FSMA Implementation: The Road Is Challenging, but the Company Is Extraordinary

By: Michael R. Taylor

As we begin 2016, it’s a good time to reflect on the extraordinary engagement we’ve had on food safety with the food-producing community and its continuing impact as we move forward to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Michael R. TaylorIn August and September 2013, we took three important trips – to the Pacific Northwest, New England and Europe – to talk about the rules we had proposed earlier that year to implement FSMA.

What we learned on those trips made a huge impression, one that ultimately shaped more than just the rules. It had a profound effect on our understanding of the diverse global community of food producers, and opened our eyes to the food safety imperative that guides them.

More recently, we retraced our steps this November and December, making those journeys again to discuss the five FSMA rules that became final this fall — establishing preventive controls for human and animal food, setting produce safety standards, and strengthening oversight of imported foods.

First, some background. We had been traveling to farms since 2009, well before FSMA was signed into law in 2011, listening to and learning from farmers. The visits in 2013 were particularly important because FSMA had become law by then and we had specific proposals to discuss.

In the Pacific Northwest and New England, we focused on issues as different as the climate and geography of those regions. Growers who created lush farmland in the high desert regions of Idaho, Oregon and Washington using canal-fed irrigation systems were chiefly concerned about the agricultural water standards. In Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, discussions centered on the impact of FDA’s plans on the local food movement and on farmers’ efforts to innovate and diversify.

There was a common theme, however: Growers have been understandably concerned about where we’re headed with these food safety regulations and how they will affect farms, especially those that have been in families for generations. So in 2013, with specifics on the table, there were some tough conversations about the merits of our proposals – and how they could be improved. In Europe, our discussions were primarily with our foreign regulatory counterparts, but also reflected uneasiness about the FSMA rules, particularly their impact on foreign trade.

The bottom line is that through these trips, our eyes were indeed opened to some realities. It became clear that we’d need to make changes for the regulations to work for the food industry while still protecting public health.

Fast forward to 2015. We saw familiar faces in our return to the Pacific Northwest and New England for public meetings in Portland, Oregon, on December 1, and in Brattleboro, Vermont, on December 14. These are people who were frank about their reservations and then rolled up their sleeves to work with us on finding solutions. And we did find solutions, building flexibility into the rules that give food producers and importers options and alternatives that still meet important safety criteria.

And in Europe, too, the conversation has turned to next steps. In early December we returned to Brussels and again met with our European Union regulatory counterparts. Europe has similar overarching food safety principles as the U.S. and the leaders we met want to leverage their resources and avoid duplication of effort. And we are looking into that now, beginning by comparing the public health protections in the European standards with those built into the FSMA rules.

The reception was enormously positive in all three places. We’re in a good place with the FSMA rules. Five of the seven rules we proposed have now been finalized, and we intend to publish final regulations on sanitary transportation and intentional adulteration in the spring. President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for FSMA implementation was close to fully funded, with FDA set to receive $104.5 million of the $109.5 million requested. This critical funding will enable us to maintain our momentum toward timely, comprehensive implementation.

We at FDA are gratified and grateful for what we’ve seen since we first took to the road in 2009. It’s clear that from the smallest farm to the halls of Congress, from local food centers to operations half-way around the world, there is a deep, shared commitment to produce safe food.

Without any doubt, there’s still a lot of hard work to be done, and we know some food producers are still apprehensive about the impact of our regulations on their livelihood. So, we will hit the road again beginning in January for more state and international meetings. We are committed to continuing the conversation and implementing FSMA in a practical way. Working together, we will create the modern food safety system envisioned by FSMA, one that makes every reasonable effort to prevent food safety problems and protect consumers and their families from foodborne illness.

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

FDA 2015: A Look Back (and Ahead) – Part 3: Food, Tobacco, and Antimicrobial Resistance

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

In my third and final post reflecting on FDA’s work to protect and promote public health in 2015, we’ll take a look at our achievements in food, antimicrobial resistance, and tobacco product regulation.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.Modernizing Food Safety

In a groundbreaking development, in 2015 FDA took several major steps to prevent foodborne illness by finalizing five rules that will implement the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

In September, we issued the first two final FSMA rules mandating modern, preventive practices in both human and animal food facilities. They will help establish a food safety system in which industry systematically implements measures we know are effective in preventing contamination.

In November, we took another step toward modernizing our food-safety system by issuing the final produce safety rule and two import safety rules. For the first time, these new rules establish enforceable science-based safety standards for the growing and harvesting of produce and make importers accountable for conducting risk-based verification to determine that imported food meets U.S. safety standards. In addition, through this rulemaking we established a program for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies to conduct food safety audits of foreign food facilities.

Together, these rules are designed to reduce the burden of foodborne illness in the United States. They support the broad goal of the law to proactively prevent problems across the entire food system, and to strengthen food safety coordination with other nations that produce the foods that Americans consume.

