FDA Considering How to Tailor its Oversight for Next Generation Sequencing

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

FDA is weighing the appropriate regulatory approach to advances in technology that allow physicians to obtain information on large segments of a patient’s genetic makeup very quickly.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.This technology is known as next generation sequencing, where a single test potentially can be employed to identify thousands—even millions—of genetic variants carried by a single individual. The results of such tests could be used to diagnose or predict a person’s risk of developing many different conditions or diseases and potentially help physicians and patients determine what course of treatment should be used to treat specific individuals.

Reliable and accurate NGS technologies promise to accelerate “personalized” or “precision” medicine, the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient. But they also pose some novel issues for FDA in carrying out our mission of protecting and promoting public health.

Most diagnostic tests follow a one test—one disease paradigm that readily fits FDA’s current device review approaches for evaluating a test’s analytical and clinical performance. Next generation sequencing produces a massive amount of data that may be better handled using a new approach.

Last year we took steps to adapt our oversight approach to this new technology with the marketing authorization of the first NGS sequencing instrument, Illumina’s MiSeqDx Instrument and its two tests for cystic fibrosis (CF) mutations. We applied practical regulation to these products: we looked at how accurately the instrument sequenced a representative set of genetic variants across the genome rather than requiring data on every possible variant. Doing so avoided years of data gathering and unnecessary delay in the public’s access to the benefits of this technology while still assuring its accuracy and reliability.

Similar flexibility was employed in assessing the two CF tests. FDA allowed Illumina to leverage a well-curated, shared database of CF mutations to demonstrate the clinical value of its tests, rather than requiring them to independently generate data to support each mutation’s association with the disease.

In the future, next generation sequencing tests may be available to rapidly address new medical knowledge that can be applied in treating patients. Medical knowledge itself can be strengthened through creating databases of research and clinical information tied to particular genetic variants. FDA intends to develop a practical and nimble approach that will allow medical advances to be implemented as soon as possible, using its regulatory flexibility and the power of the information placed into high-quality databases.

This week President Obama unveiled his Precision Medicine Initiative. As part of that effort, FDA has been reviewing the current regulatory landscape involving next generation sequencing as the technology moves rapidly from research to clinical practice. To get the dialogue started, FDA published a preliminary discussion paper in late December that posed a series of questions about how to best assure that tests are not only accurate and reliable, but are available for patients as soon as possible. Public comment is essential, so FDA has opened a public docket and will be holding a public meeting on NGS technology on February 20.

NGS technology is clearly integral to the future of personalized medicine. Whatever approach FDA ultimately adopts must be selected with care to ensure continued innovation in the advancement of medical care and public health for this still evolving technology.

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

Listening to Patients’ Views on New Treatments for Obesity

By: Kathryn O’Callaghan and Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.

The world was a very different place in 1976, when the Food and Drug Administration launched its medical device program.

Kathryn O'Callaghan

Kathryn O’Callaghan, Associate Director for Science and Strategic Partnerships (Acting), FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were just that year launching a computer company called Apple, doctors weren’t yet able to view X-ray images or look up drug prescribing information on their iPhones. Moreover, patients couldn’t Google treatments for heart disease, nor were they able to instantly find all open U.S. clinical trials for breast cancer. Not only was patients’ access to health care information much more limited, so was their role in making their own health care decisions.

Doctors diagnosed. Doctors made treatment decisions. Patients followed directions.

It’s different now.

Patients are more empowered today. Driven in part by a need to address emerging or neglected illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS and rare disorders, patients over the past three decades have increasingly banded together, creating organizations that advocated for their interests and generated public awareness of their diseases, their needs, and the lack of effective therapies. This activity produced legions of informed and empowered patients, who today urge us to take a more active role in our own health and urge clinicians to engage patients in shared health care decision-making. Patients are now not only partners in their health care but active consumers who make choices about their doctors, treatments, diagnostics, and health care experiences, an empowerment that is affecting the development of innovative therapies and new clinical solutions.

Today, there are no health care debates, discussions and decisions without considering the patient perspective.

Jeffrey Shuren

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

At FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), we have been systematically involving patients in our regulatory decision making process. Since 1999, CDRH has included a patient representative on each of our advisory panels of outside experts, giving us a better understanding of patient concerns about particular technologies. And in 2012, we began focusing our medical device approval decisions on incorporating the patients’ perspective.

Under this benefit-risk framework for high-risk and innovative, lower-risk medical devices, CDRH’s health care professionals, scientists, and engineers consider the patients’ perspective on both a product’s benefits and their tolerance for any risks when weighing the evidence to determine whether or not to approve a product.

In the past, CDRH experts may have determined that a device should not be approved because its probable risks outweighed its probable benefits. However today, under a patient-centric assessment of risk, if adequate evidence indicates that a subset of well-informed patients with a particular illness or condition would value the product’s benefits more than its risks, CDRH may approve the device for that particular group. However, if we were to approve such a device we may require appropriate product labeling that clearly defines the patient sub-population and their benefit-risk preference. That information would be included in the product’s “Indications for Use” section of the label to ensure that patients and health care practitioners are able to make well-informed decisions.

Better tools are needed to more reliably and scientifically characterize patient preferences about benefit and risks, so we launched our Patient Preferences Initiative, to identify and develop methods for assessing patient valuations of benefit and risk related to specific device types and specific illnesses and conditions.

The goal is to ensure we have sufficient confidence in these methods to rely on them to inform product approval decisions.

Earlier this month, a team of FDA scientists led by Telba Irony, PhD, Chief of General and Surgical Devices Branch in the Division of Biostatistics, published an article in Surgical Endoscopy with leading behavioral economists at RTI Health Solutions, a business unit of RTI International, illustrating how this paradigm can inform medical device approval decisions. The authors successfully tested a new method for capturing patient sentiment and translated it into a decision-making tool for incorporating patient preferences into clinical trial design for obesity treatments. They were able to estimate the tradeoffs in risks that obese patients are willing to accept in exchange for a certain amount of weight loss, and the minimum number of pounds they would have to lose to tolerate the risks of a weight loss device.

Shortly after the study was published, FDA approved a new weight loss device – the Maestro Rechargeable System, an important therapeutic option for obese patients. The decision to approve the device was based in part on the data from Irony’s study that showed a substantial portion of obese patients would accept the risks associated with a surgically implanted device if they lost a sufficient number of pounds. Maestro is the first FDA-approved obesity device since 2007.

Our Patient Preferences Initiative is testing other ways to reach out to patients and capture their views through public workshops, websites, and a new patient-focused advisory committee. CDRH is also participating in related research as a member of the Medical Device Innovation Consortium (MDIC), a non-profit partnership between the FDA, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and 43 medical device companies, patient groups and other non-profit organizations. MDIC is developing a framework for incorporating patient preferences into the device development and assessment process, and compiling a catalog of methods for collecting patient preference information that can be used to develop, design, and market devices that meet the needs of patients. Simultaneously, CDRH is developing draft guidance outlining how data from patient preference assessment tools can inform device approvals and other regulatory decision making.

As patient groups, industry sponsors, and others conduct more patient preference studies, we will better understand the tradeoffs that patients with medical device-treatable diseases and conditions are willing to make. This research, along with actions taken by CDRH, MDIC and others will drive more patient-centered device development and assessment. As a result, patients will play an influential role in determining which treatments and diagnostics are available in the U.S. market.

It may have taken more than 30 years, but patients are finally having their say.

We should take care to listen.

Kathryn O’Callaghan is Associate Director for Science and Strategic Partnerships (Acting), FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

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

A CDRH Priority: Clinical Trials in the U.S.

By: Owen Faris, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.

At the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), clinical trials are the foundation for our decisions to approve the most important medical devices—products that have the potential to save or sustain life, but that also present the greatest risk to patients.

Owen Faris

Owen Faris, Ph.D., Clinical Trials Director (acting), Office of Device Evaluation in FDA’s
Center for Devices and Radiological Health

Over the past year, we saw several exciting new medical devices reach U.S. patients, including devices to treat heart disease and diabetes and diagnose cancer. Just last week, we approved a new device to treat obesity. None of these products would have come to market without clinical trials.

CDRH is committed to improving U.S. patient access to new devices by strengthening and streamlining the process of testing complex medical devices so that their clinical trials are conducted in the U.S. in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner. In fact, this is so important for us that we made it one of our three 2014-2015 Center Strategic Priorities, along with striking the right balance between premarket and postmarket data collection and improving our customer service. Please visit our website for an update on our Strategic Priorities.

Innovative medical products begin with clinical trials – and before a clinical trial of a significant risk device begins in the U.S., a researcher, among other things, must apply for and receive FDA’s approval through the Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) process.  The FDA reviews IDE applications to determine whether the sponsor has provided enough information to be sure that the study does not present an unreasonable risk to its participants. FDA takes into account the qualifications of the clinical investigators, information about the device, the design of the clinical investigation, the condition for which the device is to be investigated, and the health status of the participating patients.

Jeffrey Shuren

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

FDA reviews an IDE submission within 30 days, but the review often results in questions which the study sponsor needs to answer, or changes that are needed before the study can be approved. Just a few years ago, it was therefore not uncommon for a year or more to pass before FDA could grant approval to a medical device developer to begin the trial. This type of delay was one factor that led developers to seek approval in other countries.

Over the past year, CDRH has taken a number of actions to expedite the safe initiation of clinical trials in the U.S., and we believe these policies will result in conducting clinical studies in the U.S. earlier in the device development process than was the case in the past.

Our improvements started with establishing a formal Clinical Trials Program within the Office of Device Evaluation. This program provides consistency in decision-making and encourages more interaction between FDA and the device industry during the IDE process. We also provided extensive training to CDRH review staff and the device industry. In addition, we issued numerous guidance documents, including one explaining IDE Decisions and one introducing CDRH’s new Early Feasibility Study program.

We’re excited to report that these changes have greatly shortened the time for an IDE to reach approval, so that a clinical trial can begin. From 2011 to 2014, the median number of days to full IDE approval has decreased from 442 to only 101. This cuts the time it takes to bring a new medical device to market by nearly a full year.

To learn more about CDRH’s clinical trials program, please join us for a webinar on January 22, 2105, where we will discuss the implementation of the IDE processes, our 2015 performance goals, early feasibility studies and our future plans. More information, including how to attend, is on the CDRH Webinar webpage.

The FDA is charged with the enormous task of protecting and promoting the health of the American public. To do this, we must ensure that the medical products on which Americans rely every day have been rigorously tested and are safe and effective. We are committed to making U.S. patients the first in the world to have access to safe and effective medical devices. And we’ve taken the first step to that, by helping ensure that clinical trials take place here, in the U.S.

Owen Faris, Ph.D., is Clinical Trials Director (acting), Office of Device Evaluation in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

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

Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and the US: Safeguarding Medical Devices

By: Kim Trautman, M.S.

The FDA and its regulatory counterparts abroad have the weighty responsibility of ensuring the safety of the thousands of regulated medical devices imported in their countries each year. To make this task more manageable, FDA and regulatory agencies in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Japan embarked in 2014 on a pilot called the Medical Device Single Audit Program (MDSAP). Its goal is to develop a process that allows a single audit, or inspection to ensure the medical device regulatory requirements for all five countries are satisfied, in an efficient yet thorough manner.

Kim TrautmanOn January 1, 2015 the MDSAP pilot reached a major milestone – manufacturers around the globe interested in marketing medical devices in Australia, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S. were invited to participate in the program. This summer, when Japan enters the MDSAP as a full member, the same invitation will be issued also to medical device manufacturers interested in marketing in Japan.

Under this pilot, audits will be conducted by recognized third-party organizations, and medical device regulators in the participating countries will be able to use these inspection reports when making their regulatory decisions. Not only does this program reduce the participating regulators’ need to individually perform routine inspections; it allows them all to have the same reliable information about inspectional findings.

Manufacturers, too, can benefit from the MDSAP pilot by cutting down on the number of regulatory audits they have to host, thereby minimizing manufacturing plant and personnel disruptions. This form of international and standardized oversight lessens the burden on manufacturers by bringing more consistency and transparency to the regulatory process.

The MDSAP pilot does not increase regulatory requirements for medical device manufacturers – the audits cover only existing requirements of the regulatory authorities participating. In many cases, these requirements are already harmonized or very similar to one another, such as the international standard for medical devices quality management systems (ISO 13485:2003), the Brazilian Good Manufacturing Practices (RDC ANVISA 16/2013), the U.S. Quality System Regulation (21 CFR Part 820), and other specific pre- and post-market regulatory requirements of the authorities participating in the MDSAP pilot.

The FDA will accept MDSAP audits as a substitute for routine FDA inspections, typically done every two years for all classes of medical devices and including in vitro diagnostic devices. Pre-approval inspections for devices requiring premarket approval applications (PMAs) and “for cause” compliance inspections will not be part of the MDSAP pilot.

Manufacturers that choose to participate in the pilot program will help to shape the policies and procedures of the fully operational MDSAP, which is scheduled to begin in 2017. We expect that the MDSAP pilot will enhance confidence in third party audit programs, increasing the footprint of this global endeavor.

The FDA is pleased to be part of this MDSAP pilot. International cooperation promotes global alignment of regulatory approaches and technical requirements, expanding the safety net that protects patients world-wide.

New information about how countries will participate in the MDSAP pilot is available on the FDA’s MDSAP pilot web page.  Manufacturers can find additional information on the MDSAP web pageThis MDSAP page provides information on the auditing organizations involved in the pilot for interested manufacturers to contact directly.

Kim Trautman is Associate Director of International Affairs at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health

CDER Approved Many Innovative Drugs in 2014

By: John Jenkins, M.D.

Each year, FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) will typically approve more than 100 new medications. A portion of those are novel new drugs, medications that have not previously been approved by FDA and are often among the most innovative products serving previously unmet medical needs or otherwise significantly helping to advance patient care and public health.

John JenkinsThis year, the news media has been concentrating on the number of novel new drugs – either new molecular entities or new therapeutic biologics – approved by CDER in 2014. And that’s understandable because we approved 41 novel drugs this year, the most in nearly 20 years. But instead of looking at the approval tally, we prefer to focus on the significant benefits that many of these drugs bring to patients and the steps that CDER took to get these products to market in a timely manner while maintaining FDA’s standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality.

Many of the 41 new drugs have the potential to add significant clinical value to the care of thousands of patients with serious or life-threatening diseases. They include eight new drugs for treating patients with various types of cancer, four new drugs to treat type-2 diabetes, four new antibiotics to treat serious infections, and two new products to treat patients with hepatitis C.

Moreover, consider these facts:

  • Seventeen (41%) of the 41 novel new drugs were approved to treat rare diseases that affect 200,000 or fewer Americans. This is the highest yearly total of such drugs ever — surpassing the previous high of 13 from 2012. These approvals are particularly significant because patients with rare diseases often have few or no drugs available to treat their conditions.
  • Seventeen (41%) of the 41 novel new drugs are identified by CDER as “First-in-Class,” one indicator of a drug’s degree of innovation. The total for First-In-Class approvals in 2014 approaches the highest yearly total of 20 reported in 2012.

To expedite the development and review of these products, CDER used a number of regulatory programs, including Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Priority Review, and Accelerated Approval.

  • Fast Track and Breakthrough Therapy designations are designed to speed the development of promising new drugs intended to treat serious conditions with unmet medical needs. Almost half – 19 or 46% of the 41 novel new drugs approved in 2014 — were designated as Fast Track, Breakthrough, or both.
  • Twenty-five (61%) of the 41 novel new drugs were designated for Priority Review. These are drugs in which CDER sees potential for providing a significant advance in medical care, and sets their review target to within six instead of the standard 10 months.
  • Six (20%) of the 41 novel new drugs were approved under FDA’s Accelerated Approval program, which allows early approval of a drug for a serious or life-threatening illness that offers a benefit over current treatments. Accelerated Approval is based on a “surrogate endpoint” or an intermediate clinical endpoint that is thought to be “reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit.” Additional clinical trials are required after approval to confirm the predicted clinical benefit. A surrogate endpoint is a marker of drug effect (e.g., an effect on a lab value or tumor size) that does not directly represent an improvement in how a patient feels or functions, but is expected to predict such a benefit.

Here are a few other ways we assess our contributions to last year’s approvals:

  • Under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), sponsors pay fees when they submit a product application. This money is used to provide FDA with additional resources to meet performance goals, such as a goal date for completing its review of the application. In 2014, CDER acted on or before the PDUFA goal date for 40 (98%) of the 41 novel new drugs approved.
  • CDER approved more than three-quarters — 32 (78%) — of the 41 novel new drugs on the “first cycle” of review, meaning without requests for additional information that would delay approval and lead to another cycle of review.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the novel new drugs – 26 (63%) — were approved in the U.S. before approval in another country.

It’s been another strong year for approval of novel new drugs for patients in need. We are proud of our role in helping to safely and efficiently bring important new medications to the American public.

Our Novel New Drug Summary for 2014 provides more details. A current list of CDER’s 2014 novel new drug approvals is available on our Web site.

John Jenkins, M.D., is Director of the Office of New Drugs in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research