Meeting Face-to-face Makes All the Difference

By: Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm.D.

While to many, the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., signal spring, for my office the season means bountiful opportunities to meet with groups in town for meetings and conventions in our capital city.

Heidi MarchandPatient and health professional advocacy groups that are some of FDA’s key stakeholders come to FDA Headquarters in nearby Maryland —or we go downtown to their meeting sites—for a mutual exchange of information that often has a profound influence on how we do our jobs protecting and promoting the public health.

So far, we have had informative discussions with groups as varied as the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Celiac Disease Alliance, the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association, and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

Because we are part of the Office of the Commissioner, we’re familiar with the agency across its various centers and are ideally positioned to connect stakeholders with the experts best suited to answer questions and offer assistance.

We hear from individuals on the front lines—parents of patients with heartbreaking childhood diseases, nurses who witness firsthand the consequences of a medical device that fails to work properly, patients who want to know where and how they can participate in clinical trials.

Many are experts in their area of advocacy—they’ve had to be—and their insights are invaluable.

Putting What We Learn To Good Use

For example, as we developed a rule, mandated by Congress, to define the term “gluten-free” for voluntary use in food labeling, we not only opened the proposed regulation up for public comment on two separate occasions, but we also conducted listening sessions with groups representing people with celiac disease, who must avoid consuming gluten but want a diverse and nutritious diet. They talked about the difficulties they face in trying to identify foods that won’t endanger their health, shared information about their understanding of challenges facing the food industry, and discussed the science that underlies this issue. This information helped us to ensure that the final rule was responsive to their needs. Now people with celiac disease can be assured that if they see “gluten-free” on food labels, that term has a specific, nationally uniform (and federally enforceable) definition.

Of course, our outreach efforts extend beyond these meetings. Our staff keeps in close touch with patient and health professional advocacy groups throughout the year, and through our FDA Patient Network website where we provide information on public meetings, current FDA draft guidances, clinical trials, and drug and device approvals. In addition, our patient newsletter keeps our stakeholders apprised of this and other important work FDA is doing.

But there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face across a table.

We listen to what our constituents have to say, we take it to heart, and we share it with our colleagues. What we learn through these conversations informs our work. It becomes part and parcel of the regulations we put into place to promote and protect the public health.

Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm,D., is Assistant Commissioner in FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs

FDA Teams With National Forum to Reduce Deaths from Heart Disease: Program is first of its kind

By: Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm.D.

In the U.S., only about 1 in every 4 prescriptions is taken as directed by a health care provider – a problem that costs our nation more than 125,000 lives a year. Millions of Americans with heart disease – the nation’s No. 1 killer – are especially vulnerable.

Heidi MarchandTo stem that tide, FDA has teamed with the nonprofit National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention to advance the cause of a heart-healthy and stroke-free society.

FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Forum to promote and increase the use of health knowledge, skills and practices by the public in their daily lives. The five-year agreement is a first-of-its-kind cooperative public education program to reduce the burdens of heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease, which kills 1 in 4 Americans, can be managed. To prevent heart attacks, transient ischemic attacks and other cardiac events, doctors prescribe medications and lifestyle therapies (e.g. heart-healthy diets). Because medication is not readily adhered to – and neither are lifestyle treatments – millions of people suffer from preventable cardiac episodes. As a nation, lack of medication adherence (which can be as simple as not getting a prescription filled or refilled) costs more than $100 billion annually in excess hospitalizations.

To confront this problem, FDA is taking the lead in support of Million Hearts®, a national initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. A key partner in that mission is the National Forum, whose members include more than 80 U.S. and international organizations representing public, private, health care, advocacy, academic, policy and community sectors.

Together we will:

  • Explore, demonstrate and evaluate innovative health promotion concepts.
  • Exchange information on nutrition, heart disease, and ways to increase the number of patients who take their medication and/or therapy.
  • Identify and systematize best practices in behavior modification education.
  • Develop concepts for community-based interventions.

