Working Together to Reduce the Devastating Effects of Opioid Misuse

By Robert M. Califf, M.D.

The public health crisis of opioid misuse, addiction and overdose is one of the most challenging issues the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has faced during my time as FDA commissioner.  Solving this issue is critical to our future.

The issues cut across every socioeconomic level and geographic boundary. It would be difficult to identify any community in America that has not been touched by friends, family members or colleagues suffering from addiction, and far too often, losing their lives to it. As I leave the agency as part of the presidential transition, I have reflected on what I have seen, how far the nation has come, and the important work that remains for both the public and private sectors.

Robert CaliffI’ve made it a point to see affected communities, first-hand, because interventions and national policy solutions work best when they are well informed by what communities actually need. Just last week, I visited Baltimore to better understand how our cities are being affected – in this case, by an inflow of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is about 100 times more potent than many other prescription opioids, and can be deadly on its first use. I have also visited the neonatal intensive care unit, or “NICU” of a Tennessee hospital where babies were screaming and shaking in the pain of withdrawal because they were born with Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome. I have met people in West Virginia who did back-breaking work in power plants or in coal mines; after suffering on-the-job injuries they were first afflicted with pain, then by addiction. They got prescription pain relief but, too often, it wasn’t accompanied by the proper support and counseling. In Kentucky, I spoke to spouses and families whose lives have been forever changed by addiction, even as the community rallied together to fight it. And, much closer to home, I have heard personal stories from FDA employees and providers in local health care facilities, whose families and friends are not immune.

We have taken a number of actions at the FDA over the past several years to help reduce the number of people who become addicted, or who ultimately overdose from prescription opioids. We’ve improved product labeling, pushed for prescriber education, and encouraged the development of abuse-deterrent formulations. In addition, we have approved new intranasal and auto-injector forms of naloxone — products to reverse opioid overdoses, which can be administered by laypersons and are, therefore, better available able to save lives.

I’m also proud of the partnerships we have formed with other federal Agencies and the work that has resulted from them. But the latest data, including data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remind us that while some progress is being made, there is more to do. For example, it is promising to see that the nationally estimated number of outpatient prescriptions dispensed for Schedule II opioids decreased by 10 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year, according to IMS Health. However, the CDC reports that while the rate of overdose deaths associated with prescription opioid use increased by just 4 percent instead of by 9 percent the previous year, deaths associated with heroin use have skyrocketed. Clearly, more work needs to be done.

As I prepare to turn over the awesome responsibility of FDA commissioner to the next Administration, I feel compelled to point out that public and private sector efforts in this area must be continued and strengthened. In particular, I want to call on the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell these drugs to dig deeper into their expertise and resources to prioritize finding solutions to this public health problem. I have consistently been impressed that the motivation to cure disease and improve quality of life for patients is shared across the spectrum of federal agencies, public health workers, health care providers and scientists within the pharmaceutical industry. However, the financial incentives in the industry can lead to a focus on short-term profits instead of patient well-being.This is the time for both branded and generic drug companies  to go beyond marketing and distribution plans and instead commit their expertise and resources to  confronting  the devastating negative consequences of a class of drugs that brings much needed pain relief, when used appropriately.

Specifically, I urge us all to focus on the following priorities:

  1. Encouraging appropriate prescribing by healthcare practitioners. Too many people become addicted from unnecessary prescriptions for minor pain or injury. And even appropriately prescribed opioids can lead to addiction, so careful monitoring of patients prescribed these powerful drugs is needed. While there are situations where opioids are appropriate, there are also situations where other alternatives can be effective. Therefore, conversations between provider and patient about the pain treatment plan are imperative. If an opioid is appropriate, CDC guidelines and FDA labeling emphasize the need to start on the lowest dose and minimum time necessary, and carefully monitoring patients for signs of addiction and inadequate pain control.
  1. Considering the family as well as the patient. Pain treatment, and use of opioid drugs, will be more successful when the family is involved. It will result in fewer drugs diverted from the medicine chest, fewer babies born addicted to opioids and better treatment of pain. Women who use or abuse opioids, or who are in treatment for opioid addiction, should talk to their health care provider before considering pregnancy.
  1. Finding better ways to treat pain with new medications and with more holistic pain management. It’s time to put more resources into the development of non-opioid, non-addictive medications to help people who are in serious, debilitating pain. We need more research to define the most effective non-medication approaches to pain and how to deliver them in a complex and financially constrained healthcare system.
  1. Improving how companies, professional societies and academics communicate about their activities in this area. I urge companies to commit to transparent and appropriate company communications and to work with government and others in the community to do a better job in educating the medical professionals responsible for treating our nation’s pain, as part of the overarching effort to do everything possible to help prevent addiction. Professional societies and academic medical centers also need to continue their efforts at educating their members and examining their practices to find ways to improve. For example, the education of the next generation of physicians about how best to manage pain is critical.
  1. Finding new ways to curb diversion and misuse of opioids. In addition to our continuing efforts to help support the development of abuse-deterrent formulations, the FDA is exploring potential packaging, storage, delivery, and disposal solutions that companies and other stakeholders might consider that would prevent opioids from being diverted to those without a legitimate prescription for these powerful drugs. I implore companies to conduct research and offer their creative ideas and resources to innovate in this area.
  1. Increasing pragmatic research to better understand how to implement appropriate pain therapy in general and use of opioids in particular. Post-market requirements from FDA that mandate industry-funded studies and recent pragmatic research efforts by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the NIH and Department of Defense are expected to provide important data, but we need more robust evidence to better guide practice. Pain is a vexing issue that seems to fall between the cracks in research funding; we need to keep the pressure on funding entities to move pain to the forefront as a research issue.
  1. Treating addiction as a disease, not as criminal behavior. We have the tools to treat addiction and reverse overdose from opioids and are working to develop more of them. But there’s a lot we don’t know about the drivers for drug abuse, and scientific knowledge will help us make better decisions. This is one reason why we need companies with products on the market to monitor the safety of those drugs and make their data public. We have mandated post-market studies to define major questions about chronic use of opioids, and it is essential that industry fulfills these requirements.

I am proud to have been part of the effort that’s changing the tide on this epidemic, but the nation has a long way to go.Government, companies, healthcare systems and healthcare providers all have important roles to play. The most recent data reminds us it’s time to double down on these efforts. While I won’t have the good fortune of leading this fight in an official capacity, I’m proud of the work the FDA and others have done so far. I leave FDA’s efforts to the many leaders at the agency who have been working tirelessly on this issue — and will continue doing so — and look forward to supporting public and private efforts to bring this epidemic to an end.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

FDA Advisory Committees: Independent, Informed, Essential, and Evolving

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

One of the most common concerns raised when I meet with medical leaders is the need to improve the function of FDA’s Advisory Committees (ACs). ACs play a key role in FDA’s decision-making process by providing independent expert advice on extraordinarily complex issues. Just as importantly, they offer a forum for open and transparent discussion about these processes. As their name suggests, ACs are only advisory, but they can yield unique insights into understanding the balance of benefits and risks of products.

Not every product is brought to an advisory committee — when the answers are clear, the FDA makes decisions without consulting an AC. But when products present challenging issues or involve developing areas of science, the views of experts in relevant fields can provide essential perspective needed to make good decisions.

They also provide a barometer for the public on Agency thinking in a given field and offer insight into Agency decision-making and requirements for successful product development in a particular setting. The views expressed and votes taken can have financial impacts on companies and can lead to changes in how investments are made in therapeutic areas. So it is not surprising that the deliberations and views of ACs often receive significant media attention.

ACs have been the subject of ongoing discussions concerning their impartiality, their transparency, and how they affect decisions made about FDA-regulated products. In response to these concerns, the FDA is taking a closer look at the AC meeting process to determine what changes may be needed to ensure that ACs remain able to provide crucial expert advice relevant to the uncertainties that prompt such meetings.

Robert Califf

The process of engaging the expertise needed for ACs requires careful consideration, and the goal of ensuring that such a critical function leads to the best advice with optimal public trust by eliminating or managing conflicts is embedded in both law and culture at FDA. Experts who comprise ACs generally are classified as “special government employees” (SGEs) of the FDA. As such, they must declare any potential conflicts of interest and undergo a rigorous financial screening to ensure that they do not have a conflict or apparent conflict that could preclude their participation. SGEs are also expected to be free of intellectual bias that may foreclose their ability to consider the data and questions with an open mind.

Sometimes, a compelling interest can justify allowing a SGE with a potential conflict to participate. In such a case, the prospective AC member must be granted a waiver or appearance authorization, which provide a mechanism for clearly delineating the reasons for allowing that person to participate and requires disclosing the conflict. This aspect of the AC process has evolved over time, becoming increasingly complex and burdensome.

In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA) restricted the FDA’s ability to use waivers for SGEs as part of an effort to reduce bias among AC members by allowing minimal or no financial conflicts. This led to concerns from multiple stakeholders about whether the FDAAA provision was in fact discouraging the most qualified experts from serving on ACs and thus depriving FDA of the best possible guidance on important scientific issues.

In response to these concerns, Congress included a provision in the 2012 Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) that encouraged FDA to weigh an AC member’s conflicts against the need for that participant’s scientific expertise. However, despite this added flexibility, there are many who believe FDA has not been aggressive enough in advocating for waivers — a circumstance that they believe has sometimes resulted in difficulty obtaining the optimal expertise needed to address the complex problems typically brought to ACs. And some outside the Agency have wondered whether this means FDA is moving to reduce use of ACs.

The process for AC participation itself has led to other criticisms. Across academia, the AC system is seen as overburdened with unnecessary paperwork. Additionally, FDA has faced criticism that the concept of an “imputed interest” is interpreted so that academic leaders with significant experience and insight are considered to have conflicts relating to grants and contracts held by faculty members at the same institution — even if they themselves have no involvement with the project. The proliferation of roadblocks to serving as an SGE has led some within FDA and key leaders in various scientific fields to question the value of ACs in their current form.

After indepth discussion with the medical product and tobacco Centers, OMPT initiated a process improvement evaluation using Lean concepts, which comprise an industrial engineering toolset used for process improvement. These tools were applied to the AC process to fully understand the administrative requirements for planning meetings and screening potential SGEs. We are confident that administrative processes, both inside FDA and for SGEs, will be streamlined as a result.

The next step will be to evaluate current policies and identify areas where the evaluation of conflicts of interest for SGEs can be modernized. We must consider questions such as the criteria for disqualifying AC members from specific activities, the appropriate scope of “imputed interests,” and the interrelationship between the advisory role of AC members and the decisional role of Agency employees.

Even more importantly, we must engage in wide-ranging discussions inside and outside FDA about the best ways for the Agency to get the advice it needs to make critical decisions that protect and promote the health and safety of all Americans. To obtain the best expertise possible, we must optimally configure and administer our ACs.

There is no question that we must appropriately address potential conflicts for our SGEs.  However, we must also ensure that experts working in their fields are not unnecessarily foreclosed from participation in the AC process. As we continue to improve the mechanics of ACs and to reduce unnecessary administrative burdens, we must also address the appropriate mix of expertise on committees, so that FDA scientists and staff get the advice they need to make the best decisions on behalf of the American public.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

FDA’s Science-based Approach to Genome Edited Products

By Robert M. Califf M.D., and Ritu Nalubola, Ph.D.

Recent scientific advances now make it possible to more efficiently and precisely alter the genome of plants, animals, and microorganisms to produce desired traits. These genome editing technologies are relatively easy to use and can be applied broadly across the medical, food and environmental sectors, with potentially profound beneficial effects on human and animal health. However, there are also potential risks ranging from how the technology affects individual genomes to its potential environmental and ecosystem impacts. Additionally, genome editing has raised fundamental ethical questions about human and animal life.

Genome editing technologies can be used to introduce, remove, or substitute one or more specific nucleotides (letters in the DNA code) at a specific site in the organism’s genome, and is achieved with the use of protein-nucleotide complexes. Several classes of these complexes exist, the most recent discovery is known as CRISPR/Cas9.

Research is currently underway that would use these technologies to:

  • Treat HIV, cancer or rare diseases by genetically altering specific types of cells;
  • Control or alter organisms that carry infectious diseases (for example, mosquitoes that are vectors of viruses/parasites causing dengue fever, Zika or malaria; or mice that transmit bacteria causing Lyme disease);
  • Improve the health and welfare of food producing animals, (for example, hornless cattle, pigs resistant to African swine fever or porcine reproductive and respiratory virus); and
  • Alter specific traits of food plants or fungi (for example, non-browning mushrooms).

Accompanying the enthusiasm about these promising technologies are questions about whether FDA is prepared to ensure the safety of regulated products that use this technology. Providing appropriate and balanced regulatory oversight for applications involving an emerging technology is not a new or unique challenge for FDA, but the potential breadth of applications and the fundamental nature of altering the genome call for the participation of multiple constituencies in considering the most effective regulatory policies to address any potential risks.

Robert Califf

Robert M. Califf, M.D., FDA Commissioner

Maintaining product-specific, risk-based regulation

Genome editing applications are relevant to three main FDA-regulated product classes. The specific regulatory approaches for each of these classes vary, reflecting differences in underlying statutory authorities. FDA is maintaining a product-focused, science-based regulatory policy, in accordance with specific legal standards applicable to each type of product and consistent with overarching U.S. Government policy principles.

Human medical products that apply gene editing to exert their therapeutic effect are regulated under our existing framework for biological products, which include gene therapy products. “Gene editing” here refers to non-heritable situations somatic cell gene therapy only, and not to heritable conditions (germ line gene therapy). The FY16 appropriations bill restricted use of federal funds “in research in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.” FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) has a well-established program and policies in place to evaluate gene therapy products. Although different types of gene editing have potential clinical applications, currently only one type of gene editing, zinc finger nuclease- (ZFN) mediated, has been announced by their sponsors as being applied in clinical trials underway in the United States. Proposals for NIH-funded human gene therapy clinical trials are discussed and reviewed for scientific, clinical, and ethical issues by the NIH’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC). The RAC recently discussed (and did not find any objections to) the first clinical protocol to use CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing. The potential for “off-target” effects such as insertions or deletions at unintended genetic loci has been identified by experts in the field as a key concern.

Similarly, FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Center for Veterinary Medicine have in place programs to adequately address foods derived from plants produced using genome editing and animals produced using genome editing. In these two product areas, we are issuing documents to clarify our current thinking and seek scientific information. With respect to foods derived from plants produced using genome editing, FDA has a longstanding program for foods derived from new plant varieties, including those developed by recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques. We are requesting information on whether human and animal foods derived from genome edited plants pose additional risks compared to those from traditionally bred plants. FDA’s decades of experience providing oversight of foods from new plant varieties, coupled with scientific evidence and data received, will help inform our thinking on risk considerations going forward.

When animals are produced using genome editing, FDA has determined that, unless otherwise excluded, the portion of an animal’s genome that has been intentionally altered, whether mediated by rDNA or modern genome editing technologies, is a drug because it is intended to alter the structure or function of the animal and, thus, subject to regulation under our provisions for new animal drugs. We have updated our existing guidance for genetically engineered animals to include genome editing within its scope, and are issuing it in draft form for public comment. We are also seeking input on whether certain types of genome editing in animals pose low or no significant risk, and we may modify our regulatory approach based on this input.

Our efforts to gather necessary scientific data aside, industry remains responsible for ensuring that its products meet all applicable requirements, including safety standards. FDA has historically made itself available to meet with developers and we encourage them to engage with us to help ensure they meet their statutory and regulatory obligations. And we will continue to provide technical advice and guidance for industry, as necessary.

Collaborating with Federal agencies

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), FDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) initiated an effort in 2015 to ensure public confidence in the regulatory system for biotechnology products and improve the transparency, predictability, coordination, and, ultimately, efficiency of that system. After reviewing public comment to a docket and holding three public meetings, the agencies produced A National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products, to help ensure that the federal regulatory system is prepared to assess future biotechnology products, issued in September; and, earlier this month, a 2017 Update to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (CF Update), to clarify each agency’s role.

Ritu Nalubola

Ritu Nalubola, Ph.D., Senior Policy Advisor, FDA’s Office of Policy

APHIS is proposing to revise its regulation regarding genetically engineered organisms that may pose plant pest or noxious weed risks. As FDA, APHIS, and EPA formulate policies, there may be differences in approaches, reflecting differences in the scope of their authorities and the types of risks addressed. Under the CF Update, interagency coordination and cooperation will continue, including on appropriate terminology, identification of hazards, and approaches to addressing risks, within the constraints imposed by regulatory paradigms for different product areas.

FDA also has a longstanding collaborative relationship with the NIH office that oversees the RAC. FDA serves as a non-voting liaison on the committee, hears the discussions first-hand, and receives the written recommendations.  These recommendations may be considered during our overall review of investigational new drug applications (INDs) submitted to FDA.

Scientific engagement and horizon-scanning

Being ready to evaluate innovative emerging technologies is a top FDA regulatory science priority. FDA is co-sponsoring two studies, conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). Both are expected to be completed this year. FDA is also conducting its own horizon-scanning through its Emerging Sciences Working Group, an FDA-wide science-based forum, and opened a public docket to receive input on emerging technologies.

Working with international partners

Scientific advances do not adhere to national boundaries and therefore it is critical that we understand the evolving views of our international counterparts. Given the leadership role of the United States in biomedical and biological sciences, we cannot afford to fall behind in this exciting scientific frontier. As expected, international regulatory agencies, too, are currently working in this area. FDA’s CBER is an active member of the International Pharmaceutical Regulators’ Forum (and its Gene Therapy working group), which provides a forum for members to identify and exchange information on issues of mutual concern and undertake targeted regulatory cooperation activities.

Going forward

FDA is committed to fulfilling its mission to safeguard public health, while encouraging innovation and competitiveness. The actions we have taken to date, including release of the CF Update, National Strategy, and FDA’s documents – are steps in a series of ongoing activities. We will continue to collaborate with our federal and international partners, and actively communicate with stakeholders to help ensure confidence in FDA’s regulatory system. However, oversight provided by FDA is one aspect of broader governance necessary for safe and responsible research and development of genome editing applications. Moreover, the expansive scope of intentional genomic alterations using modern genome editing technologies has triggered debate on fundamental ethical and social issues, which will continue to influence public opinion and acceptance of genome editing applications. Even as FDA implements necessary steps for effective regulation to ensure the safety of products, the role of broader, inclusive public discussion involving multiple constituencies (e.g., scientists, developers, bioethicists, and public interest and community groups) to address the larger societal considerations should not be overlooked.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration

Ritu Nalubola, Ph.D., is a Senior Policy Advisor in FDA’s Office of Policy

 

Managing Medical Device Cybersecurity in the Postmarket: At the Crossroads of Cyber-safety and Advancing Technology

By:  Suzanne B. Schwartz, M.D., M.B.A.

Protecting medical devices from ever-shifting cybersecurity threats requires an all-out, lifecycle approach that begins with early product development and extends throughout the product’s lifespan.

Today, we’re pleased to announce that industry now has advice from FDA across this product continuum with the release of a final guidance on the postmarket management of medical device cybersecurity. It joins an earlier final guidance on medical device premarket cybersecurity issued in October 2014.

suzanne-schwartz-new-dec-2016To understand why such guidance is so important for patients, caregivers and the medical device community, we need to take a step back and look at how cybersecurity fits into the medical device ecosystem.

In today’s world of medical devices that are connected to a hospital’s network or even a patient’s own Internet service at home, we see significant technological advances in patient care and, at the same time, an increase in the risk of cybersecurity breaches that could affect a device’s performance and functionality.

The best way to combat these threats is for manufacturers to consider cybersecurity throughout the total product lifecycle of a device. In other words, manufacturers should build in cybersecurity controls when they design and develop the device to assure proper device performance in the face of cyber threats, and then they should continuously monitor and address cybersecurity concerns once the device is on the market and being used by patients.

Today’s postmarket guidance recognizes today’s reality – cybersecurity threats are real, ever-present,  and continuously changing. In fact, hospital networks experience constant attempts of intrusion and attack, which can pose a threat to patient safety. And as hackers become more sophisticated, these cybersecurity risks will evolve.

With this guidance, we now have an outline of steps the FDA recommends manufacturers take to remain vigilant and continually address the cybersecurity risks of marketed medical devices. Central to these recommendations is FDA’s belief that medical device manufacturers should implement a structured and comprehensive program to manage cybersecurity risks. This means manufacturers  should, among other things:

  • Have a way to monitor and detect cybersecurity vulnerabilities in their devices
  • Understand, assess and detect the level of risk a vulnerability poses to patient safety
  • Establish a process for working with cybersecurity researchers and other stakeholders to receive information about potential vulnerabilities (known as a “coordinated vulnerability disclosure policy”)
  • Deploy mitigations (e.g., software patches) to address cybersecurity issues early, before they can be exploited and cause harm

This approach enables manufacturers to focus on continuous quality improvement, which is essential to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medical devices at all stages in the device’s lifecycle.

In addition, it is paramount for manufacturers and stakeholders across the entire ecosystem to consider applying the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) core principles for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity: to identify, protect, detect, respond and recover. It is only through application of these guiding principles, executed alongside best practices such as coordinated vulnerability disclosure, that will allow us all to navigate this uncharted territory of evolving risks to device security.

This is clearly not the end of what FDA will do to address cybersecurity. We will continue to work with all medical device cybersecurity stakeholders to monitor, identify and address threats, and intend to adjust our guidance or issue new guidance, as needed.

Digital connections power great innovation—and medical device cybersecurity must keep pace with that innovation. The same innovations and features that improve health care can increase cybersecurity risks. This is why we need all stakeholders in the medical device ecosystem to collaborate to simultaneously address innovation and cybersecurity. We’ve made great strides but we know that cybersecurity threats are capable of evolving at the same pace as innovation, and therefore, more work must be done.

Learn More

For more information about medical device cybersecurity, visit the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health web page.

Suzanne B. Schwartz, M.D., M.B.A., is FDA’s Associate Director for Science and Strategic Partnerships, at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health

FDA’s Opioids Action Plan: A Midyear Checkup

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

As FDA works to address the opioid epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction, it’s valuable to see firsthand some of the ways the crisis is affecting our communities.

This summer, I toured areas hard-hit by the opioid crisis in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky, visiting  with survivors of opioid addiction and overdose as well as community activists, government officials, and health care providers, all of whom are working diligently and creatively to address and overcome this crisis.

Robert Califf

Robert Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

My visit to the nationally-recognized neonatal intensive care unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital was deeply moving and set the stage for the rest of my tour and underscored the urgency of fighting this epidemic. More than a third of the babies admitted to the NICU have neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS), a condition which can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated

Watching a nurse treat a fretful baby suffering from NOWS underscored the complexity of the opioid problem.  Many women taking opioids haven’t planned their pregnancy, don’t immediately know they are pregnant and may not be aware of the risk that opioids pose to their unborn child. This includes those women who are taking medication as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) which also includes counseling and behavioral therapies. For women on MAT, the risk of NOWS must be balanced against the additional dangers of untreated opioid addiction during pregnancy.

How best to prevent NOWS and treat opioids use disorder was a continued theme of my trip, and among the issues we grappled with during a roundtable at the University of Tennessee’s Medical Center hosted by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is traveling the country to discuss solutions to opioid abuse as part of his TurnTheTideRx campaign. I’m pleased that expanding access to and the use of evidence-based MAT is a key focus area for the Administration, is a part of the HHS-wide opioid initiative, and is an approach supported by a recent FDA advisory committee.

In Charleston, WV, I met with several patients who are reclaiming their lives with the use of MAT including “Dave.” Like so many others, Dave became addicted to opioid pain medication after being treated for an injury. As a result of his addiction, his marriage failed and he lost contact with his children. But with treatment, he has reunited with his family and next spring will graduate from college and hopes to taper off of his treatment.

Throughout my tour, I heard that opioid education – including training during medical school and residency and greater public awareness far and wide – is a key component in fighting the opioid epidemic. At a roundtable in Charleston, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin singled out their state’s model mandatory education program for prescribers and they told me the state is leading an effort to implement the CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain as a best practice for their state-run Medicaid program.

At a firehouse in the town of Williamson, WV, I met with those on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic – the firefighters and first responders who carry life-saving naloxone to help reverse an overdose. They told me more education about naloxone was needed and told me that they appreciate our efforts to help make naloxone more available to the general public.

My last stop this summer was to Kentucky where I toured the emergency room at the Pikeville Medical Center and participated in a roundtable with physicians, pharmacists, and state policy and community leaders brought together with the help of the regional organization Operation UNITE. UNITE coordinates treatment for those with substance use disorder as well as support for their families and friends, and educates the public about the dangers of drug use. These measures, combined with a recent state law requiring prescribers to register with a prescription drug monitoring program are working, we were told.

Throughout my travels, I listened and learned more about how FDA can help end this crisis. I also had the chance to share what FDA has been doing this year to implement a multipart plan to address the opioid epidemic.

Our milestones so far include:

  • Developing warning and safety information for immediate release opioids and requiring that prescription opioid analgesics and opioid-containing cough product labels include strengthened warnings about the risk of using benzodiazepines at the same time.
  • Working to better understand the long-term safety of using extended release/long acting opioids. Sponsors must now conduct a number of studies to generate postmarket data on these products.
  • Issuing draft guidance for industry to support the development of generic versions of approved opioids with abuse-deterrent formulations.
  • Seeking advice from the National Academy of Science Engineering and Medicine on how to balance both the needs of patients with pain and the need to address opioid misuse and abuse.
  • Supporting increased access to naloxone; for instance, by awarding a contract to conduct consumer behavior studies based on model product labeling for a potential OTC version of the antidote and by launching a competition to create a mobile app that could help find the closest available naloxone treatment in an emergency.
  • Approving the first implantable treatment for the maintenance treatment of opioid dependence.

The community-based successes I observed on my three-state tour reinforced my view that we are making important progress in addressing this crisis.  But continued hard work, creative ideas, and collaboration — across government, with the medical profession, health care providers, industry, and, most importantly, patients and their families, is still required.

We at FDA will continue to work with all of these groups, using all the resources at our disposal, to improve the judicious and responsible use of opioids and to help bring an end to this epidemic.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

 

FDA is working with hospitals to modernize data collection about medical devices

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

By: Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.

America’s hospitals and their dedicated staff helps us fight disease and suffering by delivering life-saving and life-enhancing care every day in an astounding variety of ways.

From helping set a broken leg or responding to an emerging viral threat, to assisting and performing delicate heart surgeries on tiny newborns, these hospital personnel are the front line of surveillance, vigilance, and intervention.

Throughout their work day, hospital staff use a variety of medical devices: imaging machines, EKGs and in vitro tests to make diagnoses; infusion pumps, ventilators and robotics to provide treatment, and an array of implants to replace diseased joints and organs. And, as the nation’s hubs for real-time health care data, hospitals are uniquely positioned to help identify new safety problems with devices as well as changes in the frequency of already known safety problems because they use these technologies in the real-world setting of clinical practice, outside of the more controlled setting  of a clinical trial.

FDA is looking to improve the way we work with hospitals to modernize and streamline data collection about medical devices.

Jeffrey Shuren

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

Given the greater diversity and complexity of medical devices today; the rapid technological advances and iterative nature of medical device product development; the interface between the technology and the user – including the learning curve associated with adopting new technology; and, in some cases, a relatively short product life cycle that can be measured in months, not years; FDA’s evaluation of medical device safety presents unique challenges not seen with drugs and biologics. Therefore, assuring the safety of medical devices depends on many factors and should a problem arise, it could be due to a variety of causes.

At the time of premarket evaluation, however, it is not feasible to identify all possible risks or to have absolute certainty regarding a technology’s benefit-risk profile. Among other reasons, studies required to do so would likely be prohibitively large in order to capture less frequent and more unpredictable effects or consequences. In addition, such larger studies still may not reflect the true benefit-risk profile of the device. Once a device is on the market, for example, doctors may use it beyond the FDA cleared intended use. In addition, subsequent modifications to the device or changes in how the device is used in practice can result in new safety risks or greater frequency of known risks.

FDA has several tools for watching devices once they are on the market, also called postmarket surveillance, all of which have inherent limitations. For one thing, we can require that a manufacturer conduct a post-approval or postmarket surveillance study that focuses on identifying potential longer-term issues noted at the time of clearance or approval or specific safety concerns that may arise after clearance or approval. However, conducting studies on a product after it’s already on the market can be challenging because patients often have little incentive to enroll in a study when the device is already available to them.

Likely the most well-known of FDA’s postmarket surveillance tools is medical device reporting, which FDA requires from certain entities, including device manufacturers and device user facilities, such as hospitals. Federal law requires hospitals and other user facilities to report when they become aware of information reasonably suggesting that a medical device has or may have caused or contributed to a death or serious injury to a patient.  They must report these medical device-related deaths to both FDA and the manufacturer, if known; and device-related serious injuries to the manufacturer, or to FDA, if the manufacturer is not known.  Such passive surveillance has important limitations because it relies on people to identify that a harm occurred or a risk is present, recognize that the harm or risk is associated with the use of a particular device, and take the time to report it.

Congress mandated this reporting by user facilities in 1990 to complement similar adverse event reporting by manufacturers. But then, in 1997, Congress required that FDA establish a reporting program that could limit user facility reporting to a subset of representative user facilities. As part of our efforts to develop this  reporting program, FDA set up a large-scale network of about 300 hospitals, called MedSun (the Medical Product Safety Network), with whom we work interactively to better understand and report on device use in the real-world environment. Even with MedSun, all hospitals were required to continue reporting until FDA implements by regulation a program limiting user facility reporting to a subset of facilities.

Although FDA has recognized that requiring all hospitals and other user facilities to report may provide limited added value and could entail unnecessary costs that take away from patient care, we have not yet established the program limiting reporting to a subset of user facilities. In the past, we have not enforced universal reporting requirements for hospitals and other user facilities.

In light of several high-profile device safety issues occurring in hospitals, FDA, in December 2015, initiated inspections at 17 hospitals, chosen because there were reports of events at these facilities related to the spread of uterine cancer from the use of morcellators or the spread of infections associated with contaminated duodenoscopes. While these events appeared to be the kind that would have fallen under our current medical device reporting requirements, we did not see corresponding adverse event reports in our adverse event (MAUDE) database. From those inspections, we learned three important lessons:

  • First, some hospitals didn’t submit required reports for deaths or serious injuries related to devices used at their facilities, and in some cases, they did not have adequate procedures in place for reporting device-related death or serious injury events to FDA or to the manufacturers.  Based on the number of user facilities in the United States and the number of reports we receive, we believe that these hospitals are not unique in that there is limited to no reporting to FDA or to the manufacturers at some hospitals.  We want to work with all hospitals to address these issues.
  • Second, hospital staff often were not aware of nor trained to comply with all of FDA’s medical device reporting requirements.
  • Third, we feel certain there is a better way to work with hospitals to get the real-world information we need, and we should work with the hospital community to find that right path, especially in light of developments in the creation and evaluation of electronic health information.

In order to effectively address these issues, we will work with the hospital community on what role they should play in assuring the safe use of medical devices. This work will include how they can effectively participate in  the National Evaluation System for health Technology (NEST), and whether or not current reporting requirements should remain, be modified, or eliminated in light of more effective modern tools, such as software tools to conduct active surveillance of electronic health information that contains unique device identifiers.  In many cases, our inspections of these 17 hospitals turned up violations of FDA’s medical device reporting regulation. For some hospitals with significant violations of the regulation, FDA received a response that we determined was not adequate to address those violations, and we engaged with these facilities to facilitate an effective path to compliance. These hospitals indicated their willingness to work with us and address the violations, and at this time, we do not believe any additional action with regard to these hospitals is necessary.  Some hospitals also expressed willingness to work with us on more efficient and effective ways to collect the information we need.

On December 5, FDA will hold a public workshop to solicit input and advice on improving hospital-based surveillance systems and the broader role of using hospitals to evaluate how well devices work in the clinical setting. We encourage all hospital stakeholders—from clinicians to IT system managers—to attend and discuss current hospital-based surveillance efforts, the role of hospitals in evidence generation and future opportunities for hospital-based surveillance. We’d also like their input on the incorporation of unique device identifiers (UDIs) into electronic health records to aid in the future development of evidence generation efforts, including the support of better device development, surveillance and health care delivery.

We are already working directly with the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Hospital Association to prepare for this workshop and help develop improvements to our systems.

Hospitals are our partners in building the infrastructure for NEST. Together we can build a state-of-the-art system that not only quickly identifies life-threatening problems caused by medical devices but also expedites patient access to crucial life-saving devices. Armed with such information, health care providers can help patients make more informed medical decisions that improve their health.

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

Evaluating FDA’s Approach to Cancer Clinical Trials

By: Richard Pazdur, M.D.

Since the announcement of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE) two months ago (June 29, 2016) as part of the White House’s Cancer Moonshot, we’ve been working to further FDA’s efforts to get new oncology products into the hands of patients. We are committed to meet the needs of patients and health care communities by driving progress in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Dr. Richard PazdurAt the core of the OCE’s work – and of the Cancer Moonshot – is taking a new look at what we have been doing in the past so we can operate more efficiently in the future. The OCE will leverage the combined skills of oncologists and scientists with expertise in drugs, biologics, and devices to employ the best and most innovative approaches to bring forth safe new oncology products.

The vision set forth by the Vice President underscores our commitment to optimally designed clinical trials that efficiently provide answers to important questions. Given the recent advances in our understanding of cancer and our improved technological capabilities, we are now placing an emphasis on evaluating how we design clinical trials to make the system more efficient to more rapidly deliver safe and effective products for patients.

We are working with stakeholders across government and industry to revisit the criteria used for determining whether a patient is eligible to participate in a trial. Modifying the eligibility criteria could expand the number of people who qualify and therefore open new opportunities for participation and enhance the generalizability of what we learn. Of course, regardless of adjustments, patient safety will remain paramount.

We recently published our perspective on shifting away from the conventional phase one, phase two, and phase three drug development paradigm to a more seamless approach that could expedite the regulatory pathway, providing earlier access to highly effective therapeutic drugs. Adopting this approach could complement FDA’s expedited regulatory programs such as breakthrough designation and accelerated approval to get products to patients in the most efficient manner possible.

Another initiative is the use of common control trials. These trials, sharing a common control arm, involve multiple different drugs for the same indication and may involve different companies. When a common control arm is used, it decreases the overall number of patients that need to be recruited and enrolled, optimizing clinical trial resources and potentially decreasing the time it takes to get a new study off the ground.

Encouraging the use of large simple trials is another way to make more efficient use of clinical trial resources. These trials generally use easily-measured endpoints that are well understood, optimizing the collection of data for safety or secondary efficacy endpoints and thus reducing the amount of data needed compared to conventional randomized trials.

As befits the Center of Excellence, one of our top goals is striving for excellence both in drug and device regulation and in emerging oncology science. To achieve that goal we must also collaborate with academia, industry, patient groups, professional societies, and other international regulators. We have already begun this work by scheduling several public meetings that will provide a forum to interact with patients and other stakeholders.

These initiatives will allow us to expedite drug development and approval of truly novel agents that will have a major impact on our patients, while allowing us to make thoughtful decisions regarding the risk-benefit of oncology drugs.

Richard Pazdur, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Director, Oncology Center of Excellence

FDA Cooperative Agreements with States to Advance Food Safety

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

Today, the FDA is honoring an important commitment by awarding millions of dollars to the states that will help implement the new produce safety rule mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to protect consumers from foodborne illness.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.In FSMA, Congress envisioned a strong partnership between the FDA and the state agencies that have a greater understanding of the growing and harvesting practices in their areas. Many have longstanding relationships with farmers and produce associations.

To support this partnership, the FDA is awarding $21.8 million in cooperative agreements to 42 states in support of their work to help implement the new produce rule. These funds will provide states with the resources they need to develop a produce safety system, considering the specific and unique needs of their growers for education, outreach, and technical assistance.

The funding for each state is based on the estimated number of farms in the state that grow produce covered by the FSMA rule.  The goal is to provide resources that will enable the states to develop a multi-faceted, multi-year plan that includes an assessment of their produce safety landscape, including an evaluation of existing state authorities to implement a produce safety program and ways to develop a strong outreach and education program with growers.

The produce safety rule, which became final in November 2015, establishes science-based standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables. State leaders were key partners as the produce provisions were being developed, providing valuable input on how to make the requirements as practical and flexible as possible for growers while still protecting public health.

The cooperative agreements build on a foundation laid long before the produce rule became final. Enacted in 2011, FSMA included several important provisions aimed at strengthening the National Integrated Food Safety System so that the more than 3,000 state, local, and tribal government agencies involved in food safety are fully integrated in FDA’s work to fulfill FSMA’s mandate.

We have been steadily building this system, and in our FY2017 budget request we have asked Congress for an additional $11.3 million in new budget authority to further support the development of state produce safety programs.

In 2014, the FDA entered into a five-year cooperative agreement with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) that brought together state partners to collaboratively plan implementation of the produce safety rule. The framework developed by NASDA will guide and inform states as they work on their own regulatory programs.

The cooperative agreements are part of a long-term strategy to strengthen this working partnership with the states. We’re in this together and the FDA will continue to support its state partners as we work to make the vision of a preventive and risk-based food safety system a reality.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine