FDA Encourages Development of Devices for Patients with Disabilities

By: William Maisel, M.D., M.P.H.

William Maisel, M.D., M.P.H.For people with disabilities, medical devices can offer a vital and potentially life-changing option. Take, for example, a patient who has had his arms amputated. Medications can treat phantom pain, but they can’t help that patient pick up a glass of water. But devices can—and do.

In recent months, FDA has reviewed a number of noteworthy products for people with disabilities. And it has approved, cleared or allowed manufacturers to market several new devices.

Products that have met FDA’s premarket requirements include:

•             The DEKA Arm System, the first prosthetic arm that can perform multiple, simultaneous, powered movements controlled by electrical signals from electromyogram (EMG) electrodes;

•             The Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System, which can help people aged 18 and over (who don’t benefit from conventional hearing aids) with a specific kind of hearing loss; and

•             The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, the first implanted device to treat adult patients with vision loss from advanced retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

FDA is committed to encouraging such innovation that benefits patients. We foster an approach that enables our staff to interact with device manufacturers and clarify our agency’s expectations for product evaluation. This communication can help new devices get to market in a timely fashion. We also listen to patients’ feedback, which helps us determine which devices may be particularly useful.

When it comes to regulatory decisions, we carry out tailored reviews that protect public health while advancing innovation. Each of the products recently approved or cleared by the agency has benefits that outweigh its risks. For example, in June we allowed marketing of ReWalk, a first-of-its-kind, motorized device. Risks associated with the exoskeleton-like device include pressure sores and injuries from falls. But the big benefit is that it can help patients with complete or partial paraplegia to actually walk in their homes and communities.

We have seen amazing advances in technology in recent years. These advances make it possible for manufacturers to address longstanding disabilities in innovative ways. That said, we will continue to acknowledge that all medical therapies have benefits as well as risks. So, when making regulatory assessments, we’ll make every effort to make sure our decisions are balanced, and to ensure that approved or cleared devices can aid the patients who use them.

In addition to helping patients across the country, we are committed to empowering agency employees. For instance, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., recently held a meeting with the agency’s Advisory Committee for Employees with Disabilities (ACED). There, the committee provided an annual update and discussed topics that impact employees with disabilities, including making sure all buildings are accessible and facilitating access to assistive and adaptive technologies through a new Ergonomic Resource Center at our headquarters. And this month the committee held an additional, internal roundtable event to focus on continued awareness, timed to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

People with disabilities make many important contributions to our agency and to society at large. It’s our goal and commitment to help them maintain an active lifestyle and enjoy a good quality of life.

William Maisel, M.D., M.P.H., is FDA’s Deputy Center Director for Science and Chief Scientist for its Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

On the road from Mexico: a model for regulatory cooperation

En Español

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Margaret Hamburg

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., meeting with Mexican public health and regulatory officials in Mexico City this week

This week I’m making my first visit to Mexico as FDA Commissioner and, while I am savoring the rich culture, warm people and delicious food, the trip is providing me with a vital first-hand perspective of the long-standing, productive and collaborative working relationship FDA maintains with our regulatory counterparts in this wonderful country. I’ve blogged many times about the importance of adapting to our rapidly changing world—one in which the medical products we use and the foods we eat are increasingly produced in countries other than our own. Perhaps nowhere is that dynamic more vivid than with our neighbors to the South. And nowhere provides a more profound example of how cooperation is essential to protect public health and realize the benefits of a vibrant trade relationship.

Today, Mexico is a major player in the global marketplace and, of course, one of the United States’ most important trade partners. In the U.S., nearly one-third of the FDA-regulated food products we eat come from Mexico. On the medical products side, Mexico is the 2nd leading exporter of medical devices to the U.S.—the vast majority of which are lower risk devices such as surgical drapes, wheelchair components, and non-invasive tubing.

The foundation of successful cooperation is forging real relationships with our regulatory counterparts and our key stakeholders including the industries we regulate. FDA’s office in Mexico City—one of three in the Latin America region—has been a critical source of support for many of our collaborative activities since we opened its doors some four years ago. And this week my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to have fruitful meetings with the leaders of the Mexican Ministry of Health and the two regulatory agencies with whom work so closely: COFEPRIS (the Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks) and SENASICA (the National Service for Agroalimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality).

We’ve discussed our respective strategies to address our nations’ most critical public health issues like obesity and nutrition, and the important ways in which we share information and align our regulatory approaches. For example, our partners in Mexico have such confidence in FDA’s premarket review system of medical products that COFEPRIS issues agreements with companies — agreements that recognize FDA approvals and grant drug and device companies “fast track” pathway to make their products available to patients dramatically more quickly.

Margaret Hamburg and Mike Taylor at mushroom farm

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. (foreground), and Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine (left), visit a mushroom farm in Mexico

We also held two interactive roundtable discussions with members of the medical products and food industries in which we had lively exchanges about key issues such as how quality manufacturing is not only good for public health, but good for business. And yesterday I got a close up view on that critical concept with a visit to the Monteblanco facility of Hongos de Mexico, S.A. de C.V., one of Mexico’s largest producer of mushrooms – located in the Toluca valley just a 90 minute drive from downtown Mexico City. Hongos de Mexico is a company that FDA has routinely visited and inspected given Monteblanco produces a staggering 60,000 pounds of mushrooms each day for consumption within Mexico and export to the U.S. and other countries. In addition to being an enlightening education on the process of growing and packing mushrooms, our visit to the Monteblanco facility was a living example of the critical role the private sector plays to ensure the safety of products for consumers in the U.S. and around the world.

Today is the final day of our jam-packed visit to Mexico and I’m thrilled that we will be signing a Produce Safety Partnership Statement of Intent, which is just the latest example of the successful collaboration to reduce the increased risk of foodborne illnesses that naturally comes with a more globalized market. The partnership will support our work to implement preventive practices and verification measures to ensure the safety of fresh and minimally produced fruits and vegetables.

At the end of the day, our trip to Mexico has shined a bright light on how important it is to continue to explore new ways to fulfill the mission that we share with our regulators around the world—to protect and promote public health. Our partnership with Mexico serves as a model not only as it relates to improving the health and well-being of consumers but also to promote innovation and economic growth.

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

FDASIA at Year Two

By Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.Anniversaries are a time for stock-taking and today, on the second anniversary of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act or FDASIA, I’m pleased to report on the progress we’ve made implementing this multi-faceted law.

To date, we have completed nearly all of the deliverables we had scheduled for the first two years after FDASIA became law. And many of the new authorities under FDASIA are already having a positive impact on health. It’s difficult to cover all of our FDASIA work, but here are some highlights:

Preventing Drug Shortages: Drug shortages, which can have serious and immediate effects on patients and health care professionals, reached an all-time high in 2011, the year before FDASIA was enacted. In response to a Presidential Executive Order in December of that year, FDA issued an interim final rule to amend and broaden FDA regulations requiring certain manufacturers to give early notification of production interruptions that could cause drug shortages. FDASIA further broadened this requirement by requiring that other prescription drug manufacturers provide notification and also gave FDA additional authorities. In October 2013 FDA proposed a rule to implement these authorities and issued a strategic plan for addressing drug shortages. So far, with the help of early notifications, FDA was able to prevent 282 shortages in 2012 and 170 shortages in 2013. The number of drug shortages that did occur has also declined.

Promoting Innovation: FDASIA includes many provisions designed to encourage innovation. We have held meetings on the use of meta-analyses in drug applications; put in place a plan for implementing a benefit-risk framework for drug reviews, and issued a variety of guidance documents covering such topics as drug studies in children, abuse-deterrent drug development, antibacterial drug development and expedited review and development programs for serious diseases.

This latter guidance provided information that sponsors needed to know about our new Breakthrough Therapy designation that was part of FDASIA. This option exists for new drugs intended to treat a serious or life-threatening disease that, preliminary clinical evidence suggests, could provide a substantial improvement over available therapies. As of June 23, we had granted 52 requests for this designation, and of those, approved four new drugs and two new indications for previously approved drugs.