Our goals are clear: create recommendations to improve compliance with prescribed medical therapies and implement the recommendations to improve the lives of patients living with heart disease.

FDA’s Dr. Helene Clayton-Jeter and Dr. Fortunato “Fred” Senatore are leading a diverse team in identifying strategies to help patients take their medicines as directed and follow the advice of their doctors.

Concurrently, the National Forum will recruit a Therapy Adherence Steering Committee, made up of experts and stakeholders from physician and nursing groups, pharmacy (retail/system), behavioral health, consumer/patient groups and others invested in complying with medical therapy.

We’ll then jointly develop action plans for high-probability, high-yield strategies to promote heart health by helping ensure that patients take their medicines and adopt healthier lifestyles. Our plan is to complete all steps in the next several years.

We cannot fix this problem overnight. But by addressing it strategically, we can move forward and improve the odds of preventing and surviving heart disease and stroke among Americans.

Heidi Marchand, PharmD, is Assistant Commissioner in FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs

Biosimilars: New guidance from FDA to help manufacturers develop more treatment options

By: Leah Christl, Ph.D.

FDA has taken important new steps to continue to help manufacturers develop biologic products called biosimilars. Biosimilars are highly similar to, and have no clinically meaningful differences from, an already approved biological product. Biosimilars can provide more treatment options for patients, and possibly lower treatment costs.

Leah ChristlIn early March, FDA approved the first biosimilar, Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), a biosimilar to Neupogen (filgrastim), used to help stimulate growth of white blood cells in patients with cancer and help them fight infection.

That’s a great start and we are pleased to see the progress. Manufacturers are working hard to develop more biosimilars for the U.S. market. By nature, biologic products are highly complex molecules, so developing biosimilar versions of these products is challenging. FDA is also working hard to help those manufacturers bring more biosimilars to the market.

Over the past few weeks, we have released four guidances for industry — useful tools to help manufacturers navigate the new terrain of biosimilar development.

  • One assists companies in demonstrating that a proposed product is indeed biosimilar to an existing biologic product, and is intended to provide clarity to manufacturers about the expectations for a biosimilar development program.
  • A second focuses on the analytical studies that demonstrate that the product is “highly similar” to an existing biological product, which supports the demonstration of biosimilarity.
  • A third guidance answers common questions about the biosimilar development and application process and contains information intended to provide a better understanding of the law that allows biosimilars development. 
  • A fourth, still in draft form — which means we are accepting public comment — answers a variety of additional questions that have arisen regarding the biosimilars development process.

Each of these guidances was developed to help industry more efficiently and effectively develop new biosimilars for patients in need.

Many of our most important, but also expensive, drugs are biological products. These products are used to treat patients who have a variety of serious and life-threatening medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes, and cancer.

Having more approved biosimilars is good for public health. FDA looks forward to continuing to help manufacturers develop these important products.

Leah Christl, Ph.D., is FDA’s Associate Director for Biosimilars, Office of New Drugs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

The 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge: And the Finalists Are…

By: Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D.

I am delighted to announce the finalists in FDA’s first Food Safety Challenge, a ground-breaking effort to better protect our food supply by fostering innovation in technologies that will more quickly detect pathogens in produce.

Palmer OrlandiLast September, we invited scientists, academics, entrepreneurs, and innovators from all disciplines to compete by submitting concepts that could improve and accelerate the detection of these disease-causing bacteria in foods. We received 49 submissions.

The five finalists whose proposals will enter the next phase of the Food Safety Challenge are teams of researchers from these companies and universities:

  • Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.
  • Pronucleotein Inc., San Antonio, Texas
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.
  • University of California, Davis, Calif.; Dr. Bart Weimer; and Mars, Inc.
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Ill.; and Purdue University

(Purdue is represented twice, teaming with University of Illinois colleagues in one proposal and going solo in another, with different researchers on each team.)

Each team has developed ingenious new technologies for detecting food pathogens that could be real game changers in our ongoing fight against foodborne illness. They will each receive $20,000 and advance to the next stage in the Challenge. The winner or winners (there can be more than one) will share the remainder of the $500,000 total prize.

But before I describe the next step, let me remind you why this Challenge is vital to FDA’s mission to promote and protect the public health.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that foodborne illness sickens 1 in 6 Americans  annually, resulting in about 3,000 deaths.
  • The overall negative economic impact of foodborne illness in the United States may be as high as $77 billion per year.
  • Salmonella is the leading cause of death and of hospitalization related to foodborne illness.

We believe that by reaching out through this Challenge to entrepreneurs, academia, and the larger scientific, innovation and problems-solving communities, we can view our food safety problems through a different lens. It’s a way to consider approaches, and possible solutions, through the eyes of innovative thinkers, and to use technologies we may not have considered.

What Happens Next?

Now that our panel of expert judges from FDA, CDC, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has narrowed the competitive field down, we enter the Field Accelerator phase of the Challenge. With the guidance of FDA food safety and pathogen-testing experts, finalists will

  • refine their submissions,
  • clarify their concepts,
  • maximize their impact on food safety,
  • check that they are in line with FDA’s needs and capabilities,
  • and ensure that the proposed ideas can be reasonably executed.

The finalists will participate in a “boot camp” with FDA experts on May 13, 2015 to help strengthen their concepts and applicability to FDA’s testing process. “Demo Day” will be held on July 7, 2015 in College Park, Md. The finalists will present their improved proposals to the judges and a live audience in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition headquarters.

I, for one, can’t wait to see the solutions the finalists will come up with. We believe that by thinking outside the box, we can find new ways to help assure the American public that the foods they eat and serve their families are safe.

Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., is Acting Chief Science Officer and Research Director in the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

FDA Science Forum to Focus on Emerging Technologies

Dr. Luciana Borio, FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist, invites you to the FDA 2015 Science Forum at our White Oak headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland on May 27-28. We’ll be showcasing exciting, cutting-edge regulatory science research. For more information and how to register for the forum before the deadline of May 15, 2015, go to The FDA Science Forum.

FSMA: The Future Is Now – Stakeholder Perspectives

On April 23-24, 2015, FDA hosted the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Public Meeting: Focus on Implementation Strategy for Prevention-Oriented Food Safety Standards.” The national public meeting in Washington, D.C., continued on the second day with a panel discussion on stakeholder perspectives.

Participants: Sandra Eskin, J.D., Director, Food Safety, The Pew Charitable Trust; Leon Bruner, D.V.M., Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Science Officer, Grocery Manufacturers Association; Marsha Echols, J.D., Legal Advisor, Specialty Food Association; Richard Sellers, Senior Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, American Feed Industry Association; David Gombas, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association; Sophia Kruszewski, J.D., Policy Specialist, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Stephanie Barnes, J.D., Regulatory Counsel, Food Marketing Institute. Moderator: Roberta Wagner, Director for Regulatory Affairs, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA.

FSMA: The Future Is Now

By: Michael R. Taylor

FDA is holding the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Public Meeting: Focus on Implementation Strategy for Prevention-Oriented Food Safety Standards.” The two-day national public meeting in Washington, D.C., began Thursday, April 23, 2015 with a panel discussion by top FDA leaders on the overarching philosophy and strategy. Participants: Michael Taylor, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine; Howard Sklamberg, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy; Melinda Plaisier, M.S.W., Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, Office of Global Regulatory Operations and Policy; Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D., Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine. Moderator: Kari Barrett, Advisor for Strategic Communications and Public Engagement, FDA

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Congratulations to FDA’s Dr. Richard Pazdur, recipient of the AACR’s prestigious Distinguished Public Service Award

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

In the past five years, FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has approved more than 40 novel cancer treatments, offering hope to many patients who previously had few or no treatment options. Among these products are new and cutting-edge targeted therapies—sometimes called “precision medicines”—tailored to treat patients based on their individual characteristics.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

This achievement is a tribute to the dedicated CDER scientists and clinicians who support innovative development of cancer drugs, and evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new products for FDA approval. They are led by the dynamic and creative thinker, Dr. Richard Pazdur, a 16-year FDA veteran whose name has become synonymous with excellence in cancer drug research, development, evaluation and approval.

It is with great pride and admiration that I share with you today that the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has awarded its 2015 Distinguished Public Service Award to Dr. Pazdur. AACR selected Dr. Pazdur for this award based on his “extraordinary, steadfast leadership in scientific and regulatory affairs” and his “unwavering commitment to ensuring the development of safe and effective treatments for cancer patients.” The Association also noted that Dr. Pazdur’s “important work has been and continues to be nothing short of spectacular, and it is saving lives every day from this most feared disease that affects so many.”

Dr. Richard Pazdur (left) receives the 2015 Distinguished Public Service Award from AACR President Dr. Arteaga

Dr. Richard Pazdur (left) receives the 2015 Distinguished Public Service Award from AACR President Dr. Arteaga. Photo by © AACR/Todd Buchanan.

As director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products (OHOP) at FDA, Dr. Pazdur leads a staff of more than 150 oncologists, toxicologists, and other specialists dedicated to approving safe and effective drugs for cancer and blood-related conditions. Dr. Pazdur and his staff are committed to facilitating rapid development, review, and action on promising new treatments to combat these diseases and improve patient outcomes. Dr. Pazdur and the OHOP staff are also committed to outreach with the oncology community. In 2005, Dr. Pazdur established the Oncology Program, which coordinates oncology activities within FDA as well as with external stakeholders providing OHOP with a unique infrastructure within CDER to interact with professional societies and patient advocacy groups.

We are grateful for Dr. Pazdur’s sustained contributions and look forward to many more years of his leadership, and his adept and proficient manner in helping patients in need.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

FDA Celebrates 30 Years of Advancing Health Equity

By: Jonca Bull, M.D.

April is Minority Health Month! I am proud to say that FDA’s Office of Minority Health (OMH), in collaboration with  the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health, is celebrating this year’s theme: “30 Years of Advancing Health Equity, The Heckler Report: A Force for Ending Health Disparities in America.” For us at FDA, this year also marks the 5th anniversary of OMH, which serves as the principal advisor to the Commissioner on minority health and health disparities.

Jonca BullThe Heckler Report was a major, ground breaking document that transformed HHS’s views and actions on minority health. For the first time in history, representatives from each agency convened to talk about minority health and, more importantly, put forth recommendations to achieve health equity. Findings illustrated huge disparities between African Americans and other minorities compared to the population at large for key health indicators, such as life expectancy and infant mortality. Key recommendations relevant to FDA’s mission centered around health information and education, cooperative efforts (inside and outside of the government), health professions development, data development, and developing a research agenda.

Let’s stroll down memory lane and recap FDA’s activities that resulted from the Heckler report.

Health Information and Education 

FDA has developed numerous outreach activities to improve consumer education and access to health information by utilizing the best cultural and linguistic practices to reach diverse minority populations. Hosting symposiums and webinars, participating in conferences, exhibiting in health fairs, and creating consumer educational materials are just some of the activities FDA has carried out to raise awareness and educate the public. Most recently, OMH has created a social media presence on Twitter and Pinterest, and maintains an active listserve with a quarterly newsletter. One of our most successful outreach campaigns has been the “Heart Health Toolkit” for American Heart Month, which reached over 6,000 people in February.

Our most recent consumer outreach occurred on March 25th via a webinar on how the public can respond to requests for comments on regulatory proposals and public health issues by using FDA dockets.

Cooperative Efforts/Health Professions Development

OMH embraces the notion that protecting the public’s health cannot be done in isolation. We have focused on four areas to improve stakeholder relations:

  • Work with Industry to increase diversity in clinical trials;
  • Work with minority serving institutions and organizations to implement strategies and programs to improve regulatory science (specific to minorities);
  • Provide platforms for stakeholders to become informed and involved about our work; and,
  • Host and promote mentoring programs to encourage minorities to stay in scientific and academic careers.

Data Development and Research Agenda

We have a robust research agenda that focuses on advancing regulatory science related to eliminating health disparities. The agenda consists of various intramural and extramural grant programs, giving preference to minority-serving institutions. FDA also promotes and funds research that aims to increase the quantity, and improve the quality, of data on minorities, and to make these efforts transparent to the public.

In short: FDA has been and will continue to be committed to narrowing the health disparities gap. OMH will continue our legacy of creating culturally and linguistically tailored tools, materials, and resources for minority communities to increase their awareness and understanding of FDA’s mission and of the products that FDA regulates, increase their participation in clinical trials, and increase diversity in the workforce. This ensures better representation in the workforce, and most importantly: better health for all minorities!

More information about specific programs can be found on our website.

The Heckler Report can be found at: http://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-8602912-mvset.

Jonca Bull, M.D., is Director of FDA’s Office of Minority Health

Providing Timely Patient Access to High-Quality, Safe and Effective Medical Devices

Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.

We know that patients with life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating conditions lack treatment and diagnostic options. For these patients, earlier access to promising new devices is critically important. At the same time, delayed access may mean the difference between life and death, or may result in irreversible disability.

Jeffrey ShurenIn weighing the benefits and risks of new technologies for these patients, we understand the need to place greater weight on the benefit of earlier access, and to also account for the risks of delayed access. That’s why  we’ve developed the Expedited Access Program (EAP): to speed qualifying devices to patients with life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating conditions without compromising FDA’s high standards for safety and effectiveness.

Under this voluntary program, sponsors of devices for life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating conditions that meet an unmet need can request an EAP designation. Also under this program, CDRH staff- including senior management – work collaboratively with developers of such devices earlier and more often. These efforts include the creation of a Data Development Plan that provides predictability and leverages postmarket data collection. The Data Development Plan will shift premarket data collection to the postmarket setting, to the extent appropriate, taking into account the public health benefit of these devices, while still meeting the U.S. approval standard of reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness. Starting April 15th, this program will be up and running and we will begin to accept requests for EAP designation.

The premarket data must be adequate to support FDA’s high standard for premarket review but can include data based on an intermediate endpoint or a surrogate endpoint reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit.

Another important feature of the EAP is how FDA decides that the benefits of a novel device for patients with life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating conditions outweigh its risks. Under the EAP, FDA may accept a greater degree of uncertainty if it is sufficiently balanced by other factors, including the probable benefits to having earlier access to the device.

If, after careful analysis, FDA determines that some data can be collected after the device is on the market, then patients in need will benefit sooner. A few of the factors that can enter into this analysis include a low probability of serious harm, a high likelihood that postmarket surveillance can quickly identify instances of serious patient harm and a high likelihood that postmarket data collection will be completed in a timely manner.

We consider this balancing of premarket and postmarket data collection to be so important that we made it one of our three 2014-2015 strategic priorities, along with strengthening the clinical trial enterprise and providing excellent customer service.

Today, we’re taking steps to implement that priority. In addition to issuing a guidance document outlining our EAP program for devices to treat or diagnose life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating conditions, we’re issuing a guidance on balancing premarket and postmarket data collection. It describes the circumstances under which postmarket data collection is appropriate for PMAs, whether or not they meet the criteria for the EAP, and provides many useful examples.

Once EAP products come to us for review, they will qualify for priority review. This feature, combined with the other elements of the EAP program, will reduce the time it takes to develop important new medical devices for patients with unmet medical needs and it will do so without ever lowering our standards.

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