The Unique Voices of Our Patient Representatives

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

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

Robert Califf

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

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

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

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

Heidi Marchand

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

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

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

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

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

2016 FDA Patient Representative Group photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise in Orphan Drug Designations: Meeting the Growing Demand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FDA Takes Action against Zika Virus

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

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

Robert Califf

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

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

Protecting Tissues and the Blood Supply

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

Dr. Lu Borio

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

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

Supporting Diagnostic Development

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

Strategies to Suppress Mosquito Population

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

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

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

Facilitating Medical Product Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

FDA Advisory Committee Members and ‘Appearance Issues’

By: Michael Ortwerth, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

Some examples include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Richard Pazdur, M.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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