FDA Advisory Committee Members and ‘Appearance Issues’

By: Michael Ortwerth, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

Some examples include:

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

We have recently published new draft guidance describing FDA’s procedures for evaluating appearance issues and how we determine whether to grant an authorization for a member with an appearance issue to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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Richard Pazdur, M.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

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

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

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

Being Part of a Vibrant Collaborative Scientific Environment

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

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

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

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

Tackling the Most Challenging Scientific Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBER Laboratories in the Life Sciences-Biodefense Complex

By: Carolyn A. Wilson, Ph.D.

Wise management of research programs means more than selecting projects that will yield the most scientific information but also making sure that we are making wise use of the dollars we allot for research.

Carolyn A. WilsonThat’s why FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) thinks strategically when it plans research programs by the more than 70 principal investigators who work in our two-year-old laboratories in the Life Sciences-Biodefense Complex at FDA’s White Oak campus.

We ask ourselves how we can most efficiently – and cost-effectively – obtain the answers to our scientific questions that our regulators will need to achieve their mission of ensuring the safety, purity, and potency of biological products.  Products regulated by CBER include vaccines, allergenics (allergy diagnostics and treatments), cellular, tissue, and gene therapy products, and blood and blood products.

To sharpen our research planning we recently undertook a major evaluation of our center’s scientific and administrative strategies and programs with the assistance of an outside consulting firm.

The findings have enabled us to refine  our strategies for wringing the most new knowledge from every dollar we spend on regulatory science – the science of developing new tools, standards and approaches to assess the safety, efficacy, quality and performance of FDA-regulated products. These refinements to CBER’s research strategy include:

  • A Resource Committee that manages CBER’s annual budget, as well as a Regulatory Science Council that develops center-wide goals, guides office-level objectives, and oversees all research activities. These two councils will increase overall transparency of decision-making, make sure that research is prioritized, and aim to make budget planning more timely and responsive to our mission.
  • More direct control of funds by individual CBER offices and earlier allocation of that funding, and annual peer review of 25 percent of existing and new projects to ensure accountability for how they are run.
  • Systems to increase the transparency of CBER research and research funding, enhance management decisions, and facilitate tracking of funding allocated to activities and projects.
  • Elevating the culture of science through monthly presentations highlighting the public health impact and mission relevance of CBER research; biannual CBER-wide Science Symposium, providing opportunities for communication and potentially improved collaboration across all CBER research projects; and, enhanced prominence of CBER research fellows in the research enterprise.
jars of vegetables

Faulty home food preservation is one potential source of botulism. FDA scientists are developing methods that will help manufacturers to make a vaccine that will prevent this bacterial illness.

These research and administration refinements are helping us better identify and prepare for tomorrow’s needs.  And when you consider the approximately 70-80 research programs we have underway, we’re doing a lot. A few examples include:

  • Studying botulism toxoids (inactivated illness-causing chemicals released by bacteria) to support development of the first vaccine to prevent this potentially fatal infection. CBER scientists are designing new tests to predict what vaccine approaches may be protective. These tests may also help screen vaccines that protect against other toxins such as those from anthrax, as well as the plant-derived toxin ricin.
  • Determining the critical immune events that provide protective immunity to intracellular microbes (bacteria and parasites that live inside human cells). Based on this, FDA scientists will develop new measurements to predict protection that may help evaluate new vaccines for these microbes.

    Girl sneezing in a field of flowers.

    Allergies can turn nature walks into annoying sneezing fits. FDA scientists are developing new tools to help manufacturers produce more potent allergy shots and enhance their safety.

  • Developing new tools and data to help manufacturers produce more potent allergy shots and enhance their safety.
  • Helping to develop a test for cow intestine to ensure heparin harvested from this tissue is not contaminated with the agent causing the bovine transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE, also known as “mad cow disease”), a known risk to humans. This would help to ensure a safe, reliable, domestic source of heparin, which is now obtained mostly from China.
  • Developing new methods and technologies for rapid-testing detection and characterization of emerging infectious pathogens that threaten the safety of tissue and tissue-based products. In the course of developing these technologies, the lab has found previously unidentified microbial contaminants in archived tissues used for these studies. These findings provide preliminary evidence to support the potential for application of rapid test technologies in evaluation of emerging infectious disease transmission risks associated with the implantation, transplantation, infusion, or transfer of human tissue.

As CBER continues to advance regulatory science in its Life Sciences-BioDefense Complex, our projects will adapt to new challenges that the science of biologics will inevitably pose to FDA. And CBER will address those challenges, keeping in mind both the public health and our fiduciary responsibility to make every research dollar count.

Carolyn A. Wilson, Ph.D., is Associate Director for Research at FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research

Be A Champion for Clinical Trial Diversity

By: Jonca Bull, M.D.

The FDA is launching a campaign to encourage minorities to participate in clinical trials for all medical conditions.

Jonca Bull, M.D., is Director of FDA’s Office of Minority HealthThe first part of the campaign will be launched on June 19, 2016, World Sickle Cell Day, observed annually to help increase public knowledge and raise awareness of Sickle Cell Disease, which primarily affects people of African and Hispanic descent. We want to encourage diverse communities to learn more about how they can become a part of the research process to bring new therapies to the market.

Clinical trials are a critical step in making new medical products available. Medical products—from vaccines to drugs for blood pressure or diabetes management — are tested in clinical trials.

Although FDA generally does not conduct clinical trials, we do the critical work in reviewing the data to assess the safety and efficacy of medical products before they can be used in medical practice. None of this is possible without clinical trials and the patients who go the extra mile by being research participants.

In order to help ensure that medical products are safe for everyone, we need a diverse pool of research participants—racial and ethnic minorities, women, even the elderly.

We know that certain diseases impact some populations differently. For example, diabetes occurs  more frequently in blacks and Hispanics, high blood pressure and heart failure occurs more frequently and severely in blacks; and, Asian American communities experience more hepatitis B.

Clinical trials participants need to more closely mirror the patients who will ultimately use the medicine. This is especially important when considering health disparities — diseases that occur more frequently or appear differently in non-white populations. But most clinical trials participants are white and male. That means we may miss vital data that could be used to be make better evidence-based, regulatory decisions. If we do not develop a more diverse pool of research participants, health disparities may persist because we will not know if a medical product is safe and effective in the actual population that will ultimately use it.

And that’s why we’re launching our campaign, which includes a series of educational aids such as videos, a blog, and an infographic. In these videos Shirley Miller, who lives with sickle cell disease, talks about her experience participating in clinical trials and encourages her peers to learn more about research studies.

In another video Dr. Luciana Borio, FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist, discusses why clinical trial diversity matters from FDA’s perspective.

This campaign is taking us one step closer to a world where health equity is a reality for all. It supports FDA’s initiative: “The Year of Clinical Trial Diversity.”

It is a part of our larger effort to improve clinical trials diversity — we also work with stakeholder groups, support research, develop multi-lingual resources, and use social media to promote a community of “Clinical Trials Champions.”

You can be a “Champion” by watching and sharing the videos and related resources.

Everyone has a stake in the game —health care providers, researchers, and patients. Share these videos and other materials. Start a conversation today.

Videos:

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

Follow us on Twitter @FDAOMH

Dr. Jonca Bull is FDA’s Assistant Commissioner for Minority Health, Office of Minority Health

What We Mean When We Talk About EvGen Part II: Building Out a National System for Evidence Generation

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

In an earlier FDA Voice blog post, we discussed a pair of concepts – interoperability and connectivity – that are essential prerequisites for the creation of a successful national system for evidence generation (or “EvGen”). In this post, we take a look at how we would apply these constructs as we go about building such a system.

Building EvGen

Rachel Sherman

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

Creating knowledge requires the application of proven analytical methods and techniques to biomedical data in order to produce reliable conclusions. Until recently, such analysis was done by experts operating in centers that typically restricted access to data. This “walled garden” approach evolved for several reasons: the imperative to protect the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive medical data; concern about the negative consequences that could arise from inappropriate, biased, or incompetent analysis; and, the tendency to see data as a competitive asset. Regardless of the specific reason, the result has been the same: widespread and systemic barriers to data sharing.

If we are to reverse these tendencies and foster a new approach to creating evidence of the kind envisioned for EvGen, we must bear in mind several critical principles:

  1. There must be a common approach to how data is presented, reported and analyzed and strict methods for ensuring patient privacy and data security.
  2. Rules of engagement must be transparent and developed through a process that builds consensus across the relevant ecosystem and its stakeholders.
  3. To ensure support across a diverse ecosystem that often includes competing priorities and incentives, the system’s output must be intended for the public good and be readily accessible to all stakeholders.

What Would EvGen Look Like in Practice?

Robert Califf

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

What would a robust national platform for evidence generation look like? It may be helpful to envision EvGen as an umbrella for all activities that help inform all stakeholders about making treatment decisions.

The task of evaluating drugs, biologics, or devices encompasses different data needs and methods. However, all share a common attribute: the characterization of individuals and populations and their associated clinical outcomes after they have undergone diagnostic or prognostic testing or been exposed to a therapeutic intervention.

Moreover, when medical practice itself is part of the evaluation, characterization of the organization and function of delivery systems is critical. In other words, the kinds of evidence needed to evaluate medical products for safety and effectiveness and the kinds of evidence needed to guide medical practice overlap substantially.

Over the last decade, there has been enormous progress in the area of “secondary use,” in which data collected for one purpose (for instance, as part of routine clinical care) can be reused for another (such as research, safety monitoring, or quality improvement).

The Sentinel Initiative, launched in response to a Congressional mandate to develop an active postmarket risk identification and analysis system, is one example. Modeled after successful programs such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Safety Datalink, Sentinel allows FDA to conduct safety surveillance by actively querying diverse data sources, primarily administrative and insurance claims databases but also data from electronic health record (EHR) systems, to evaluate possible medical product safety issues quickly and securely.

Another example, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network (PCORnet), is a national system that includes many of the attributes needed for EvGen. PCORnet includes participation from government, industry, academia, and patients and their advocates. Whereas FDA’s Sentinel system is built primarily on claims data repurposed for safety surveillance, PCORnet is designed to leverage EHR data in support of pragmatic clinical research.

The NIH’s Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory has demonstrated through its Distributed Research Network that the concept of secondary data use can be extended into the realm of prospective pragmatic interventional trials. The NIH Collaboratory program, which includes many of the same health care systems involved in Sentinel and PCORnet, has 10 active trials underway.

In addition, the Reagan-Udall Foundation Innovation in Medical Evidence Development and Surveillance (IMEDS) Evaluation Program is exploring governance mechanisms to ensure that private-sector entities, notably regulated industry, can collaborate with Sentinel data partners to sponsor safety queries about marketed medical products. Such measures have the potential to expand the involvement of private-sector partners beyond the arena of methodology, further helping to ensure that Sentinel continues its expansion into a national resource.

Similarly, efforts are underway to establish a National Device Evaluation System (NDES). As currently envisioned, the NDES would be established through strategic alliances and shared governance. The system would build upon and leverage information from electronic real-world data sources, such as data gathered through routine clinical practice in device registries, claims data, and EHRs, with linkages activated among specific data sources as appropriate to address specific questions.

As substantial work already is being done in all of these areas, valuable experience is being gained. The next step is to ensure that these pioneering efforts coalesce into a true national resource. More on that in future postings.

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

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

What We Mean When We Talk About EvGen Part I: Laying the Foundation for a National System for Evidence Generation

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

Rachel Sherman

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

Across the clinical research enterprise, there is a growing awareness of serious shortfalls in the current paradigm of generating the scientific evidence that supports medical product evaluation and clinical care decisions and the need to modernize methods and expectations surrounding this evidence base.

We know, for instance, that most clinical practice guideline recommendations are not based on high-quality evidence, typically derived from appropriately designed randomized controlled trials. We also know that adherence to standards supported by such high-quality evidence results in better outcomes for patients.

There is reason to believe that we’ve arrived at a tipping point where previously separate, “siloed” efforts can be linked to create a national system for evidence generation (EvGen). In this first of a series of posts, we’ll take a look at the elements required to build such a national system, beginning with a pair of foundational concepts—interoperability and connectivity.

Interoperability

Robert Califf

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

Put simply, interoperability is the idea that different systems used by different groups of people can be used for a common purpose because those systems share standards and approaches. To take one example: modern train tracks employ agreed-upon standards in terms of track gauge and other specifications so that many different kinds of vehicles can safely use the rail system.

In similar fashion, a national system for evidence generation that applied common data standards and definitions could “lay the track” for significant improvements in the exchange of biomedical data. Patients, consumers, professional groups, payers, the medical products industry, and health systems all stand to benefit from potential gains in efficiency and reductions in cost that would accompany standardized approaches to data collection, curation, and sharing, once up-front investments are absorbed. Then, with these standards in place, effort could be devoted to generating actionable knowledge rather than simply managing data.

Connectivity

Establishing interoperable systems is a critical step in building a national system for evidence generation. An equally important step is to enable collaboration among the many groups that generate data, for example patients, clinicians, hospital systems, health insurance organizations. Evidence is derived from high-quality data that often originates from many different sources or settings. We can create an interconnected environment that leverages all the available data to provide answers to important public health questions. A defining characteristic of such a network is the ability to leverage all available data for different tasks as needed, allowing the network to integrate complex relationships between data input and output. Coupled with interoperable standards, a national system for evidence generation based on these principles will be capable of generating very large quantities of data and enabling those data to flow among system components.

The result? Researchers will be able to distill the data into actionable evidence that can ultimately guide clinical, regulatory, and personal decision-making about health and health care.

These two core constructs represent the essential scaffolding that must be developed and put in place to support a national system for evidence generation. In our next posting, we’ll examine ways we can begin building and continuously improving such a system for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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

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

Developing a Consensus Voice: The Combination Products Policy Council

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

We recently announced the launch of lean process mapping to build a better system for combination products review – one that is more cohesive, more collaborative, more systematic, and more predictable. We look forward to providing an update on this effort soon.

Nina Hunter

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

In the meantime, we’re delighted to announce the creation of FDA’s first Combination Products Policy Council. Building on successful cross-cutting efforts such as the Biosimilars Implementation Committee and the Medical Policy Counsel in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), the Council will be a senior-level, agency-wide forum for discussing, resolving, and implementing product and policy issues. Because of the multiple FDA organizations involved, this council will have decisional authority on issues relating to combination products, cross-labeled products, and medical product classification.

The different parts of a combination product and the different product types labeled for use together in premarket applications for combination products and cross-labeled products can create complexities for reviewers and require expertise from multiple centers.

Rachel Sherman

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

Currently, the lead center manages the review process using procedures associated with the center-specific application type and user fee goal dates. But differences in statutory and regulatory requirements for different application types, including evidentiary standards, data requirements, and review limitations, make it challenging to coordinate reviews and ensure alignment and consistency in addressing issues across centers.

In response to these complexities, we are creating a key component in the Office of the Commissioner that can convene parties across centers, foster understanding and consistent application of requirements, and develop a unified FDA position on issues that arise. Although this process will not replace the existing formal appeal process, we anticipate that many issues can be resolved before reaching that stage.

Council Mission

  • Modernize the inter-center consultation process and related aspects of combination product and cross-labeled product review;
  • Promote development of innovative, safe, and effective combination products and cross-labeled products; and
  • Promote alignment in addressing challenging medical product classification issues.

The Council will be composed of representatives from relevant centers and offices. In addition, experts from within centers and other FDA offices will provide expertise as needed for specific policy topics under consideration.

In addition to serving as a communications hub, the Council will be involved in the development of agency-wide and external communications such as draft guidances, publications, and blog posts on policy decisions. FDA envisions a variety of topics may be relevant for consideration by the Council, including such “front-burner” items as product jurisdiction and designation practices, application of evidentiary standards for clearance/approval to combination products and cross-labeled products, and regulation of novel products.

We’ve heard that many stakeholders desire a voice in modernizing the combination review program, and we’re listening! In addition to the topics listed above, one of the Council’s priorities will be to consider how best to seek input from external stakeholders on various issues. We would hope that such comments include policy issues recommended for discussion and recommendations on how the policy issue could be addressed or implemented.

We are confident that the Council’s efforts will ensure transparency and consistency in our approach to combination product policy development and implementation, ultimately helping to ensure that innovative combination products marketed to the American people are safe, effective, and appropriately labeled. We look forward to providing updates about the Council, as well as additional modernization efforts in this important area.

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

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

Priorities – Teamwork to Achieve Common Goals

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

With my appointment as Commissioner of Food and Drugs comes a rare and humbling opportunity—to make a positive difference at an institution that does vitally important work for the nation and its citizens. During my vetting process I received hundreds of emails and had almost as many conversations with a large and diverse group of stakeholders. Over the course of these discussions, a recurring theme emerged: namely, that setting priorities would be critical to success.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationThis is hardly surprising. FDA regulates about 20 percent of the nation’s economy and, given the vast number of options, it would be easy to get lost in an overwhelming swirl of activity. In fact, at times I have been (rightfully) accused of having an excessively lengthy to-do list! But my interactions with so many of the knowledgeable, dedicated, and mission-driven people here at FDA have helped foster a clear, realistic, and focused sense of priorities and have further heightened an already strong enthusiasm for helping this awesome organization reach these ambitious goals.

FDA makes decisions in a remarkably effective and responsible way. Guided by the lodestone of our mission to protect and promote the public health, and supported by the concerted efforts of dedicated and talented professionals who examine issues within team-based systems, FDA’s Centers that form the core of our organization are able to make an enormous number of decisions every day. The vast majority of these decisions, many of which are vital to the well-being of all Americans, are made possible by a system sustained by professionalism and a well-earned reputation for high-quality and impartial judgments—despite the fact that many decisions must ultimately disappoint (or at least not fully satisfy) one or more constituencies.

I strongly believe my most important responsibility during my time at FDA is to encourage and support a professional environment that enables our remarkably dedicated workforce to thrive and to reach its fullest potential. Dramatic advances in biotechnology and information sciences, as well as continuously accelerating trends toward globalization, are ushering in an era of rapid change. But amid this change, the key to success for the Agency in accomplishing its mission remains constant—sustaining and expanding our talented workforce and ensuring that we both hire the people we need for the future while we continue to enhance our environment to ensure that we retain existing staff. To that end, I will pursue a workforce initiative designed to 1) improve the hiring system, 2) ensure that the Agency has the best possible working conditions for staff, and 3) foster professional homes for the diverse professions that make up our teams so that we are able to recruit and retain them in a very competitive market.

My top programmatic priority will likely come as no surprise, given the astonishing changes that are currently rippling through society: we must do everything possible to rapidly adapt our national and global systems of evidence generation to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by technological advances. What does this mean? I’ve noticed that when high-quality evidence is available, FDA’s scientific decision making is often straightforward. But it can be particularly challenging for the Agency when it must make scientific decisions in the absence of optimal information. In such cases, opinions may carry greater weight, and there can be an increased likelihood of dissension both inside and outside of FDA, as well as a greater risk that we may fail to most fully protect or advance the welfare of patients and the public.

FDA is a science-based, science-led organization that focuses on the needs of patients and consumers; protecting their well-being is our charge as a public health agency. The state of the art as it pertains to understanding the needs and choices of patients and the public is progressing rapidly, and we must continue to keep pace by incorporating the best methods for taking patient preferences, experiences, and outcomes into account in every part of our work.

Biomedical science is nearing a tipping point where the amount of high-quality evidence available to support our decisions is likely to increase exponentially. As a nation, we have invested over $50 billion to provide an electronic health record (EHR) for almost every American. Further, computational storage capacity and analytical power are increasing by orders of magnitude from year to year. At the same time, the advent and wide diffusion of social media are enabling direct communication with patients and consumers on an unprecedented scale. When projects such as Sentinel and the National Medical Device Evaluation System are linked with the many complementary initiatives under way at our sister agencies and at organizations outside of the government, we can (and I believe in short order will!) build a robust foundation for a system in which both private and public sectors can produce much more useful knowledge at a fraction of the cost such efforts have previously required. Indeed, a major function of FDA is to support the continued development of an effective system for evidence generation, so that the private and academic sectors can make it happen.

Accordingly, FDA is thoroughly committed to working with the many partners in our ecosystem to help build and sustain an infrastructure that produces the high-quality scientific evidence needed to guide FDA’s decisions about the drugs, medical devices, tobacco products, and food products it’s charged with regulating, as well as the decisions that healthcare providers, patients, and consumers make about their health and well-being.

In addition to this overarching priority, a number of specific critical issues are on my front burner this morning and will remain there for the foreseeable future:

  • Pain. The present epidemic of opioid overdose deaths now exceeds deaths from automobile crashes. FDA cannot solve this problem on its own—and indeed, no single entity can—but we have a critical role to play, as described in our FDA Opioids Action Plan.
  • Tobacco product deeming. Much effort has gone into developing the framework for the approach to the regulation of the broad array of tobacco products. FDA is working hard to finalize the deeming rule, which in its proposed form would extend FDA regulation over virtually all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, either all cigars or all but premium cigars, pipe tobacco, certain dissolvables that are not “smokeless tobacco,” gels, and waterpipe tobacco.
  • Implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This statutory directive to transform the food safety system is well on its way to being implemented, with critical regulations issued and more to come. The effort involves the complex development of a new control and risk-based system that includes the entire chain of food safety. Effective implementation of this system will require the application of cutting-edge analytical and biological science, as well as the most modern approaches to human systems management.
  • Antimicrobial resistance. Concerns about the proliferation of multidrug-resistant pathogens, as well as the sustainability of the product pipeline needed to meet this threat, continue to grow. We have a major responsibility in the federal plan, one that will involve many parts of the Agency and require that we work with the broad ecosystem, both to ensure that appropriate antimicrobials are used appropriately on farms, and that novel antimicrobials are developed, approved, and used responsibly within a framework of effective stewardship.
  • Interagency effectiveness. When we consider our mission to protect and advance the public health, as well as our duty to balance benefit and risk for patients and consumers of medical products, much of our success can be enhanced by coordinated effort across government. We have therefore continued the FDA-NIH Joint Leadership Council and the FDA-CDC meetings, and also initiated similar discussions with CMS. The Biomarkers, Endpoints and other Tools (BEST) Resource offers a powerful example of the ability of FDA and NIH to contribute to solving scientific and regulatory issues together.
  • Precision Medicine. President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative represents more than just a project. Rather, it is a window that provides a clear view of the future for biomedicine and agriculture, a future in which powerful new technologies and methods allow the precise targeting of interventions using an array of genetic, genomic, biological, clinical, social, and environmental data according to the scale needed to achieve improved health outcomes.
  • Cross-Cutting Issues. There are a great many other issues (truthfully, the number reaches triple digits) on my list of concerns. But those issues that cut across the Agency, including optimizing our approach to combination products, medical countermeasures, and improving product labeling, will benefit most from my attention and support.

A single introductory blog post is not suited for giving details about priorities or individual programs. However, I hope I’ve conveyed my enthusiasm for the work at hand, as well as my confidence that we will be able to make real and lasting improvements in many critical areas. I promise that we will follow up with frequent updates, as fostering effective communication is itself an overarching priority of immense importance to me. So expect to hear from me again soon!

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

Addressing Issues Relating to Combination Products: Human Factors

By: Jill Hartzler Warner, J.D., and Thinh Nguyen

Combination products represent an important and growing category of therapeutic and diagnostic products under the FDA’s regulatory authority. These products, which combine a drug, device, and/or biological product (referred to as “constituent parts”) with one another, do not fit into traditional categories for medical products.

Jill Warner

Jill Hartzler Warner, J.D., FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Special Medical Programs.

Combination products come in three basic configurations: their constituent parts may be physically or chemically combined; they may be co-packaged; or they may be separately distributed with specific labeling that provides instructions for their combined use.

The different constituent parts of a combination product can add complexity to the final product. For example, when a medical device is part of the combination product, issues that relate to how the product is used can be as important as the product itself.

Human factors engineering, and the closely related field of usability engineering, both study how people interact with technology, to understand how the design of user interfaces for technology affects the quality, experience, and outcomes of that interaction. The questions addressed by human factors studies overlap with those addressed by “medication error” assessments, another area of user-product interaction evaluation commonly applied to drugs. The understanding gained from these evaluations can be applied to the design and review of the user interfaces for FDA-regulated products to assure their safety and effectiveness.

Thinh Nguyen

Thinh Nguyen, FDA’s Director, Office of Combination Products

Because the design of a combination product can have a significant impact on whether a given product is safe and effective for its intended use, human factors evaluations are a central consideration for FDA when it assesses combination products, particularly those that include certain devices.

In February 2016, FDA published draft guidance for industry and FDA staff titled “Human Factors Studies and Related Clinical Study Considerations in Combination Product Design and Development.” This draft guidance builds on principles articulated in earlier guidances that discuss human factors and medication error considerations for medical devices and drugs. When final, it will represent FDA’s thinking on when and how combination product manufacturers should perform human factors evaluations for investigational or marketing applications.

The draft guidance provides examples of combination products that include devices and describes recommendations for how to approach human factors studies for them, focusing on key challenges for developers such as:

  • The timing and sequencing of human factors studies in relation to overall development and study of a combination product;
  • How human factors studies compare with and relate to other types of clinical studies;
  • When changes to a combination product call for new human factors studies to be performed;
  • The role of simulated-use versus actual-use human factors studies; and
  • What information should be provided to the FDA, and when, to ensure timely feedback for a human factors study.

During the comment period on the draft guidance, FDA is seeking input on the overall guidance, as well as requesting that stakeholders submit examples of combination products in their comments and address whether they believe human factors studies are needed for them. The Agency is also seeking input on what challenges and development risks may arise if such studies are conducted before, in parallel to, or after major clinical studies for combination products. Input from stakeholders will help inform FDA’s final guidance in this important area. The comment period for this draft guidance closes on May 3, 2016.

Watch for more to come from FDA this year to further enhance transparency and predictability of combination products regulation. We are developing additional guidance for combination products, including current good manufacturing practices and a final rule on postmarket safety reporting. We also welcome your feedback regarding topics related to combination products that you would like us to address.

Jill Hartzler Warner, J.D., is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Special Medical Programs

Thinh Nguyen is FDA’s Director, Office of Combination Products