‘Quality Metrics’: FDA’s plan for a key set of measurements to help ensure manufacturers are producing quality medications

By: Ashley Boam, MSBE and Mary Malarkey

Yesterday, we took an important step in advancing the quality of medications with the release of draft guidance for the pharmaceutical industry called, “Request for Quality Metrics.”

Ashley Boam

Ashley Boam, FDA’s acting Director, Office of Policy for Pharmaceutical Quality, Office of Pharmaceutical Quality, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

In these technical terms, that may not sound like much. But – in plain language – this document describes a set of measurements to help the agency evaluate the quality of the facilities and the processes that manufacturers use to make FDA-regulated drugs and biologics. These include prescription drugs and certain biological products. The guidance also encourages these manufacturers to conduct robust quality measurements on their own products.

It’s critically important for patients, health care professionals, caregivers, payers, and others to have confidence in how medications are made. “Quality metrics,” or the measures used to assess the quality of drug and biologic manufacturing, can help us achieve this goal.

We expect that these measurements will strengthen our efforts to ensure that FDA-regulated medications are not only demonstrated to be safe and effective, but also continually manufactured under strict quality standards.

We believe a careful analysis of quality metrics can help FDA better identify which facilities are at the highest risk for quality problems. This will help us use our inspection resources most efficiently and effectively.

Mary Malarkey

Mary Malarkey, FDA’s Director, Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research

Quality is also directly connected to a consistent supply of needed medications. Over the years, there have been disruptions in the availability of some drug and biological products due to manufacturing production flaws. We believe that a company’s own robust quality measurement system, along with our quality measurements, can help manufacturers better identify factors that may predict manufacturing problems – and move us a step closer toward reducing and controlling these disruptions.

FDA has been working for many years on solutions to encourage and support the modernization of pharmaceutical manufacturing, such as the use of risk-based regulatory strategies for oversight. Our quality metrics initiative is one of several approaches we believe will further support this effort.

We encourage patients, prescribers, industry and others to submit comments regarding our Quality Metrics draft guidance. We’ll also be hosting a public meeting on August 24, 2015. We’ll use this input to help create a final guidance to support the reporting and calculation of quality measurements.

Yesterday’s draft guidance is an important step on a shared path toward improved drug quality throughout the pharmaceutical industry. We look forward to receiving comments, finalizing the guidance, and receiving the first set of reports.

In the meantime, we’ll be working with others to support industry’s use of robust quality metrics programs and to understand the best way to use quality metrics to improve manufacturing quality and FDA’s regulatory decision making.

We also will continue to emphasize the importance of quality in the pharmaceutical industry for companies that make medications and for the patients who receive them.

Ashley Boam is FDA’s acting Director, Office of Policy for Pharmaceutical Quality, Office of Pharmaceutical Quality, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

Mary Malarkey is FDA’s Director, Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research

FDA Science Forum 2015: Views of FDA

FDA’s 2015 Science Forum attracted more than 800 people from the scientific community. Here’s what some attendees said about the innovative research going on at the agency and why FDA can be a valuable collaborator in research aimed at transforming food safety and medical product development. If you couldn’t attend the FDA science forum, you can still see all the presentations on our web site.

More Collaboration, Research Needed to Develop Cures

By: Robert Califf, M.D.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s drug approval process—the final stage of drug development—is the fastest in the world, which means Americans typically have first access to new drugs when they are demonstrated to be safe and effective. But even as our agency has transformed the approval process—approving 51 new molecular entities and biological products last year alone, including more new orphan drugs for rare diseases than in any previous year—drug discovery and development is not keeping pace for many diseases.

Robert CaliffIn many cases, what’s holding back progress is a lack of understanding of the biology of disease, as we outline in a new report we are releasing today that compares diseases where there is a robust pipeline of new therapies with certain diseases that have few known treatments or cures.

For instance, when it comes to cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other viral infections, decades of intense research have given the scientific community and the FDA critical insight on how to develop effective treatments. Ongoing research has led to the discovery of biomarkers, which are characteristics that are objectively measured and evaluated as indicators of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes or response to a therapeutic intervention. Some types of biomarkers give insight on the genetic and metabolic characteristics that alter patients’ responsiveness to particular drugs, and others give insight into whether drugs in development are likely to work. This deep knowledge has resulted in important breakthroughs, rapid drug development and speedy FDA approvals.

While additional research is needed for all diseases, the paucity of reliable biomarkers in some diseases highlights the critical need for more research if we are to make much needed progress. Examples include Alzheimer’s and many rare diseases, as we outline in the new report released today. In these cases, the scientific community still lacks basic information about what causes these diseases and how they can be slowed and treated. When research does not offer answers to important scientific questions, cures cannot be developed. And when viable cures are not in the pipeline, focusing on regulation will not improve the situation, since FDA can only approve therapies with evidence for safety and effectiveness.

Once key scientific questions are answered, we can use a variety of tools to reduce the length and cost of initial clinical trials for drug approval for these disease areas, and we can provide guidance to industry including advice on how to develop additional reliable biomarkers. For instance, we’ve improved the efficiency and predictability of clinical drug development by developing tools such as biomarkers and surrogate endpoints—markers of drug effect that do not directly represent an improvement in how a patient feels or functions, but are reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit. Thus, for example, lowering a patient’s blood pressure can be used as a surrogate for the clinical benefit of preventing heart attack. Such tools have modernized clinical trial designs and may dramatically reduce the length and cost of drug development. They also can help target drugs to specific patients who can benefit most, thereby limiting the number and size of clinical trials.

These are exciting times as we experience simultaneous revolutions in the biological and information sciences. We expect that the astounding increase in knowledge of biological systems enabled by whole genome sequencing, cloud computing, social media, and wearable devices to monitor physiology will create challenges to traditional thinking. And we are confident that this increased knowledge will continue to expand the pipeline of new therapies. This report emphasizes that we are prepared to deal with the product of this scientific investment by using regulatory paradigms that match the state of the science and by supporting dissemination of the latest knowledge applied to drug development.

In this paradigm that takes advantage of the depth of this new biomedical information, it will be critical to continue to support ongoing clinical trials and observational studies to ensure sufficient knowledge of the benefit-risk profile of therapies as they evolve into broad use. Even the best of the current surrogates such as systolic blood pressure cannot substitute for the entire cumulative effects of a drug on the intended biological target and for off-target effects.

We will continue to work to speed patient access to therapies shown to be safe and effective through our existing programs that allow for expedited review, development, and approval of certain medical products. To encourage innovation, we also will continue to work with other government agencies and the healthcare community, including members of patient groups, academia, and industry. It will take a collaborative effort to improve our nation’s understanding of certain diseases and to translate any resulting scientific discoveries into cures.

Robert Califf, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco.

More information can be found at: Innovation at FDA.

Celebrating the 3rd Anniversary of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

Anniversaries are celebrated for many different reasons. Sometimes it is to recognize the enduring strength of an institution. Other times it offers an opportunity to gauge success or progress.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.One commemoration that falls into the latter category is today’s third anniversary of the signing of the landmark Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act or, as it is known in the world of Washington acronyms, FDASIA.

FDASIA gave FDA authority to collect user fees from industry over five years, beginning in 2012, to fund reviews of innovator drugs, medical devices, generic drugs, and biosimilar biological products.

It also promotes innovation to speed patient access to safe and effective products, increases stakeholder involvement in FDA processes, and enhances the safety of the drug supply chain. Just as important, FDASIA improves the agency’s ability to help prevent drug shortages.

FDA has made great strides to implement this important law since President Obama signed it, issuing more than 35 draft and final guidances, more than 10 proposed and final rules, three strategic plans, 14 reports to Congress, 18 public reports, and 13 public meetings designed to solicit input from a vast assortment of stakeholders.

All told, we have completed more than 70% of the law’s deliverables and we continue to maintain our commitment to a transparent and accessible implementation plan that allows the public to follow our progress.

Our work on additional action items continues.

Just two days ago we completed another task – issuing a final rule that requires all manufacturers of certain medically important drug and biologic products to give FDA early notification of potential drug shortages and to report the reasons for that potential shortage.

This step is the latest in a series of changes FDA has made to significantly reduce drug shortages. Those efforts have helped to prevent 282 shortages in 2012, 170 in 2013, and 101 in 2014.

This progress is but one example of how FDA’s work under FDASIA is making an important difference for patients and health care professionals who depend on these products.

One of the most significant provisions of FDASIA was the creation of a new Breakthrough Therapy designation for drugs and biologics intended for serious or life-threatening illnesses where preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies.

As of last month, 315 requests for this special designation have been received and 93 drugs and biologics have been granted breakthrough status. Expedited development is underway for the majority of these breakthrough designated products, while 26 breakthrough therapy drug/indication combinations have already been approved and are now on the market for use by patients. This program, which, along with fast track, accelerated approval, and priority review, was the topic of FDA’s final guidance on our expedited review programs, also has helped facilitate earlier and continuing consultation and advice by FDA for industry researchers and product developers.

In large part, as a result of these expedited programs, we saw the approval of a record number of new drugs in 2014 for the treatment of both rare diseases and more common conditions like various forms of cancer and hepatitis C. We also saw the approval of a record number of biologics, including new vaccines for meningococcus type B.

Innovation is being promoted under FDASIA through greater patient engagement, including a five-year Patient Focused Drug Development program to learn from patients about the impact of their disease on their daily lives. Since its creation, we have held 14 meetings with patients on subjects such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lung cancer, HIV, and narcolepsy.

As this strategy makes clear, knowledge and understanding of a patient’s perspective on disease are critical. But equally significant is the importance of ensuring adequate data quality and transparency in research to develop new treatments. That brings up another area of great progress under FDASIA: addressing the longstanding concern about representation of women and minorities in clinical trials that support marketing applications for medical products.

In 2014, in response to Congress’s request in Section 907 of FDASIA, we produced an Action Plan to help close gaps in data quality, clinical trial participation, and data access. We have issued a guidance document on the “Evaluation of Sex-Specific Data in Medical Device Clinical Studies,” and we’re working to promote clinical trial participation by women and minorities. We also are posting on our website easy-to-understand Drug Trials Snapshots which provide the breakdown of clinical trial participants by age, race, and sex for newly-approved drugs and biologics. Snapshots also summarize whether there were differences in efficacy and safety among different subgroups.

Part of our efforts to implement and achieve the goals of FDASIA is helping us address the enormous global changes affecting FDA’s responsibilities.

With roughly 40 percent of finished drugs coming from outside our borders, and 80 percent of active ingredient manufacturers being located outside of the U.S., protecting the U.S. drug supply chain and making sure that patients have access to the drugs they need is a continuing priority for FDA.

FDASIA includes a set of provisions, contained in Title VII of the statute, which gave FDA new authorities to address the challenges posed by an increasingly global drug supply chain.

Given the enormity of FDA’s responsibilities, including the many new responsibilities authorized by Congress, combined with the budgetary challenges we face in this time of fiscal limitations, user fee funds play a critical role in FDA’s continued progress and excellence, including providing critical support to our staff of experts and helping maintain the high quality of their work.

Looking ahead, we have begun to plan for the next reauthorization of our user fee programs, beginning with a series of stakeholder meetings that began last month.

And, some of the themes advanced in FDASIA – encouraging antibiotic drug development, patient engagement, and the importance of biomarkers – are being considered by Congress as part of the 21st Century Cures initiative now making its way through Congress.

FDASIA provided enormous new responsibilities but also presented many promising opportunities. As we continue our progress in implementing this landmark law, we anticipate that we will continue to meet – and even exceed – the goals of the law as we strive to fulfill our mission to protect and promote the health of the American public.

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

China’s Pharmaceutical Future – Both Complex and Growing

By: Howard Sklamberg, Richard Moscicki, M.D., and Alonza Cruse

中文(Simplified Chinese)

A visit to any one of the cities we visited on this trip – Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing – would leave anyone marveling at the scale and trajectory of modern China. But it’s not just the sheer size of the population we were struck by. Rather, it was the seemingly tireless dedication to modernity that provided an almost palpable affirmation of what we already knew: that China — its skylines dotted with construction cranes and landscapes crisscrossed by high speed bullet trains — is inextricably connected with our own country’s economy, and increasingly with our agency’s ever-expanding regulatory mission.

Howard Sklamberg

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

We traveled to China for a few reasons. First, we wanted to gain more on-the-ground insight into how its drug industry works. We also wanted to offer some helpful perspective to Chinese regulators and drug companies about the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA), which passed three years ago and is in the process of being fully implemented. In part, the law gave the FDA new authorities to ensure the safety of the global drug supply chain, in which China plays an enormous part. How enormous? After the United States, China ranks second for the number of FDA-registered drug establishments that the agency regulates, and is the sixth largest provider of drugs and biologics to the U.S.

Our itinerary also included a meeting with the Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) and a tour of a Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. And if you asked us what the most important by-product of our trip has been, it was these face-to-face conversations with our Chinese counterparts.

Specifically, we discussed the responsibilities of firms in the global drug supply chain. These days, the drugs we have in our medicine chests may seemingly come from one company, but the ingredients in them may actually come from numerous companies and countries. China is a major provider of many of the active ingredients in finished drug products Americans rely on every day.

Dr. Richard Moscicki

Richard Moscicki, M.D., FDA’s Deputy Director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

We had productive discussions with the Chinese about how seriously we are committed to making sure that everyone in the drug supply chain – from the companies that make the active ingredients to those that provide the packaging –shares in this collective commitment to quality. As we did when we spoke with our counterparts in India, we stressed that we apply the same quality and data integrity standards to all countries shipping drug ingredients into the United States.

We delivered the same message to a huge crowd of students at an event hosted by China’s Pharmaceutical University in Nanjing. In our remarks, we set forth our expectations for the delivery of drug quality, saying: “…ideally, our approach will complement the baseline, legal requirement of compliance with the higher bar of firms’ self-interest in being recognized for providing quality products and engaging in a different way with FDA.

While in Nanjing, we had productive discussions with students and stakeholders about FDASIA, quality in contract manufacturing, inspections, regulatory science, and expedited approval pathways that FDA is using to accelerate the process for making novel drugs available to patients.

Additionally, we toured a Chinese pharmaceutical facility and met with CFDA to discuss the revision of China’s Drug Administration Law, our own FDASIA implementation, regulatory science matters, as well as continued collaborative activities. We also had a productive roundtable discussion with leaders from 17 prominent Chinese pharmaceutical companies. We addressed pharmaceutical quality, data integrity, and the approval process for generic and innovator drugs.

Alonza Cruse

Alonza Cruse, FDA’s Acting Director, Pharmaceutical Quality Program, Office of Regulatory Affairs

As China’s role on the global stage expands, FDA has significantly increased drug and medical device inspections there, but we need to continue to strengthen our efforts. The Office of Regulatory Affairs and our China office have managed a large number of pharmaceutical inspections. The FDA’s office in China has also strengthened relationships with regulators and helped expand the country’s expertise in regulatory operations. And we have worked with industry and academia to explain our regulations and analyze trends and events that might affect the safety of FDA-regulated products exported from China to the U.S.

Given the volume of U.S. trade with China, we are working to expand our presence there to significantly increase the number of inspections we conduct. Staffing increases will allow FDA to enhance its training efforts and technical collaboration with Chinese regulators, industry and others. In fact, in November 2014, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese government that expands our cooperation and will facilitate those staffing increases.

FDA’s priorities in China match its global priorities: we work to ensure the safety and efficacy of FDA-regulated products. China’s size and relentlessly expanding economy have an increasingly significant impact on the products that Americans consume, particularly pharmaceuticals.

We trust our trip to China added to the growing collaboration between FDA and our counterpart agencies there, ensuring the safety of the pharmaceutical products exchanged between our two nations.

Howard Sklamberg is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner, Global Regulatory Operations and Policy
Richard Moscicki, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Alonza Cruse is FDA’s Acting Director, Pharmaceutical Quality Program, Office of Regulatory Affairs

FDA Continues its Collaboration with Canada in Phase 2 of the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council

By: Lou Valdez, M.S.M.

For more than 30 years, FDA has enjoyed a robust partnership with our Canadian regulatory colleagues. In FDA, we are excited to build upon this relationship in Phase 2 of the U.S.–Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC).

Lou ValdezThe RCC was established in 2011 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to develop smarter and more efficient and effective approaches to regulatory cooperation between the two countries. The RCC aims to bring the U.S. and Canadian regulators and stakeholders closer in terms of sharing information, combining expertise, eliminating duplicative work and creating an enabling environment to foster and facilitate ideas.

In Phase 1 of the RCC, our governments identified important regulatory issues to work together to improve. For example, as a result of the cooperation between FDA and Health Canada, we reduced the regulatory burden for industry through the development of the Common Electronic Submission Gateway (CESG). Led by our FDA Medical Product Centers, the CESG allows industry to simultaneously submit electronic applications to both FDA and Health Canada for pharmaceutical and biological products.

In Phase 2, over the next three years, FDA has committed to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada in the areas of:

  • Food Safety
  • Medical Devices
  • Over-the-Counter Drug Products
  • Pharmaceutical and Biological Products, and
  • Veterinary Drugs.

Together with CFIA and Health Canada, we developed five individual work plans describing specific activities within the above areas and two Regulatory Partnership Statements outlining the institutional frameworks for this cooperation.

Throughout the implementation of these work plans, American and Canadian stakeholders will have opportunities to engage with the regulatory agencies to provide updates on significant industry and consumer trends and associated implications for regulatory systems.

FDA is committed to continuing our valued partnership with Canada and using the RCC as an important tool upon which to build. Learn more about FDA’s work under the RCC at http://www.trade.gov/rcc/.

Lou Valdez, M.S.M., is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs

FDA Reaches Out to Minorities During Hepatitis Awareness Month

By: Jovonni R. Spinner, M.P.H., C.H.E.S

Did you know that millions of Americans (mostly baby boomers) are living with chronic Hepatitis and up to 2/3 may not even know they are infected? Annually, in May, the public health community commemorates “Hepatitis Awareness Month” to bring attention to this disease, its symptoms, testing, and treatment options. This year, we are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct outreach for minority groups most affected by Hepatitis: Asian/Pacific Islanders (API) and African-Americans (AA).

Jovonni SpinnerWhat’s the issue?

Hepatitis, which means “inflammation of the liver”, can cause nausea, abdominal pain, jaundice, joint pain, and malaise. Chronic hepatitis can lead to serious complications like cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, or cancer. Hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV), and hepatitis C (HCV) are the most common strains found in the United States. Knowing your status and getting treatment early can potentially prevent these life threatening complications.

The statistics below show alarming disparities in the number of APIs and AAs being diagnosed with and dying from hepatitis.

Asian/Pacific Islanders

  • 50% or more of Americans living with chronic HBV are APIs
  • APIs experience mortality rates from HBV 7 times greater than Whites

African-Americans

  • 25% of all patients living with HCV are AAs
  • Among 45-65 year old AA’s, HCV-related chronic liver disease is the leading cause of death
  • HCV accounts for 8% of all AA deaths compared to 4% of White deaths
  • Patients with sickle cell disease (which primarily affects AAs) are at increased risk for contracting hepatitis if they received a blood transfusion prior to 1992, when blood banks began screening blood.

What is FDA’s Role?

FDA is committed to advancing the health, safety, and well-being of all Americans through the regulation of diagnostic tests, medicines, and vaccines, as well as monitoring post market safety of healthcare products and ensuring diversity in clinical trials. The most recent safety warning about possible side effects of hepatitis drugs can be found on FDA’s safety bulletin.

One area that my office specifically focuses on is increasing diversity in clinical trials. Data has shown that African Americans and other races respond differently to hepatitis treatments. For example, in the VIRAHEP-C clinical trial, 28% of African-Americans were cured by the tested treatment, compared to 52% of whites. These results highlight why it is important to increase diversity of participants in clinical trials so we can learn how all groups respond to FDA regulated products, thus helping to ensure the safety of medical products for all.

We are actively spearheading FDA’s efforts on the FDASIA 907: Action Plan to Enhance the Collection and Availability of Demographic Subgroup Data. Under our leadership, we help the agency improve the quality and quantity of data collected; increase clinical trial participation; and increase the transparency of clinical trial data. In addition to the information on our website, we created a clinical trials brochure which discusses the importance of volunteering in clinical trials.

Call to Action

May 19th is National Hepatitis Testing Day!

Spread the word to increase testing and early treatment. These resources are available to help your community:

Patients and health professionals can receive updates about drug approvals, drug safety updates and other issues related to hepatitis by subscribing to the Hepatitis Email Updates.

More information about FDA’s OMH can be found here: www.fda.gov/minorityhealth

Follow us on Twitter @FDAOMH

Jovonni Spinner, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., is a Public Health Advisor in FDA’s Office of Minority Health

FDA’s Keynote Address to the Annual Conference of the Food and Drug Law Institute

By Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Today marks the start of my third week as Acting Commissioner of FDA and I “celebrated” by giving a keynote address to attendees at the annual conference of the Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI). Few places offer a more appropriate stage for a newly designated leader of FDA. As our names suggest, our organizations have a lot in common.

Stephen OstroffFor decades, the FDA and FDLI have worked together to educate and inform the broad “food and drug” community about the latest developments in our field and FDA’s critical and complex role in promoting and protecting the public health.

It’s been an exciting, busy, and rewarding first three weeks since moving into my new office from the position of Chief Scientist. The FDLI annual meeting offered me the opportunity to highlight a number of FDA’s accomplishments over the last year. The credit for these achievements in no small measure goes to the immensely talented employees at FDA who are committed to assuring safe and nutritious foods, providing effective and high quality medical products, and reducing harm from tobacco products. Credit for these achievements also reflects the extraordinary leadership of my predecessor, Dr. Peggy Hamburg, over the last 6 years.

So today, I’m pleased and honored to present to this audience some of FDA’s accomplishments and challenges, and also to extend my sincere appreciation to FDA’s dedicated work force, who make my new job much easier. But much more importantly, our work force makes the lives of so many Americans safer and healthier. It is with great pride that I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in support of this noble goal.

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

FDA Advances Medical Product Innovation

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

On March 10, I had the pleasure of appearing with my colleague Dr. Francis Collins before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to testify at a hearing on the subject of “Continuing America’s Leadership in Medical Innovation for Patients.” I thought the broader public health community would be interested in my oral testimony, and so I am sharing it here:

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.“Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. I’m very pleased to be here today to discuss our shared goal of speeding innovative treatments to patients. FDA looks forward to working with you on this important effort.

As you have noted, this will be my last appearance before the Committee, as I am stepping down, but I want to thank you for your support over the years, and our constructive engagement with this committee to advance FDA’s public health mission.

I came to the Agency at a time of considerable uncertainty and change in the biomedical product industry; a time when dramatic advances in science and technology, some that my colleague Dr. Collins just outlined, demanded new models and approaches.

In turn, we took a very serious look at our role in advancing biomedical product innovation to ensure that we would be a gateway, not a barrier, to the delivery of better, safer and more effective treatments and cures.

In fact, this has been a high priority for me throughout my tenure and I’m very pleased, as Sen. Murray noted, last year, we approved the most new drugs in almost 20 years, and more orphan drugs than ever before. Forty-one percent of these new approvals were first-in-class products, resulting in a breathtaking array of truly innovative new therapies for patients.

Today, FDA approves drugs faster on average than all other advanced nations: 40 days faster than Japan; 70 days faster than Canada; and 174 days faster than Europe. And FDA has made substantial improvements in the efficiency of medical device reviews as well.

Moreover, we’ve accomplished this while remaining the gold standard around the world for safety and effectiveness.

Yet despite these successes, too many diseases still await treatments and cures.  Serious public health needs, such as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, are not being met. And rising R&D expenditures are not matched by a proportionate discovery of new treatments.

In this context, I want to address concerns raised by some that FDA regulation is the principal obstacle to the development of innovative treatments, and suggestions that FDA’s authorities and procedures must be fundamentally restructured.

As a physician, I know that if you incorrectly diagnose a patient’s condition, the treatment that you’ll prescribe is unlikely to work. Unless we correctly diagnose why cures are still lacking for many diseases, we’re unlikely to find the solutions that will actually deliver those cures so let me give you three examples of misconceptions.

First is the incorrect but commonly repeated assertion that FDA’s approval of new drugs lags behind other countries. The reality is starkly different: over 75% of the new drugs approved by Japan, EU, Canada, Australia Switzerland and FDA from 2004 to 2013 were approved first by FDA, according to a recent report by the British-based Centre for Innovation in Regulatory Science. The result is that Americans are far more likely to get first access to a new medicine before patients abroad.

Second, FDA is said to be rigid and inflexible in its approach to requesting and using data for approval of a new drug. In fact, FDA’s clinical trial requirements have been steadily increasing in flexibility:

  • 45% of new drugs are approved based on a surrogate endpoint;
  • one-third are approved on the basis of a single clinical trial;
  • Last year, we used expedited approval processes for more drugs than ever before – about 66%.

And thanks in part to the new authority that you gave us in FDASIA, 74 drugs had received the new “breakthrough” designation.

My final example is the concern that investment in biotechnology has dropped precipitously in the United States, and that the FDA is to blame. But in the words of The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), “Biotechnology investment dollars rose 29 percent in 2014 to $6.0 billion . . , placing it as the second largest investment sector for the year in terms of dollars invested.”  And Jonathan Leff, a leading biotechnology investor affiliated with NVCA, said that one of the two reasons for the increased investment in biotechnology is the improved regulatory climate in recent years at FDA.

I cite these examples to suggest not that the world of biomedical research and product development is all fine, but to urge that we start with the right diagnosis. We do not want solutions based on inaccurate diagnoses.

I caution against solutions that seek to lower the safety and effectiveness standards for approval of the medical products on which Americans rely. Remember that the great leaps forward in evidence-based medicine of the last 50 years have come in part because of the high standards for product approval that Congress put in place after a series of disasters involving unsafe and ineffective medical products. Those standards have also boosted the confidence that Americans place in medical products and that the world places in the American biomedical product industry.

Together, we can build on the progress that has been made in recent years, to further advance biomedical science and improve the lives of patients. And there are some areas from the FDA perspective that I believe we can all agree need to be improved.

First, patients are uniquely positioned to inform medical product development. Treatments can better meet their needs if we can capture science-based, disease-specific patient input to incorporate in the development and review process.

Second, more attention needs to be given to the development of “biomarkers” and surrogate endpoints. These can help scientists identify and target successful medical treatments and shorten drug development times as Dr. Collins was noting in his remarks.

FDA has accepted hundreds of biomarkers and surrogates, such as blood pressure changes, blood sugar reduction, and tumor shrinkage. Yet biomarkers are still lacking for many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The biggest obstacle is that scientists do not sufficiently understand the causes of Alzheimer’s and other diseases to identify drug targets or identify which patients will benefit from certain drugs. To solve this problem we must support the establishment of strong public-private partnerships, bringing the best minds together to develop the science that we need.

Third, evidence from clinical experience (called “real world evidence” or “big data” by some) provides a vital tool to monitor medical products in use in the marketplace. FDA’s Sentinel Initiative, with more than 170 million lives, is one of the largest uses of this type of information in healthcare and proving vital for monitoring safety and emerging safety concerns. The science of using evidence from clinical experience to establish product effectiveness is still in its infancy. Real progress demands that we develop the methodologies needed to harness its promise.

And fourth, FDA and industry agree that the Agency must be able to attract and retain talented scientists to review cutting-edge products. We look forward to working with you to improve our ability to hire and retain these experts.

So let me close by underscoring that speeding innovation while maintaining standards for safety and efficacy serves patients well, supports the needs of our health care system, and has enabled the medical product industry in this country to thrive. And so I thank you for your support for our efforts at FDA and the work you are going to be doing going forward to advance that work and the work of all our colleagues in the biomedical research community so we can deliver on the promise of science for patients.”

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

Rare Diseases at FDA: A Successful Year for Orphan Products

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

2014 was a strong year for rare disease product development at FDA. It was also a year of significant firsts.

Dr. Gayatri RaoIn recognition of Rare Disease Day, February 28th, we want to reflect on the progress we have made thus far as we renew our commitment to rare disease patients. A rare disease is generally defined as a disease which affects fewer than 200,000 Americans a year. At FDA, the commitment to increase access to diagnostics and treatments to change the day-to-day reality of those living with rare diseases began over 30 years ago with the passage of the Orphan Drug Act.That commitment has steadily increased since then.

In 2014, we received our highest number to date of new requests for orphan drug designation. We received over 440 requests while just 7 years ago, we received less than half of that. We designated and approved more orphan drugs in 2014 than we had in previous years – nearly 300 drugs were designated and 48 were approved, including both novel and repurposed drugs. In 2014, 41% of all novel new drugs approved by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research were for the treatment of rare diseases. Many of these orphan drug approvals were new and innovative, including Sylvant, to treat Castleman’s disease, which results in excessive lymph node growth, and Impavido, to treat forms of the tropical disease, leishmaniasis.

2014 was also a year of firsts for rare disease product development:

There were firsts in device development. For example, the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research approved its first device through the Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) pathway. This device, CliniMACS CD34 Reagent System, helps to mitigate potentially serious immune reactions associated with stem cell transplantation in patients with acute myeloid leukemia.

FDA produced in 2014 its first agency-wide blueprint to accelerate the development of therapies for pediatric rare diseases – a report and strategic plan outlining how to address issues for developing products for this population.

2014 saw the issuance of the first rare pediatric disease priority review voucher for the treatment of mucopolysaccharidosis type IVA (Morquio A syndrome), a rare lysosomal storage disease which affects about 1000 patients in the United States and can lead to debilitating and life-threatening abnormalities of bones, joints and the heart.

In recognition of Rare Disease Day 2015, the international rare disease community is coming together to pay tribute to the millions of individuals impacted by rare diseases all over the world. Through the solidarity and commitment of many stakeholders – patients and families, healthcare professionals, researchers, companies, and policy makers – the awareness of the daily challenges that are unique to each rare disease and the efforts to create solutions has risen exponentially in the past several decades. As members of the rare disease community, we are proud of our collective accomplishments but remain acutely aware of how much more there is still to be done. Given how 2015 is already shaping up, we expect that by working together, we will continue to make great strides in developing much needed products for the millions of patients living with rare diseases.

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