By: Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.
In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple and a gallon of gas was $.59. And in another action that has had long term impact, President Ford signed the Medical Device Amendments that closed the dangerous gap between what he called FDA’s “horse and buggy authority” and “laser age problems.”
Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, which was born from large chemical companies that discovered medical uses for the products they made, the device industry sprung to life as a scrappy sibling—mostly mom-and-pop businesses addressing the needs of individual patients and physicians through invention.
Although Congress had first given FDA explicit authority over medical devices in the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the focus was on fraudulent products. Efforts to extend FDA’s oversight on medical devices failed in 1962 and again in 1970.
Then in 1975, reports emerged that thousands of women had been harmed, some even died, from pelvic inflammatory disease, as the result of using the Dalkon Shield, an intrauterine device for contraception. Congress responded the following year by enacting the Medical Device Amendments, which authorized FDA to classify all medical devices based on risk into one of three classifications, to require premarket approval for Class III devices, and for devices to comply with reporting and GMP requirements.
The law ushered in a new era for medical technology innovation, patient access, and patient safety, but also created a tension, contributing to a political environment where the pendulum continues to swing between these objectives, defining and driving the medical device ecosystem ever since.
In signing the legislation, President Ford noted that, when “well designed and well-made and properly used” medical devices “support and lengthen life.” But when medical devices are “poorly designed, poorly made, and improperly used” they can “threaten and impair” life.” His words still ring true today.
The initial Medical Device Program started with about 180 people. Today, FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is 1,700 strong; a vibrant family of individuals with a wide range of scientific, clinical, engineering, legal, and other expertise, who hail from a variety of backgrounds, and who are ready to tackle the latest scientific advancement.
And the mom and pop industry has transformed into a world of sophisticated software algorithms, miniaturization, combination products, wearable sensors, non-invasive procedures and diagnostics, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
Along the way, CDRH has adapted its expertise and regulatory approaches to meet the needs of such rapidly evolving innovation. While we will continue to adapt, more importantly, we are focusing on proactively anticipating where we need to be so that regulatory innovation is out in front of medical device innovation. We’re doing this now in the digital health space, by designing regulatory frameworks around the type of technology and its unique evidence generation and innovation cycle rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach.
We are implementing new models for evidence generation. They include the establishment of a National Evaluation System for health Technology, or NEST, that could transform the historical tension between device innovation, patient access and patient safety into an alignment of interests to drive the development and more timely access to life-saving, life-enhancing, and life-advancing devices. This is consistent with our vision: That patients in the U.S. have access to high-quality, safe and effective medical devices of public health importance first in the world.
And we are also going to new places with patients by establishing a foundation for engaging with them as our partners and routinely incorporating their perspectives in our decisions. And that’s fitting because improving the health and the quality of life of patients by assuring they have timely access to medical technologies that will benefit them is at the heart of who we are and what we do.
As we look ahead to the future, it is our work, our care and our dedication that will allow us to reach our vision.
Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., is FDA’s Director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health