A ‘Roadmap’ for Navigating Patient Advocacy

By: John J. Whyte, M.D., M.P.H.

So, you and your organization have a passion for helping people and you want to work with FDA to advance your advocacy work. Are you unsure of the most effective way to enable patients to gain greater access to safe and effective drug therapies?

John WhyteWe know government agencies can be big and confusing. That’s why we’re working on a roadmap to help make your navigation easier.

And you can get involved.

FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) is sponsoring a daylong public workshop on March 31, 2016, titled Navigating CDER: What You Should Know for Effective Engagement. Our presentations will help patient advocates gain a better understanding of FDA and provide specific resources to help you and your colleagues learn ways to effectively advocate and engage with the Agency on behalf of the patients you serve.

We’ll provide a broad overview of patient engagement with various offices within CDER, and drill down into key specifics such as:

  • Who and when to call;
  • How to set up a meeting at FDA;
  • Provide tips on making the most out of your meeting; and,
  • How to prepare an effective presentation for FDA staff.

We’ll also discuss topics such as understanding labeling, generic drugs, and how patients can effectively interact and provide input to FDA. And, we’ll look at some programs including different drug approval processes, expanded access, and FDA’s role in patient focused drug development (PFDD). These are only a few of the many important areas we’ll tackle.

For several years, FDA has been working to focus on the needs and goals of the patient as the Agency makes decisions about drug therapies for the advancement and protection of public health. These efforts can only be as effective as our ability to connect with the patients and their representatives we seek to engage.

Join us if you can. If you can’t, we’ll be making information about the meeting available on our website. We look forward to a productive and informative day!

John J. Whyte, M.D., M.P.H., is Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

‘Leaning in’ on Combination Products

By: Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., and Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H.

Medical products that combine drugs, devices, and/or biological products are known as combination products. These products present a number of regulatory, policy, and review management challenges because they include components from multiple regulatory categories (e.g., drug and device, drug and biologic, biologic and device, drug, device, and biologic) with distinct regulatory requirements, and review of a combination product generally requires involvement of more than one FDA Center.

Nina Hunter

Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., FDA’s Associate Director for Science Policy in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

However, as FDA continues to adapt to the rapidly evolving ecosystem of therapeutic development, it’s more important than ever to find ways to encourage innovation and support the development of these needed technologies.

To that end, FDA has been working on ways to improve the overall efficiency, consistency, and predictability of combination product review. We’ve already shared some of our progress with you in a recent blog post.

An important next step is launching the lean management process mapping approach to build a better system for combination products review – one that’s more cohesive, more collaborative, and more systematic.

What is lean management process mapping, you might ask? It begins with an analysis of what’s being done now, then designs a future state that eliminates waste and maximizes value.

We expect two significant outputs from this mapping:

  • A “current state” map that shows how we’re doing now. Importantly, this initial look will highlight existing sources of delay or redundancy. Creating this baseline map also will allow us to identify metrics for success and to assess the impact of improvements as they are put in place.
  • A “future state” map showing a streamlined, efficient process that will eliminate previously identified delays and redundancies.
Rachel Sherman

Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

Has lean management already been successfully applied at the FDA? Yes!

Under the leadership of Kyle Hair, the Lean Management Team in the human drugs program in the Office of Strategic Programs has executed strategic work and communication plans for initiatives across the Agency.

For example, when the “Lean Team” consulted with the Office of Clinical Pharmacology within the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, it helped establish project management staff functions, roles, and responsibilities for the Office’s core processes. The team also has applied its expertise to stand up the new Office of Pharmaceutical Quality, as well as apply its expertise to such topics as drug safety communications and risk evaluation mitigation strategy.

Lean management works. And we’re confident that applying lean management principles to combination product review will allow us to enhance communication and coordination among the groups that oversee the development, review, and approval of combination products.

Of course, we realize that success in this area depends upon meaningful interactions among all FDA Offices and Centers involved with combination products review. The active participation emphasized by lean management principles will ensure that the needed collaboration is present from the start.

Lean methods also encourage critical thinking and problem-solving, with a focus on reliable, efficient, timely, and reproducible evaluation and decision-making. In this case, our efforts will be focused on the ultimate goal of a combination product review system that is transparent, clear, and consistent.

But lean process mapping is only one piece of the puzzle. Stay tuned for more information about other key priorities and initiatives aimed at modernizing the review of combination products!

Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., is FDA’s Associate Director for Science Policy in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., is FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

Have a Problem? Contact the New Ombudsman in the Office of Regulatory Affairs

By: Melinda K. Plaisier

Melinda PlaisierWhether we are inspecting your facilities, sampling your products, or conducting investigations, the primary goal of FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) is to protect the public. But I understand the impact our actions can have on you, so I am committed to making ORA’s processes as transparent as possible and quickly addressing problems you may encounter.

That’s why I’m happy to announce a new resource: an ORA ombudsman who can help you with unresolved concerns. While you may continue to bring issues to my staff, Ombudsman Jessica Zeller is dedicated solely to helping you with assessing and resolving problems.

Jessica, who has worked in both industry and government, understands that FDA’s perspective is often different from that of industry and other stakeholders. Her experience makes her an ideal candidate to carry out two primary objectives:

  • To informally and in an unbiased manner, find solutions, when possible, to problems that arise with our external partners, including industry, other governmental agencies, and consumers.
  • To improve communications between ORA employees and stakeholders through outreach and education, helping both sides become more aware of each other’s needs.

“Understanding the pressures that each side faces are critical to working out solutions and allaying fears,” says Jessica. “I intend to hear what you are saying and feel what you are feeling. I will not always be able to get you what you want, but I promise you will have an opportunity to share your concerns, and I will attempt to achieve the best solution possible.”

Although Jessica reports directly to me, and ORA leaders will continue to make final decisions, Jessica is an unbiased third party who will consider and work on your concerns. You may contact her by phone or email, and she will keep conversations as confidential as possible within the limits of the law.

Jessica gained her expert knowledge from more than a decade of work in FDA regulation. During her eight-year tenure at FDA, from 2004 to 2013, she served in the Office of the Chief Counsel and as deputy director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement in the Center for Tobacco Products. From 2013 until she returned to FDA late last year, Jessica was in-house counsel for Proctor & Gamble. She also previously worked as a congressional staffer, earned a law degree and a master’s degree in bioethics from the University of Virginia, and a bachelor’s degree in biology.

The International Ombudsman Institute defines an ombudsman as a person of prestige and influence who operates with objectivity, competence, efficiency, and fairness. We are proud that Jessica fits that lofty definition so well. I encourage you to reach out to her when issues remain unresolved.

Melinda K. Plaisier is FDA’s Associate Commissioner of Regulatory Affairs

Launching a New Natural History Grants Program: Building a Solid Foundation for Rare Disease Treatments

By: Katherine Needleman, Ph.D. and Gumei Liu, M.D., Ph.D.

Today, on Rare Disease Day 2016, FDA’s Office of Special Medical Programs/Office of Orphan Products Development (OOPD) is proud to announce the launch of a new grants program to fund natural history studies with the hope of bringing new and important diagnostics and therapeutics to patients with rare diseases.

Kathy Needleman

Katherine Needleman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Orphan Products Grants Program of FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development

A rare disease, by definition, affects fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States. Its impact, however, is far from rare. Altogether, about 7,000 known rare diseases affect about 30 million Americans. Yet the vast majority of rare diseases do not have adequate diagnostic tools or treatments.

Developing such diagnostics or treatments — whether it’s a drug, biologic, or medical device — has been compared by many to building a house. Both require a solid, sound foundation. For any rare disease treatment development program, that foundation consists of having a thorough understanding of the natural history of a disease.

How do you define the natural history of a disease? Think about it as the course a disease takes – from the time of its onset, progressing through its pre-symptomatic phase and clinical stages, to the end of the disease. Insight into a disease’s natural history can help lead to better, more well-designed trials that can accelerate the development of life-saving diagnostics and therapeutics.

Gumei Liu

Gumei Liu, M.D., Ph.D. is a reviewer and grant project officer in FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development

A lack of understanding of the natural history is often a major obstacle to developing life-saving products for patients with rare diseases. Without it, it becomes very difficult to decide what to study, know what to look for within a study, and capture the data necessary for approval of a treatment or even a cure.

OOPD’s new Natural History Grant Program is intended to provide much needed support and complement ongoing efforts to help change the trajectory of rare disease product development. The funded studies should help characterize the natural history of a rare disease or condition, identify genotypic and phenotypic subpopulations, and develop and/or validate clinical outcome measures, biomarkers, and companion diagnostics.

There are several ways to conduct natural history studies. They can look back in time (retrospective), look ahead (prospective), or be a survey study (collection of data through questionnaires). Each has its pros and cons and the method will to a great extent depend on what we know about a specific rare disease and the currently available treatment options.

Patient advocacy groups can and do play a critical role in collecting natural history data as is highlighted in FDA’s video discussion (watch video below) on natural history studies featuring perspectives from patient advocates. Often what prevents organizations, like patient advocacy groups, from conducting natural history studies is funding. And that’s where the grants program can make a difference.

The Orphan Products Natural History Grants Program is open to funding all types of natural history studies that are appropriate for the rare disease being studied and can aid in development of diagnostics and treatments. There are two funding levels and durations that will be offered:

  • A maximum of $400,000 in total costs per year for up to five years for prospective natural history studies involving clinical examination of affected individuals; and
  • A maximum of $150,000 in total costs per year for up to two years for retrospective natural history studies or survey studies.

The Orphan Products Natural History Grants Program is built upon OOPD’s Orphan Products Grants program that was established by the Orphan Drug Act more than 30 years ago and which has typically funded clinical trials. OOPD has successfully utilized its budget to help bring over 50 products to market with that clinical trial grant program.

We hope that this new Orphan Products Natural History Grants Program will help build the important foundation necessary to accelerate the development of life-saving diagnostic and treatments for the many rare disease patients who need them.

Katherine Needleman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Orphan Products Grants Program of FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development

Gumei Liu, M.D., Ph.D. is a reviewer and grant project officer in FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development

FDA Offers Free, Continuing Education Course to Help Health Care Providers Understand ‘Biosimilars’

By: Leah Christl, Ph.D.

You may have heard about a new category of products called “biosimilars.” What are biosimilars and how do they relate to biological products already widely in use?

Leah ChristlBiological products derived from living organisms can treat patients with cancer, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other serious conditions. Biological products that are “biosimilar” to, or “interchangeable” with, an already-approved FDA biological product (an FDA-licensed reference product) are one way to improve access and increase treatment options at potentially lower cost for our nation’s health care system.

These products are licensed through a new pathway created in the United States in 2009. FDA is well aware that health care professionals–including prescribers, the nurses who will administer them, and the pharmacists who will dispense them–need to understand how these drugs work and how they are intended to be used.

To that end, FDA has developed a free, Continuing Education Course for health care professionals – titled, FDA Overview of Biosimilar Products – to help them strengthen their knowledge and understanding of biosimilars and interchangeable products. Biosimilars and interchangeable products, for instance, are not generic products, and this education course will help health care professionals fully appreciate the distinction.

There’s a growing interest in biosimilars and interchangeable products in the pharmaceutical industry. The first biosimilar in the U.S. was approved in 2015. It boosts the production of white blood cells and helps to ward off infection in patients receiving strong chemotherapy for some tumors. FDA is reviewing several other marketing applications for proposed biosimilar products.

This course also will help health care professionals understand how a biosimilar can be prescribed and dispensed, and how and when an interchangeable product can be substituted for another biological product.

The program will inform healthcare professionals about the development process and approval pathway for biosimilars and interchangeable products. It also includes information about FDA’s general review process for these products that will help attendees gain a better understanding of the relationships between biosimilars and interchangeable products.

The course is available to health professionals on FDA’s CDERLearn Website, and can be completed on a tablet for those on the go and not at their desktop computer.

Leah Christl, Ph.D., is the Associate Director for Therapeutic Biologics in the Office of New Drugs, at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at FDA

CBER’s Laboratory Quality System Management Helps Keep Biological Product Standards High

By: Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D.

Part of the vision of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) is to strengthen the Center as the preeminent regulatory organization for biologics. One way CBER is achieving this: Through the work of the Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality (OCBQ) and the Office of Vaccines Research and Review (OVRR).

Peter MarksThese offices play a major role in helping to ensure the safety and quality of products regulated by CBER. Their work shows that CBER isn’t just talking the talk about its vision, it’s also walking the walk to demonstrate the expertise needed to fulfill that vision.

That walk leads directly to OCBQ’s Division of Biological Standards and Quality Control (DBSQC), OVRR’s Laboratory of Immunobiochemistry (LIB), and the Center’s Laboratory Quality System (LQS) Program.

LQS is the coordinated structure, procedures, processes, and resources that the Center uses to evaluate and test CBER-regulated biological products. LQS product testing supports biological product licensing, Lot release and surveillance of licensed biological products, and other Center actions. The LQS program also is critical to the development and evaluation of reference materials, standards, and manufacturers’ assays. This extensive responsibility makes LQS an important link in the chain of regulatory actions that support CBER’s mission to help ensure the safety, purity, and potency of biological products.

CBER is authorized by law to create regulations that authorize OCBQ and OVRR to oversee facilities that manufacture CBER-regulated biological products and the biological products they make. CBER leaders wanted to go further in demonstrating the Center’s commitment to quality systems, and decided to voluntarily submit the LQS program to accreditation by an unbiased, non-governmental, nonprofit third party: the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

ISO sets laboratory accreditation standards for academic and industrial organizations worldwide. Laboratories that receive ISO accreditation can rightly state their test results are precise and reproducible. OCBQ and OVRR accepted the challenge to ensure that their work meets high, internationally recognized standards.

The particular standards CBER sought to meet, called ISO/IEC 17025:2005, are used by testing and calibration laboratories. In the United States, industry laboratories can get accredited to ISO standards by one of many accrediting bodies. CBER turned to the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA).

In 2010, CBER received accreditation from A2LA for six methods to test influenza vaccines, including those for sterility and potency, and seven methods for evaluating blood donor screening kits that detect the presence of HIV, HBV, HCV, HTLV-I/II, Trypanosoma cruzi, and West Nile virus.

Additional methods have been accredited since then. CBER’s recent accreditation renewal in October 2015, demonstrated the Center’s competence in 32 test methods previously accredited and added a new laboratory test: evaluating a cELISA allergen test used by CBER for cat hair, ragweed, and dust mites in the newly accredited Laboratory of Immunobiochemistry.

These laboratory accreditations signify that this program is an international leader in biological product regulation based on demonstrated expertise in these laboratory techniques. And they offer more evidence that CBER’s goal of being a preeminent regulatory organization isn’t just a vision, it’s a reality that CBER and FDA, can be proud of.

Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research

Clarifying What We Mean When We Talk About Biomarkers: An NIH/FDA Joint Leadership Council Success

By: Melissa A. Robb, B.S.N., M.S. (RegSci), and Robert M. Califf, M.D.

What if there was a more uniform way to convey key technical terms to help advance scientific progress? Thanks to the Biomarkers, Endpoints, and other Tools (BEST) Resource, we’re one step closer to that goal.

Melissa Robb

Melissa A. Robb, B.S.N., M.S. (RegSci), FDA’s Associate Director for Regulatory Affairs, Office of Medical Policy, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

Now available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s Bookshelf, the BEST Resource was developed through a collaboration of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It includes a glossary of terms and definitions that will ensure the consistency and clarity needed to drive progress in biomedical research and clinical care.

Why is this textbook so important? In the spring of 2015, the FDA-NIH Joint Leadership Council identified a problem: Confusion about the definitions and inconsistent use of key terms–including biomarkers, surrogates, and clinical outcome assessments. This can deter progress in developing medical products and thereby potentially compromise efficiency in achieving public health benefits.

Accordingly, the council identified a high priority: harmonizing terms—or making sure that everyone is “speaking the same language”–that describe and categorize types of endpoints.

Members from multiple FDA Centers and NIH institutes formed a working group to focus on creating a glossary. This was the first step to a publicly available and open access textbook that could be continuously updated and expanded.

Robert M. Califf, MD, MACC; Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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

As the basis of their work, the group considered existing terminology and definitions. Those include FDA guidance documents and other literature, especially a seminal FDA-sponsored Institute of Medicine study.

The use of biomarkers has recently expanded widely to include fields such as mechanistic biomedical research, clinical trials, drug discovery, medical product development, clinical care, and regulatory science. Recognizing this broad influence and the accepted vernacular of these varied fields, the group sought to first reach consensus around biomarker taxonomy.

For example, there’s misunderstanding about the various types of biomarkers and the distinction between biomarkers and surrogate endpoints. One challenge was to settle upon definitions that were broad enough to be used by diverse communities, including biomedical scientists, translational researchers, clinical researchers, medical product developers, and clinicians, and also across diverse types of products.

Where possible, to provide more context and insight into important terms, examples are given alongside many definitions in the BEST Resource. NIH and FDA intend to use the definitions included in this glossary when communicating on topics related to its contents (e.g., biomarkers) to ensure a consistent use of the terms and therefore, a common understanding of the issues. FDA’s Biomarker Working Group, with representation from all of our Centers, contributed to developing these definitions.

Now we need your help. We need your feedback and comments on the glossary. You can provide them at the BEST (Biomarkers, EndpointS, and other Tools) Resource.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to work on adding context to terms related to regulatory science, clinical trials, and laboratory science.

Effective, unambiguous communication is essential for efficient translation of promising scientific discoveries into approved medical products. Once we are all speaking the same language, we can tackle other challenges to bring the promises of biomedical research and clinical care to fruition.

The FDA-NIH Biomarker Working Group members include: from FDA – Shashi Amur, Robert L. Becker, Robert Califf, Aloka G. Chakravarty, David S. Cho, Nina L. Hunter, Ilan Irony, Christopher Leptak, Kathryn M. O’Callaghan, Michael A. Pacanowski, Elektra J. Papadopoulos, Vasum Peiris, Melissa Robb, Hobart L. Rogers, Rachel E. Sherman, Robert J. Temple, Ann Marie Trentacosti, and Sue Jane Wang; and from the NIH – Holli Hamilton, Pamela McInnes, Lisa M. McShane, and Monica R. Shah.

Melissa A. Robb, B.S.N., M.S. (RegSci), is FDA’s Associate Director for Regulatory Affairs, Office of Medical Policy, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

Robert M. Califf, M.D., previously FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco, became FDA’s Commissioner of Food and Drugs on Feb. 25, 2016

Building a Case for Medical Device Interoperability: FDA’s Call to Action

By: Bakul Patel, M.S., M.B.A.

As Yoda might say: build a case for interoperability, we must. While we may not have yet realized the technological accomplishments of Yoda’s advanced world, today connectivity shows great promise for the future.

From blood pressure to brain scans, today’s health care allows for the rapid transfer and use of information between and among different medical devices. This concept—called interoperability—is less about basic communication and more about the smart and safe interaction among medical devices and information systems.

Seamless interoperability among medical devices can improve patient care, reduce errors and adverse events, and lower costs. In fact, interoperability is one of the key factors for safety that can drive innovation in care delivery.

Think of a scenario in which devices collect a patient’s vitals during surgery. Then think about staff having to manually enter those vitals into a health care record because the format of the data generated by operating room devices isn’t compatible with the format necessary for the health care record, which by the way, only operates in one format. In this situation, the lack of interoperability can lead to errors during the manual entry process, and possible inefficiencies in patient care.

Now think about another scenario in which a patient is connected to a ventilator that can alert a caregiver—or automatically adjust its function—by monitoring an oximeter that measures blood’s oxygen saturation levels. In this situation, the interoperability between the ventilator and oximeter better coordinates their interaction and may reduce nuisance alarms, allowing clinicians to focus on true clinically significant alarms.

FDA has been collaborating with hospitals, health care providers, manufacturers, standards-development organizations, and other interested parties to promote medical device interoperability because it helps patients.

Some key activities in pursuit of this goal include the following:

In addition, we recently released draft guidance, Design Considerations and Pre-market Submission Recommendations for Interoperable Medical Devices, which outlines our ideas on design considerations for manufacturers developing interoperable devices. It contains our recommendations for information manufacturers should include in their pre-market submissions and ultimate product labeling. It also encourages manufacturers to make all necessary and relevant functional, performance, and interface characteristics openly available, enabling users to safely use medical devices with other devices or systems.

This draft guidance is intended to promote and facilitate development of safe and effective interoperable devices, thereby strengthening the much needed “case” for interoperable medical devices. We intend to work with stakeholders toward a future where interoperable devices increase care efficiency and reduce care costs, while keeping patient safety in the forefront.

We’re encouraging all stakeholders to share comments on this draft guidance with us.

We believe now is the time for all stakeholders—including medical device manufacturers, health care organizations, researchers, and information systems firms—to come together and continue to build this case to accelerate the development and availability of safe interoperable medical devices.

In Yoda’s words…may the force of interoperability be with us!

Bakul Patel, M.S., M.B.A., is associate director for digital health in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Changing course: A new approach to opioid pain medication at FDA

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

As a doctor, I have a first-hand understanding of the important and legitimate need for powerful medication to help people deal with chronic or severe pain. If you have had a family member or loved one touched by a serious illness or injury, you understand it too. You know how tough it can be to see them try to endure pain that can’t be touched by anything you can get over the counter.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., MACC, FDA's Commissioner of Food and Drugs

But as all of you know, more Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. Opioids were involved in 28,648 deaths in 2014, according to the CDC.

The FDA is deeply concerned about this growing epidemic, and I am personally disturbed by the toll it has taken in communities across the country. It’s an issue I’ve been involved with for years as an academic, having overseen the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trial Network, which was involved in some of the early medication assisted treatment studies.

After seeing the dependence and mortality numbers continue to rise and hearing from voices who care about this issue, I asked our folks to take a hard look at whether we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we’re appropriately taking into account the public health crisis that confronts us in the context of the role we play in ensuring the safety and efficacy of drugs.

The conclusion of that comprehensive assessment was that we can do more.

So we are announcing a change in course in how our agency approaches opioids – their approval, their labeling and their prescribing. We are going to fundamentally re-examine the risk-benefit paradigm for opioids and ensure that we consider their wider public health effects.

To that end, we have developed a comprehensive action plan to take concrete steps toward reducing the impact of opioid abuse on American families and communities.

There are four main pillars to the plan.

First, we’re going to be more transparent and open in the approval process for this category of drugs. Starting today, the FDA will convene an expert advisory committee before approving any new drug application for an opioid that is not in an abuse-deterrent formulation (ADF).

Additionally, we’re going to engage the Pediatric Advisory Committee to make recommendations on pediatric opioid labeling before any new labeling is approved.

Importantly, the advisory committee process is going to provide opportunity for public input, which is going to help us better understand and answer the concerns people have about these drugs.

We have also engaged the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on how to take into account our evolving understanding of the risks of opioids, not only to the patient but also the risks of misuse by other persons who obtain them. The goal is to formally incorporate the broader public health impact of opioid abuse in approval decisions. And in March, we will seek advice from the Agency’s Science Board to reassess the risk-benefit approval framework for opioid use. The results of these efforts will be made public.

Second, we’re going to improve our communication with the medical community about these drugs. That starts with enhancing safety labeling. Our goal is to provide better information to doctors about the risks of these drugs and how to safely prescribe them. We’re developing changes to immediate release opioid labeling that will bring it more in line with the extended-release/long-acting labeling that occurred in 2013.

After reviewing the existing requirements and hearing recommendations from an advisory committee, we’re also going to update our Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program requirements for opioids. We need to increase the number of prescribers who receive training on pain management and improve the safe prescribing of opioids to decrease inappropriate prescribing.

That effort will complement work being done at the Department level and at the CDC to help ensure that opioids are prescribed appropriately. We believe that this is a key component of ending this public health crisis. The more than 250 million prescriptions for these types of pain killers in 2012 – enough for every adult in the U.S. to have a bottle of pills – is clear evidence of the work ahead of us.

Third, we’re going to work to improve the information that’s available about opioid use. We’re going to require drugmakers to strengthen post-market analysis of these drugs. Today, that information, especially about long-term use, is lacking. We need more and better evidence on the risks of misuse and abuse associated with long-term opioid use and to better understand predictors of addiction, among other issues.

Finally, we’re going to focus efforts on approving drugs that have the potential to help mitigate the crisis. That means spurring the development of promising generics with abuse deterrent formulations. The FDA will issue draft guidance with its recommendations for the approval standards for generic abuse-deterrent formulations. We believe the availability of less costly generic products should accelerate prescribers’ update of abuse deterrent formulations.

And we’re going to work to improve access to naloxone, which is effective at treating overdoses. The FDA is reviewing options, including over-the-counter availability, to make naloxone more accessible. That work builds on FDA’s recent approval of intranasal naloxone.

What I’ve just described is a change in course – a framework for how FDA can better do its part to confront the opioids epidemic. In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to further develop these plans and continue to fill in the details for each initiative I’ve described.

But it’s time for us to act – to take the first steps toward changing how we do business and addressing this problem.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., previously FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco, became FDA’s Commissioner of Food and Drugs on Feb. 25, 2016

Building a Modern Generic Drug Review Process

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Recent hearings on Capitol Hill highlighted an issue of growing importance for patients and for public health: access to quality, affordable medicines, in particular generic drugs. FDA’s generic drug program promotes access to quality affordable medicines by reviewing Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDAs), the pathway that allows generic drugs to come to market.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.The generic drug sector has been enormously successful, growing from about 40 percent of drugs dispensed about 20 years ago to 88 percent today. And the cost savings have been enormous – approximately $1.68 trillion from 2005 to 2014 alone.

As my colleague Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at FDA, said in Congressional testimony, FDA is currently working to efficiently process and approve generic drug applications, at record or near-record levels, so when drug patents expire, less expensive generic options are available.

What’s helping FDA keep up that pace of approvals is the added resources that FDA and industry agreed to several years ago in the Generic Drug User Fee Amendments (GDUFA), part of the law passed by Congress known as the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012. With this funding, we were able to hire and train over 1,000 new employees, develop an updated informatics platform to support our review program, and reorganize our generic drug office. Now, after several years of building a modern generic drug review process, FDA is on track to achieve the kind of success this legislation envisioned.

Today FDA is achieving – and in some instances surpassing – important GDUFA goals, including our approval of the ‘first generic” versions of an innovator drug.

generic drug chart

Generic Substitutions & Annual Savings

Although potential first generics constitute only a small percentage of our overall workload, they are very important for the market. Over the past three years, we have approved hundreds of first generics for over 200 new drug products. How? We made substantial program improvements. We solicited nationwide technical input from outside experts and organizations; issued a public-facing, transparent prioritization policy; formed a team to expedite the review of first generics; trained review staff; and enhanced our computer systems to streamline the process.

We’ve also eliminated our filing backlog of ANDAs. In August 2014, there were more than 1,100 applications that had not been reviewed for an initial filing decision. Today there is no backlog.

The cumulative result of our efforts is a huge increase in the productivity of the generics program. We ended 2015 at a new monthly high of 99 generic drug approvals and tentative approvals in December.

Finally, FDA is undertaking major changes in quality regulation so the public can be confident that we’re holding generic drugs to the same standards as brand drugs, no matter where in the world they are manufactured or tested.

All of us at FDA are extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished in implementing GDUFA. In the first two years of the program, we substantially enhanced our ANDA review program. Now we’re cranking it up. There will be up months and down months, but the overall trend will be one of continuing increases in output. More approved generics, if marketed, can further expand patient access to quality, affordable medicines.

We are currently engaged in discussions with industry and the public regarding the development of the second generation of GDUFA, which we call GDUFA II. GDUFA II is scheduled to begin in 2017. We welcome the opportunity which GDUFA II offers to build on our success, and make significant program improvements. Our goal is to bring safe, effective, high quality, affordable generics onto the market. This will benefit the health of every American.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs