China Joins ICH in Pursuit of Global Harmonization of Drug Development Standards

By: Theresa M. Mullin, Ph.D.

Increasingly, drug development is a global endeavor. It requires international collaboration to ensure that consistent standards are adopted and adhered to by all drug makers and regulatory authorities, regardless of country of origin or destination.

Group photo from trip to China

FDA’s Theresa Mullin (center) and the FDA delegation engaging in a discussion on ICH and generic drugs with the faculty and students at Yeehong Business School/Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in Beijing China.

I am pleased to have been in China recently, when the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) submitted its membership application to the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (also known as the International Council for Harmonisation or ICH). As part of a team of FDA officials whom CFDA invited to share regulatory advancements, we discussed how modernizing regulatory review systems can promote public health.

ICH, first created in 1990 by regulatory agencies and industry associations from the United States, Europe, and Japan, was established to facilitate international collaboration, and has been successful in standardizing and elevating drug development practices throughout the world. ICH’s mission helps to increase patient access to safe, effective, and high quality pharmaceuticals, and to ensure that pharmaceuticals are developed and registered efficiently.

As globalization has evolved, the ICH has kept pace and membership criteria are robust. Among those criteria new members must implement a basic set of regulatory requirements for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, for the conduct of clinical trials, and for stability testing of pharmaceutical products. In fulfilling these and other criteria, CFDA joins the existing ICH Assembly, which includes eight regulatory authorities and six industry associations from across the globe.

Janet Mullin and CFDA Official

CFDA Minister Bi presents FDA’s Theresa Mullin a congratulatory letter for FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, personally handwritten with Chinese Calligraphy.

During our trip, we met with the head of CFDA, Minister Bi Jingquan, and some members of his senior leadership team. Our discussions revealed that CFDA faces many of the same challenges that our other ICH partners and we do. China needs to ensure that patients have access to innovative products, and that pharmaceuticals are safe and are held to a consistent quality standard. Minister Bi emphasized that CFDA has implemented reforms to align China’s regulations with global standards to address these public health concerns. CFDA has also reformed its drug review system, dedicated additional resources to carry out its important mission, and implemented ICH Guidelines.

International harmonization of regulatory standards means that pharmaceutical manufacturers and developers will be held to the same standards in different markets, which will make the development and delivery of quality pharmaceuticals to the public more timely and efficient. CFDA’s membership in ICH marks a significant milestone in expanding ICH’s impact and promoting global public health.

Officials from CFDA will visit FDA later this year to continue our conversation on regulatory modernization. FDA congratulates CFDA on their progress towards regulatory modernization and membership in ICH. Additionally, FDA welcomes their future contribution to global regulatory harmonization.

Theresa M. Mullin, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Office of Strategic Programs in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

FDA Announces New Steps to Empower Consumers and Advance Digital Healthcare

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

When people think about personalized medicine, they often think of genetic testing and sequencing of the human genome. But the concept of personalized medicine is much broader. It includes the re-imagination of healthcare delivery. It includes empowering consumers to take more control of their own healthcare information to make better informed decisions about their medical care and healthy living.

Dr. Scott GottliebThis opportunity is enabled by a new technological paradigm of digital health tools, like apps, that enable consumers to have more active engagement and access to real-time information about their health and their activities. These tools allow consumers and providers to supersede the traditional, physical constraints of healthcare delivery and exploit the opportunities offered by mobile technology.

Historically, healthcare has been slow to implement disruptive technology tools that have transformed other areas of commerce and daily life. One factor that’s been cited, among many, is the regulation that accompanies medical products. But momentum toward a digital future in healthcare is advancing. Not all of these tools are subject to FDA regulation. For the devices we are asked to evaluate, we know that our policies must continue to empower consumers and facilitate innovation.

Digital Health Pre-Cert imageToday, I’m excited to announce, as part of our broader Medical Innovation Access Plan, a new component focused on digital health innovation—the formal launch of our Pre-Cert for Software Pilot Program. This new program embraces the principle that digital health technologies can have significant benefits to patients’ lives and to our healthcare system by facilitating prevention, treatment, and diagnosis; and by helping consumers manage chronic conditions outside of traditional healthcare settings.

At the same time we are announcing this pilot, FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is publishing its Digital Health Innovation Action Plan to provide details and timelines for our integrated approach to digital health technology and the implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act. We’re telling consumers and the digital health industry how we will establish clear and consistent expectations for the products FDA regulates.