Strengthening Nutrition, Protecting Health

2015 also saw important progress in the area of nutrition. We finalized our determination that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in human food, a decision that will make an enormously positive difference in the health of Americans. We also are continuing to work to develop sodium reduction targets, which have the potential for major public health gains and cost savings to the health care system.

And late in 2014, we finalized two new rules requiring caloric information on restaurant menus and menu boards and on vending machines. These rules are designed to provide consumers with more information so they can make informed choices for themselves and their families, without placing an undue burden on small businesses or individual food establishments. We are working with industry to support implementation.

We also proposed additional changes to the familiar “Nutrition Facts” label on packaged foods which, when finalized, will give Americans updated nutrition information, reflecting the most current nutrition science, to help them make healthy choices when purchasing packaged foods. This includes a revision that would establish a Daily Reference Value for added sugars and require the percent Daily Value on the label. There is strong evidence healthy dietary patterns of intake associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease are characterized, in part, by lower intakes of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.

Combating Antibiotic Resistance

Another area in which we saw great progress in 2015, thanks to collaborative efforts across our government and with our international partners, was in combating antibiotic resistance. If left unchecked, this growing problem threatens to turn back the clock on decades of progress in infectious disease control and medical discoveries, drive health care costs higher, and increase human disease and death.

Early in 2015, the White House released the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria, a plan that that recognizes that humans and animals share the same environment – and the same microbes – and so we must address the use of antibiotics in both.

One of the central principles for slowing the development of resistance – in both humans and animals – is the judicious use of antibiotics. For decades medically-important antibiotics have been used not only to treat sick animals, but to promote growth in healthy ones. The FDA has already made significant progress developing policies to promote appropriate use of antibiotics in animal health. For instance, we issued the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) final rule, an important part of our overall strategy because it promotes judicious use of medically important antimicrobials in feed for food-producing animals by bringing the use of these drugs under veterinary supervision.

But a critical part of combating resistance is to know the changing patterns and use of antibiotics in farming and how these changes impact resistance patterns among foodborne pathogens associated with farm animals. We are strengthening our data collection under the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring Program in several ways, and in September we held a Public Meeting with several other federal agencies on data collection on farms. This and other work will help us to develop a more comprehensive and science-based understanding of antimicrobial drug use and resistance in animal agriculture and help us to measure the impact of our regulatory actions.

While the problem of antimicrobial resistance is finally getting the attention it warrants, it will require an ongoing and sustained effort to overcome the decades of neglect that led to the current situation.

Regulating Tobacco Products

Our newest area of regulatory oversight is one of our busiest. It’s hard to believe it was more than 50 years ago that the Surgeon General issued the first Report on Smoking and Health. But it’s been just six years since Congress passed the Tobacco Control Act, which gave FDA the authority to oversee the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of regulated tobacco products and protect the public from their dangers.

We’ve already built a great deal on that foundation, creating our Center for Tobacco Products and establishing a framework for industry registration, product listing and submission of information on ingredients in tobacco products; implementing and enforcing a statutory ban on cigarettes with certain characterizing flavors; and restricting access and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to youth. We’ve also already begun to build a robust regulatory science program to conduct and fund science and research programs designed to help us better understand the risks associated with tobacco use.

After an extraordinary amount of study and research, and review of tens of thousands of public comments, FDA is preparing to publish the final rule to extend the agency’s authority over additional, unregulated tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and pipe tobacco. Like everything we do at FDA, this policy will be based on a thorough scientific evaluation of how individual products in each category may affect public health.

And in 2015, we unveiled a dynamic public education campaign designed to prevent and reduce tobacco use among at-risk African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian American/Pacific Islander youth age 12 to 17. This promising effort flows from our “Real Cost” campaign launched in 2014, which I’m pleased to note, won a gold “Effie Award” for effectiveness in advertising in the Disease Awareness and Education category.

It’s been a fruitful and productive year at the FDA. I am proud of all we have accomplished in 2015 and look forward to our continued progress.

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

FDA 2015: A Look Back (and Ahead) – Part 2: Medical Product Safety and Oversight

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

In my first look back on FDA’s 2015 accomplishments, I focused on our achievements in medical product innovation and our constant drive to make safe, effective and innovative products available. Because FDA’s responsibility covers the entire life cycle of products, in this second year-end blog post, I will review FDA’s impact on medical product safety and oversight.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.Responding to Ebola

In a world where disease knows no borders FDA’s response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa demonstrates how we use our scientific expertise and regulatory authorities to the fullest extent possible to address a tragic public health crisis of global impact. Our response involved collaborating with partners across government, pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, international organizations like the World Health Organization, and our international regulatory counterparts. We played a key role in expediting the availability of diagnostic tests and investigational therapeutics and vaccines, as well as investigating fraudulent products marketed to diagnose, prevent and treat Ebola. And many FDA commissioned corps officers of the U.S. Public Health Service served on the front lines, deployed in a humanitarian mission to provide care to patients at the Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia, one of the West African nations that were hard hit by the outbreak.

Addressing Transmission of Infections from Duodenoscopes

This year we took steps to help protect the public from the risk of transmitted infections, including antibiotic-resistant infections, from duodenoscopes. Duodenoscopes are complex devices used during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a potentially life-saving procedure to diagnose and treat blockages in the pancreas and bile ducts. In the United States, duodenoscopes are used in more than 500,000 ERCP procedures each year.

Last February, the FDA issued a safety communication to raise awareness about the risk of transmitted infections from duodenoscopes, after it determined that the design of these devices may impede effective reprocessing, even when the manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions are followed correctly. Reports also indicated that some healthcare facilities may not have adequately followed the manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions. To address these concerns, the FDA has been working with the device manufacturers to ensure that the reprocessing instructions for their duodenoscopes are put through the most rigorous testing. The Agency held a public advisory committee meeting in May to discuss the scientific challenges, and it incorporated recommendations for enhancing the safety margin of reprocessing duodenoscopes into a safety communication in August. Also in August, FDA issued Warning Letters to all three duodenoscope manufacturers citing violations found during recent inspections. In October, the FDA ordered the manufacturers to develop postmarket surveillance studies of how the devices are reprocessed in real-world clinical settings.

Our foremost concern is protecting patients, and we are committed to taking steps to assure that duodenoscopes – and all reprocessed medical devices — are safe to use.

Compounding

We continue to respond effectively to the 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to contaminated compounded drugs. We are implementing the Drug Quality and Security Act and continuing our inspection and enforcement efforts at compounding facilities nationwide. To that end we have issued numerous policy documents regarding compounding and related activities to provide guidance to industry as we implement the new law. We’ve also held meetings with stakeholders, including pharmacy, physician, and consumer groups, and we have continued our active and successful collaborations with state governments.

Addressing the Opioid Abuse Crisis

Over the last year, we’ve been very focused on the growing epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction and its devastating impact on public health. This focus has required us to strike a delicate balance: ensuring medical treatments are available for patients who are in pain, while addressing the often tragic consequences of abuse and misuse, which all too often overwhelm individuals, families, friends and communities. Our approach is multi-pronged, from encouraging scientific investigation to improving the training of practitioners who prescribe these powerful medicines.

We believe it is vitally important to encourage the development of abuse-deterrent formulations of opioids and to support options for medication-assisted treatment of opioid-dependence. Final guidance for industry regarding the development of abuse-deterrent formulations was issued in April and several abuse-deterrent products have been approved. We are also making strides to treat the consequences of overdoses. In November, FDA approved the first nasal spray version of naloxone hydrochloride, to provide a route of delivery in addition to injection for this life-saving medication that can stop or reverse an opioid overdose. And we are working with our federal partners to improve access to naloxone.

While we cannot solve this complex problem alone, we remain committed to making the best use of our regulatory authorities and working with our partners both in and outside government to reduce the risks associated with opioids. To continue to achieve that, we have been engaging in a comprehensive review of our many current activities related to opioids and identifying which measures can and should be strengthened and what further measures are needed to address this crisis during 2016.

Ensuring the safety of the medical products we regulate requires us to manage a wide-range of issues across multiple scientific disciplines; and to employ scientists with the knowledge to solve today’s complex regulatory challenges. The last year brought many challenges, and just as many solutions.

In my final post, I will address some of our accomplishments in the area of food, tobacco product regulation, and antimicrobial resistance.

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

2015: Another Strong Year for Patients in Need of New Drug Therapies

By: John K. Jenkins, M.D.

Happy New Year! Looking back at 2015, I’m pleased to report another strong year for FDA approvals of novel new drugs, which offer many patients new treatment options for serious and life-threatening conditions. In 2015, FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) approved 45 novel new therapies – significantly more than the average of 28 we have approved during the previous nine years of this decade.

John JenkinsBut far more important than quantity is quality – and the valuable new roles many of these drugs can serve in advancing medical care and the health of patients. During this past year, we approved many new drugs to treat various forms of cancer, including four to treat multiple myeloma, and others to treat lung, skin, breast, brain, colorectal, and other cancers. We also approved new drugs to treat heart failure, high cholesterol, cystic fibrosis, and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as the first approved reversal agent for a commonly-used blood thinner. And, for the second consecutive year, we approved more drugs to treat rare diseases than any previous year in our history.

Here are a few highlights of these approvals:

  • More than one-third of the novel new drugs CDER approved in 2015 were identified by FDA as “first-in-class,” for example, drugs that use a new and unique mechanism of action for treating a medical condition;
  • More than 40% of these new therapies were approved to treat rare or “orphan” diseases that affect 200,000 or fewer Americans–Americans who often have few or no drug treatment options;
  • 60% of CDER’s novel new approvals for 2015 were designated in one or more categories of Fast Track, Breakthrough, Priority Review, or Accelerated Approval. Each of these designations helps speed the development and/or approval process and is designed to help bring important medications to the market as quickly as possible; and
  • 64% of CDER’s novel new approvals were approved first in the United States before any other country.

For more details about 2015’s approvals, please visit the Novel New Drugs Summary 2015.

As always, compromises were not made in our review standards as we considered the applications as efficiently as possible. In short, each of these therapies had to demonstrate that it was safe and effective before being approved. I am pleased and proud to be part of a team that helped bring these new drugs to market as safely as possible. My colleagues and I look forward to another productive year serving the American public!

John Jenkins, M.D., is Director of the Office of New Drugs in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

FDA 2015: A Look Back (and Ahead) – Part 1: Medical Product Innovation

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

As the year draws to a close, I want to reflect on FDA’s many accomplishments in these previous 12 months, the last nine of which it has been my pleasure to serve as Acting Commissioner. FDA has broad responsibilities – indeed, we are tasked with overseeing products that account for about 20 cents of the consumer dollar — so we work on a wide range of topics in any given year. In this and two additional blog posts over the coming days I’ll cover some of our key accomplishments in 2015. Each blog will examine a different area of FDA’s work. This first post will focus on medical product innovation – our role in making safe, effective and innovative products available to patients who need them.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.Scientific advances and unprecedented innovation in the sectors we regulate make it an exciting time to work at and lead FDA. To protect and promote the public health our regulatory decision-making must be nimble and current, adapted to the forward march of science.

One measure of our success is revealed in a study released in September by FDA’s independent Science Board. Mission Possible: How FDA Can Move at the Speed of Science documents the Agency’s progress and transformation over the last eight years, dating from a time when FDA had been increasingly unable to meet its scientific responsibilities due to chronic underfunding, a loss of scientific expertise, and the need to implement new legislative mandates without the resources to do so. In stark contrast, today FDA’s regulatory science enterprise is much stronger, which better allows us to effectively fulfill our commitment to protect the public health. The report also provides recommendations for future investments in regulatory science to assure FDA keeps pace with emerging trends in science and technology.

Medical Product Approvals

For many years now, we’ve strived to modernize and streamline the regulatory process along the entire development, review, and product oversight continuum.

The success of these changes is shown by the large number and wide variety of medical products we’ve approved across our medical product centers. So far this year, we have approved more than 40 novel drugs, including four new treatments for patients with multiple myeloma, two new drugs for patients with heart failure, and another robust year of approvals of drugs for rare or “orphan” diseases. We’ve approved several important vaccines, including one for serogroup B meningococcal disease, the first seasonal influenza vaccine to contain an adjuvant (intended for people 65 years and older), and a new indication for anthrax vaccine to prevent disease following exposure to anthrax – the first vaccine to receive an approved indication based on the Animal Rule (which provides for testing certain products on animals alone). And we saw the approval of several innovative devices that will make a positive difference in the lives of patients, including a device that extends the survival time of patients with brain cancer, and a transcatheter pulmonary valve that can be placed in certain patients with congenital heart disease, without requiring open heart surgery.

Our success is also measured in our speed and efficiency of approvals. The U.S. continues to lead the world in approving novel drugs first. And we’ve seen important progress in our device review program. Our average time to reach decisions on PMAs has dropped 36 percent since 2009. And not since 2001 FDA has approved as many medical devices under the original premarket approval pathway and the panel track supplement pathway (for significant changes to a PMA device) as we did this year – 58 as of December 14th.

The number of approvals, and the agency’s ability to review products efficiently, continue to be buoyed by FDA’s expedited development and review programs. When we talk to drug and device makers at the early stages of development, and apply better regulatory science to our ultimate review of their applications, products that are likely to fail are weeded out, allowing manufacturers to focus on those more likely to attain approval.

Most importantly, enhanced flexibility and an efficient approval process have come without lowering our gold standard of safety and efficacy. At the end of the day, innovative therapies are only helpful to patients if they work and are demonstrated to be safe. So it is imperative that we ensure the right balances among patient access, sound science, and safe and effective products.

Amplifying the Patient Voice

Enhancing the patient’s voice in the medical product approval and evaluation process is an important emerging area of product development, which we have embraced in a number of ways.

Those living with a disease are in a unique position to provide essential insights about life with their condition, its severity, and the adequacy of treatment options. We also recognize patients and caregivers have their own perspectives on benefits and risks of medical products, and we believe this input should be considered during regulatory decision-making.

Our Patient-Focused Drug Development initiative is a five-year effort that includes holding at least 20 public meetings in different disease areas. Seventeen of those meetings have occurred and seven more are being scheduled. After receiving patient input during each meeting and in the agency docket, FDA develops a Voice of the Patient report that is then posted on our website. In a complementary effort, our medical device program launched the Patient Preference Initiative. It includes studies to evaluate patient preferences in medical devices, and publishing of a draft guidance that describes how patient tolerance for risk and perspective on benefit, in addition to clinical data and other information, may be considered in FDA’s benefit-risk assessments for certain medical devices. This year FDA approved a weight loss device treatment, and our decision was informed in part by data from a patient preference study funded and co-designed by the Agency.

In September 2015, FDA announced our first-ever Patient Engagement Advisory Committee, which will provide advice on complex issues related to the regulation of medical devices and their use by patients. This Advisory Committee will help ensure the needs, experiences, and perspectives of patients are considered in our work and incorporated in our decision-making.

Biosimilars

Five years ago Congress authorized an abbreviated licensure pathway for biological products that are demonstrated to be “biosimilar” to or “interchangeable” with an FDA-licensed biological product. The intent was to create greater competition in the medical marketplace that would not only increase treatment options for patients, but also lead to less expensive alternatives to comparable products. FDA has been developing its biosimilar program since then, an effort which led to the approval of the first biosimilar in March. And there are more applications in the pipeline. To prepare, FDA has produced a variety of guidances in this area, including the recent draft guidance on how these biosimilars should be named.

Advancing the Development of Next Generation Sequencing Tests and Strengthening Clinical Trials

Our strengthened focus on regulatory science is helping to drive innovation. One illuminating example is our growing ability to apply the sophisticated technologies of next generation sequencing and precision medicine.

FDA today is better prepared and more engaged than ever in facilitating the development of these new technologies (as well as new uses for older technologies), while assuring they are safe and effective. These efforts help to achieve more precise diagnosis or treatment, through the development and review of state of the art diagnostics that use genetic information to make therapies more targeted.

We continue to move forward on the White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative to advance biomedical understanding by leveraging genomic advances, health information technologies, and new methods of analyzing large volumes of data. Just this month, we launched FDA’s precisionFDA web platform, a cloud-based portal that will allow scientists from industry, academia, government and other partners to come together to foster innovation and develop the science behind next-generation sequencing and help us design treatments tailored to a person’s individual genetic blueprint.

And we also are working to refine clinical trial design and statistical methods of analysis to create more efficient studies with smaller patient populations, more focused therapies, and better outcomes. For instance, we continue to support collaborative efforts in clinical trials, such as the I-SPY trials (for breast cancer) and the Lung-MAP protocol (for lung cancer).

It’s impossible to capture in one blog post the many ways that FDA’s focus on regulatory science is helping drive innovation and speed the discovery, development, and delivery of medical products to prevent and cure disease and improve health. We are immeasurably proud of these accomplishments, which provide a strong foundation for continuing success.

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

FDA Invites Patient Organizations to Take a Place at the Podium

By: Theresa M. Mullin, Ph.D.

Sometimes, the most valuable thing we can do as regulators at FDA is simply to listen. I’m reminded of that each time we hold a public meeting as part of the Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD) program.

Theresa MullinWe began PFDD to more systematically obtain the patient perspective on certain diseases and their treatments. The effort is part of an FDA commitment under the fifth authorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA V).

Each public meeting is focused on a specific disease area. Our commitment is to gain perspectives on at least 20 disease areas by the end of FY 2016. And having already held 17 meetings to hear from patients with diseases as varied as breast cancer, fibromyalgia and sickle cell disease, we are well on our way.

What have we learned so far? For one, thanks to PFDD we now have even more first-hand knowledge from those most affected by the diseases. We have heard directly from patients, their families, and care givers about the symptoms that matter most to them; the impact the disease has on patients’ daily lives; and their experiences with currently available treatments. For example, we’ve learned that for diseases that are progressive and severely disabling, patients and their families may consider an “ideal” treatment to be one that at minimum can halt disease progression.

These perspectives are critical to helping us understand the context in which we are making regulatory decisions for new drugs. And they’ll have ramifications for years to come. We believe that the long-term impact of PFDD will be better, more informed FDA decisions and oversight both during drug development and during our review of a marketing application.

Expanding the Benefits of the PFDD Meeting Model

This is a priority for FDA. To that end, we’ve committed to hold meetings for at least 20 disease areas, and are currently planning to hold 24 different disease-focused meetings by the end of FY2017, exceeding our commitment. We recognize, however, that there are many more disease areas than can be addressed in the planned FDA meetings where drug development and regulatory decision making would benefit from a meeting focused on obtaining the patient’s perspective.

To help expand the benefits of FDA’s PFDD initiative, FDA invites the independent efforts of patient organizations to identify and organize externally-led patient-focused collaborations to generate public input on other disease areas, using the process established through Patient-Focused Drug Development as a model. Given the tremendous number of diseases affecting the U.S. patient population and the effort required to conduct a successful PFDD meeting, externally led PFDD meetings should target disease areas where there is an identified need for patient input on topics related to drug development.

We recommend that patient organizations interested in conducting an externally-led PFDD meeting submit a letter of intent so that we are aware of their plans. Submission details and more information on considerations to take into account are outlined on FDA’s website.

Please note that an externally led PFDD meeting and any resulting products, such as surveys or reports, will not be considered FDA-sponsored or FDA-endorsed. And while we can’t guarantee FDA’s specific involvement at every meeting, FDA will be open to participating in a well-designed and well-conducted meeting.

And as the number of patient-focused forums continues to grow, we at FDA will continue to listen and look forward to gaining the additional insights that only patients, their families, and care givers can provide.

Theresa M. Mullin, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Office of Strategic Programs in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

FDA Enforcement: Protecting Consumers and Enhancing Public Confidence

By: Howard Sklamberg, J.D. and Michael R. Taylor, J.D.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, companies producing food, including dietary supplement products, for American consumers have a legal responsibility to make them safe. Most companies take this responsibility seriously. FDA will work collaboratively with companies that are making a good faith effort to produce safe products and meet regulatory requirements.

Howard Sklamberg

Howard Sklamberg, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

But when companies fail to meet their responsibility and violate the law in a way that jeopardizes public health, FDA can—and will—move decisively. This fall, for example, a federal court case in New Jersey illustrates the careful field work, close teamwork, and skillful investigation that are hallmarks of FDA criminal enforcement, which plays a vital role in food and dietary supplement safety.

The case involves Raw Deal, Inc., a manufacturer of dietary supplements based in Flanders, N.J. On September 9, Raw Deal’s owner and president, Barry Steinlight, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud involving a scheme to introduce adulterated and misbranded products into interstate commerce. Steinlight was sentenced to 40 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $1 million in profits from the fraudulent scheme.

Then, today the company’s former executive vice president, Catherine Palmer, was sentenced to a year’s probation and a criminal forfeiture of $100,000, after she pled guilty to obstructing an FDA investigation.

Last year, we wrote about federal-court convictions in the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) case involving Salmonella-tainted peanuts and peanut products. In that case, two former officials of, and one broker for, PCA were prosecuted for practices that led to a deadly 46-state outbreak of Salmonella poisoning in 2009.

Michael R. Taylor

Michael R. Taylor, J.D., FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Today, we are highlighting the Raw Deal prosecution, which demonstrates our enforcement work in the dietary supplement field. The convictions arose from illegal practices by the firm, which included manufacturing adulterated and misbranded products by using fillers to cut costs, reusing returned and contaminated products, and falsifying batch records and certificates of analysis.

This story begins more than four years ago. Over the course of those years, FDA undertook a number of enforcement activities before criminal charges were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • In August 2011, FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), now headed by Director George Karavetsos, received an anonymous complaint that Raw Deal was manufacturing dietary supplements with fillers such as wheat-based products and the food additive Maltodextrin. The complainant also informed OCI that the manufacturer resold returned products that contained such contaminants as E. coli bacteria, lead and mold.
  • During the OCI investigation, FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs’ New Jersey District Office received four anonymous letters that described Raw Deal’s adulteration scheme, including the creation of false certificates of analysis.
  • The District Office conducted a compliance inspection and found that the manufacturer substituted ingredients without informing customers of the presence of fillers. As a result, the District Office issued Raw Deal a Warning Letter citing misbranding and adulteration violations.
  • OCI later determined that Raw Deal did not heed this warning and instead continued misbranding and adulterating its products. OCI then obtained and executed a search warrant at the manufacturing facility, with some of the samples collected subsequently revealing the presence of Salmonella, a bacterium frequently associated with foodborne illnesses.
  • This resulted in a Class I recall of certain Raw Deal products in March 2014. This recall classification means the products could cause serious health problems or death.

This case is just one example of FDA enforcement in action. Companies are given the opportunity to correct violations but if they don’t, there are serious consequences. Indeed, during the past two years, FDA criminal enforcement has resulted in 407 cases opened, 348 arrests, 305 convictions, and $694,131,579 in fines and restitutions.

Of note in this case is an excerpt from U.S District Court Judge Esther Salas’ remarks at Steinlight’s sentencing hearing:

“There is nothing more sacred than consumers having some peace of mind that people who are selling these supplements are doing it the right way, and are abiding by the laws and regulations that are put forth to protect the consumer…and my sentence has to be one that promotes respect for the law. Because what the FDA does is so critical…they are making sure that the products that we consume and the products that we use are safe for consumption, are safe for usage. And I am going to sentence you to a sentence, sir, that continues to give them the teeth they need, the power they need, to send a message to our society.”

Criminal enforcement actions protect consumers by punishing violators and deterring bad behavior by others. Strong enforcement helps industry too – by maintaining a level playing field for the production of safe foods and products.

FDA is strongly committed to working with companies that take their safety responsibilities seriously – and equally committed to dealing strongly with those that don’t.

Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

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

FDA Launches precisionFDA to Harness the Power of Scientific Collaboration

By: Taha A. Kass-Hout, M.D., M.S. and Elaine Johanson

Imagine a world where doctors have at their fingertips the information that allows them to individualize a diagnosis, treatment or even a cure for a person based on their genes. That’s what President Obama envisioned when he announced his Precision Medicine Initiative earlier this year. Today, with the launch of FDA’s precisionFDA web platform, we’re a step closer to achieving that vision.

Taha Kass-Hout

Taha A. Kass-Hout, M.D., M.S., Chief Health Informatics Officer and Director of FDA’s Office of Health Informatics.

precisionFDA is an online, cloud-based, portal that will allow scientists from industry, academia, government and other partners to come together to foster innovation and develop the science behind a method of “reading” DNA known as next-generation sequencing (or NGS). Next Generation Sequencing allows scientists to compile a vast amount of data on a person’s exact order or sequence of DNA. Recognizing that each person’s DNA is slightly different, scientists can look for meaningful differences in DNA that can be used to suggest a person’s risk of disease, possible response to treatment and assess their current state of health. Ultimately, what we learn about these differences could be used to design a treatment tailored to a specific individual.

The precisionFDA platform is a part of this larger effort and through its use we want to help scientists work toward the most accurate and meaningful discoveries. precisionFDA users will have access to a number of important tools to help them do this. These tools include reference genomes, such as “Genome in the Bottle,” a reference sample of DNA for validating human genome sequences developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Users will also be able to compare their results to previously validated reference results as well as share their results with other users, track changes and obtain feedback.

Elaine Johanson

Elaine Johanson, precisionFDA Project Manager.

Through such collaboration we hope to improve the quality and accuracy of genomic tests – work that will ultimately benefit patients.

Over the coming months we will engage users in improving the usability, openness and transparency of precisionFDA. One way we’ll achieve that is by placing the code for the precisionFDA portal on the world’s largest open source software repository, GitHub, so the community can further enhance precisionFDA’s features.

precisionFDA leverages our experience establishing openFDA, an online community that provides easy access to our public datasets. Since its launch in 2014, openFDA has already resulted in many novel ways to use, integrate and analyze FDA safety information. We’re confident that employing such a collaborative approach to DNA data will yield important advances in our understanding of this fast-growing scientific field, information that will ultimately be used to develop new diagnostics, treatments and even cures for patients.

Taha A. Kass-Hout, M.D., M.S., is FDA’s Chief Health Informatics Officer and Director of FDA’s Office of Health Informatics. Elaine Johanson is the precisionFDA Project Manager.

What We Mean When We Talk About Data

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D. and Rachel Sherman, M.D., M.P.H.

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

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

Medical care and biomedical research are in the midst of a data revolution. Networked systems, electronic health records, electronic insurance claims databases, social media, patient registries, and smartphones and other personal devices together comprise an immense new set of sources for data about health and healthcare. In addition, these “real-world” sources can provide data about patients in the setting of their environments—whether at home or at work—and in the social context of their lives. Many researchers are eager to tap into these streams in order to provide more accurate and nuanced answers to questions about patient health and the safety and effectiveness of medical products—and to do so quickly, efficiently, and at a lower cost than has previously been possible.

But before we can realize the dramatic potential of the healthcare data revolution, a number of practical, logistical, and scientific challenges must be overcome. And one of the first that must be tackled is the issue of terminology.

Defining Terms

Although “data,” “information,” and “evidence” are often used as if they were interchangeable terms, they are not. Data are best understood as raw measurements of some thing or process. By themselves they are meaningless; only when we add critical context about what is being measured and how do they become information. That information can then be analyzed and combined to yield evidence, which in turn, can be used to guide decision-making. In other words, it’s not enough merely to have data, even very large amounts of it. What we need, ultimately, is evidence that can be applied to answering scientific and clinical questions.

So far, so good. But what do we mean when we talk about “real-world data” or “real-world evidence”?

Rachel Sherman

Rachel Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco.

Clinical research often takes place in highly controlled settings that may not reflect the day-to-day realities of typical patient care or the life of a patient outside of the medical care system. Further, those who enroll in clinical trials are carefully selected according to criteria that may exclude many patients, especially those who have other diseases, are taking other drugs, or cannot travel to the investigation site. In other words, the data gathered from such studies may not actually depict the “real world” that many patients and care providers will experience—and this could lead to important limitations in our understanding of the effectiveness and safety of medical treatments. Clinicians and patients must be able to relate the results of clinical trials—studies that are done in controlled environments with certain patient populations excluded and which may therefore be challenging to generalize—to their own professional and personal experiences. It seems straightforward, then, to think that studies including a much fuller and more diverse range of individuals and clinical circumstances could ultimately lead to better scientific evidence for application to decisions about use of medical products and healthcare decisions.

But “real-world evidence” has its own issues that must be understood and dealt with carefully. First of all, the vague term “real-world” may imply a closer relationship with the truth—that the real-world measurement is preferable to one taken in a controlled environment. For example, is “real-world” blood pressure data gathered from an individual’s personal device or health app better (e.g., more reliable and accurate) than a blood pressure measurement from a doctor’s office? It could be, because a patient’s blood pressure might be uncharacteristically elevated during a visit to the physician. But at the same time, do we know enough about the data gathered from the patient’s personal device—how accurate is it? Is the patient taking their own blood pressure correctly? What other factors might be affecting it?—to use it for generating evidence? Already we are being reminded of the complexities of potentially relying on data that were gathered for purposes other than the ones for which they were originally intended.

In most cases “real-world evidence” is thought of as reflecting data already collected, i.e., epidemiologic or cohort data that researchers review and analyze retrospectively. Also of interest is whether randomized trials can be conducted in these “real-world” environments. In considering comparisons of treatments, one must always consider the possibility that the treatments were not assigned randomly, but reflected some relevant patient characteristic. This is, of course, the reason for doing randomized clinical trials.

Better Terms for Complex Subjects

There is little doubt that the new sources of data now being opened to researchers, clinicians, and patients hold enormous potential for improving the quality, safety, and efficiency of medical care. But as we work to understand both the promise and pitfalls of far-reaching technological changes, we need a more functional vocabulary for talking about these complex subjects, one that allows us to think about data, information, and evidence in ways that capture multiple dimensions of quality and fitness for purpose (e.g., for appropriate use in regulatory decision making). The incorporation of “real-world evidence”—that is, evidence derived from data gathered from actual patient experiences, in all their diversity— in many ways represents an important step toward a fundamentally better understanding of states of disease and health. As we begin to adapt “real-world data” into our processes for creating scientific evidence, and as we begin to recognize and effectively address their challenges, we are likely to find that the quality of the answers we receive will depend in large part on whether we can frame the questions in a meaningful way.

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.

Rachel Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., is FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco.

A Mother’s Loss, an Advocate’s Example, Fuel Our Mission to Keep Foods Safe

By: Michael R. Taylor

For the many people in government, and elsewhere, who have been working on implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), this has been a week for reflection, celebration, and anticipation. I got to experience all three in the 24 hours I spent this week at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumberg, Illinois.

Michael R. TaylorTuesday night I joined the many friends and supporters of the public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness in honoring Nancy Donley for her 22 years of ‎relentless advocacy for improving food safety. She is driven by the memory of her 6-year-old son Alex, who suffered greatly before he died in 1993 after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

This was a time for reflection. Nancy and the many others in the STOP network who have shared their excruciating stories of pain and loss have made it simply unacceptable for those producing food to do anything less than their best to prevent these tragedies from happening.

Nancy, as much as any single person, has catalyzed fundamental change in our food safety culture toward making food safety a central business value for food companies and shifting government oversight toward a model that ensures accountability for minimizing contamination by pathogens.

Nancy has inspired me and many others to see food safety as the deeply personal, primary value it is, and to act accordingly.‎

STOP also honored Walmart’s Frank Yiannas as a STOP Food Safety Hero for his pioneering work to define and instill food safety culture as a primary value in the food industry.

Reflections on Nancy’s and Frank’s contributions are the backdrop for a bit of celebration. Not because the culture change Nancy inspires and the food safety success we seek are complete — far from it. But we are on our way.

The three FSMA rules FDA issued last week to improve produce safety and strengthen oversight of imports, coupled with the preventive controls rules we finalized in September, create a powerful and comprehensive new framework for the prevention of foodborne illness. This framework will be completed next year with final rules on food transport and intentional adulteration. The rules are the product of enormous effort by teams of FDA experts and by the many government, industry and consumer partners whose input has been so important in shaping the rules.

At the conference Wednesday morning, I shared some of these reflections and the sense of celebration and gratitude we are experiencing at FDA. I got some positive nods and no push back, but it was clear that the food safety professionals at this gathering are focused on the future, anticipating the challenges and changes FSMA will bring.

So are we at FDA. We see challenges galore, but also a huge opportunity to fulfill a vision that Nancy and STOP rightfully insist be the guide for our food safety work and our food safety culture.

Food safety is a primary value for many in the food system. It must be so for all.

Science-based prevention is the organizing principle for many food production systems. It must be for all. 

And a spirit of common cause and collaboration on food safety, which has begun to take root in so many positive ways, must be the foundation for all the work ahead to successfully implement FSMA.

So, this week, let’s celebrate where we are as we anticipate and build the future.

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