The Unique Voices of Our Patient Representatives

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D., and Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm.D.

We recently met with 21 inspirational patients and patient caregivers who have made the extraordinary commitment to become FDA patient representatives. These volunteers were in Washington to participate in our two-day Patient Representative Workshop so they can receive training that will allow them to help FDA meet its critical responsibility of guiding the development and evaluation of safe and effective medical products.

Robert Califf

Robert Califf, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The patient representative program has existed since 1999 and is integral to fulfilling FDA’s strong commitment to ensure that the needs and choices of patients – as well as their families, caregivers, and advocates – are incorporated in ever greater ways in the work we do.

Patients add context and content to the cutting-edge science and other empirical evidence that is so important in our regulatory decision-making.  Including their perspectives and voices in our work along the entire medical product continuum, from development to review and evaluation to post-market surveillance, offers opportunities to enhance our knowledge of the benefits and risks of medical products. It’s not only smart science; it just makes good sense. We know, for instance, that patients who live with a chronic disease are experts in the tangible effects of that disease and its treatments.

The training that patient representatives receive helps prepare them to serve on FDA advisory committees, meetings and workshops, where they are knowledgeable about what it is like to cope with their disease – including such topics as side effects from treatments and important lifestyle issues. They also provide valuable contributions as consultants to our review staff.

Heidi Marchand

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

To give you an idea of the unique set of skills and experiences patient representatives bring to their work, consider the stories and experiences we heard at the workshop.

One was an elite world class athlete, who initially thought her pain was muscular in nature before it was diagnosed as a serious blood clot. She has been on a series of different products since then and is now intimately familiar with what it is like to be on anticoagulants – reflecting on both the benefits and risks of taking these medications.

Two of our patient representatives are caregivers who have a personal experience with a rare disease, Batten’s Disease, a fatal, inherited disorder of the nervous system. Sadly, each lost a young son to the disease. But in the face of this tragedy, these two mothers have advocated tirelessly to find a cure for this disease and worked to educate other parents.

Another mother related the story of her daughter who, at age 16, survived two craniotomies to remove a lemon-sized brain tumor. The daughter went on to receive of 48 weeks of chemotherapy and 8 weeks of brain and spine radiation. The daughter is now 33 years old and doing well. And the mother told us how critical it was for her daughter to take an opioid to relieve her pain. This kind of input, from those who have experienced it first hand, is critical to our future decisions.

2016 FDA Patient Representative Group photo

FDA Patient Representatives at the 12th Annual FDA Patient Representative Workshop, hosted by FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs

The stories that these patient representatives tell are moving. But even more moving – and indeed inspirational – is their commitment to the future. That’s why they were selected – because of their individual involvement with their respective patient communities, their analytical skills, and their ability to maintain an open mind and consider options.

While we will help train them about the nuts and bolts of FDA – such as the various pathways that products take to get to market – it is their personal experience and their ability to understand and to articulate the perspectives, concerns, and experiences of patients – that makes them truly special.

As we continue to evaluate potential treatments and cures for different diseases, we must make sure that patients are more than simply statistics in this equation. They are real people, with names, faces, and, thanks to these patient representatives, important voices who represent an essential piece of the puzzle to be solved.

FDA is committed to looking for new and better ways to integrate the patient voice. Our patient representatives are an important piece of this commitment. They have an extraordinary impact. We thank them for their service and commitment, and look forward to working with them.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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

Practical Applications of FDA Regulations for the Indian Food Industry

By: Dean Rugnetta

Dean RugnettaGlobalization of the food supply chain and advances in food processing technologies have led American consumers to develop a taste for a variety of foods and cuisines from different countries. Increasingly, U.S. grocery stores sell foods from Asia, Latin America, and many other parts of the world. Indian exporters have recognized this marketing opportunity, and FDA information shows an increase in U.S. imports from India over the past 10 years. A wealth of ready-to-eat Indian specialties can be found in cans and bottles on U.S. store shelves including Indian curries (a.k.a. gravies), canned sweets, pickled cucumbers, and Indian pickles (chopped fruits and vegetables marinated in brine).

A serious potential health risk in canned and bottled foods

FDA’s regulations for processing shelf-stable or commercially sterile food — such as certain canned and bottled foods — were promulgated in the 1970’s in response to deaths related to botulism poisoning. Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by the bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.  FDA’s regulations require that processors heat and/or formulate low acid canned foods and acidified foods in a manner that eliminates favorable growth conditions for such toxins.

The regulations also require that supervisors in plants that manufacture such products be trained in appropriate processing methods. In the United States, FDA collaborates with industry groups, academia and other stakeholders to offer “Better Process Control Schools,” which typically provide two to five days of training.

Better Process Control School in India

Better Process Control School Class Group Photo

Students attending Better Process Control School in India

India now has a Better Process Control School where supervisors at any of the 300 FDA-registered facilities can attend training on how to safely process low acid canned foods and acidified foods. The school was established in 2010 when FDA’s India Office partnered with FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), and a local university in New Delhi, India. The school has convened three separate times since then, most recently this spring. The training helps local processors learn FDA’s regulatory requirements and fulfill a regulatory mandate. Processors that successfully complete the course receive a certificate.

The long-term goal of the training partnership in India is to establish a locally sponsored, self-sustaining class and demonstrates how FDA’s international outreach efforts are improving the safety of imported food products.

Dean Rugnetta is the Deputy Director of FDA’s India Office in New Delhi, India 

Links to other FDA Voice Blogs:

The Rise in Orphan Drug Designations: Meeting the Growing Demand

By: Gayatri Rao, M.D., J.D.

Developing drugs for rare diseases, once considered a rare phenomenon itself, has fast become a mainstay for many companies’ drug development pipelines. This is exciting news for the 30 million Americans with rare diseases and their families.

Dr. Gayatri RaoCongress played no small role in making this a reality when it passed the Orphan Drug Act in 1983.  One of the key features of this Act was the creation of the Orphan Drug Designation Program, which provides important financial incentives to encourage companies to develop drugs and biologics for rare diseases. This legislation includes major tax credits to defray the cost of conducting clinical trials, as well as eligibility for seven years of market exclusivity. As a result of later amendments to the Act, no user fee is required for orphan drug product submissions, except when an application includes an indication for a non-rare disease or condition.

The number of requests for orphan drug designation received by FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development (OOPD) has grown dramatically in recent years and is prompting FDA to adjust its timeframes for reviewing orphan drug designations in order to meet the demand. In 2014, we saw a 30% increase over the prior year’s record number. Yet, that record was broken the very next year when we received close to 470 requests. And the pace does not seem to be slowing. In fact, comparing the number of new requests received so far in 2016 with the corresponding date in 2015, there appears to be yet another 30% increase.

We strive to review these requests in an efficient and timely manner because we understand how critical designation can be for companies to move forward with their drug development plans. At the same time, we endeavor to safeguard the intent of the Orphan Drug Act by conducting a thorough review to ensure that the drugs we designate fully satisfy the criteria for designation and the financial incentives associated with designation.

While there is no statutory or regulatory review deadline, it has been our internal goal to review 75% of designation requests within 90 days of receipt. By streamlining our programs, modifying work priorities, and restructuring workloads, we have generally been able to meet or exceed that internal goal. However, the sustained increase in designation requests over the last three years, coupled with the increasing number of incentive programs and competing workload priorities, have forced us to reconsider our internal review target. Reviewing these applications in an efficient and timely manner continues to be a top priority, but to ensure we continue to conduct these reviews with the appropriate level of care and consideration, our current goal is to review on average 75% of designation requests within 120 days of receipt.

We will continue to evaluate workload in relation to resources, and may need to further adjust review timelines in the future.

Companies can play a critical role in ensuring that the new review timeframe does not translate into a delay in obtaining orphan drug designation by doing their part to reduce the number of review cycles needed (i.e., when OOPD needs additional information from the sponsor prior to determining the outcome of an orphan drug designation request).

On average, a request for designation today goes through two such review cycles. Sponsors can shorten this process by ensuring that designation requests are complete and fully address all requirements. We recommend sponsors review the information at for helpful hints and FAQs when developing their requests.

The rise in the number of requests for orphan drug designation holds promise for the future of rare disease drug development. We remain committed to the timely and effective administration of the Orphan Drug Designation Program with the shared hope of bringing safe and effective products quickly to the patients who need them most.

Gayatri Rao, M.D., J.D., is FDA’s Director for The Office of Orphan Products Development

Charting a Path Forward on Food Safety, Nutrition and Animal Health

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Susan Mayne, Ph.D., and Tracey Forfa, J.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

At FDA, we need to be prepared for the opportunities and challenges of today as well as those of tomorrow, and the FDA Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program’s new Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2016-2025 helps us to do just that.

Our new Strategic Plan makes it clear that we must have an overarching and risk-based approach that encompasses our broad portfolio of responsibilities. The plan organizes this work under four key goals: food safety, nutrition, animal health and organizational excellence.  Whether it’s chemical safety, dietary supplements, cosmetics, genetic engineering, nutrition labeling, antimicrobial resistance, review of animal drugs, or ensuring that we have the right technologies to identify hazards in the commodities we regulate—all of these issues impact the public health.  FDA is a public health agency first and foremost—and that is where our focus will be, using the core principle of science and tools such as regulation and guidance, research, and outreach and education to get us there. This fall, we’ll be issuing a broad implementation plan which will highlight specific actions under these four goals.

Susan Mayne

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Over the past several years we’ve made a lot of progress in a number of key areas. We have been very focused on developing the implementation framework for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), an enormous undertaking to modernize our preventive approach to food safety, and that work will continue. At the same time, we’ve made great headway on nutrition, modernizing the Nutrition Facts label, publishing draft, voluntary targets for reducing sodium in various foods, and making a final determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe.”  We’ve addressed the impact of animal agriculture on antimicrobial resistance by phasing out the use of medically important antimicrobials for production use and bringing remaining uses under the direction of veterinarians. And whole genome sequencing has helped us to identify the sources of foodborne illness outbreaks with speed and precision.

Tracey Forfa

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

One important lesson we learned from our work on FSMA that we can apply moving forward is the importance of transparency and active stakeholder engagement. We transformed the way we do business, and it helped to make our work on FSMA successful. Sometimes, our perspectives may differ from those of our stakeholders, but the important thing is that we seek common areas of alignment to solve problems. We plan to use this approach more broadly.

It’s important that our plan stays current. It will be updated to reflect emerging science, technology, innovation, and trends in globalization. It will keep pace with emerging hazards and risks in the products we regulate. That is why we are establishing an open docket. Comments can be submitted at any time, so that we can consider them and update the plan at least every two years.

We encourage you to take a look at the plan and let us know what you think. We will have plenty of opportunity for discussion in the months and years to come as we work to improve the public health together.

Read the Foods and Veterinary Medicine (FVM) Program’s Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2016–2025

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

Registration of Food Facilities: A Key Link in the Safety Chain

By: Erwin C. Miller, M.S.

The FDA’s mission to protect consumers from unsafe food follows different paths. The seven rules that have been finalized since last fall to implement the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will require food producers, importers, and transporters to take science- and risk-based actions to help prevent the contamination that leads to foodborne illness.

Erwin MillerToday, the agency finalizes another rule to implement FSMA, one that updates the requirements for the registration of domestic and foreign food facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for consumption in the United States, whether for people or for animals. Under the final rule, additional information will be required that will ultimately support the FDA’s ability to respond quickly to food-related emergencies and that will also help the agency more efficiently use the resources it has for inspections.

The registration rule also will affect establishments located on farms and “farm-operated businesses” by expanding the definition of a “retail food establishment,” which is not required to register as a food facility. The expansion of this definition would allow the inclusion of sales directly to consumers at roadside stands, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and other such direct-to-consumer platforms in determining an establishment’s primary function and thus whether it meets the definition of a retail food establishment. Congress, through FSMA, directed FDA to amend this definition. (Under the final rule, a farm-operated business is a business managed by one or more farms and that conducts manufacturing/processing not on the farm.)

The registration of food facilities has long been considered a key component of food safety. The September 2001 terrorist attacks highlighted the need to enhance the security of the infrastructure of the United States, including the food supply. Congress responded by enacting the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (called the Bioterrorism Act). This law directed the FDA to require food facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for consumption in the United States to register with the agency.

Nine years later, FSMA required that facilities renew their registrations biennially, among other new registration requirements. The biennial renewal requirement was effective upon enactment of FSMA, and the final rule codifies this and other registration requirements. The final registration rule also requires some new information, including the type of activity conducted for each category of food product and certain email address information to help expedite communication between the facilities and the agency. In addition, the final rule establishes mandatory electronic registration (with the availability of a waiver process) beginning January 4, 2020.

Facilities also will be required to provide a unique facility identifier (UFI) number as part of the registration process. This will allow the FDA to verify the facility-specific address associated with the UFI and help the agency ensure the accuracy of the registration database in a way that has not been possible under the current system. FDA plans to issue a guidance document to support compliance with the UFI requirement. Food facilities will be required to provide a UFI beginning October 1, 2020.

Together, the requirements in the final rule will be invaluable in providing the FDA with more accurate information about facility locations and information about the activities within facilities—thus aiding investigators in responding to foodborne illness outbreaks or earthquakes, floods, or other disasters. The final rule will also help the agency identify high-risk facilities and ensure that personnel with the proper training are dispatched to conduct an inspection.

While there is no fee for registration, some in the food industry submitted comments stating that certain aspects of the proposed rule would be too burdensome. In response to these comments, the agency has postponed the requirement for mandatory electronic registrations and the submission of a UFI to 2020 to ensure that facilities have ample time to comply.

The next biennial registration period will be October 1 through December 31, 2016. The FDA is committed to working with the food industry to facilitate implementation of this rule and address any questions that arise.

Erwin C. Miller, M.S., is the Chief for the Data Systems Integration Branch in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

FDA Takes Action against Zika Virus

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D., and Luciana Borio, M.D.

Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda and for decades only sporadic cases and a few outbreaks were recognized in a number of locations, including parts of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Since 2015, the situation has changed dramatically, with 48 countries and territories reporting a first outbreak of Zika virus as of July 2016. In the United States, cases of Zika virus disease acquired by the bite of an infected mosquito have only been reported in U.S. territories; to date, cases of Zika virus infection reported in the continental United States have involved travelers and in some instances their sexual contacts. However, given the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States and the increased mosquito activity in the summer months, we expect that imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States.

Robert Califf

Robert Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The FDA is taking important steps to rapidly respond to the Zika virus outbreak. We are engaged with our partners across the U.S. Government, the private sector, and the international community—including the World Health Organization and ANVISA (the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency)—to help minimize the impact of this outbreak.

Protecting Tissues and the Blood Supply

One of the FDA’s first actions was to take important steps to help protect the safety of the blood supply. The FDA issued guidance in February 2016 recommending the deferral of individuals from donating blood if they have been to areas with active Zika virus transmission, were potentially exposed to the virus, or have had a confirmed infection. The guidance also recommends that areas with active Zika virus transmission, like Puerto Rico, obtain whole blood and blood components from areas of the United States without active virus transmission unless a blood donor screening test for Zika virus is used. Because there were no blood donor screening tests available for Zika virus at the time, HHS arranged for and funded shipments of blood products from the continental U.S. to Puerto Rico to ensure an adequate supply of safe blood for residents until a blood donor screening test became available. The FDA worked closely with developers in a highly accelerated time frame to make available an investigational test for blood screening in March 2016. The availability of this investigational test, which has been in use in Puerto Rico since early April, has allowed blood establishments to safely collect blood in areas with active Zika virus transmission. A second investigational blood screening test was made available in June 2016. Together, these tests have also enabled blood donor screening to be put in place in areas of the United States where local virus transmission is anticipated, but not yet detected, helping to maintain the safety of the blood supply.

Dr. Lu Borio

Luciana Borio, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist

Zika virus also poses a risk for transmission by human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) such as corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, and semen used for medical, surgical, or reproductive procedures. Because of this risk, the FDA issued guidance recommending that donors of HCT/Ps be considered ineligible if they were diagnosed with Zika virus infection, were in an area with active Zika virus transmission, or had sex with a male with either of those risk factors, within the past six months.

Supporting Diagnostic Development

The ability to accurately detect and diagnose Zika virus infection is critical for a robust response to this public health threat. The FDA is actively working with manufacturers to support their diagnostic development programs, helping to ensure that their tests are properly validated before they are used to inform patient care. This collaboration has been very successful, and since the beginning of the year, we have authorized the use of five diagnostic tests for Zika virus under FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization authority—four tests to diagnose active infection and one test to assess whether individuals who may have recently been exposed to Zika were actually infected. This test is especially important for women given the link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus during their pregnancy.

Strategies to Suppress Mosquito Population

FDA—as well as our colleagues at EPA— are reviewing the use of innovative strategies to help suppress the population of virus-carrying mosquitoes to help mitigate the threat of vector-borne epidemics, such as Zika virus, which is thought to spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Recently, the FDA released for public comment a draft environmental assessment (EA) submitted by Oxitec, Ltd. (Oxitec). The EA assesses the potential environmental impacts of a proposed field trial of the company’s genetically engineered (GE) Ae. aegypti mosquitoes. The FDA also released for public comment a preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) agreeing with the conclusion in Oxitec’s draft EA that the proposed field trial of the company’s GE mosquitoes would not result in significant impacts on the environment.

The goal of the proposed field trial is to determine whether released Oxitec GE mosquitoes will mate with local wild-type Ae. aegypti and suppress their population at the release site. The FDA is reviewing the thousands of comments received during the public comment period before determining whether to finalize the EA and FONSI or prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). Oxitec will not proceed with the field trial of the GE mosquitoes until FDA issues its final EA and FONSI or EIS. Oxitec’s GE mosquitoes are one possible approach that could be incorporated into an integrated vector control program to help mitigate the threat of vector-borne epidemics; however, it is too early to say with any certainty whether such an approach would be successful.

Facilitating Medical Product Development

There are currently no vaccines or treatments for Zika virus that have been shown to be safe and effective. Facilitating the development and availability of vaccines is one of the highest priorities for the FDA and the international community. The FDA continues to actively engage with commercial and government developers, including the NIAID and BARDA, to advance the development of investigational vaccines for Zika virus as soon as possible. We are also working with ANVISA to assist in their efforts to expedite the development of vaccines for Zika virus. As was recently reported, a commercial company announced plans to begin evaluating the first investigational Zika virus vaccine in a Phase I clinical study.

Unfortunately, during outbreak situations, fraudulent products claiming to prevent, treat or cure a disease almost always appear. FDA is monitoring for fraudulent products and false product claims related to Zika virus and will take appropriate action to protect consumers when necessary.

More than 120 FDA staff from across the Agency are  responding to the Zika virus outbreak, working together to address the complex range of issues that this evolving epidemic continues to present in order to protect and promote the public health, both domestically and abroad. This type of teamwork exemplifies the capacity of people at FDA to rally together to solve problems, often with little explicit credit other than the satisfaction of meeting the mission of promoting and protecting the public health. There are many fundamental scientific questions that need to be addressed with respect to Zika virus, and our scientists are working to help answer some of these questions in our own laboratories. We stand ready to use our expertise and authorities to the fullest extent to help facilitate the development and availability of products that may help mitigate the Zika virus outbreak.

Visit our Zika response web page for more information, including the latest Zika virus response updates from FDA.

Robert Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Luciana Borio, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist

FDA Advisory Committee Members and ‘Appearance Issues’

By: Michael Ortwerth, Ph.D.

FDA relies on its advisory committees as a source of independent scientific and technical expertise and advice on challenging public health issues. Most advisory committee members are appointed as “special government employees” (SGEs). Like regular government employees, these committee members are subject to Federal conflict of interest laws and regulations.

Michael OrtwerthA lack of understanding about our selection and evaluation process has, at times, resulted in confusion and misunderstandings by the public.  We’ve been working to bring greater transparency to how the financial interests of committee members are evaluated.

In 2008, we published “Guidance for the Public, FDA Advisory Committee Members, and FDA Staff on Procedures for Determining Conflict of Interest and Eligibility for Participation in FDA Advisory Committees.” That guidance describes how we apply financial conflict of interest requirements.

What has not been previously addressed in guidance is something called “appearance issues.” Sometimes FDA advisory committee members who do not have interests and relationships that are financial conflicts of interest nevertheless have interests and relationships that may create the appearance that they lack impartiality. Appearance issues are addressed in a government-wide regulation regarding standards of ethical conduct for government employees at 5 CFR 2635.502 (informally known as “Section 502”).

Some examples include:

  • When a member of the household works or is seeking to work for the sponsor with a product before the committee;
  • When a member has had past financial interests with the sponsor with a product before the committee; and,
  • When a member has a current consulting contract with a sponsor but the contract is not related to the product or issue before the committee.

We have recently published new draft guidance describing FDA’s procedures for evaluating appearance issues and how we determine whether to grant an authorization for a member with an appearance issue to participate in an FDA advisory committee.

Section 502 implements the ethical principle that a government employee should be impartial in performing their official duties, meaning that they must not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual or use public office for private gain. To the extent that an advisory committee member’s performance of official duties might appear to benefit themselves or certain other individuals who are close to them, they must take appropriate steps to avoid an appearance of violating these ethical principles.

We also explain in the draft guidance the circumstances that FDA considers when determining whether an appearance issue may exist. We evaluate the circumstances and assess whether the interests, relationships, or circumstances would cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts to question the advisory committee member’s impartiality in the matter before the committee. For example, if an advisory committee member serves on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization and that organization receives donations from the sponsor that is presenting before the committee, we review the details of the donation to determine whether the member should be cleared for service on the advisory committee.

FDA has flexibility and discretion in deciding whether an advisory committee member with an appearance issue should be authorized to participate in the advisory committee meeting. We evaluate whether the government’s interest in the advisory committee member’s participation outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the agency’s programs and operations. If so, FDA may authorize the member to participate in the meeting.

Although FDA advisory committees provide advice and input to the Agency, FDA makes the final decisions.

The draft guidance is being issued for public comment before we issue a final guidance. Under Federal law, FDA is not permitted to disclose confidential information provided by advisory committee members related to appearance issues. But we are specifically requesting comments on whether the agency should request that advisory committee members voluntarily disclose if they have been granted an appearance authorization.

FDA is committed to ensuring that appropriate expertise and experience is brought to bear on the critical public health issues facing the agency. Often, we convene advisory committee meetings to obtain independent expert advice and perspective. At the same time, it is important that the process we use to screen advisory committee members for participation in meetings be as transparent as possible, and that we protect the credibility and integrity of advisory committee advice. We welcome your comments on how the agency can continue to meet these important goals.

Michael Ortwerth, Ph.D,. is FDA’s Director of the Advisory Committee Oversight and Management Staff

Leveraging the Power of Collaboration – FDA’s New Oncology Center of Excellence

By: Richard Pazdur, M.D.

I am honored to be selected by Commissioner Califf today as the acting director of FDA’s new Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE) in support of the Vice President’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

Dr. Richard PazdurThis new center will be a place where the combined skills of regulatory scientists and reviewers with oncology clinical expertise in drugs, biologics, and devices will come together to support an integrated approach to the advancement of cancer treatment.

The OCE emulates both academia and cancer care centers, which are increasingly organized in multidisciplinary models to enhance collaboration, which is so essential when confronting a complex disease like cancer.

Such a collaborative approach – the sharing of ideas, information and best practices – closely fits my own vision for oncology at the FDA.

When I first joined FDA from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Texas in 1999, oncology products were reviewed in different divisions within the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), in addition to those reviewed by other centers. My current Office of Hematology and Oncology Products (OHOP) was created in 2005 in an attempt to consolidate the review of oncology products within CDER. Additional reorganization into disease-specific teams followed in 2011. This reorganization greatly enhanced both our retention and recruitment of professional staff from leading academic centers. Disease-specific expertise expedited review processes and fostered multiple outreach activities to patient and professional groups. Between 2010 to the present, OHOP approved 61 new molecular entities to treat a variety of cancers – and most approvals were well before their deadlines.

The OCE will build on FDA’s integrative approach to medical product development and the collaborative work that has been a hallmark of the broader FDA oncology community for nearly a decade such as our cross-center monthly meetings to discuss key oncology issues, collaborative workshops and programs and the work we’ve done together on research and scientific publications.

This new center will also continue to facilitate the incorporation of the patient view in our regulatory decision-making, which has become a personal mission for me since my wife Mary, an oncology nurse, died of ovarian cancer last November.

And by bridging the various medical product centers, the OCE will be ideally suited to support innovation and to address the recognition that multiple treatment and diagnostic options are in the best interest of patients.

Certainly the key to OCE’s future success will be leveraging the talents of the staff at FDA. The very first thing I plan to do as acting director is to meet  with those involved in oncology medical product development and review across centers to hear their ideas for the OCE and how we can work together to enhance our efforts across the agency.

Developing the structure of the OCE is an ongoing process. Working closely with the center directors we will develop a staged approach for establishing the new center while ensuring the work across centers continues without disruption.

I look forward to guiding the agency through this initial phase, building our cross-disciplinary review staff, providing external outreach to diverse stakeholders and streamlining administrative processes to ensure rapid review of important cancer products to the American public.

Richard Pazdur, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Director, Oncology Center of Excellence

Sleuthing, and a Little Help from Consumers, Helps FDA Track Down Bacteria in Flour

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D., and Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., M.P.H.

When many people buy flour, they empty it into a canister and throw out the bag. But three people at the center of a recent outbreak of foodborne illness didn’t do that. They kept their flour in the original packaging, and in so doing enabled the FDA to track down what was making people sick.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

The story of the recent recall of 10 million pounds of baking and cooking flour is one in which federal agencies, consumers and the food company – in this case, General Mills – all had a role in doggedly tracking down the source of an outbreak that has made dozens of people across the country sick and getting the suspect product off the market.

It all began with a signal, or more accurately, with multiple signals that were monitored by FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) network. This team looks for “signals” that may point to a pending outbreak, including reports of human illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FDA-collected data on food samples and inspections, and related information on illnesses and inspections from state and local public health and regulatory agencies.

The signals this time came from CDC, which in February identified a string of illnesses that began in December as an outbreak of infections caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121. This pathogen is a much less common cause of foodborne illness than its better-known cousin E. coli O157. Investigators began to interview patients about the foods they had eaten in the week before they became ill. But identifying flour as the source of the outbreak was not easy. Initially, it seemed that produce or other foods might be the culprit.

Kathleen Gensheimer

Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) network

Then there was a break. By April, investigators had found that all of the people interviewed in depth had been baking at home, and many of them said they used Gold Medal flour. Multiple interviewees also mentioned eating raw cookie dough that had been made at home with the flour.

CORE was now faced with the daunting task of proving that specific batches of flour caused the majority of the illnesses. The reports from some patients could not initially be confirmed because key information about the brand and lot numbers was not available – it had gone out in the garbage with the flour bags.

But in the weeks that followed, investigators made two important discoveries:

Three people who had become ill still had the original flour package. Two of the labels showed that the Gold Medal Brand flour had been packaged at a General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri, and that they were packaged on consecutive days. The third was made at that plant within a week of the other two.

And the FDA team became aware of illnesses linked to restaurants that would supply balls of raw dough for children to play with. These illnesses were among children who had eaten different meals at restaurants in separate states. The CORE team learned that the flour used by the restaurants during the estimated time of the children’s exposure was supplied by the same General Mills production facility.

The FDA decided not to wait for laboratory confirmation that there was E. coli in the flour before contacting the company. On May 27, FDA and CDC investigators briefed General Mills leadership about the information they had received from patients and on May 31 the firm voluntarily recalled a massive amount of flour — 10 million pounds produced in the Kansas City plant over a three-week period in November and December of 2015.

The FDA continued its analysis of a sample of flour collected from the home of a patient who had provided one of the labels. Laboratory microbiologists at the agency confirmed the presence of E. coli O121 in that flour sample. On June 10, FDA’s whole genome sequencing analysis of that sample also confirmed that the E. coli O121 was closely related genetically to bacteria found in people who had become ill. The final piece of the puzzle was put into place, although the investigation continues to ensure that all contaminated product is off the market.

This was just one of the hundreds of voluntary recalls that the FDA facilitates every year. Going forward, the agency’s compliance and enforcement strategies, including recalls, will get even stronger with the recent establishment of a decision-making body of key senior leaders to identify timely and efficient measures to mitigate public health risks.

