A big step to help the patients most in need

By: Peter Lurie, M.D., M.P.H.

Today, I had the pleasure of announcing an important measure intended to help streamline expanded access to investigational drugs. We heard concerns from patients and physicians that the process for gaining access to investigational drugs was too difficult, and pulled together a team to find a way to make that process simpler. Today, we’re introducing a much simpler draft form for comment that, when finalized, should accelerate patient access to investigational drugs. We know what an important tool this will be for physicians who treat those patients with serious or immediately life-threatening diseases or conditions for which there are no comparable alternative treatments.

Dr. Peter LurieThe new draft document, entitled “Individual Patient Expanded Access Applications: Form FDA 3926,” includes a simplified application form that, when finalized, will be used for requesting the medications, and is designed to greatly simplify and accelerate the process by which a physician can request that FDA permit the use of an experimental — so-called “investigational” — drug or biological product while it’s still being tested to establish its safety and effectiveness.

The draft guidance and draft form continue a policy that started in the early years of the AIDS epidemic when FDA authorized, in certain cases, “compassionate use” of unapproved investigational drugs. In 2009, FDA made these rules broader and clearer. However, concerns persisted that the existing application form was too complex: it called for 26 separate types of information and seven attachments. In fact, it was originally designed for manufacturers seeking to begin human testing, not for physicians seeking use by single patients.

FDA authorizes the vast majority of expanded access requests, typically within days or even hours. However, FDA is committed to streamlining its processes wherever possible. The agency therefore tasked a special working group with designing a form more suitable for use by a physician not necessarily familiar with the IND process. The revised process, when finalized, will not change the agency’s rigorous requirement that all medical products on the market be studied in clinical trials in order to be FDA-approved as safe and effective. As before, expanded access to an investigational medication may be available when there is no other product that can diagnose, monitor, or treat the patient’s disease or condition, and the patient is not and cannot be enrolled in a clinical study testing it.

But we know why patients want access to these drugs and we know how busy their treating physicians can be. So we streamlined the new draft form to be shorter and simpler for physicians to fill out. The new draft form, when finalized, will require only eight elements of information and a single attachment. We estimate that physicians will be able to complete the finalized version of the form in just 45 minutes, as compared to the 100 hours listed on the previous form.

Additionally, to further assist the physician seeking access to an experimental therapy, we have redesigned our website to make it easier to navigate and to explain the new proposed process in detail.

For years, FDA has maintained a staff dedicated to assisting physicians and patients to navigate our system. These efforts will continue. The new draft guidance and draft form are the latest examples of FDA’s determined effort to minimize unnecessary red tape, increase efficiency and better serve patients in need.

Peter Lurie M.D., M.P.H. is associate FDA commissioner for public health strategy and analysis.

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