FDA Takes a Responsive Approach to Mobile Web

By: Chris Mulieri

Since January 1, over 30 million visitors have come to FDA’s website. We know that they come to FDA.gov to get reliable and up-to-date information on everything from food and drug recalls to medical product alerts to regulations and guidance for industry…and the list goes on.

We also know that an increasing number of our visitors use mobile devices to get this information. In the last year alone, the number of mobile visits to FDA.gov has nearly doubled, and now 25 percent of our visitors use a tablet or smartphone to access the site.

Our Visitors Come First

As director of web and digital media for the FDA, I lead a team that is committed to providing a positive experience for visitors to FDA.gov, including our mobile visitors. We are also responsible for supporting the Digital Government Strategy, issued by the White House, which calls for federal agencies to provide government information on demand and on any device.

In plain English, that means that we need to provide a single FDA.gov site that’s available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

To meet the needs of our mobile visitors without creating a separate mobile website, we turned to a proven web development approach called responsive design. This approach uses special code to ensure that web content is easy to read and scroll across a wide range of devices, from desktop computers to mobile phones. Since the first of the year, mobile-friendly responsive designs have been implemented successfully on a number of large non-government websites, such as NYTimes.com and NPR.org. And now, on FDA.gov as well.

Check Out FDA.gov on Mobile

We are excited to announce that our first responsive pages on FDA.gov launched on November 15. If you are using a smartphone or tablet, go to FDA.gov and check it out. You’ll see our most popular content, such as recalls, news, and safety alerts, is now formatted to fit your screen. We’ve also made it easier for mobile visitors to tell us about a problem with the products that FDA regulates, such as food, drugs, medical devices, and animal food and drugs.

This is just the beginning. In keeping with best practices in web design, we are taking an iterative approach to mobile on FDA.gov. In other words, we will apply the lessons learned from our visitors’ experiences to share more mobile friendly content as it becomes available.

Our ultimate goal is to create one website that will provide a quality experience for all visitors who seek information that will benefit their health and safety.

Chris Mulieri is the director of web and digital media for the Food and Drug Administration

On Farms and in Labs, FDA and Partners Are Working to Get Answers on Arsenic in Rice

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

This week, my colleagues and I traveled to California to learn more, first-hand, about the presence of arsenic in rice.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Deputy FDA Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor, center, don hip waders to go out into the rice fields at Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, Calif. At left is Bryce Lundberg, the farms' vice president of agriculture, and at right is Mike Denny, vice president of farming operations.

This grain, like other foods, contains traces of arsenic, a chemical element found in water, air and soil. However, rice plants absorb more arsenic than most other crop plants. FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in foods, including rice, for decades.

On Wednesday, Sept. 4, we toured a research facility in which scientists are working to find ways to improve the quality and safety of rice. And we visited the historic farming community of Richvale — a short drive north of Sacramento — known as the birthplace of California rice.

In each of these places I saw a true commitment to public health and a shared goal of ensuring that any risk is minimized so that people around the world can continue to eat rice and rice products as part of a varied diet.

Today, FDA released the results of tests performed on a total of more than 1,300 samples of rice and rice products. What we found was that the levels of inorganic arsenic are well below the levels that would result in any immediate or short-term health risks. This information will now be considered by FDA in looking at the potential long-term health effects associated with the consumption of arsenic in rice and rice products.

Our visit to California, at the invitation of the rice industry – including the USA Rice Federation – was FDA’s third fact-finding visit to rice-producing states, the earlier trips being to Arkansas and Missouri. My traveling companions included Michael Taylor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, and Andy Hammond, regional director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Our first stop on Wednesday was at the Rice Experiment Station in Biggs operated by the California Cooperative Rice Research Foundation. Research at the station is funded in large part by assessments on rice growers and involves close collaboration with experts at the University of California/Davis and ARS.

Touring the station’s research fields gave us a sense of the determination by all involved in this work, including industry, to better understand how arsenic gets into rice and what growing and processing strategies might be employed to reduce arsenic levels.

That afternoon we visited two multi-generation family farms in Richvale. Lyle Job and his family have been farming their land for more than 30 years. At the Lundberg Family Farms, in business since 1937, we learned about the different approaches of organic rice farmers.

These farmers take enormous pride in their work. They told us about the soil and climate conditions that make their land ideal to grow rice. At the Job farm, we climbed up into a huge harvester to see how it operates. At the Lundberg farm, we put on hip boots and waded out into flooded fields.

Standing beside these farmers, I was struck by their commitment to making the best product possible and the intensity of their desire to help us understand the challenges they face. Rice is not just a commodity to them; it’s their way of life.

Our last stop, on Thursday, Sept. 5, was to FDA’s laboratory in Alameda, where hundreds of rice samples were tested using a process called “speciation.” FDA scientists developed the speciation method used to measuring total arsenic levels, but most importantly to measure both the organic and the more toxic inorganic forms of arsenic.

So what does this all mean right now? As a mother I can imagine that many of you are asking yourself, “Should I be feeding it to my children?” Our best advice – consistent with that given by the American Academy of Pediatrics – is to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of grains.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re working on it. In collaboration with farmers, industry, academia and other public health agencies, we are doing everything possible to determine if the levels of arsenic in rice pose a long-term health risk and, if so, what can be done to reduce that risk.

The presence of arsenic in rice is a global health issue. The answers we seek will ultimately help protect consumers all over the world.

For more photos of our tour, visit Flickr.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration

The path toward a risk-based regulatory framework for health IT

By: Jodi Daniel, Bakul Patel and Matthew Quinn 

Yesterday, the Health IT Policy Committee (HITPC) accepted and approved recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) working group for a risk-based regulatory framework for health information technology. The working group’s recommendations suggest a scope for an IT framework, risk and innovation criteria, and approaches for avoiding regulatory duplication. 

Only six short months ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) kicked off the FDASIA workgroup of the HITPC to provide stakeholder input into a report on a risk-based regulatory framework that promotes safety and innovation and reduces regulatory duplication, consistent with section 618 of FDASIA. This provision permitted the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to form a workgroup in order to obtain broad stakeholder input from across the health care, IT, patients and innovation spectrum. The FDA, ONC, and FCC actively participated in these discussions with stakeholders from across the health care, IT, patients and innovation spectrum. The working group met more than 28 times, and yesterday FDASIA workgroup chair, David Bates, presented the final recommendations to the HITPC. 

In recognition of this important milestone, and on behalf of the three agencies, we want to express our deep appreciation to the members of the workgroup (and a special thanks to David Bates) for committing themselves to this aggressive timeline and delivering a suite of thoughtful recommendations.

Next Steps

As the FDASIA workgroup’s efforts conclude, the agencies’ efforts now intensify. Over the next few months the FDA, ONC, and FCC will review the HIT Policy Committee’s recommendations and the public comments submitted through the docket we opened on regulations.gov. Using these thoughtful inputs, ONC, FDA, and FCC will work closely together to develop a report (by the January 2014 statutory deadline) that proposes an overarching health IT regulatory strategy and provides recommendations on ways to appropriately promote innovation, protect patient safety, and avoid regulatory duplication. 

We recognize the complex nature of health IT and its importance to our nation’s health.  Therefore, we intend to provide an opportunity for public comment and additional stakeholder input on the draft report following its publication in January 2014. We look forward to continued collaboration with all stakeholders as we advance our thinking on this important topic. 

Jodi Daniel is Director, Office of Policy and Planning, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT

Bakul Patel is Senior Policy Advisor, FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Matthew Quinn is Director of Healthcare Initiatives, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

Considering Women’s Needs in Developing Medical Devices: Here’s ‘HoW’

By: Michelle McMurry-Heath, MD, Ph.D. 

Women differ from men in anatomy, physiology, risk factors and disease symptoms. They are also likely to use more medical devices over the course of their lives than men do.

That is why FDA is actively trying to learn more about how medical devices uniquely affect women, and how women can be better served by them.

This month we published a snapshot of how FDA is doing with such efforts. A congressionally-required report (Section 907 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act) looked at the inclusion and analysis of women and other demographic subgroups in clinical studies supporting the approval of medical devices and other FDA-regulated medical products. After reviewing 2011 product applications, including 37 premarket approval applications, or PMAs, for devices, we found that in the majority of cases, sponsors provide information about women, conduct subset analyses and share information with the public in a variety of ways.

One specific activity highlighted in the report was a workshop sponsored earlier this summer by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) to formally launch a new program designed to more closely look at medical device use and the health of women (HoW). The three main goals of HoW are to:

  • Improve the availability, consistency and communication of information to patients and providers that is specific to women’s needs for the safe and effective use of medical devices.
  • Address identified gaps and unmet needs through targeted resources.
  • Foster the development of innovative strategies, technology and clinical study models.

Nearly 200 representatives from industry, academia, health care, federal agencies, patient and advocacy groups, gathered to discuss the issues related to medical devices and health in women and to brainstorm about effective strategies to address clinical research needs in this population.