Laying the groundwork for a recall can be a complex and lengthy process, with only bits and pieces of information coming in at any one time. But tenacity, collaboration and a willingness to be proactive in protecting consumers, enabled the FDA, its federal, state, and local partners, and General Mills to quickly and efficiently work to recall a potentially dangerous product and keep even more people from becoming ill.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Kathleen Gensheimer, M.D., M.P.H., is the director of FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) network

FDA: A Great Place for Science…and for Scientists on the New Frontier of Regulatory Science

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

Robert CaliffAs FDA Commissioner, I’m proud of our agency’s extraordinary commitment to using the best available science to support our mission to protect and promote the health of the American public. This is especially critical today, as rapid scientific and technological advances are helping to expand our understanding of human biology and underlying disease mechanisms and to identify the molecular profile of a food contaminant.

These breakthroughs offer unprecedented opportunities for us to develop new treatments and cures and to protect our food supply with a robust system that meets the challenges of globalization.

But there’s another benefit that derives from our application of cutting-edge science to the challenges we face, which has become increasingly evident to me through my conversations with some of FDA’s more than 10,000 scientists. And that’s the deep personal and professional satisfaction gained from working in FDA’s state-of-the-art laboratories on front-line issues that make a real difference in the lives of all Americans. As one FDA scientist commented, “At FDA, your work is really at the crossroads of cutting-edge technology, patient care, tough scientific questions, and regulatory science.”

Being Part of a Vibrant Collaborative Scientific Environment

Whether you’re a biologist, chemist, epidemiologist, pharmacist, statistician, veterinarian, nurse, physician, or an engineer and whether you’re a recent graduate or a seasoned scientist, FDA offers an unmatched opportunity to be a part of a vibrant, collaborative culture of regulatory science.

FDA scientists gain a bird’s eye view of the pharmaceutical and food industries, and develop a thorough familiarity and understanding of the regulatory structure that guides these industries. As one young FDA scientist recently commented, “We see a tremendous breadth of different products here, which helps us learn quickly and makes our jobs interesting and challenging.” Another newly trained FDA scientist shared, “We have the chance to work with highly trained colleagues, within and across disciplines, to build and keep our scientific training cutting-edge.”

While the work of FDA scientists helps to advance scientific understanding, it goes much further than that. That’s because our work is directly tied to regulatory decisions. As such it has a powerful and immediate effect on the health of millions of Americans. As another FDA scientist explained, “We get to see how these basic science and clinical advances get applied to producing medical treatments and devices and how these can make differences in people’s lives.”

FDA offers a number of fellowship, internship, graduate, and faculty programs through which newly-minted scientists can join FDA and continue to apply and develop their skills. Many of these individuals remain on as full-time FDA scientists. One former FDA Fellow said they appreciate how “FDA makes room for and respects voices of young, qualified scientists.”

Tackling the Most Challenging Scientific Issues

So, although I may frequently boast about FDA’s responsibility and ability to do rigorous scientific research and its importance for the American public, I’m speaking as much about our scientists as our science. And I hope that when other young talented scientists consider these testimonies from our multifaceted scientific workforce they will be encouraged to join us.

I want to see more professionals take advantage of the opportunities FDA offers to collaborate on some of the most transformative scientific issues of our times – both for their benefit and for the nation’s. We need the best scientific minds to tackle the challenges of food safety, medical product development, and to evaluate how emerging technologies are affecting FDA-regulated products so that our reviewers can make science-based decisions about a product’s benefits and risks.

That’s why we’ve successfully added thousands of qualified new employees over the last several years and worked hard to fill mission-critical positions. It’s also why we continue to seek more hiring flexibilities and other ways that enable us to be more competitive with private-sector salaries for these positions.

The career opportunities at FDA are enormous, and I look forward to welcoming the next generation of scientists of every stripe to help us fulfill our mission. It’s not only good for science and essential to FDA’s ability to protect and promote public health; it’s a unique opportunity for these talented scientists and their careers.

FDA Scientists Discuss Their Cutting-Edge Research in FDA Grand Rounds Webcasts

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration