FDA Reaches Out to Minorities During Hepatitis Awareness Month

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

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

Jovonni SpinnerWhat’s the issue?

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

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

Asian/Pacific Islanders

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

African-Americans

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

What is FDA’s Role?

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

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

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

Call to Action

May 19th is National Hepatitis Testing Day!

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

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

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

Follow us on Twitter @FDAOMH

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

FDA Science Forum to Focus on Emerging Technologies

Dr. Luciana Borio, FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist, invites you to the FDA 2015 Science Forum at our White Oak headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland on May 27-28. We’ll be showcasing exciting, cutting-edge regulatory science research. For more information and how to register for the forum before the deadline of May 15, 2015, go to The FDA Science Forum.

FSMA: The Future Is Now – Stakeholder Perspectives

On April 23-24, 2015, FDA hosted the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Public Meeting: Focus on Implementation Strategy for Prevention-Oriented Food Safety Standards.” The national public meeting in Washington, D.C., continued on the second day with a panel discussion on stakeholder perspectives.

Participants: Sandra Eskin, J.D., Director, Food Safety, The Pew Charitable Trust; Leon Bruner, D.V.M., Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Science Officer, Grocery Manufacturers Association; Marsha Echols, J.D., Legal Advisor, Specialty Food Association; Richard Sellers, Senior Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, American Feed Industry Association; David Gombas, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association; Sophia Kruszewski, J.D., Policy Specialist, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Stephanie Barnes, J.D., Regulatory Counsel, Food Marketing Institute. Moderator: Roberta Wagner, Director for Regulatory Affairs, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA.

FSMA: The Future Is Now

By: Michael R. Taylor

FDA is holding the “FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Public Meeting: Focus on Implementation Strategy for Prevention-Oriented Food Safety Standards.” The two-day national public meeting in Washington, D.C., began Thursday, April 23, 2015 with a panel discussion by top FDA leaders on the overarching philosophy and strategy. Participants: Michael Taylor, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine; Howard Sklamberg, J.D., Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy; Melinda Plaisier, M.S.W., Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, Office of Global Regulatory Operations and Policy; Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D., Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine. Moderator: Kari Barrett, Advisor for Strategic Communications and Public Engagement, FDA

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

Congratulations to FDA’s Dr. Richard Pazdur, recipient of the AACR’s prestigious Distinguished Public Service Award

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

In the past five years, FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has approved more than 40 novel cancer treatments, offering hope to many patients who previously had few or no treatment options. Among these products are new and cutting-edge targeted therapies—sometimes called “precision medicines”—tailored to treat patients based on their individual characteristics.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

This achievement is a tribute to the dedicated CDER scientists and clinicians who support innovative development of cancer drugs, and evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new products for FDA approval. They are led by the dynamic and creative thinker, Dr. Richard Pazdur, a 16-year FDA veteran whose name has become synonymous with excellence in cancer drug research, development, evaluation and approval.

It is with great pride and admiration that I share with you today that the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has awarded its 2015 Distinguished Public Service Award to Dr. Pazdur. AACR selected Dr. Pazdur for this award based on his “extraordinary, steadfast leadership in scientific and regulatory affairs” and his “unwavering commitment to ensuring the development of safe and effective treatments for cancer patients.” The Association also noted that Dr. Pazdur’s “important work has been and continues to be nothing short of spectacular, and it is saving lives every day from this most feared disease that affects so many.”

Dr. Richard Pazdur (left) receives the 2015 Distinguished Public Service Award from AACR President Dr. Arteaga

Dr. Richard Pazdur (left) receives the 2015 Distinguished Public Service Award from AACR President Dr. Arteaga. Photo by © AACR/Todd Buchanan.

As director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products (OHOP) at FDA, Dr. Pazdur leads a staff of more than 150 oncologists, toxicologists, and other specialists dedicated to approving safe and effective drugs for cancer and blood-related conditions. Dr. Pazdur and his staff are committed to facilitating rapid development, review, and action on promising new treatments to combat these diseases and improve patient outcomes. Dr. Pazdur and the OHOP staff are also committed to outreach with the oncology community. In 2005, Dr. Pazdur established the Oncology Program, which coordinates oncology activities within FDA as well as with external stakeholders providing OHOP with a unique infrastructure within CDER to interact with professional societies and patient advocacy groups.

We are grateful for Dr. Pazdur’s sustained contributions and look forward to many more years of his leadership, and his adept and proficient manner in helping patients in need.

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

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

By Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

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

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

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

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

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

FDA and CMS Form Task Force on LDT Quality Requirements

By: Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D. and Patrick H. Conway, MD, MSc

Health care providers and their patients expect that laboratory tests used in clinical management of patients should be consistent and of high quality.

Jeffrey Shuren

Jeff Shuren, M.D., J.D.

Under FDA’s proposed framework for the oversight of laboratory developed tests (LDTs), outlined in draft guidance documents issued in October 2014, FDA would oversee the quality of these laboratory tests, alongside the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulate the laboratories themselves through the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). We have heard stakeholder confusion about the roles of the two agencies in ensuring quality and concerns about potentially duplicative efforts. To coordinate efforts across the Department, FDA and CMS are establishing an interagency task force that will continue and expand on our collaboration related to the oversight of LDTs, which are tests intended for clinical use and designed, manufactured, and used within a single lab. The task force, comprised of leaders and subject matter experts from each agency, will work to address a range of issues, including those involving quality requirements for LDTs.

Patrick H. Conway, MD, MSc

Patrick H. Conway, MD, MSc

Under the proposed LDT framework, FDA would phase in enforcement of premarket review requirements and the quality system regulation for some LDTs. FDA’s oversight of LDTs will assure that the tests are both analytically valid (able to accurately detect analytes) and clinically valid (able to measure or detect the clinical condition for which the test is intended). FDA is currently reviewing public comments on the draft guidances that it received through an open public docket and a two-day public meeting. In response to public comments, FDA may modify the proposed framework when we issue final guidance.

CMS, under CLIA, oversees the labs’ processes, rather than the tests they develop. CLIA and its implementing regulations include requirements for establishing and maintaining quality laboratory operations and ensuring the lab is staffed by qualified personnel. These laws do not require premarket review of tests or any evidence that a test is clinically valid.

When FDA’s proposed framework is implemented, both FDA and CMS will play a role in ensuring that LDTs are high quality—CMS through CLIA by continuing to focus on laboratory operations including the testing process and FDA by enforcing compliance with the agency’s quality systems regulation pertaining to the design and manufacture of the laboratory tests.

Although the roles of the agencies are different, FDA and CMS share an interest in ensuring effective and efficient oversight of LDTs so laboratories can offer tests to the American public with confidence that they are accurate and provide clinically meaningful information without unnecessary or duplicative agency oversight.

The goals of the FDA/CMS Task Force on LDT Quality Requirements include:

  • identifying areas of similarity between the FDA quality system regulation and requirements under CLIA;
  • working together to clarify responsibilities for laboratories that fall under the purview of both agencies; and
  • leveraging joint resources to avoid duplication and maximize efficiency.

The task force is currently exploring areas where collaboration may realize greater oversight efficiency and produce the greatest benefit to patients, providers, and laboratories. The task force understands stakeholders’ concerns about differences in terminology used by FDA and CMS. We intend to clarify the terms used so that labs may better understand what is expected of them.

Our new task force is committed to its stakeholders and intends to provide education and outreach, including an upcoming webinar series, to address additional needs that are identified during this collaboration. We welcome any feedback and encourage you to contact us at LDTFramework@fda.hhs.gov.

Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Patrick H. Conway, MD, MSc, is Acting Principal Deputy Administrator CMS Chief Medical Officer

In India, With Our Sleeves Rolled Up

By: Howard Sklamberg and Michael Taylor

Howard Sklamberg

Howard Sklamberg

These facts surprise many people, but roughly 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients, 40 percent of finished drugs, 80 percent of seafood, 50 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables come from outside of the U.S.

Each year, the FDA has to assess millions of products grown, harvested, processed, manufactured and shipped from outside of the U.S. And one of the most impressive examples of how this globalization of production, consumption and trade has altered the regulatory landscape is India.

India is quickly becoming a significant player in the global marketplace, representing an important source of FDA‐regulated products. With a diverse population, highly skilled work force, and favorable economic conditions, India has become an increasingly attractive location for companies to operate.

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

And with that, Indian regulators have become important strategic partners for FDA. Today, we regularly engage with them on everything from sharing information on clinical trials to collaboratively addressing product safety issues that may harm American consumers.

When Commissioner Hamburg visited the country last year, she remarked that the “rapid globalization of commerce has posed significant challenges to ensuring consumer safety as the number of suppliers entering the U.S. has increased.” On her visit she signed a milestone Statement of Intent between our two countries  seeking to “collectively work together to improve the lines of communication between our agencies and work diligently to ensure that the products being exported from India are safe and of high quality.”

We are eager to continue the work she started. And improving the lines of communication of which she spoke is the purpose  of our working visit to India. Before the trip we discussed with our teams what we expect from our journey. Our top goal is to listen and learn. We want to understand what challenges the Indian government is facing with regard to drug and food safety. We want to hear from both American companies operating in India, as well as Indian manufacturers. And we want to discuss with our Indian counterparts a number of significant changes in the American regulatory system that affect our relationship.

FDA’s Howard Sklamberg, Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations & Policy, and Cynthia Schnedar, Director, Office of Compliance at CDER, meet with Dr. G.N. Singh, Drugs Controller General of India.

FDA’s Howard Sklamberg, Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations & Policy, and Cynthia Schnedar, Director, Office of Compliance at CDER, meet with Dr. G.N. Singh, Drugs Controller General of India. Get this and other photos from FDA’s trip to India on Flickr.

It is no secret that relationship has been challenged in the recent past by lapses of quality at a handful of pharmaceutical firms. And while our first regulatory responsibility is to protect the American patient and consumer, we are also very willing to collaborate with Indian regulators and other stakeholders to ensure the achievement of highest standards of safety and quality, something we feel only benefits both nations.

We have harvested some of the fruits of this cooperation already. A significant example of collaboration between the U.S. and India occurred in 2012, when a Salmonella outbreak was traced to a manufacturer in India. An FDA inspection confirmed that the tuna product implicated in the outbreak came from the suspect facility, and the Indian government revoked the manufacturer’s license.

In yet another case, FDA’s India office worked with other United States government agencies to inform industry and Indian regulators about issues associated with an import alert for Basmati rice from India. The FDA office shared laboratory procedures for testing of pesticides.

More recently, in November of 2014, as a continuation of FDA’s efforts to strengthen the quality, safety and integrity of imported drugs, the FDA India Office, in collaboration with our Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Office of Compliance and the Office of Regulatory Affairs, held four workshops in India.  The workshops were held in partnership with European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and Drug Information Association and involved the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association, Parenteral Drug Association and Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India. Over 560 participants from the pharmaceutical industry attended the four two-day workshops.

We are confident our trip will yield more examples of such fruitful collaboration, moving the regulatory relationship between two of the world’s largest democracies to the next stage, from the intention to work together, to the ability to work together to solve the complex globalization issues facing both nations.

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

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

FDA Invites Students to Sharpen their Research Skills

By: Nysia George, Ph.D., and Tom Powers

NCTR Intern Claire Boyle, a graduate student from Florida State University

NCTR Intern Claire Boyle, is a graduate student from Florida State University. Get this and other NCTR photos on Flickr.

Biology. Chemistry. Bioinformatics. Toxicology.

Practical, hands-on laboratory work is important for all college students who want to become scientists—but, for many of them, such experiences are out of reach.

That’s one of the reasons why every summer, our National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR)—FDA’s internationally acclaimed toxicological research center in Jefferson, Arkansas—hosts a special internship program for science students interested in toxicology research.

The 2014 program was exceptionally successful for both the students and the Center.

Applications poured in from more than 200 students pursuing a variety of majors in universities from coast-to-coast. The competition was intense, and the 21 selected students came from schools in 13 states. But they were all alike in two fundamental ways: they were top students, and were eager to hone their scientific skills in real FDA laboratories.

NCTR Intern Luis Valencia, a senior from Texas A&M University

NCTR Intern Luis Valencia, is a senior from Texas A&M University. Get this and other NCTR photos on Flickr.

During their 10 weeks at NCTR, the students worked on projects varying from the development of bioinformatics and statistical methods for RNA sequencing data, to evaluating effects of silver nanoparticles in plastic food containers. They conducted in-vitro experiments; examined effects of nicotine treatment; gained lab experience in cell culture; and were trained in computational modeling or statistical programming.

Each student’s experience was unique and addressed the student’s interests.

The interns gave the program top grades. For example Claire Boyle, a graduate student from Florida State University, said about the lab work: “I like it a lot more than classes. There they tell you that you can do research once you get into the real world. I’ve never had an opportunity to do that before coming here [to NCTR], and that’s the aspect of the program I like best. It’s given me insight into what I want to do for the rest of my life!”

Luis Valencia, a senior from Texas A&M University, echoed similar praise. “This isn’t some pointless classroom assignment; this is the FDA. Something you discover [in this lab] could save a life.” He continued, “I’m having a great experience at NCTR. [My NCTR mentor] let me design my own experiment and helps me a lot. I’m already on my second trial and we’re getting good results.”

The internship program, which was partly funded by the FDA’s Office of Minority Health, is one of the many ways NCTR reaches far and wide to strengthen the scientific foundations of our agency. We engage with scientists within FDA and across other government agencies, industry, and academia to develop scientific information that is vital for sound regulatory policy. We cooperate with colleagues abroad to advance international standardization of regulatory science. And we’re mindful that all quest for knowledge starts with education.

If you are a science student interested in toxicology research, or if you know someone who is, it’s not too early to consider the NCTR’s 2015 internship program. To qualify for admission, a candidate must meet the GPA requirements and provide evidence of success in science courses. He or she will also need letters of recommendation and a personal statement describing his or her research interests.

If you believe you have what it takes, you could be among the select few chosen to join us in the summer of 2015. Applications are accepted throughout the month of February. We look forward to your application!

For more information about the program go to: Summer Student Research Program (NCTR)

For more information about the FDA Office of Minority Health go to: Minority Health

Nysia George, Ph.D., is the National Center for Toxicological Research’s Intern Program Coordinator.

Tom Powers is the National Center for Toxicological Research’s Communication Officer.

50 States, One Goal: Working Together to Keep Our Food Safe

By: Melinda K. Plaisier and Michael R. Taylor

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

Melinda K. Plaisier

The August 12 conference in St. Louis of the Partnership for Food Protection (PFP) was truly a meeting of the minds. This 50-state workshop drew food and feed safety experts from federal, state, local, tribal and territorial government agencies. These organizations make up the PFP. Our shared goal? To continue working towards a food safety system in our country that makes our food as safe as possible.

Partnerships have become increasingly important in our efforts. Simply put, we can’t do it alone. The scope of the public health mission is too vast. We need to take advantage of the unique contributions state and local partners can make through their food safety commitment, knowledge of local conditions and practices, and local presence to deliver training, technical assistance and compliance oversight. Together, we can ensure an effective public health safety net.

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor

But building the kind of partnership we envision is an extraordinarily complex task. There are 3,000 food safety agencies in this country at the federal, state and local level. The challenge we face is this: How do we make PFP a reality that will work for decades to come? Working together to corral the complexities of our global food supply is critically important to our success and represents a significant shift in the way we work.

And creating that new reality is what our recent meeting was all about.

FDA itself is in a time of transition through Commissioner Hamburg’s initiative of program alignment. The agency is working to better align internal operations, increasing specialization among inspectors, compliance officers, laboratory staff and others to give them increased technical knowledge in a specific commodity area, and partnering them with subject matter experts in FDA’s centers. Ultimately, this will streamline decision-making and provide real-time technical and policy support for frontline staff.

This effort will better position FDA to meet the challenges we face, including the continued evolution of science and technology, the reality of globalization, and implementing the rules we are working to finalize that will help make the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) a reality—each rule,  in its own way, transformative.

Speaking with one voice as an agency and acting in unison across internal boundaries will enable FDA to better support our state partners as we all work to use innovative tools, training and approaches.

Our collaborations with the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the National Environmental Health Association, and the Association of Public Health Laboratories—just to name a few—are equally valuable in this cause.

We are well on our way toward making our partnership through PFP a foundation of the modern infrastructure we are building to protect public health. Our partners are engaged, and FDA is all in. And now we are truly beginning to see some of the fruits of our labor. Until we meet again, our work continues.

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

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