The challenge FDA faced in the past is determining how to best regulate these non-traditional medical tools with the traditional approach to medical product review. We envision and seek to develop through the Pre-Cert for Software Pilot a new and pragmatic approach to digital health technology. Our method must recognize the unique characteristics of digital health products and the marketplace for these tools, so we can continue to promote innovation of high-quality, safe, and effective digital health devices.

FDA’s traditional approach to medical devices is not well suited to these products. We need to make sure our approach to innovative products with continual updates and upgrades is efficient and that it fosters, not impedes, innovation. Recognizing this, and understanding that the potential of digital health is nothing short of revolutionary, we must work toward establishing an appropriate approach that’s closely tailored to this new category of products. We need a regulatory framework that accommodates the distinctive nature of digital health technology, its clinical promise, the unique user interface, and industry’s compressed commercial cycle of new product introductions.

Our new, voluntary pilot program will enable us to develop a tailored approach toward this technology by looking first at the software developer or digital health technology developer, rather than primarily at the product (as we currently do for traditional medical products). This pilot will help us establish the most appropriate criteria for standing up a firm-based pre-certification program for these new tools.

The goal of our new approach is for FDA to, after reviewing systems for software design, validation and maintenance, determine whether the company meets the necessary quality standards and pre-certify the company. Pre-certified companies could submit less information to us than is currently required before marketing a new digital health tool. In some cases, pre-certified companies could not submit a premarket submission at all. In those cases, the pre-certified company could launch a new product and immediately begin post-market data collection. Pre-certified digital health companies could take advantage of this approach for certain lower-risk devices by demonstrating that the underlying software and internal processes are sufficiently reliable. The post-market data could help FDA assure that the new product remains safe and effective as well as supports new uses.

FDA designed the new digital health pilot program to include up to nine software firms of various sizes. Initial participants in this new pilot will range from small startups to large companies that develop both high- and low-risk software products that are devices. We want to include medical product manufacturers as well as non-traditional software developers. Given the amount of attention we’re getting, and the ongoing innovation in this space, I’m confident we’ll have strong participation in the new pilot.

Digital health product developers will be selected for the program based on the following:

  • The company must be in the process of developing or planning to develop a software product that meets the definition of a medical device;
  • The company must have an existing track record in developing, testing, and maintaining software products and demonstrating a culture of quality and organizational excellence measures that are tracked by Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or other similar measures;
  • And during participation of the pilot, companies must agree to:
    • Provide access to measures for developing, testing and maintaining software products and demonstrating a culture of quality and organizational excellence measures by KPI;
    • Collect real-world post-market data and provide it to FDA;
    • Meet with FDA for real-time consultation;
    • Be available for site visits from FDA officials; and,
    • Provide information about the firm’s quality management system.

We have intentionally left the initial criteria broad because this pilot is purposely designed to be inclusive and flexible. We want to be able to accommodate a broad range of participants and technologies. We appreciate that the experience and capabilities of a small company will be different from that of a large company and recognize that we need a pre-certification program that accommodates both.

The initiative will begin immediately. Starting on August 1, companies can submit a statement of interest that includes the qualities listed above, requesting participation in the pilot to FDAPre-CertPilot@fda.hhs.gov. Then, during the month of August, FDA’s Digital Health Team will evaluate submissions and select companies that reflect the broad range of software developers. A critical component is that we will include small and large companies, traditional and non-traditional medtech companies, and products that range in risk. This approach will create opportunities for more dynamic entrepreneurship and competition and help continue to drive product innovation.

We expect that the first four months of the pilot will better inform our regulatory team as well as product developers. FDA will hold a public workshop in January 2018 to report on and review our initial findings. The goal is to inform product developers who are not participating in the pilot, so they can understand our process and findings, to help better inform development programs underway outside of the pilot.

As we launch our Digital Health Innovation Action Plan, I am conscious of the fact that apps and app updates come to market every day. But the most powerful feature of this market may not be one revolutionary app but rather a combination of apps that provides consumers and providers with the information they need. This can help people better manage their chronic diseases, which could result in less trips to the doctor for checkups, or better awareness of illness, like prompts to a parent with a sick child on when they need to see a provider. I’m delighted to be helping lead FDA at a critical moment, when I have the opportunity to help advance innovation in digital health and to make sure patients can benefit from these remarkable technologies.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

Follow and report progress about the program on social media with the hashtag  #FDAPrecert

Building a Strong FDA Workforce to Bring Scientific Advances to Patients

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

The key to FDA’s public health mission, and its ability to bring innovative new therapies to patients, is the technical, scientific, and clinical expertise of its people. As the products that we’re asked to review become more complex and specialized, so do the technical demands on our workforce. Our staff must remain current with the dramatic advances in science and medicine and meet the increasing demands that globalization and other trends place on our core consumer protection functions.

Dr. Scott GottliebAs a result, FDA continually faces the challenges related to building and maintaining a diverse, talented, and dedicated professional workforce. However, we’re committed to doing what’s necessary to tackle these challenges and maintain a strong FDA — one that attracts and preserves world-class talent.

Most recently, I’ve requested a comprehensive effort to evaluate our hiring practices and procedures. We know that our traditional approach to recruiting and hiring is not as efficient as it should be to attract, hire, and retain the types of experts we need now and anticipate to need over the longer term. What’s more, we’re increasingly competing with better-resourced entities in the private sector for the same limited pool of people with very specific clinical and scientific skills and training. These are challenges that our current approach to hiring did not anticipate. It’s critical that we modernize the process for recruiting personnel into these specialized positions within our Agency’s programs.

As part of a new effort, and consistent with Secretary Price’s Reimagine HHS initiative, we’ll be piloting new hiring procedures aimed at better supporting the hiring goals required to meet FDA’s evolving needs. I’m very pleased that Melanie Keller, currently head of the Office of Management in our Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, has agreed to lead this effort on a full-time basis. She’ll be running the pilot from a newly created position inside the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco.

A central part of this new effort will involve more directly aligning the administrative hiring procedures and the scientific staffing objectives of our programs. Thus, the directors of the medical product centers participating in the pilot will be closely involved in overseeing the new initiative. They’ll help ensure that the scientific objectives of our review programs are more closely reflected in the recruitment and hiring process. We want to make sure that FDA’s existing experts are more personally involved in hiring our new experts. Although we face similar challenges across many of our programs, the pilot will initially focus on PDUFA- related positions in our drug and biologics programs while we develop our new model.

To take on this new effort, we’re establishing a dedicated group of full-time staff with the responsibility to ensure that we reliably and predictably identify, recruit, and efficiently hire the scientific personnel the Agency needs. Professional staff from our centers with experience recruiting specialized scientific and medical staffing will be key members of this new pilot effort. Staff from the Office of Operations will assist with the identification of potential candidates from key scientific disciplines.

The first order of business will be to address hiring into the positions supported by our PDUFA commitments. Too many of these positions remain vacant, and the backlog is substantial. Finding the right people and bringing them on staff quickly has proved difficult. Our goals will be to speed the hiring process while improving the retention of scientific and technical experts. We’ll aim to reduce and eventually eliminate the backlog of vacant positions while demonstrating the utility of our new hiring model. I encourage scientific professionals and technical experts who wish to join an outstanding workforce serving the public health to review the available job opportunities at FDA.gov.

I’m heartened by the progress FDA’s reauthorization legislation is making through Congress, and I look forward to its final passage. In the meantime, the new efforts I’ve outlined here will provide a solid foundation for recruitment and for responsibly managing our user fee resources. The reauthorization, coupled with key provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act— which give FDA the authority to bring on top candidates at competitive salaries — will greatly assist us as we modernize our recruitment policies, systems, and procedures. All of these efforts will strengthen FDA’s core functions, enabling us to ensure that safe and effective advances can reach the patients who need them as efficiently as possible.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

How FDA Plans to Help Consumers Capitalize on Advances in Science

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

We’re at a point in science where new medical technologies hold out the promise of better treatments for a widening number of vexing conditions. Over the last few decades, science has enabled fundamental advances in our understanding of the genetic and protein bases of human disease. These developments are already being translated into new medicines. In more cases, these treatments target the underlying mechanisms that drive different diseases. These advances hold out the promise of arresting and even curing a growing number of diseases.

Dr. Scott GottliebTo build upon such opportunities, FDA will soon unveil a comprehensive Innovation Initiative. It will be aimed at making sure our regulatory processes are modern and efficient, so that safe and effective new technologies can reach patients in a timely fashion. We need to make sure that our regulatory principles are efficient and informed by the most up to date science. We don’t want to present regulatory barriers to beneficial new medical innovations that add to the time, cost, and uncertainty of bringing these technologies forward if they don’t add to our understanding of the product’s safety and benefits.

This imperative is driven by our mandate to promote the public health. It includes a responsibility to make sure that we’re taking steps, within the scope of our existing responsibilities, to also help facilitate access to new innovations once FDA approves them. Access to advances in medical care is a critical component of public health. And the price of new technology affects the ability of people to access these new treatments. We therefore need to be mindful of the costs of our regulatory processes, to the degree that these costs also affect the availability of new innovations, and the way that they are ultimately priced.

New medical innovations are ultimately priced to a measure of the cost of the capital it takes to develop these technologies. This is true not only when it comes to the direct costs of research and development. Cost is also a function of the time and uncertainty of these endeavors.

For these reasons, as part of our public health mandate, we need to make sure that we’re taking a risk-based approach in everything we do. The 21st Century Cures Act gave FDA many new authorities and resources to accomplish this mission. “Cures” provides FDA with tools aimed at modernizing our regulatory programs. The goal of many of these efforts is to make sure that we’re taking every appropriate step to facilitate access to safe and effective new innovation.

Today we announced our detailed work plan for the steps we’re taking to implement different aspects of Cures. I want to highlight one example of these steps, which we’re investing in, and will be expanding on, as part of our broader Innovation Initiative. It’s the use of in silico tools in clinical trials for improving drug development and making regulation more efficient.

In silico clinical trials use computer models and simulations to develop and evaluate devices and drugs. Modeling and simulation play a critical role in organizing diverse data sets and exploring alternate study designs. This enables safe and effective new therapeutics to advance more efficiently through the different stages of clinical trials. FDA’s efforts in modeling and simulation are enabled through multiple collaborations with external parties that provide additional expertise and infrastructure to advance the development of these state-of-the-art technologies.

FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) is currently using modeling and simulation to predict clinical outcomes, inform clinical trial designs, support evidence of effectiveness, optimize dosing, predict product safety, and evaluate potential adverse event mechanisms. We’ll be putting out additional, updated guidance on how aspects of these in silico tools can be advanced and incorporated into different aspects of drug development.

A variety of drug development, regulatory, and therapeutic questions are addressed by CDER through modeling and simulation strategies. CDER’s Office of Translational Sciences (OTS) uses these same strategies in the review of Investigational New Drugs Applications (INDs) and New Drug Applications (NDAs). To take just one example of the benefits of these approaches, as we enter an era of drug individualization, modeling and simulation that incorporates aspects of individual physiology and genetics in drug metabolizing enzymes is being used to identify patient subgroups that need dose adjustments. These approaches are incorporated to assess the combined effect of drug interactions, renal impairment, and hepatic insufficiency in patients, with clinical management strategies described in drug labeling where appropriate.

Another example is the use of modeling and simulation to assist in the creation of natural history databases to support model-based drug development. This could make clinical trials more efficient—for example, by enabling FDA to model some aspects of the behavior of the placebo arm in clinical trials. Right now, FDA is collaborating with scientists to develop such natural history models in Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and muscular dystrophy. An important objective of modeling and simulation is to better evaluate the behavior of new treatments in rare disease populations that are inherently hard to study due to their small size.

To advance these opportunities, we need to continue to invest in high performance computing. These computing capabilities are becoming a key requirement to the ability of our review staff to manipulate the large data sets that are now a common feature of drug applications. FDA is actively working to expand the agency’s capabilities in high performance computing, and to explore modeling approaches and enhance their regulatory impact, through an effort enabled by the work of the agency’s Scientific Computing Board.

FDA’s device center is also an integral part of this work. The Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is also building in silico regulatory models for product design and evaluation, including the development of a digital library of models and a family of “virtual patients” for device testing. An important goal is consistency. We need to make sure that the adoption of these strategies is consistent across different medical products and across the agency.

FDA is working hard to maximize the authorities and resources Congress granted us to advance medical innovation for patients. To ensure smooth coordination and communication across the agency, we established an intra-agency Cures Steering Committee. Since enactment of the nearly 1,000-page law on December 13, 2016, the team has conducted a detailed analysis of the law’s provisions, compiled a list of all of its FDA-related requirements, and is helping to advance the work teams that will enable FDA to deliver on the law’s opportunities. Today, we’re posting an initial list of our Cures deliverables. It will eventually become a tracking tool to help the public follow our progress.

As you can see from the list, we’ve already implemented several important Cures provisions. Section 1002 of Cures authorized $500 million in new funding over 9 years to help FDA cover the cost of implementing certain parts of the law. Consistent with the law’s requirements, we developed a draft work plan demonstrating how FDA would use that funding, subject to annual appropriations. We submitted the draft work plan to FDA’s Science Board for its consideration at a public meeting in May. Today we’re posting the final work plan that we delivered to Congress on June 9th. It includes the recommendations from FDA’s Science Board.

Among some of the other noteworthy actions that we’re pursuing under Cures:

  • Our Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) is implementing the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy, or RMAT designation. This new process provides another pathway to access FDA’s existing expedited programs, and is available for certain cell therapies, therapeutic tissue engineering products, and certain combination products. The goal of these efforts is to help foster the development and approval of these novel products. We’ve already received almost two dozen requests for RMAT designation and granted four such designations to date. To continue to advance these opportunities, we’ll be announcing this September a comprehensive framework for the development and proper FDA oversight of regenerative medicine. This new policy effort will comprise a series of new guidance documents covering many aspects of the regulation of regenerative medicine products. It will be announced as part of our Innovation Initiative. It will delineate our policies for appropriate and efficient regulatory oversight of regenerative medicine products, in order to demonstrate their safety and effectiveness. It will also create an accessible framework that will enable providers to more easily collaborate on proving these principles for regenerative products that are advanced within local medical institutions. We want to help facilitate these scientific advances, which hold out tremendous potential for treating and even curing diseases. To achieve these goals, we need to make sure that we have a modern regulatory framework in place that can allow innovators to meet the statutory requirements for demonstrating safety and effectiveness.
  • The newly established Oncology Center of Excellence is the first inter-center institute at FDA that focuses on a specific disease area rather than type of product. It’s designed to take advantage of the synergies that can be achieved by coordinating the clinical review of products across FDA’s drug, device, and biologic centers to make the development of oncology and hematology medical products more efficient. This new center will allow our expert review staff to work together and take a life-cycle approach to the development and post-market regulation of new cancer treatment options.
  • Under provisions of Cures, CDRH exempted more than 70 Class I device types from the requirement to submit to FDA a 510(k) submission. CDRH also proposed exempting another 1,000+ Class II device types from having to submit a 510(k) submission based on an initial determination that premarket review is not necessary to provide a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness. This action will decrease regulatory burdens on the device industry and eliminate private costs and expenditures.
  • To further align our regulatory requirements with the provisions of Cures, CDRH also amended its current regulations to allow more devices to qualify for a humanitarian device exemption for small patient populations. We’ll allow researchers to seek approval for device clinical trials through a central institutional review board rather than mandating the use of local review boards. Under the provisions of Cures, CDRH has also published the list of reusable device types for which FDA will require validated instructions for use and validation data regarding cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization in 510(k)s. These new requirements go into effect on August 8, 2017.
  • Finally, last month CDER, working with CBER, issued a plan for the development and issuance of patient-focused drug development guidances. The workshops and the new guidance will set forth our plan to facilitate a more systematic approach to gathering and using patient perspectives to inform FDA’s regulatory decision-making.

We’re at the beginning of a transformative era in science and medical technology. Through our implementation of Cures, and our efforts to build on its provisions through a new Innovation Initiative, we hope that our collective efforts will help consumers benefit from this new progress. FDA’s headway in pursuing the opportunities enabled by Cures illustrates the agency’s enthusiasm and commitment to the law—both its letter and its spirit. Please bookmark the Cures web page and our tracker to follow our progress as we work to vigorously advance these shared goals.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

FDA Working to Lift Barriers to Generic Drug Competition

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Too many patients are being priced out of the medicines they need. While FDA doesn’t have a direct role in drug pricing, we can take steps to help address this problem by facilitating increased competition in the market for prescription drugs through the approval of lower-cost, generic medicines.

Dr. Scott GottliebOver the last decade alone, competition from safe and effective generic drugs has saved the health care system about $1.67 trillion. When generics are dispensed at the pharmacy, the immediate savings to each of us are clear. We could see even greater cost savings if we helped more safe and effective generic drugs get to market sooner, after patent and statutory exclusivity periods have lapsed, by addressing some of the scientific and regulatory obstacles to generic competition across the full range of FDA-approved drugs. These barriers may delay and, in some cases, ultimately deny patient access to more affordable drugs.

That’s why we’re working on a Drug Competition Action Plan. As part of this effort, today, we’re announcing in the Federal Register our intent to hold a public meeting on July 18, 2017, to solicit input on places where FDA’s rules – including the standards and procedures related to generic drug approvals – are being used in ways that may create obstacles to generic access, instead of ensuring the vigorous competition Congress intended.

Innovation in pharmaceutical development is essential because it creates new and sometimes life-saving therapies. But access to lower-cost alternatives, once patent and exclusivity periods lapse, also is critical to the nation’s health.

We know that sometimes our regulatory rules might be “gamed” in ways that may delay generic drug approvals beyond the time frame the law intended, in order to reduce competition. We are actively looking at ways our rules are being used and, in some cases, misused.

One example of such gaming is the increasing unavailability of certain branded products for comparative testing. To perform the studies required to develop a generic alternative to a branded drug, a generic sponsor generally needs 1,500 to 3,000 doses of the originator drug. I understand that generic sponsors are willing to buy these products at fair market value; but, in some cases, branded companies may be using regulatory strategies or commercial techniques to deliberately try to block a generic company from getting access to testing samples.

This might occur, for example, when branded companies might use restrictions they place in their commercial contracts or their agreements with distributors to make it hard for intermediaries in the drug supply chain to sell the drugs to generic drug developers.

We also see problems accessing testing samples when branded products are subject to limited distribution – whether the company has voluntarily adopted limitations on distribution, or the limitations have been imposed as part of a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS, a program that FDA implements to help ensure the safe use of certain drugs. I have been made aware that, in some of those cases, branded sponsors may use these limited distribution arrangements, whether or not they are REMS-related, as a basis for blocking generic firms from accessing the testing samples they need.

Besides limiting access to testing samples, some branded companies may be using the statutory default requirement to have a single shared REMS across both the branded and generic versions of a drug as a way to block generic entry. They might prolong negotiations with the generic firms over the implementation of these single shared systems, which could delay the entry of safe and effective generic drugs onto the market.

I want to take steps to address these concerns, to make sure that we are facilitating appropriate competition in circumstances where Congress intended. The forthcoming public meeting is intended to solicit public comment to inform us of circumstances where generic competition may be thwarted by these and other techniques.

As we solicit additional information, we also are going to be looking at policy and programmatic changes to address these issues. Some of these steps may be actions we can take by using our own authorities more forcefully. Other steps might involve our need to collaborate with sister agencies.

We’re also going to be looking hard at how best to coordinate with the Federal Trade Commission in identifying and publicizing practices that the FTC finds to be anti-competitive. FDA is not the FTC. It is the FTC’s responsibility to prevent anticompetitive business practices. But Congress set out certain laws that are meant to strike a careful balance between pharmaceutical innovation and access to lower cost generic products, and FDA has an important responsibility to enforce those laws in a manner that adheres to the balance struck by Congress.

We’ll be unveiling additional aspects of our larger Action Plan and providing updates, as these initial elements are implemented. I’m confident that these actions and the dedicated work of the outstanding staff in our generic drug program will help to address the issues patients are facing today when they’re priced out of buying the drugs they need. At the meeting on July 18 we want to hear from the public about ways our current rules may not be having their intended effects, and where current policies are falling short in ensuring the careful balance between new innovation and patient access.

Our goal is to broaden access to safe and effective generic drugs that can improve access to medicines and help consumers lower their health care costs. As in all of the things we do, we will steadfastly maintain FDA’s gold standard for rigorous, science-based regulation.

Over the past five years our generic drug program staff has evolved and grown remarkably, while implementing the first generic drug user fee program. The staff has demonstrated that they can rise to new challenges and they have my full support. Their hard work will serve as a strong foundation for the program as it moves forward. I want the policy framework they operate under to be as efficient, fair, and robust as the review program that they’re operating.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

Fostering Medical Innovation: A Plan for Digital Health Devices

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

It is incumbent upon FDA to ensure that we have the right policies in place to promote and encourage safe and effective innovation that can benefit consumers, and adopt regulatory approaches to enable the efficient development of these technologies. By taking an efficient, risk-based approach to our regulation, FDA can promote health through the creation of more new and beneficial medical technologies. We can also help reduce the development costs for these innovations by making sure that our own policies and tools are modern and efficient, giving entrepreneurs more opportunities to develop products that can benefit people’s lives.

Dr. Scott GottliebTo this end, FDA will soon be putting forward a broad initiative that is focused on fostering new innovation across our medical product centers. I will have more to say on many elements of this initiative soon. However, today I want to focus on one critical aspect of this innovation initiative: A new Digital Health Innovation Plan that is focused on fostering innovation at the intersection of medicine and digital health technology. This plan will include a novel, post-market approach to how we intend to regulate these digital medical devices.

According to one estimate, last year there were 165,000 health-related apps available for Apple or Android smartphones. Forecasts predict that such apps would be downloaded 1.7 billion times by 2017. From mobile apps and fitness trackers to clinical decision support software, innovative digital technologies have the power to transform health care in important ways, such as:

  • Empowering consumers to make more and better decisions every day about their own health, monitor and manage chronic health conditions, or connect with medical professionals, using  consumer-directed apps and other technologies to  help people  live healthier lifestyles through fitness, nutrition, and wellness monitoring;
  • Enabling better and more efficient clinical practice and decision making through decision support software and technologies to assist in making diagnoses and developing treatment options; managing, storing, and sharing health records; and managing schedules and workflow;
  • Helping to address public health crises, such as the opioid epidemic that is devastating many American communities. In fact, FDA conducted a prize competition to encourage the development of a mobile app to help connect opioid users experiencing an overdose with nearby carriers of the prescription drug naloxone for emergency treatment.

For these and other digital technologies to take hold and reach their fullest potential, it is critical that FDA be forward-leaning in making sure that we have implemented the right policies and regulatory tools, and communicated them clearly, to encourage safe and effective innovation. In this rapidly changing environment, ambiguity regarding how FDA will approach a new technology can lead innovators to invest their time and resources in other ventures. To encourage innovation, FDA should carry out its mission to protect and promote the public health through policies that are clear enough for developers to apply them on their own, without having to seek out, on a case-by-case basis, FDA’s position on every individual technological change or iterative software development.

Congress has already taken a major step to advance these goals in the 21st Century Cures Act. Expanding upon policies advanced by FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the Act revised FDA’s governing statute to, among other things, make clear that certain digital health technologies—such as clinical administrative support software and mobile apps that are intended only for maintaining or encouraging a healthy lifestyle—generally fall outside the scope of FDA regulation. Such technologies tend to pose low risk to patients but can provide great value to the health care system. FDA, led by CDRH, is working to implement the digital health provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act and, in the coming months, will be publishing guidance to further clarify what falls outside the scope of FDA regulation and to explain how the new statutory provisions affect pre-existing FDA policies.

FDA will provide guidance to clarify our position on products that contain multiple software functions, where some fall outside the scope of FDA regulation, but others do not. In addition, FDA will provide new guidance on other technologies that, although not addressed in the 21st Century Cures Act, present low enough risks that FDA does not intend to subject them to certain pre-market regulatory requirements. Greater certainty regarding what types of digital health technology is subject to regulation and regarding FDA’s compliance policies will not only help foster innovation, but also will help the agency to devote more resources to higher risk priorities.

In addition to these efforts, we are also announcing today a new initiative that FDA is undertaking. This fall, as part of a comprehensive approach to the regulation of digital health tools and in collaboration with our customers, FDA will pilot an entirely new approach toward regulating this technology. This will be the cornerstone to a more efficient, risk-based regulatory framework for overseeing these medical technologies.

While the pilot program is still being developed, we are considering whether and how, under current authorities, we can create a third party certification program under which lower risk digital health products could be marketed without FDA premarket review and higher risk products could be marketed with a streamlined FDA premarket review. Certification could be used to assess, for example, whether a company consistently and reliably engages in high quality software design and testing (validation) and ongoing maintenance of its software products. Employing a unique pre-certification program for software as a medical device (SaMD) could reduce the time and cost of market entry for digital health technologies.

In addition, post-market collection of real-world data might be able to be used to support new and evolving product functions. For example, product developers could leverage real-world data gathered through the National Evaluation System for health Technology (NEST) to expedite market entry and subsequent expansion of indications more efficiently. NEST will be a federated virtual system for evidence generation composed of strategic alliances among data sources including registries, electronic health records, payer claims, and other sources. The Medical Device Innovation Consortium (MDIC), a 501(c)(3) public-private partnership, is serving as an independent coordinating center that operates NEST. In the coming weeks, MDIC will announce the establishment of a Governing Committee for the NEST Coordinating Center comprised of stakeholder representatives of the ecosystem, such as patients, health care professionals, health care organizations, payers, industry, and government. Although FDA does not own or operate NEST, we have been establishing strategic alliances among data sources to accelerate NEST’s launch with the initial version of a fully operational system anticipated by the end of 2019.

Applying this firm-based approach, rather than the traditional product-based approach, combined with leveraging real-world evidence, would create market incentives for greater investment in and growth of the digital health technology industry. Such processes could enable developers to deploy new or updated software more rapidly and would help FDA to better focus our resources.

Through these and other steps, FDA will help innovators navigate a new, modern regulatory process so that promising, safe and effective developments in digital health can advance more quickly and responsibly, and Americans can reap the full benefits from these innovations. These efforts are just one part of a much broader initiative that FDA is currently undertaking to advance policies that promote the development of safe and effective medical technologies that can help consumers improve their health. Our goal is to make sure that FDA has the most modern and efficient regulatory approaches when it comes to evaluating new, beneficial technologies.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

FDA Commissioner Asks Staff for ‘More Forceful Steps’ to Stem the Opioid Crisis

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

As Commissioner, my highest initial priority is to take immediate steps to reduce the scope of the epidemic of opioid addiction. I believe the Food and Drug Administration continues to have an important role to play in addressing this crisis, particularly when it comes to reducing the number of new cases of addiction.

Dr. Scott GottliebToday, I sent an email to all of my colleagues at FDA, sharing with them the first steps I plan to take to better achieve this public health goal. With this, my first post to the FDA Voice blog, I also wanted to share my plans with you.

I believe it is within the scope of FDA’s regulatory tools – and our societal obligations – to take whatever steps we can, under our existing legal authorities, to ensure that exposure to opioids is occurring under only appropriate clinical circumstances, and for appropriate patients.

Patients must be prescribed opioids only for durations of treatment that closely match their clinical circumstances and that don’t expose them unnecessarily to prolonged use, which increases the risk of opioid addiction. Moreover, as FDA does in other contexts in our regulatory portfolio, we need to consider the broader public health implications of opioid use. We need to consider both the individual and the societal consequences.

While there has been a lot of good work done by FDA to date, and many people are working hard on this problem, I have asked my FDA colleagues to see what additional, more forceful steps we might take.

As a first step, I am establishing an Opioid Policy Steering Committee that will bring together some of the agency’s most senior career leaders to explore and develop additional tools or strategies FDA can use to confront this crisis.

I have asked the Steering Committee to consider three important questions. However, the Committee will have a broad mandate to consider whatever additional questions FDA should be seeking to answer. The Committee will solicit input, and engage the public. I want the Committee to go in whatever direction the scientific and public health considerations leads, as FDA works to further its mandate to confront the crisis of opioid addiction.

The initial questions I have tasked the Steering Committee to answer are:

  1. Are there circumstances under which FDA should require some form of mandatory education for health care professionals, to make certain that prescribing doctors are properly informed about appropriate prescribing recommendations, understand how to identify the risk of abuse in individual patients, and know how to get addicted patients into treatment?
  2. Should FDA take additional steps, under our risk management authorities, to make sure that the number of opioid doses that an individual patient can be prescribed is more closely tailored to the medical indication? For example, only a few situations require a 30-day supply. In those cases, we want to make sure patients have what they need. But there are plenty of situations where the best prescription is a two- or three-day course of treatment. So, are there things FDA can do to make sure that the dispensing of opioids more consistently reflects the clinical circumstances? This might require FDA to work more closely with provider groups to develop standards for prescribing opioids in different clinical settings.
  3. Is FDA using the proper policy framework to adequately consider the risk of abuse and misuse as part of the drug review process for the approval of these medicines? Are we doing enough when we evaluate new opioid drugs for market authorization, and do we need additional policies in this area?

These are just some of the questions I will be asking this new Steering Committee to consider right away, given the scope of the emergency we face. In the coming days, I’ll continue to work closely with the senior leadership of FDA. I want to know what other important ideas my colleagues at FDA may have, so that we can lean even further into this problem, using our full authorities to work toward reducing the scope of this epidemic.

Despite the efforts of FDA and many other public health agencies, the scope of the epidemic continues to grow, and the human and economic costs are staggering. According to data from CDC and SAMHSA, nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014, and more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments each day due to misusing prescription opioids.

Opioid overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999. In 2015, opioids were involved in the deaths of 33,091 people in the United States. Most of these deaths – more than 22,000 (about 62 people per day) – involved prescription opioids.

We know that the majority of people who eventually become addicted to opioids are exposed first to prescription opioids. One recent study found that in a sample of heroin users in treatment for opioid addiction, 75% of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s started with prescription opioid products.

This March, a study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that opioid-naïve patients who fill a prescription for a one-day supply of opioids face a 6% risk of continuing their use of opioids for more than one year. This study also found that the longer a person’s first exposure to opioids, the greater the risk that he or she will continue using opioids after one, or even three years. For example, when a person’s first exposure to opioids increases from one day to 30 days, that person’s likelihood of continuing to use opioids after one year increases from 6% to about 35%.

Working together, we need to do all we can to get ahead of this crisis. That’s why we’ll also be soliciting public input, through various forums, on what additional steps FDA should consider. I look forward to working closely with my FDA colleagues as we quickly move forward, capitalizing on good work that has already been done, and expanding those efforts in novel directions. I will keep you updated on our work as we continue to confront this epidemic.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA