan to meet the following four objectives:

Enhance foundational and translational science. Our strategy is to fill essential information gaps through such measures as fostering the conduct of natural history studies for pediatric rare diseases and by identifying unmet pediatric needs in medical device development. We also plan to issue guidance for sponsors on common issues in rare disease drug development and to refine and expand the use of computational modeling for medical devices.

Strengthen communication, collaboration, and partnering. Robust cooperation within FDA, among agencies, governments and private entities is necessary to enable the exchange of information on the issues of developing treatments for pediatric rare diseases. Single entities by themselves usually don’t have sufficient resources or expertise to overcome the product development challenges posed by pediatric rare diseases.

Advance the use of regulatory science to aid clinical trial design and performance.  Regulatory science helps develop new tools, standards, and approaches to assess the safety, efficacy, quality, and performance of all FDA-regulated products. Of note, we plan to facilitate better understanding of biomarkers and clinical outcome assessments that are useful for the development of treatments for pediatric rare diseases. We also plan to further develop the expedited approval pathway for medical devices intended to treat unmet medical needs; and use FDA’s web-based resources to update and expand awareness of issues involving the development of medical products for pediatric rare diseases.

Enhance FDA’s review process. Our strategies include fostering efforts to learn patients’ and caregivers’ perspectives and incorporating this information into medical product development. We also plan to further develop and implement a structured approach to benefit-risk assessment in the drug review process and establish a patient engagement panel as part of the medical device advisory committee process.

The report notes our use of expedited programs to speed rare disease medical product development. For example, the accelerated approval program allows for approval of products to treat serious and life-threatening diseases based on an effect on a surrogate marker, such as blood test, urine marker, or an intermediate clinical endpoint, that is believed to be reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit to the patient. Under accelerated approval, further studies are required after approval to confirm that the drug provides a clinical benefit to the patient.

More than 80 new products have been approved under the accelerated approval program, and many of these have been for rare diseases. But it’s important to note that in some cases FDA exercises regulatory flexibility to approve drugs under the traditional approval pathway, rather than under the accelerated approval program. In fact, most of the recent new drug approvals for rare diseases have been approved under the traditional approval pathway because FDA has determined that the drug provides a clinical benefit to the patient. Such approvals make new drugs available to patients, and also mean that companies are not required to do confirmatory trials after approval.

FDA is committed to continuing its use of expedited programs and regulatory flexibility to speed development and approval of safe and effective drugs for all patients with rare diseases, and the strategies outlined in this plan will help us achieve a major goal of FDASIA and for our agency, which is to speed the development of therapies for children with rare diseases.

 

Jill Hartzler Warner, J.D., is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Special Medical Programs

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