Curbing Risk, Not Medical Innovation, in Personalized Medicine

By: Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.

Innovative new tests are routinely submitted to the Food and Drug Administration to assure they are safe and effective. They include genetic tests that help oncologists decide whether a patient is a good candidate for a drug that treats melanoma as well as tests that are capable of sequencing the entire human genome.

Jeffrey ShurenBut many tests never undergo FDA premarket review to determine whether they are accurate, reliable, and clinically meaningful. These are laboratory developed tests (LDTs) designed, manufactured and intended to be used in a single laboratory.

FDA has exercised enforcement discretion over LDTs since 1976, when the agency first obtained comprehensive authority to regulate all in vitro diagnostics as medical devices. In those early days, LDTs were relatively simple, low risk, often for rare conditions, and generally only available on a limited basis.

But LDTs have evolved and proliferated because of advances in technology and evolving business models. Today, many LDTs are more complex, have a nationwide reach and have higher-risk uses such as detection of risk for breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. And yet they don’t undergo premarket review – or have adequate controls in place to assure proper test design and development, even when they compete with FDA-approved IVD test kits that conventional manufacturers market.

That’s concerning. Without appropriate safeguards, neither patients nor their health care providers can be assured that these tests are safe and effective. This is particularly troubling when an FDA-approved test is available, because it puts patients at unnecessary and avoidable risk. It also stifles innovation by creating disincentives for conventional manufacturers to invest in developing new, medically important tests.

We believe that LDTs serve an important role in health care and that there are many good tests on the market. Unfortunately, FDA is also aware of faulty or unproven LDTs, including ones that could cause patients to be inappropriately treated for heart disease; cancer patients to be exposed to inappropriate therapies or not get effective therapies; incorrect diagnosis of autism; and unnecessary antibiotic treatments.

That’s why FDA intends to propose a risk-based oversight framework that would appropriately balance assuring that patients and providers receive safe and effective tests with promoting innovation.

It would phase in enforcement of premarket review, quality systems, and adverse event reporting requirements for high- and moderate-risk LDTs over many years, beginning with the highest-risk tests (which include companion diagnostics—crucial to personalized medicine by targeting treatments for cancer, heart disease and other conditions) to give laboratories time to comply. Moreover, we intend to leverage existing programs, such as third party review and third party inspection as appropriate, and explore opportunities to work with entities that have experience with labs, thereby creating more efficiencies for labs to meet applicable FDA requirements.

On the other hand, under our upcoming proposed framework, we intend to continue exercising enforcement discretion with respect to the premarket review requirements for tests that labs make for rare diseases, to address an unmet need, or that are low risk.

Labs and conventional manufacturers serve as vitally important sources of innovative test development. Through smart, appropriately tailored oversight, we can best promote product development by all test developers and best serve patients and their healthcare providers.

When everyone plays by the same rules, innovation and society benefit.

Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

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