Making Continuous Improvements in the Combination Products Program: The Pre-RFD Process

By: Thinh Nguyen and Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H.

One question that sponsors often ask FDA is whether their medical product will be regulated as a drug, a device, a biologic, or as a combination product, and in the case of the latter, which FDA component will regulate it.

Thinh Nguyen

Thinh Nguyen, FDA’s Director, Office of Combination Products

One way sponsors may determine how their product will be classified is to submit a Request for Designation (RFD) to the Office of Combination Products (OCP). This request requires FDA to provide a written determination of product classification and/or which agency component will regulate the product if it is a combination product. Sponsors have also been able to obtain less formal feedback regarding product classification through communications with OCP.

We are pleased to announce that the Agency is making some changes to our internal procedures for responding to communications from sponsors regarding preliminary product classification assessments from OCP. The Pre-Request for Designation (Pre-RFD) process is the result of cooperative efforts by OCP, the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco, and CDER Lean, including a formal internal evaluation that incorporates current state process mapping and identifies and integrates process improvements.

Rachel Sherman

Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco

The Pre-RFD process shares some similarities with the RFD process. In both cases, FDA’s assessment depends on sponsors providing a complete, clear, and detailed product description, which includes the product’s indication for use, its composition/ingredients, and an explanation of how it works. In most instances, both processes also require input from the product jurisdiction officers in the relevant Centers and, if necessary, legal perspectives from the Office of Chief Counsel.

Once OCP has received the necessary input, the Office makes its assessment of the classification and/or Center assignment for the product. OCP’s goal for Pre-RFDs is to respond to sponsors within 60 days following receipt of all information needed to initiate the review—the same timeline for responding to RFDs. During this review period the office will communicate with the sponsors as needed.

When may this Pre-RFD process be useful?

The Pre-RFD process can be used at any point during medical product development. It may be preferable to the more formal RFD process when a sponsor would like to engage FDA using a more interactive approach—a course that may be especially helpful when a medical product is at an early stage in its development, or when a sponsor is contemplating whether to develop a specific product, or what configuration of that product to pursue. In such cases, sponsors may find the Pre-RFD process beneficial for the following reasons:

(1) Sponsors are not required to provide a recommendation for classification and assignment of their product along with a corresponding rationale (e.g., bench studies; clinical studies) for that recommendation;

(2) Sponsors are not required to discuss the classification of currently marketed products that they believe to be similar to their product; and,

(3) Sponsors can receive preliminary feedback and information from the Agency that is derived from a structured and efficient process. The feedback will ultimately help lead to better decision-making and development of products for the sponsors.

Pre-RFD flow chart

FDA’s Pre-RFD Process Flow: To view, click on the image.

Because our feedback will be based on the information submitted, sponsors should bear in mind that the speed and quality of any review, whether Pre-RFD or formal RFD, is highly dependent on the quality of the submitted data.

The Agency is developing a draft guidance about the Pre-RFD process, which provides details about information sponsors should include in a Pre-RFD and describes the procedure for FDA’s review. In addition, the Agency plans to publish a list of product classifications for various types of products. We believe this list will offer additional transparency and clarity to sponsors that will ultimately foster innovation and promote better health for patients. We welcome your feedback regarding the Pre-RFD and RFD Programs, as well any other thoughts regarding the jurisdictional assessment of products.

A sponsor who wishes to submit a Pre-RFD or an RFD for a product can find detailed information at the OCP website or contact OCP at combination@fda.gov for further assistance.

Thinh Nguyen is FDA’s Director, Office of Combination Products

Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., is FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco

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