As part of our implementation of the FDASIA-related provisions related to medical devices, we proposed a strategy and recommendations for a risk-based health information technology (health IT) framework that would promote product innovation while maintaining appropriate patient protections and avoiding regulatory duplication; issued a proposed rule for implementing FDASIA’s streamlined new procedures for reclassifying a device; and published a final rule on a medical device unique identification or UDI with implementation in accordance with the timetable set in the law. UDIs will help the FDA identify product problems more quickly, better target recalls and improve patient safety. The riskiest medical devices will start bearing their UDI by September 24th.

Establishing and Strengthening User Fee Programs: An important element of FDASIA was reauthorizing user fees for prescription drugs and medical devices and creating new user fee programs for generic drugs and biosimilar biological drugs. User fees on some types of applications offer an important source of funding to support and maintain key activities, including FDA’s staff of experts who review the thousands of product submissions we receive every year. Since FDASIA took effect, review times for medical devices have been declining.  Our prescription drug user fee program is meeting or exceeding almost all of our performance goals agreed to with industry. We have acted on 54 percent of the generic drug applications, or amendments and supplements to generic drug applications which were pending in our inventory as of October 1, 2012. This helps ensure that consumers can have access to more low-cost drugs. And we have been able to provide advice concerning most of the 93 submissions from companies who are developing biosimilar biological drugs under a pathway that could also ultimately lower costs for consumers.

Enhancing Patient Engagement: A hallmark of FDASIA was a series of provisions intended to tap the patient perspective. Our Patient-Focused Drug Development Program allows us to more systematically obtain the patient’s perspective on a disease and its impact on the patients’ daily lives, the types of treatment benefit that matter most to patients, and the adequacy of the available therapies for the disease. In accordance with FDASIA, we have held patient meetings on eight diseases and have plans for meetings on 12 more. We have learned a great deal from patients in terms of their views of the symptoms of their condition, their feelings about how it affects their life, and their thoughts on ideal treatments and on participation in clinical trials to aid future drug development.  A FDA Voice blog post on patient reports captures these patient perspectives and much more.

Finally, Title VII of FDASIA provided FDA with numerous new authorities to protect the drug supply chain. We thought now was a good time to provide the public with a more detailed description of our work on Title VII, so we asked Howard Sklamberg, Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy, to write a separate blog on that topic.

FDA laid out a three-year plan for implementing FDASIA and we’re on our way to achieving our stated goals. To help the public follow our progress, we set up a dedicated webpage—the FDASIA-Track. It provides useful links to each action and is updated on a regular basis.

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

The Commissioner’s Fellowship Program: A Win-Win for FDA and Public Health

By: Dr. Stephen M. Ostroff

As part of my FDA Voice blog series on the important work going on in FDA’s Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS), I’d like to highlight an FDA program that is giving top-tier, early career health care professionals, scientists, and engineers the chance to gain broad exposure to FDA regulatory science and scientific review opportunities. Led by OCS’s Office of Scientific Professional Development, the Commissioner’s Fellowship Program (CFP) is accepting applications from April 16 to May 26, 2014. Those who are accepted into the CFP will be joining FDA’s 7th class of Fellows.

Stephen OstroffDuring the two-year program, Fellows complete rigorous graduate-level coursework and conduct cutting-edge research on targeted scientific, policy, or regulatory issues under the mentorship of an FDA senior-scientist preceptor.

In the CFP, a Fellow is able to gain real experience in an FDA biology, physics, or engineering lab, work with a clinical review team, or work at a regional field laboratory or office. The coursework provides a common core understanding of the science behind regulatory review, encompassing activities across all FDA-regulated product areas.

Specific Fellow projects may focus on FDA review of sponsor applications for new products, monitoring product quality and safety, or other scientific or engineering topics. Fellows work closely with FDA scientists to create better research and evaluation tools and approaches, like assays for chemical or pathogen detection, or methods to assess clinical or health care data. Other science and policy areas of focus may involve foods or medical products in disciplines ranging from laboratory sciences to engineering, law, and ethics.

FDA launched the Fellowship Program in 2008 to achieve three critical goals:

1)      Attract to FDA top-tier scientists who can help tackle targeted regulatory science areas;

2)      Provide regulatory science training to expand the pool of experts;

3)      Recruit top scientific talent — scientists who may not have considered FDA in planning their career.

Since the program started, FDA has graduated 164 Commissioner’s Fellows, 75% of whom continued to work at FDA after completing the program. Our graduates have produced 175 publications based on their Fellowship work, represented FDA with 211 regulatory science presentations, authored or co-authored 917 reviews – ranging from original applications to supplements – and 26 Fellows have been the proud recipients of FDA Honor Awards.

The Fellows have brought an infusion of innovative ideas, new talents, and skills to FDA to help build the strong scientific foundation we need in our research and review activities. In turn, the CFP has enabled Fellows to develop their regulatory expertise and work confidently in the FDA environment.

Those Fellows who pursue careers outside FDA bring a deeper understanding of regulatory science and of FDA to their organizations. They enrich the regulatory science enterprise, whether by improving the quality of applications to FDA or by applying the knowledge and tools they’ve acquired through the CFP to develop practical solutions to an important public health challenge.

Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist

For more information on eligibility criteria for the FDA Commissioner’s Fellowship Program and to apply for the upcoming class, please visit this Web link:

FDA Commissioner’s Fellowship Program Application Checklist

Visiting India: Sharing a Vision for Strengthening Food and Medical Product Safety

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Fresh mangos, bananas and other native fruits add a pop of color and provide the backdrop while we ride along the busy streets of Delhi. While en route to the first of several meetings I held with Indian regulators, I can’t help but marvel at the vibrant buzz of India’s capital and the progress that has been made since I traveled here years ago as a young woman. Since that time, the rapid globalization of commerce has posed significant challenges to ensuring consumer safety as the number of products and suppliers entering the U.S. has increased. India now represents the 3rd largest trade partner, 2nd largest supplier of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and 8th largest supplier of food to the United States.

Margaret Hamburg and officials in India

(L-to-R) Arun Panda, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Shri Keshav Desiraju, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Dr. Altaf Lal, Director of U.S. FDA’s India Office; Nancy Powell, U.S. Ambassador to India.

On Monday, I began my first official visit to the country as Commissioner of the FDA. I met with officials from the Indian government who oversee the country’s health-related matters as well as those responsible for overseeing the export of foods to the U.S. and more than 200 countries around the world. These meetings provided the opportunity for me to discuss our shared vision for strengthening the quality of the foods and medical products exported from India to the United States. Ultimately this vision is intended to enhance consumer confidence in these products both at home and abroad.

As two of the largest democracies in the world, our countries have enjoyed an enduring partnership and commitment to collaborate on initiatives designed to enhance both our economies and the lives of the people in our respective countries.

Ensuring that the products distributed in the United States meet our requirements for product safety and quality is among my top priorities as Commissioner. Unfortunately the many Indian companies that understand good manufacturing and quality processes have been overshadowed by recent lapses in quality at a handful of pharmaceutical firms.

While the FDA will take appropriate action against any company that doesn’t meet our requirements, we are also willing to work with them to address their issues. All consumers deserve access to safe and affordable drugs and should not have to sacrifice quality to get that.

Officials at India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare share this goal. In the spirit of continued collaboration and a commitment to quality, our agencies signed the first-ever Statement of Intent. Our organizations plan 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.

While the Statement of Intent is an important milestone, I am proud to report that FDA’s Office in India has already been working closely with India’s drug regulators to reinforce the importance of producing quality products for patients. Drug and food regulators in India have participated in FDA-hosted workshops and observed FDA inspections of manufacturing facilities and clinical sites with operations in India.

During my visit I am eager to learn more about the industries that produce products for the United States and to meet with business leaders where I will reinforce our expectations that they meet our requirements for ensuring that consumers here and around the world have access to safe and high-quality products.

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

Interested in a Science Career at FDA? Our Web Portal Opens the Door

By: Jesse Goodman, M.D., M.P.H.

As a physician and a scientist, I value being part of a rich, vibrant scientific community. Since coming to FDA, I’ve been gratified to help lead and support a large group of talented, dedicated scientists who are passionate about what they do. Because science is at the core of everything we do at FDA, the majority of FDA’s staff are scientists, including engineers and medical professionals. A robust scientific workforce strongly engaged in the new sciences is critical to the success of FDA’s mission to protect and promote the public health.

Jesse GoodmanUnfortunately, I am often reminded that many people are unfamiliar with the cutting-edge research going on at FDA, and how important top-notch science and research are to our mission. Scientists, including those who may be exploring career options, are often unaware of the myriad scientific disciplines and expertise FDA must have to advance and apply the science required to assess the increasingly complex products we regulate. The outside world knows too little about the many innovative activities FDA scientists engage in, often with a wide range of collaborators, to keep our foods and medicines safe and help speed new therapies from bench to bedside.

So I’m delighted that we have now launched a comprehensive, one-stop web portal – FDA Science Careers and Scientific Professional Development - to showcase FDA’s exciting, multidisciplinary scientific work force and culture and how important science is to our public health mission. We want scientists – from students, to recent grads, mid-career, and seasoned professionals – to be aware of the diversity of FDA’s career opportunities so that we may continue to attract top scientists, including engineers and medical professionals who want to use their expertise to make a real difference in the world.

Entering our career portal, you will have access to the latest information on our fellowship programs and our internship, graduate, and faculty programs, which help us attract outstanding scientific academic talent. These opportunities include:

Once on board, FDA scientists benefit from a dynamic, state-of-the-art, scientific professional development culture, with daily opportunities to attend a variety of scientific courses, seminars, and workshops. You can find out more about FDA’s efforts to support scientific professional development through the career portal’s Training and Development section. FDA-sponsored scientific engagement ranges from cross-agency and external collaborations – including FDA’s Centers of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation - to lectures by global scientific thought leaders.

For scientists and other professionals who want to make a real difference in the world, I can think of no better place to work than FDA. The opportunities to build a rewarding career and work on exciting and important issues while protecting and promoting our nation’s health are exceptional.

Jesse L. Goodman, M.D., M.P.H., is FDA’s chief scientist.

Setting the Bar for Blood Glucose Meter Performance

By: Courtney Lias

Courtney Lias is Director of the Division of Chemistry and Toxicology Devices within the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Devices at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological HealthMany of the nearly 19 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes must monitor their blood glucose (sugar) frequently throughout the day using an at-home meter to make sure that their blood glucose is within a safe range. The ability to measure blood glucose at home has given people with this serious and chronic condition the ability to better control their blood sugar and thus avoid potential complications.

In the last 10 years there has been much advancement in the development of glucose meters. They are now smaller, require a smaller blood sample for each test and produce faster results.  However, their accuracy has improved little.

At FDA’s public meeting in March 2010 on this topic, the clinical and patient communities challenged the agency to improve performance of glucose meters. Feedback gathered from that meeting directly informed the creation of two draft guidance documents released this week. These documents set forth recommendations, which are justified to help ensure that these important devices are designed to be more accurate and reliable for the patients who need them. To address this need, this week we are proposing new recommendations for labeling, meter performance evaluation, manufacturing controls, and cleaning and disinfection procedures to help improve the accuracy and performance of blood glucose meters.

FDA recognized the need to optimize the safe use of blood glucose meters in two distinct settings: self-monitoring using devices purchased over-the-counter, and use in a clinical setting by health care professionals. FDA believes that by distinguishing where these devices are used, they can be better designed to meet the needs of their intended populations and ensure greater safety and efficacy.

Historically, devices used in these two settings have been studied using the same methods and standards. However, it has become increasingly clear that meters used in these different settings have unique characteristics and different design specifications. For example, critically ill patients in health care settings may have physiological variables, like abnormal oxygen levels, that could interfere with the accuracy of the blood glucose meter. Patients who use over-the-counter glucose meters and test strips at home vary in age, how much they know about how to use blood glucose tests, and other critical factors that might affect the  accurate use of the device.

To distinguish between FDA recommendations for blood glucose meters used in health-care facilities, and those intended for self-monitoring by lay-persons, the agency is issuing separate draft guidances for each one, that is:

  • prescription-use blood glucose meters, for use in point-of-care professional health-care settings, and
  • blood glucose devices purchased over-the-counter, intended for self-monitoring by lay-persons.

We believe that these recommendations will help ensure that glucose meters meet critical standards for accuracy in the hands of people with diabetes, who rely on them to manage their disease. Please help us in this effort by providing specific comments to these draft guidance documents to let us know if you agree with our recommendations or whether you have suggestions to further improve them.

Improving the quality of blood glucose meters will not solve all challenges for those who live with diabetes, but it may help millions of people to avoid complications and better achieve their health goals.

Courtney Lias is Director of the Division of Chemistry and Toxicology Devices within the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Devices at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

FDA Confers with International Counterparts to Advance Regulatory Science

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

I have recently returned from the 8th International Summit of Heads of Medicines Regulatory Agencies, which was hosted on December 3-6, 2013, by the Netherlands’ Medicines Evaluation Board in Amsterdam. These annual meetings are an important forum for the exchange of information, views and regulatory strategies among the chief executives of major and like-minded medicines regulatory agencies. I was particularly pleased to be able to contribute to these discussions as a speaker on a panel on regulatory science together with Dr. Tatsuya Konda, M.D., Ph.D., the chief executive of Japan’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.The theme of this year’s summit was “Changes in the Regulatory Landscape,” and my foreign colleagues and I had plenty to talk about. Overcoming the challenges and reaping the benefits of regulatory science is even more critical today, when the FDA and other regulatory agencies face new and growing tasks in the global marketplace. All of us have to contend with the huge changes in the size and nature of international trade caused by emerging markets, developing economies, and increased cross-border flows of goods, information and capital.

As regulators, my international counterparts and I have many issues in common. They include the increasing complexity of new drug products and drug development; growing geographic distribution of markets; greater demands for public accountability and transparency in our work; budgetary and political challenges to regulatory oversight; and, the overriding need to keep up with the rapid changes in science and technology. Given these shared concerns, building cross-border partnerships and finding common solutions is paramount.

I reiterated to the conference our goal to encourage and strengthen cooperation and collaboration among those nations that are actively working to advance regulatory science. Regulatory science endeavors to use current and emerging knowledge to create new tools, standards and approaches for reliable assessment of the safety, effectiveness, quality and performance of medical products. At its best, this process is based on findings, evaluations, discussions and collaboration by scientists throughout the world.  And it is meetings like the recent summit in Amsterdam that help enhance this cooperation and the development of strategies that promote and strengthen the understanding, acceptance and application of regulatory science.

As the FDA embraces its international role in today’s complex regulatory environment, we fully accept the need to think and act globally more than ever before. I look forward to working with other nations’ regulators, the academic community, non-governmental organizations and industry as we join forces to advance regulatory science, the road to even better protection and advancement of the public health.

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

FDA Brings Patients Into the Process

By: Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D. 

What do patients really want? 

At the FDA, we ask that question every day and in all kinds of contexts. Earlier this year, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) began to explore new ways to identify and incorporate the patient voice into our decision-making on medical devices. 

We’re calling this effort the Patient Preference Initiative. As part of this effort, we held a public workshop the past two days with patients, caregivers, health care providers, researchers, and industry to discuss ways to incorporate patient preferences as we weigh the risks and benefits of the products we regulate both before and after the product goes to market. 

In trying to incorporate patient preferences into our regulatory decisions, it’s important to know how to accurately and reliably measure their preferences for treating and diagnosing their conditions. So, we’re also trying to advance the tools and methods that could be used to do so. 

For example, there is a risk of injury with many medical devices. How much of a risk is acceptable to a patient in the context of the potential benefits of the device? If patients enter a clinical trial, how much of a chance are they willing to take on an unproven treatment? If a device could greatly improve a patient’s health, but is not portable or cannot be used at home, would a patient find this too limiting? If a device has new-found risks but is the only one of its kind on the market, should it be recalled? 

In appropriate cases, we foresee approving devices for which a fully-informed subset of patients would accept the risks as weighed against the benefits, if patients and their practitioners can be provided with the information they need to make their own well-informed decision and the information can be presented in a manner that can be understood by the practitioners and patients. 

At the workshop, we invited attendees to actively explore such issues as clinical trial design and ways to facilitate getting new, safe and effective, innovative devices out to the patients who may need them. Our panels weighed in on such questions as: 

  • How do we integrate patient preferences into clinical trial design?
  • How can we build partnerships to collect this information?
  • How can we use data on patient preference for post-market and compliance issues?
  • What disease areas or device types are best suited for the patient preference approach?
  • Which diseases or device types are best suited for patient preference input?
  • How can we ensure that patients, families and caregivers are well informed so that they understand the choices they have and the decisions they are making? 

We also announced that we will be establishing a new Patient Engagement Panel as part of our Medical Device Advisory Committee to provide advice on issues important to patients, such as more understandable labeling and the use of medical devices at home. 

Throughout the workshop, it was clear that determining the benefits and risks of medical devices is one of the most important things we do. 

In 2012, the FDA published a document to help industry understand the key factors we consider when making benefit-risk determinations for certain medical devices. Importantly, it discusses collecting patient-centric metrics to measure benefit and ways of measuring a patient’s tolerance for risks. 

But the last two days have been all about the patients who may need these products, the caregivers who would be helping patients use them, and the health care professionals who may prescribe them. What do they want? What do they need? 

The FDA is committed to giving patients in the United States access to safe and effective medical devices of high quality and we work hard to improve the predictability, consistency and transparency of the pre-market review process. We’re pleased at the progress we’ve made over the last two days as part of our effort to invite patients into the regulatory process, and we look forward to more close collaboration with patients in the future. 

Patients, after all, are at the core of our mission and the focus of our vision. 

Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., is the Associate Director for Science at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Considering Women’s Needs in Developing Medical Devices: Here’s ‘HoW’

By: Michelle McMurry-Heath, MD, Ph.D. 

Women differ from men in anatomy, physiology, risk factors and disease symptoms. They are also likely to use more medical devices over the course of their lives than men do.

That is why FDA is actively trying to learn more about how medical devices uniquely affect women, and how women can be better served by them.

This month we published a snapshot of how FDA is doing with such efforts. A congressionally-required report (Section 907 of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act) looked at the inclusion and analysis of women and other demographic subgroups in clinical studies supporting the approval of medical devices and other FDA-regulated medical products. After reviewing 2011 product applications, including 37 premarket approval applications, or PMAs, for devices, we found that in the majority of cases, sponsors provide information about women, conduct subset analyses and share information with the public in a variety of ways.

One specific activity highlighted in the report was a workshop sponsored earlier this summer by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) to formally launch a new program designed to more closely look at medical device use and the health of women (HoW). The three main goals of HoW are to:

  • Improve the availability, consistency and communication of information to patients and providers that is specific to women’s needs for the safe and effective use of medical devices.
  • Address identified gaps and unmet needs through targeted resources.
  • Foster the development of innovative strategies, technology and clinical study models.

Nearly 200 representatives from industry, academia, health care, federal agencies, patient and advocacy groups, gathered to discuss the issues related to medical devices and health in women and to brainstorm about effective strategies to address clinical research needs in this population.

This work builds on a December 2011 draft guidance, also highlighted in this month’s 907 report. That guidance outlined CDRH’s proposed expectations regarding sex-specific enrollment in clinical studies, data analysis, and reporting of study information. Ideally, the final guidance will provide a clear decision-making framework for when and how to analyze and communicate data involving women in device clinical studies.

The CDRH HoW program also plans to complement this by developing, in partnership with other stakeholders, strategies for communicating information about differences to the people who most need to know: health care professionals, clinical investigators, the medical device industry, and most importantly, patients.

With these activities, we are laying the groundwork for making sure the unique health needs of women are considered in research agendas and device innovation. The goal is to strengthen the focus of FDA, industry and the clinical community in developing medical devices designed to meet the unique clinical needs of women, and to communicate new information as we learn more about how differences affect treatment options and outcomes.

Now, with the issuance of the 907 report, and an accompanying docket to receive comments from the public, we hope to gain an even more in-depth understanding about demographic subgroups. The input we receive will become the starting point for developing an Action Plan, to be released next year.

These are all important steps towards ensuring that medical devices developed will take into account the unique needs of women.

Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., is the Associate Director for Science at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health