This work builds on a December 2011 draft guidance, also highlighted in this month’s 907 report. That guidance outlined CDRH’s proposed expectations regarding sex-specific enrollment in clinical studies, data analysis, and reporting of study information. Ideally, the final guidance will provide a clear decision-making framework for when and how to analyze and communicate data involving women in device clinical studies.

The CDRH HoW program also plans to complement this by developing, in partnership with other stakeholders, strategies for communicating information about differences to the people who most need to know: health care professionals, clinical investigators, the medical device industry, and most importantly, patients.

With these activities, we are laying the groundwork for making sure the unique health needs of women are considered in research agendas and device innovation. The goal is to strengthen the focus of FDA, industry and the clinical community in developing medical devices designed to meet the unique clinical needs of women, and to communicate new information as we learn more about how differences affect treatment options and outcomes.

Now, with the issuance of the 907 report, and an accompanying docket to receive comments from the public, we hope to gain an even more in-depth understanding about demographic subgroups. The input we receive will become the starting point for developing an Action Plan, to be released next year.

These are all important steps towards ensuring that medical devices developed will take into account the unique needs of women.

Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., is the Associate Director for Science at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Cutting the Wires: FDA Provides Industry Guidance

By: Bakul Patel

The medical device industry has gone wireless. 

Many medical devices today perform at least one function by using wireless technology to support health care delivery. In telemedicine, for example, a wireless device can enable real-time monitoring of patients from a distance – data from a patient-worn or implanted medical device goes directly to the health care professional. The transfer of data is immediate, accelerating communication, decision time and when necessary, intervention. 

However, the stakes can get high. 

What if a diabetic’s blood glucose monitor malfunctions and sends a wrong glucose reading to a doctor because another wireless device in the clinic interfered with its signal? What if a signal is completely interrupted from a monitor that the patient depends on to transmit time-sensitive health care data?  In such cases, the proper functioning of wireless medical devices can mean the difference – literally – between life and death. 

It is FDA’s role to assure that before such wireless medical devices are introduced into the marketplace, that they have been properly tested. It is essential that manufacturers first consider and test potential limitations of the wireless connectivity associated with their devices to prevent malfunctions that could harm patients. 

There are many factors to consider. For example, is there enough bandwidth (the range of available frequencies) available? In an environment crowded with different kinds of wireless devices, is there a possibility that interference could critically affect the device’s function? 

Today, FDA published the final guidance entitled, “Guidance for Industry and Food and Drug Administration Staff; Radio Frequency Wireless Technology in Medical Devices,” to help industry navigate such challenges. Our recommendations cover devices that are implanted or worn on the body, and others intended for use in locations such as hospitals, homes, clinics, and clinical laboratories. They cover such considerations that relate to the design, testing, deployment  and maintenance of safe, reliable, and secure wireless medical devices and systems. 

For example, designers and manufacturers of wireless medical devices should consider whether these devices can function properly in the environments where they are intended to be used. Another consideration is wireless coexistence. Given the limited availability of the radio frequency spectrum, wireless technologies may compete for access to the same spectrum. As a result, coexistence issues may pose risks that could result in medical device signal loss or delay that can be life-threatening. 

This guidance reflects FDA’s ongoing commitment to the practice of regulatory science; that is, the science of developing new tools, standards, and approaches to assess the safety, efficacy, quality, and performance of all FDA-regulated products. In this instance, FDA worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which in 2009 was charged by Congress to develop a National Broadband Plan to ensure every American has access to wireless technology and to delineate the respective areas of expertise and jurisdiction between the agencies. 

In a prior meeting with FCC, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., said that while the benefits of RF wireless technology are clear, “to harness the full power of these benefits, we must navigate a delicate balance between innovation and safety and effectiveness.” 

We hope this guidance accomplishes just that. Our goal is to help industry develop a range of innovative, safe, and effective medical devices that incorporate wireless technology, which can, in turn, help reduce health care costs, enhance quality, and benefit patients and providers alike.

Bakul Patel is senior policy advisor in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Improving Patient Care by Making Sure Devices Work Well Together

By: Bakul Patel 

Interoperability refers to the ability of medical devices to interact and for electronic health record systems to talk to each other using a common vocabulary. It is similar to the concept of “plug and play” computer attachments like a web cam or mouse, which are made so that products can operate with different brands and models of computers.

While it may seem abstract, successful interoperability among medical devices can improve patient care, reduce errors, and lower costs.

As medical devices become increasingly connected to other medical devices, hospital information systems and electronic health records, there is a growing expectation that they will be interoperable – and that the data they transmit will be secure.

A few examples illustrate the need: 

  • An infusion pump that administers medication to a patient also connects to the hospital’s electronic health record system where the physician inputs orders for specific amounts of medication to be delivered at specific times. If the infusion pump and the electronic health record are not interoperable, with clocks that are synchronized, medication errors could occur. 
  • A patient in surgery is connected to a ventilator and a central monitoring station. If the two devices are not interoperable, the monitor may send a false alarm, or fail to send a needed alarm. Either error could increase the risk to the patient. 
  • Two patients with different medical conditions both have electrocardiogram (EKG) monitors attached to check their hearts’ electrical activity. Both monitors are connected to the same computer system that records the data for later review by a physician. It’s critical that the computer system and the EKG monitors are interoperable so transmission errors do not confuse one patient’s data with the other patient’s data.

Making sure devices are interoperable requires the creation, validation, and recognition of standards that help manufacturers develop products that are harmonious and can “plug and play.”  

We at the FDA have been hard at work on this issue with hospitals, health care providers, manufacturers, standards development organizations, and other interested parties. A 2012 summit organized by FDA and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), for example, brought together 266 experts from many disciplines to further the goal of improving patient care and cybersecurity — while at the same time fostering innovation — through interoperability.

As a first step, FDA has recognized a set of voluntary standards that will help manufacturers create devices that work well together and are secure.

We hope this first set of voluntary standards will encourage further efforts to identify standards and create new ones for our review, because improving the care of patients through medical devices increasingly depends on those devices and information systems being “interoperable.”

Bakul Patel is senior policy advisor in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Gluten-Free Labeling Consumers Can Count On

By: Virginia A. Cox 

Celiac disease is a serious health issue that can lead to critical complications if not treated. 

While there is no cure for celiac disease (CD), there is one way to manage it – following a gluten-free diet. The only choice for the up to three million Americans living with CD is to adhere strictly to a gluten-free diet, avoiding proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains. To do otherwise is to risk gradually damaging the intestines, preventing the absorption of vitamins and minerals and leading to a host of other health problems, including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, miscarriages, and cancer. 

Without a standard definition of “gluten-free,” people with gluten-related health problems can never be certain if a food is likely to be tolerated by them. So as a person living with CD for over a decade, I’m delighted to say that today, FDA is mandating a new rule on food labeling that will help people with CD – people just like me –be able to trust what the words “gluten-free” mean on their food purchases. Not only will this help those with CD manage their disease more carefully, but it will also improve life for many others who are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive. 

Food manufacturers have come a long way in providing terrific options for those who need to eat a gluten-free diet. And by providing a clear definition of the term “gluten free” for all manufacturers to follow, this rule will help ensure that all of the “gluten-free” claims on food products are reliable, consistent, and truthful. 

This is a very big deal. A celiac patient without access to proper treatment – a strict, gluten-free diet – could suffer severe health problems. I suffered from stomach issues my whole life and was constantly misdiagnosed with ulcers even as a young child. Since my correct diagnosis, I have worked hard to avoid gluten, but it is challenging. This new rule will help all of us with CD better manage our diets and our health. 

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, one of every 133 Americans has CD, and 83 percent are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. But as consumers and health care professionals become more aware of the disease and how to cope with it, and more confident that they can trust that those products labeled gluten-free meet a standard definition, the better off we’ll all be. 

CD can affect anyone; it doesn’t discriminate against race, age or gender. It can make eating, which I consider one of life’s great pleasures, a minefield, a thrice-daily event that is fraught with anxiety and peril. 

It’s not the FDA’s job to tell people what they should and shouldn’t eat, but it is our responsibility to make sure that people can trust what the labels say on the foods they do choose to eat. I am proud to say that today we have taken a huge step towards helping all of us with CD or any kind of gluten-sensitivity confidently manage our health. And that is good for everyone. 

Virginia A. Cox, J.D., is Associate Commissioner of FDA’s Office of External Affairs.

 

Dietary Supplements Containing Unsafe Food Additive Destroyed

By: Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D. 

In a victory for consumers, a Texas-based distributor of dietary supplements has destroyed its stock of two dietary supplements containing the stimulant dimethylamylamine (DMAA). 

In addition, a major distributor of the products – GNC Inc. - agreed to destroy the supplements in its possession after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) obtained seizure orders for GNC facilities in three states. GNC has already destroyed its DMAA products in two of the three states, and we expect the products in the third state to be destroyed this week. 

The products – OxyElite Pro and Jack3D, distributed by USPlabs – had an estimated retail value of more than $8.5 million. Dietary supplements containing DMAA – an amphetamine derivative – are advertised as useful for losing weight, enhancing athletic performance and building muscle. Reports implicate DMAA in the narrowing of blood vessels and arteries, which can elevate blood pressure and lead to serious medical conditions, including heart attack, seizures, psychiatric disorders and even death. FDA has received reports of more than 100 illnesses associated with products containing DMAA, including six deaths. 

A noteworthy aspect of this case is that FDA invoked its administrative detention authority to protect consumers. This authority was recently amended so that it can be used more easily. 

Here’s the backstory: 

The quickest method for getting risky products off the market remains voluntary compliance. USPlabs was one of 11 companies to receive warning letters from FDA in 2012 telling them that DMAA is illegal and should not be sold. Ten of the companies quickly agreed to stop using the stimulant as an ingredient in their dietary supplements, but USPlabs challenged the legal theories we had advanced. 

Unlike drugs, dietary supplements do not need to be approved by FDA for safety and effectiveness before they are sold. In order for FDA to ban a compound in a dietary supplement, FDA is required to undertake a series of lengthy scientific and legal steps.  When FDA opts to proceed through enforcement action rather than by issuing a regulation, the process of taking a product off the market typically begins with warning letters and can proceed to a seizure action or an injunction. 

Our scientists investigated USPlabs’ contentions only to conclude that DMAA was an unsafe food additive that couldn’t be used in supplements. In April 2013, FDA sent a response letter to the company giving it 15 days to take corrective action. 

When the company said it would continue to sell the remaining stock of supplements containing DMAA, the state of Texas temporarily embargoed both products and FDA in turn invoked its administrative detention authority. Before Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA), FDA could detain food only if an authorized agency representative had credible evidence or information that the article of food presented a “threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.”  But under FSMA, FDA can now detain food if an authorized agency representative has reason to believe that the product is adulterated or misbranded. If this standard is met, FDA can detain foods for up to 30 days, halting any shipments of suspect products while the agency considers other legal steps such as seizure or injunction. 

In this case, before the 30 days were up, USPlabs agreed to destroy its remaining stock. It had already committed in April 2013 to stop putting DMAA in the products. 

At GNC facilities in Pennsylvania and Arizona, FDA oversaw the destruction of GNC’s stores of OxyElite Pro and Jack3D, and the company has agreed to destroy its remaining supply in South Carolina. 

However, some products with DMAA may remain available on the Internet or store shelves while we continue working on this problem. 

Consumers are advised to read the label of any dietary supplement in their possession and discard the product if the label states it contains DMAA. Also, make sure to check FDA’s DMAA web page. DMAA may still be present in your supplement but under a different name. The website contains the full list of names that are commonly used for DMAA. So be sure to read your labels carefully. 

Finally, FDA asks health care professionals and consumers to report any adverse reactions to products containing DMAA to FDA’s MedWatch program either by:

•             completing and submitting an adverse event report online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm; or 

•             downloading and completing the adverse event reporting form, then submitting it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178. 

Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplement Programs

FDA’s Special Agents: On the Job to Protect the Public

By: John Roth

As noted in my previous three posts, FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) is an integral part of FDA’s mission to protect the public’s health. Our top-flight special agents –who have investigative authority similar to other federal law enforcement agencies – give the FDA unique fact-finding tools and provide for strong, industry-wide deterrence. Their work is different from, but enhances, the regulatory inspectors and investigators that make up the bulk of FDA’s field operations. 

Who are these special agents? They are federal law enforcement officers and they have experience: our average agent has been in federal law enforcement for over ten years, a necessary requirement given the sophistication required to work the wide range of OCI cases. 

Each special agent undergoes specialized training to be effective in their job, including firearms and personal safety training, advanced Special Agent training, and training in FDA law.  Throughout their career, OCI agents will keep up to date on the latest trends by participating in what is called “in-service training.”  Additionally, agents will take specialized training in other areas of federal law enforcement, including cybercrime investigations, computer forensics, financial tracing/asset forfeiture investigation, polygraphy, leadership and management, and advanced law enforcement techniques.

As you can see from this training regimen, we demand a lot from our agents – these skill areas are exceedingly complex. Moreover, agents must also learn such intangible skills as being able to work well with others, remain alert and focused, and hone that age-old requirement for any law enforcement officer: good instincts and a devotion to old fashioned shoe-leather doggedness. 

Our agents are located in more than 37 offices nationwide, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico, and work with law enforcement counterparts in many countries, as well as international organizations like Interpol, Europol, and the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime. 

No agent can go it alone, of course, and we rely on an outstanding supporting cast to help us: our “can-do” support staff, who make running a complex nationwide law enforcement program look effortless, the unmatched scientific and public health experts in the FDA centers and the civil-side inspectors and compliance officers in the field, who we rely on for help with complex, scientific cases, and finally prosecutors in the Department of Justice, who have embraced the FDA public health mission. 

My three previous FDA Voice posts highlighted several of the more significant, colorful, and sometimes tragic cases with which OCI has been involved. The first post looked at how we use our top-flight federal agents to work undercover in investigating shadowy overseas drug counterfeiters. The second post looked at high-profile instances of non-compliance right here in the United States – with our work resulting in a $1.4 billion fine. The third post looked at the callous and utter disregard for life caused by corporate actors, which necessitated a criminal response. Yes, these cases involved detailed, complex organization and a range of professional skills. 

But let me emphasize: OCI is doing this work every day. In fact, about every 30 hours, throughout the year, we are gaining a conviction, in crimes ranging from street level pharmaceutical diversion schemes to corporate fraud. In Fiscal Year 2012, OCI agents were responsible for cases that yielded over $4.9 billion in fines and restitution – monies that are paid directly to the U.S. Government or to specific victims of the criminal acts we investigate – an average of over $22 million per special agent. 

FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation is the only federal law enforcement agency whose mission is exclusively directed at protecting the public’s health. And, criminal enforcement is a critical part of FDA’s enforcement and compliance strategy, a strategy designed to protect people from dangerous products, fraudulent schemes, and unscrupulous criminals. 

Through these four FDA Voice posts, I hope that we have made our OCI team better known to our FDA colleagues and to the public. The vast majority of the FDA-regulated entities respond to FDA’s ordinary regulatory tools. However, OCI stands ready and on watch to locate, investigate, and bring to justice those individuals and entities who disregard and break our public health laws. 

John Roth is Director of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations

Working together for new solutions to cancer in children

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. 

One of the greatest pleasures I have as FDA commissioner is the opportunity to meet with so many who are making a real difference in the world of health care, including researchers, doctors, drug industry leaders, foundations, and advocates for patients and families, including most recently the Alexandria Summit for Oncology. 

The group’s two-day meeting in New York City addressed a range of topics related to the challenges and advances in treatments for cancer and featured many of the leading scientists and researchers in the field, including my colleague Dr. Richard Pazdur, the director of FDA’s Office of Hematology and Oncology Products. 

Last night I had the chance to speak to the group about developments in treating pediatric cancer. I was joined by Nancy Goodman, a passionate and effective advocate, who is the founder of a patient advocacy group called Kids and Cancer. Nancy is helping to influence discussion on this topic, and her inspiring work gives enduring meaning to the life of her son Jacob, who died of cancer in 2009. 

Pediatric medicine is an area that has long faced historic obstacles, the result of the tension between our eagerness to respond as quickly as possible to treating and developing treatments for diseases in children, and our desire to protect children from potentially dangerous side effects, particularly in the early stages of research when effectiveness is not fully known. 

Today, we are in the midst of some exciting advances in the development of improved and better treatments for cancer that we expect can and will translate into new treatments for children with cancer. Scientific progress isn’t the only reason for these advances.  Regulators, researchers and industry are also thinking and acting in new ways that are allowing us to accelerate our investigation and approval process.  

Over the past 20 years we have evolved from a view that we must protect children from research, to a view that we must protect children through research, in order to assure their access to new and effective medications. Research studies are the only way to truly determine the safety and efficacy of medication in children and to avoid possible harm when children are given drugs approved only for adults. 

Recent laws have created new mechanisms to prioritize drug research and development for children, resulting in a dramatic increase in pediatric drug trials. We are already seeing progress, with more drug companies hiring pediatric experts, and some large pharmaceutical companies developing pediatric centers of excellence. 

FDA is working to promote earlier consideration and approval of treatments for children. But increased emphasis is also needed on discovery and development, which must come from the industry and the academic research community. The potential offered by our science has never been greater. We want to turn this potential into expanded treatments, new drug availability, and hopefully new cures. That’s why the enthusiasm and creativity this Summit generates is so promising. 

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration