Leveraging FDA Resources to Encourage Students to Pursue STEM Careers

By: Richard Pazdur, M.D.

When I was in high school, I spent summers working as a restaurant dishwasher, grocery store stock boy and gardener in northwest Indiana. The idea of spending those weeks learning about science and medicine would not have been an option for me at that time.

Dr. Rick Pazdur and Members of Summer Scholars

Richard Pazdur, M.D., Director of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence, poses with the first class of the OCE Summer Scholars Program. Sara Horton, M.D., project lead, (far left) and Alice Kacuba, project coordinator, (second from right) joined the group, which includes a variety of backgrounds, including two childhood cancer survivors interested in biomedical careers.

Yet, it is precisely those students who may not have access to specialized learning opportunities that we need to attract to science, technology and medicine to continue progress in these fields and ensure the diversity of our scientific workforce.

In particular, oncology and hematology are falling behind other areas of medicine in the adequate representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the physician workforce. Only 2.3% of practicing oncologists self-identified as black or African American, and 5.8% self-identified as Hispanic in a 2016 survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). According to census figures, 13% of the U.S. population is black or African American, and 18% is Hispanic.

That’s part of the reason why the Oncology Center of Excellence recently launched its pilot Summer Scholars Program, designed to introduce students to oncology drug development and career opportunities in government, regulatory medicine, and cancer advocacy. With the cancer incidence expected to increase 45% by 2030, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), we will need the talents of many more tech-savvy students from diverse backgrounds furthering their studies in our medical schools and university science labs.

Dr. Rick Pazdur and two Summer Scholars

Richard Pazdur, M.D., Director of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence, asks Diamond McCoy, 17, of H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., and Camden Wiseman, 17, of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandra, Va., about their plans for the upcoming academic year. The two were part of OCE’s first Summer Scholars Program, which seeks to encourage tech-savvy students to pursue their studies in medicine and other STEM fields.

We recently welcomed 11 Washington, D.C., area high school students to FDA’s main campus in Silver Spring for six weeks – from June 26 to August 4. The group includes students with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including some who are part of a STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — program at their schools and two who are childhood cancer survivors interested in biomedical careers. Our requirements for the program include that they be in good academic standing and at least 16 years old.

Sara Horton, M.D., a breast cancer clinical reviewer and one of three staff members in the FDA Office of Hematology and Oncology Products (OHOP) who collaborated to develop the Summer Scholars Program, says that partnering with the D.C.-area public schools was the first thing that came to her mind in planning this program.

She told me that we decided to focus on students who may never have had an opportunity like this, as well as childhood cancer survivors. Dr. Horton reminded me that high school is a very special stage of development when students typically start thinking about where they fit in the world, what should they do, and who should they be.

We’re excited about introducing young people with STEM aspirations to professions in science and medicine they may have never known existed.

The curriculum includes basic and translational science, drug manufacturing, clinical trials, regulatory review, patient advocacy, and marketing. Lectures in those areas will be augmented by field trips to the NIH Clinical Center, NCI, Howard University College of Medicine, and ASCO.

In addition, students will be introduced to patient advocacy lobbying with Kids v. Cancer and accompany that group on a trip to Capitol Hill. They also are invited to a workshop at the drug manufacturing company AstraZeneca. Even medical students usually don’t have this type of opportunity to learn about the work we do at FDA until they are out of medical school.

Gregory Reaman, M.D., associate director for oncology sciences in OHOP and one of the program organizers, says the program is as interactive as possible for this age group. Most of the students will not have had much, if any, exposure to the field of oncology, while the cancer survivors will have had the experience of receiving treatment. We hope they will bring their experiences to us so we can all learn to be better advocates for patients.

Dr. Reaman, a pediatric oncologist, worked at a state mental hospital one summer. He says it confirmed his interest in medicine – just not psychiatry! We hope this experience will be as transformative for these students.

The lecture curriculum covers what we are calling the “Basics of Oncology,” including cancer treatments, endpoints for clinical trials, data analysis, statistics, pharmacy, microbiology, genetics, genomics, drug promotion, and patient advocacy.

Students also have the opportunity to work on professional skills such as writing, networking, and communication, and meet regularly with their mentors from FDA staff. At the end of the program, students will give short presentations to the OCE on a topic of interest to them.

Alice Kacuba, R.N., M.S.N., chief of regulatory project management staff in OHOP’s Division of Oncology Products 1 and one of the program organizers, told me that she hopes the agency’s diverse staff will leave a lasting impression on the students. She said she excelled in science, but saw very few female role models in science in the 1970s. Since becoming a nurse, “STEM education has become my passion, as my nieces and nephews can attest,” she said.

The OCE Summer Scholars Program is a pilot this year, but could be expanded next year to high school students nationally. Cooperation with offices within FDA and external organizations has been exceptional. We hope this will be a one-of-a-kind experience for the students as well as our oncology staff here at FDA.

Richard Pazdur, M.D., is the Director of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence

FDA Science: Working at the Speed of Emerging Technologies

By Luciana Borio, M.D.

Let’s face it, we’ve all gotten used to nearly instant access to almost anything.

Today, with a tap of an app, we order a car ride, a book, or pizza for dinner. Need to navigate past traffic in downtown city streets? No problem. There’s an app for that, too.

Some may wonder: Why hasn’t rapid medical product development partaken of this need for speed that has reshaped other sectors of our economy? Well, in many ways, it has.

Innovation is happening extraordinarily fast in the biomedical sciences and at FDA. As FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist responsible for leading and coordinating FDA’s cross-cutting scientific and public health efforts, I see close up that years of scientific research, collaboration, and investment are paying off.

FDA Acting Chief Scientist Lu Borio

FDA Acting Chief Scientist Luciana Borio

When I testified at a congressional hearing recently, my colleague, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave a tangible example of what I mean. He said it took his team about three months to begin clinical testing of a Zika vaccine candidate developed from scratch. In 2003, it took the same team 18 months to develop a candidate vaccine to address the SARS outbreak and begin clinical testing of that product.

And in just over two decades, a disease like multiple sclerosis has gone from being untreatable to one for which clinicians are nearly “flummoxed by the options,” according to a headline I saw recently.

There is a reason for this success. In the last several years, scientists have identified and begun using “safety-risk biomarkers.” Rather than those for efficacy, these biomarkers identify which patients are at highest risk for certain adverse events. They have opened up an array of therapeutic options for patients who might do just fine with some treatments that may not otherwise have been developed due to our previous inability to properly assess their risk.

None of these successes would be possible without our FDA product reviewers working at breakneck pace to guide these innovative development programs.

It’s not always fully understood that FDA scientists play an essential role in advancing many biomedical innovations. That’s why we invite the public to participate in a two-day Science Forum at FDA every other year to showcase the agency’s robust scientific research and the important work done by our 11,000 scientists.

Just as industry focuses on product development research and academia focuses on the scientific foundation, FDA research concentrates on creating test methods and developing knowledge of processes to ensure that our products are safe and effective or, with tobacco, at least with reduced harm.

I like to think that this year’s Science Forum was better than ever. Over two days, hundreds of participants were treated to 230 scientific posters and some 50 presentations by FDA scientists and others, organized under eight broad categories:

  1. Identification and Evaluation of New Biomarkers;
  2. FDA Response to Urgent Public Health Needs;
  3. Microbiome and Human Health;
  4. Advanced Manufacturing and 3D Printing;
  5. Omics Technologies at FDA;
  6. Patient and Consumer Engagement and Communication;
  7. Computational Modeling and Simulation at FDA; and,
  8. Current Progress in Nanotechnology Research at FDA.

Four poster sessions during the two days augmented the presentations that featured the authors of studies describing the methodology, challenges, and results of their research one-on-one with those at the forum. Among the meaty topics discussed were:

  • The emerging technology of additive manufacturing and medical devices, produced by 3D printing. Bioengineers at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health have positioned themselves at the forefront of knowledge and research about this cutting-edge manufacturing process, by looking into patient matching, imaging, and phantoms. With our proactive posture, FDA is paving the way for safe and effective innovation that will usher in life-saving advanced treatments for patients.
  • The growing use in medical products of nanomaterials – equal to about one-billionth of a meter – so small that they can’t be seen with a regular microscope. Silver nanoparticles are now used in wound dressing for their antimicrobial properties. And liposomal nanoparticles are used as drug carriers to reduce toxicity and increase circulation time in the blood. Characterizing these complex nanomaterials is challenging. FDA scientists highlighted their analytical methods for characterizing nanomaterials in over-the-counter FDA-regulated products. This will help us with assessing risk, developing industry guidelines for characterizing nanomaterials, postmarket surveillance, and determining shelf life of nanomaterials in consumer products.
  • In the area of food safety, FDA has contributed to enhancing antimicrobial resistance monitoring in a collaborative effort with USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, genomics studies conducted by FDA scientists have demonstrated that we can use the emerging technology whole genome sequencing as an effective tool for predicting antimicrobial resistance of certain foodborne pathogens.

Not all of our essential research deals with cutting-edge technology. Scientists from FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) shared their work on water pipe, or hookah, smoking. Water pipes, a centuries-old method of smoking, are becoming an increasingly common method of tobacco smoking in young adults. A rare and serious lung disease – water pipe-induced acute eosinophilic pneumonia – has been reported among these smokers. One of the forum’s posters described how CTP scientists identified the disease and made physicians aware of it.

And, as a sign of the times, mobile communications also were part of the poster sessions. Healthy Citizen @FDA will be a holistic, citizen-centric mobile platform for FDA to collaborate and communicate with citizens to improve public health outcomes and to receive timely FDA alerts.

Of course, events like these are equally valuable for what happens before and after the formal presentations. From the snippets of conversation I picked up in the hallways, FDA and outside scientists had plenty of opportunity to interact, share ideas, and even discuss potential collaborations.

Those who attended the 2017 Science Forum gained a deeper understanding of the cutting-edge science we do at FDA to protect and promote the public health. And those who missed the Forum have the option of watching the recorded presentations on FDA’s website. We look forward to future opportunities to share more of the exciting advances we’re making with our partners in the scientific community.

Luciana Borio, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist

The Unique Voices of Our Patient Representatives

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D., and Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm.D.

We recently met with 21 inspirational patients and patient caregivers who have made the extraordinary commitment to become FDA patient representatives. These volunteers were in Washington to participate in our two-day Patient Representative Workshop so they can receive training that will allow them to help FDA meet its critical responsibility of guiding the development and evaluation of safe and effective medical products.

Robert Califf

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

The patient representative program has existed since 1999 and is integral to fulfilling FDA’s strong commitment to ensure that the needs and choices of patients – as well as their families, caregivers, and advocates – are incorporated in ever greater ways in the work we do.

Patients add context and content to the cutting-edge science and other empirical evidence that is so important in our regulatory decision-making.  Including their perspectives and voices in our work along the entire medical product continuum, from development to review and evaluation to post-market surveillance, offers opportunities to enhance our knowledge of the benefits and risks of medical products. It’s not only smart science; it just makes good sense. We know, for instance, that patients who live with a chronic disease are experts in the tangible effects of that disease and its treatments.

The training that patient representatives receive helps prepare them to serve on FDA advisory committees, meetings and workshops, where they are knowledgeable about what it is like to cope with their disease – including such topics as side effects from treatments and important lifestyle issues. They also provide valuable contributions as consultants to our review staff.

Heidi Marchand

Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm.D., Assistant Commissioner in FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs

To give you an idea of the unique set of skills and experiences patient representatives bring to their work, consider the stories and experiences we heard at the workshop.

One was an elite world class athlete, who initially thought her pain was muscular in nature before it was diagnosed as a serious blood clot. She has been on a series of different products since then and is now intimately familiar with what it is like to be on anticoagulants – reflecting on both the benefits and risks of taking these medications.

Two of our patient representatives are caregivers who have a personal experience with a rare disease, Batten’s Disease, a fatal, inherited disorder of the nervous system. Sadly, each lost a young son to the disease. But in the face of this tragedy, these two mothers have advocated tirelessly to find a cure for this disease and worked to educate other parents.

Another mother related the story of her daughter who, at age 16, survived two craniotomies to remove a lemon-sized brain tumor. The daughter went on to receive of 48 weeks of chemotherapy and 8 weeks of brain and spine radiation. The daughter is now 33 years old and doing well. And the mother told us how critical it was for her daughter to take an opioid to relieve her pain. This kind of input, from those who have experienced it first hand, is critical to our future decisions.

2016 FDA Patient Representative Group photo

FDA Patient Representatives at the 12th Annual FDA Patient Representative Workshop, hosted by FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs

The stories that these patient representatives tell are moving. But even more moving – and indeed inspirational – is their commitment to the future. That’s why they were selected – because of their individual involvement with their respective patient communities, their analytical skills, and their ability to maintain an open mind and consider options.

While we will help train them about the nuts and bolts of FDA – such as the various pathways that products take to get to market – it is their personal experience and their ability to understand and to articulate the perspectives, concerns, and experiences of patients – that makes them truly special.

As we continue to evaluate potential treatments and cures for different diseases, we must make sure that patients are more than simply statistics in this equation. They are real people, with names, faces, and, thanks to these patient representatives, important voices who represent an essential piece of the puzzle to be solved.

FDA is committed to looking for new and better ways to integrate the patient voice. Our patient representatives are an important piece of this commitment. They have an extraordinary impact. We thank them for their service and commitment, and look forward to working with them.

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

Heidi C. Marchand, Pharm.D., is Assistant Commissioner in FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs

Making Progress in Protecting Consumers from Unsafe Supplements

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

An estimated 200 million Americans take dietary supplements to maintain or improve their health. Protecting consumers from unsafe or contaminated dietary supplements is extremely important to FDA.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.We’ve recently taken a number of important steps to prevent illnesses and deaths from unsafe supplements, and, while our current authority over supplements is arguably limited, we are doing what we can to strengthen our existing oversight. I’d like to give you a picture of the challenges, achievements and opportunities regarding the regulation of these products, beginning with the challenges.

One challenge is sheer volume. The dietary supplements industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world. When the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was passed by Congress in 1994, annual sales of dietary supplements totaled about $5.8 billion. Since then, sales have risen six-fold to about $35 billion annually. Large volumes of supplements are also now sold on the Internet. The significant growth in the dietary supplements industry, and the various ways supplements reach consumers, outpace FDA’s resources to regulate this industry.

Moreover, tracing these products can be difficult because supply chains are often fragmented, with a single product sometimes passing through numerous suppliers, manufacturers and distributors of all kinds, sizes, and locations (including those overseas). Ultimately, when proper quality control and recordkeeping procedures are not followed across the supply chain, it can be difficult to guarantee what ingredients in what amounts are in the final product, and whether the ingredients are safe or even qualify as dietary supplements.

Under DSHEA, FDA does not have the authority to approve dietary supplements before they are marketed to consumers. However, we do have the authority to take enforcement actions after a product is on the market – only when we can establish that the dietary supplement is adulterated (e.g., unsafe); misbranded (e.g., misrepresentations are made on the product labeling); or cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement (e.g., an unapproved new drug). We monitor the marketplace through market surveys, undercover buys, label reviews, a review of reports of illness or deaths, and product testing. When necessary, we take actions to protect public health, including issuing public warnings, taking legal action, and working with the company to recall the product. But all this must be done based on evidence and within the bounds of our legal authority and limited resources.

Despite these constraints, our actions have produced important results over the past year. Here are just a few key accomplishments:

  • At the request of FDA, this month U.S. Marshals seized almost 90,000 bottles of dietary supplements labeled as containing kratom. Kratom has been indicated to have both narcotic and stimulant-like effects.
  • Use of pure powdered caffeine products has already resulted in the deaths of two teenagers. We took action to help prevent harm, including deaths, from the use of these products, by issuing warning letters to five distributors of these potentially dangerous products.
  • In 2015, FDA identified products containing BMPEA, DMBA and picamilon that are unlawfully marketed and issued a series of warning letters to 24 companies that marketed dietary supplements containing these ingredients. The companies that received the warning letters market products that are either misbranded for falsely declaring the ingredients as dietary ingredients or marketing products containing new dietary ingredients without the required pre-market notification.
  • We worked closely with our government partners, including the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, on a year-long sweep to identify potentially unsafe products and/or products containing undeclared ingredients. In November 2015, that sweep culminated in civil injunctions and criminal actions against 117 manufacturers and/or distributors of dietary supplements and tainted products.
  • We issued more than 100 consumer alerts warning about products falsely marketed as dietary supplements that were found to contain active pharmaceutical ingredients.
  • We conducted more than 600 inspections of dietary supplement firms in the U.S. and other countries. We also worked with companies on voluntary compliance actions, such as removing illegal claims, destroying inventory and ceasing distribution.

I am excited about the opportunities that await us in this area, and the plans we’re making for the future. For example, within FDA, we have established the new Office of Dietary Supplement Programs and are working on increasing the visibility, capacity and staffing for that new office. This will include hiring permanent leadership to sharpen our focus on potential safety problems and to support regulatory actions.

We want to expand our use of criminal investigation and enforcement tools to address serious safety-related violations and cases of intentional fraud; and further build strategic investigatory and enforcement collaborations with the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, and state governments, including state health departments and attorneys general.

Ultimately our top priority is to protect the consumers who want to improve, not damage, their health and have a right to expect that dietary supplements will be safe for them and their families.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

A Mother’s Loss, an Advocate’s Example, Fuel Our Mission to Keep Foods Safe

By: Michael R. Taylor

For the many people in government, and elsewhere, who have been working on implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), this has been a week for reflection, celebration, and anticipation. I got to experience all three in the 24 hours I spent this week at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumberg, Illinois.

Michael R. TaylorTuesday night I joined the many friends and supporters of the public health organization STOP Foodborne Illness in honoring Nancy Donley for her 22 years of ‎relentless advocacy for improving food safety. She is driven by the memory of her 6-year-old son Alex, who suffered greatly before he died in 1993 after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

This was a time for reflection. Nancy and the many others in the STOP network who have shared their excruciating stories of pain and loss have made it simply unacceptable for those producing food to do anything less than their best to prevent these tragedies from happening.

Nancy, as much as any single person, has catalyzed fundamental change in our food safety culture toward making food safety a central business value for food companies and shifting government oversight toward a model that ensures accountability for minimizing contamination by pathogens.

Nancy has inspired me and many others to see food safety as the deeply personal, primary value it is, and to act accordingly.‎

STOP also honored Walmart’s Frank Yiannas as a STOP Food Safety Hero for his pioneering work to define and instill food safety culture as a primary value in the food industry.

Reflections on Nancy’s and Frank’s contributions are the backdrop for a bit of celebration. Not because the culture change Nancy inspires and the food safety success we seek are complete — far from it. But we are on our way.

The three FSMA rules FDA issued last week to improve produce safety and strengthen oversight of imports, coupled with the preventive controls rules we finalized in September, create a powerful and comprehensive new framework for the prevention of foodborne illness. This framework will be completed next year with final rules on food transport and intentional adulteration. The rules are the product of enormous effort by teams of FDA experts and by the many government, industry and consumer partners whose input has been so important in shaping the rules.

At the conference Wednesday morning, I shared some of these reflections and the sense of celebration and gratitude we are experiencing at FDA. I got some positive nods and no push back, but it was clear that the food safety professionals at this gathering are focused on the future, anticipating the challenges and changes FSMA will bring.

So are we at FDA. We see challenges galore, but also a huge opportunity to fulfill a vision that Nancy and STOP rightfully insist be the guide for our food safety work and our food safety culture.

Food safety is a primary value for many in the food system. It must be so for all.

Science-based prevention is the organizing principle for many food production systems. It must be for all. 

And a spirit of common cause and collaboration on food safety, which has begun to take root in so many positive ways, must be the foundation for all the work ahead to successfully implement FSMA.

So, this week, let’s celebrate where we are as we anticipate and build the future.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

FDA Invests in Innovative Ways to Communicate to Hispanics

By: Gloria Sánchez-Contreras, M.A.

En Español

National Hispanic Heritage Month–celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15—gives Americans a great opportunity to celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic Americans whose roots are in Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Gloria Sanchez-ContrerasAt FDA, we join in this celebration as we continue to use innovative ways to reach Hispanics as part of our mission to protect the public health. To achieve this goal, FDA uses media strategies that are culturally and linguistically tailored to Hispanics, who, according to research, are avid users of online and social media.

There are 54 million people of Hispanic origin in the United States, making them the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority group, with 17 percent of the nation’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The United States has the second-largest population of Spanish-speaking residents in the world, ahead of Colombia and Spain, and second to Mexico, a recent study by the Instituto Cervantes shows.

These statistics cannot go unnoticed. FDA recognizes the importance of connecting with this growing and diverse segment of our population. Consequently, we have increased our online consumer information in Spanish and developed a variety of bilingual communications strategies to reach and engage all Hispanics.

One of the most important strategies we use is to make sure that messages created for Hispanics speak to them effectively. We consider Hispanics’ informational needs, lifestyles, and cultural health beliefs both when creating new messaging and when translating messaging from English to Spanish.

For example, we know Hispanics respond better when communications are in their primary language – which can be English or Spanish – and when communications use images that relate to them. We do this by employing a bilingual and bicultural team that reviews messaging for cultural competence and adapts translations to ensure they are culturally sensitive and in plain language.

In addition to our English-language communications, we have developed strategies to reach out to Spanish-speaking Hispanics online. Our Consumer Updates and drug safety communications are regularly translated into Spanish. We share Spanish-language information through our social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

In addition, we also have a complete Web section in Spanish for consumers (www.FDA.gov/ArticulosConsumidor), a press room (“Comunicados de Prensa”), and a central page (www.FDA.gov/Espanol) that links to a variety of Spanish-language content developed across the Agency’s product centers and offices.

These are exciting times, and it is a privilege to lead some of these efforts for our agency. The Office of External Affairs works diligently across FDA to share important and timely public health news with Latino consumers, stakeholders, media, and community organizations. And during Hispanic Heritage Month—and all the months of the year–we want Hispanics to know that FDA is a trusted source of consumer information.

Gloria Sanchez-Contreras, M.A., is a Bilingual Public Affairs Specialist and the Spanish-Language Communications Lead in FDA’s Office of Media Affairs.

A Quarter Century of Groundbreaking Science: The Forensic Chemistry Center

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

This month marks the 25th anniversary of our Forensic Chemistry Center (FCC) in Cincinnati, Ohio. I recently joined former and current administrators and staff of this lab—one of FDA’s many incredible field laboratories—at an event celebrating this milestone.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.One thing is clear: The last quarter-century has been a period of tremendous success at the FCC. FCC scientists use their scientific analysis and original research to investigate the physical and chemical characteristics and effects of adulterants on products regulated by the Agency, including chemical fingerprinting of poisons, glass, pharmaceuticals, food products and product packaging materials. By analyzing physical samples they can identify counterfeits, trace the origin of a pathogen or solve a crime.

In short, they are the CSI of FDA.

The commitment, expertise, and curiosity of FCC scientists have helped FDA overcome many scientific challenges, and made an extraordinary difference in the lives and safety of millions of Americans. Time and again the sophisticated analyses of puzzling substances by our scientists—often using innovative, esoteric methods, and groundbreaking research, along with the development of new processes and procedures—have made a critical difference in FDA’s ability to investigate and enforce–and protect the American public.

FCC Anniversary group photo

Former and current administrators and staff of the Forensic Chemistry Center (FCC) in Cincinnati, Ohio, at an event celebrating the 25th Anniversary. From left to right: Paul Norris, Director, Office of Regulatory Science; Steve Solomon, Deputy Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs; Dr. Ostroff, Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs; Phil Walsky, Deputy Director, Office of Criminal Investigations; Fred Fricke, former Director of FCC; and, Duane Satzger, Director of FCC.

FCC’s work has paved the way for passage of important laws, legal prosecutions, and consumer protection activities like recalls. And it has helped strengthen international relationships and advance international cooperation to ensure product quality and consumer safety.

Just a few highlights of FCC’s important efforts include:

  • In the 1990s, the lab supported some of FDA’s early work evaluating nicotine, which was recently cited in the proposed rule to deem additional tobacco products subject to the agency’s tobacco product authorities;
  • In 2001, after 22 people died in the Croatian Republic after receiving dialysis using certain devices, FCC’s analysis identified the presence of a toxic performance fluid in those devices that resulted in their recall by the manufacturers;
  • FCC investigated numerous illnesses and deaths of cats and dogs during 2007-8, which led to the determination that the pet food was adulterated with melamine and related compounds;
  • FCC’s investigation and analysis following the death of cattle in Washington State helped the FBI rule out the possibility that it was caused by terrorism;
  • Following the deaths of a number of infants in India who had been given the measles vaccine, FCC investigated the vaccine’s manufacturing process and discovered that the cause was not, as initially feared, a vaccine of poor quality. Instead the children had received pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, which had been packaged in vials with similar size and shape to the vaccine, rather than the vaccine itself. This discovery was communicated to the Indian government, leading to a critical change in their immunization practices; and,
  • FCC developed a method for examining the sea animals impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which helped determine when the seafood would be safe to consume.

It is an extraordinary record. And it’s meant so much to FDA—and the nation—over the past 25 years. But the anniversary and success of this one lab also underscores the remarkable work done by all of FDA’s laboratories across the country. These labs and the districts in which they are located are the critical front line eyes and ears of FDA. And they are the springboard for excellent science.

Good science is fundamental to the mission of FDA. We need it to make good regulatory decisions. It’s what the public expects and deserves. By being able to handle and apply the science of today and anticipate the science of tomorrow we can be more flexible and adaptive, and support innovation.

Having seen the impressive and important work our labs are doing, I’m more committed than ever of the need to invest in better facilities and the best support. We must maintain state-of-the-art laboratories and research facilities, and attract, hire, and retain the best scientists to work in them. First-rate regulatory science requires first-rate scientists working in first-rate facilities.

It’s why I’ve made this a priority for FDA. And why we will put it high on our list of subjects for discussion with Congress as they shape future budgets for the Agency.

The scientists in FDA’s field laboratories are among the unsung heroes of FDA’s work to protect the public health. So let me congratulate and thank those at the FCC and across FDA on the milestone occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Forensic Chemistry Center.

Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D., is Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Another tool helping developers navigate the difficult road to approval of drugs for rare diseases

By: Jonathan Goldsmith, M.D., F.A.C.P.

If you personally know 100 people living in the U.S., chances are that almost 10 will suffer from some form of a rare disease. If that makes it sound like rare diseases are not actually very rare in this country, that’s because there are 7,000 different rare diseases, 80% of which are caused by faulty genes. A rare disease is defined as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people living in the U.S., a country with almost 320 million people. When we do the math, it turns out there are roughly 30 million Americans who suffer from a rare disease. And sadly, about 50% are children.

Dr. Jonathan GoldsmithWith the vast majority of rare diseases still without FDA-approved treatments, we have recently released a new resource for drug developers — a draft guidance document — designed to help them navigate the difficult and unique challenges of developing and bringing to market new FDA-approved drugs to treat rare diseases.

When it comes to finding ways to test new treatments for rare diseases, we often cannot rely on the same methods that we use for testing treatments for more common, well-known diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Here’s why: In rare diseases, new drug development is especially challenging due to the small numbers of people affected by each disease, the lack of medical understanding of the disorder (because relatively few people suffer from it), and the lack of well-defined study results (endpoints) that can demonstrate that a potential treatment for a rare disease is safe and effective.

The new draft guidance is intended to help drug developers create more accurate and timely drug development programs by encouraging

  • a focus on understanding a disease’s “natural history,”
  • creation of study designs with clinically meaningful endpoints,
  • development of evidence needed to establish safety and effectiveness,
  • and the establishment of drug manufacturing specifications to ensure quality.

It is also important to note that FDA regulations provide flexibility in applying regulatory standards because of the many types and intended uses of drugs. Such flexibility is particularly important for treatments for life-threatening and severely-debilitating illnesses and rare diseases.

Our guidance document will help us build on the gains we’ve made in helping patients with rare diseases. Since the passage of the Orphan Drug Act in 1983, the number of new requests for orphan designation has continued to rise. In 2014 we saw 469 requests, the highest number of new requests in one year. Also in 2014, an unprecedented 41 percent of all novel new drugs (17 of 41) approved by FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research were for the treatment of rare diseases.

Our guidance document is intended to encourage drug developers to think early on in the process about all aspects of their program — and encourages careful planning which includes a foundation in strong science. Drug developers for rare diseases are often pioneers. Pioneers need maps and tools to guide them. We see this guidance as another important resource to help support their efforts.

FDA is committed to working with all drug developers and stakeholders to establish successful drug development programs that include regulatory flexibility, creative approaches and a scientifically sound basis.

Jonathan Goldsmith, M.D., F.A.C.P., is FDA’s Associate Director, Rare Diseases Program, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

FDA Science Forum 2015: Views of FDA

FDA’s 2015 Science Forum attracted more than 800 people from the scientific community. Here’s what some attendees said about the innovative research going on at the agency and why FDA can be a valuable collaborator in research aimed at transforming food safety and medical product development. If you couldn’t attend the FDA science forum, you can still see all the presentations on our web site.

A Year of Significant Progress in Public Health

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.A new year offers both an opportunity to look forward and an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the previous year. And, in 2014, FDA’s accomplishments were substantial, touching on many of the agency’s broad responsibilities to protect and promote the public health.

Whether our achievements involved medical product safety and innovation, food safety and nutrition, tobacco control, or other areas of our important work, all were accomplished thanks in large part to our ability to respond to evolving needs and opportunities including the embrace of new approvals, technologies and cutting-edge science.

Consider these highlights:

Drug Approvals: This past calendar year, FDA approved 51 novel drugs and biologics (41 by CDER and 10 by CBER), the most in almost 20 years. Among CDER’s 2014 approvals are treatments for cancer, hepatitis C and type-2 diabetes, as well as the most new drugs for “orphan” diseases since Congress enacted the Orphan Drug Act over 30 years ago. Seventeen of these new approvals are “first in class” therapies, which represent new approaches in the treatment of disease. In addition, CBER approved many important biological products in 2014, including a number of groundbreaking vaccines for meningitis B, the flu, and certain types of Human Papillomavirus, the latter of which is expected to prevent approximately 90 percent of the cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers caused by HPV.

These developments are a testament not just to our expanding understanding of human biology, the biology of disease and the molecular mechanisms that drive the disease process, but also to FDA’s innovative approaches to help expedite development and review of medical products that target unmet medical needs, while adhering to the established standards for safety and efficacy. These include enhanced guidance to shape the research and development agenda, early input on clinical study needs and design, expedited review programs, targeted regulatory advice and other tools and incentives that spur investment and innovation in new medical products to address unmet medical needs.

Opioids: This past year FDA took several actions to address the abuse of opioid drugs. First, we approved abuse deterrent labeling for three opioid products that are designed to deter prescription drug abuse. These drugs used different technologies to combat the abuse problem in different ways, such as by making the product resistant to crushing or dissolving or using “aversive technology” to discourage users from taking more than the approved dosage of the drug. To help encourage the development of more drugs in abuse-deterrent forms, we are also working to provide additional advice to manufacturers. Although abuse-deterrent opioid drugs are not a silver bullet to prevent opioid abuse, we believe that our work in this area will give physicians effective new treatment options with less risk of abuse.

FDA also worked to improve the treatment of patients who overdose on opioids. We approved a new dosage form of naloxone, with an autoinjector to enable a caregiver to administer the drug in the emergency treatment of opioid overdose (as it rapidly reverses the effects of an overdose). While we continue to support development in this area, this approval offers a new valuable tool to help prevent the tragedy of opioid drug overdose.

Antibiotic Resistance: We made important strides in confronting the growing resistance of some bacteria to antimicrobial drugs. Our efforts, which are a critical part of the recently unveiled National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria, offer a multi-pronged approach that recognizes that to effectively address this challenge means simultaneously addressing the many different causes for increasing antibiotic resistance. One important response has been efforts to expand the pipeline of new medical products, including therapeutics to treat and cure infection, diagnostics to aid in the identification of the cause of infection and of resistant infections, and vaccines to help prevent infection with bacteria in the first place.

These efforts are already having an impact. In 2014, FDA approved four novel systemic antibiotics. In contrast, only five new antibiotics had been approved in the previous ten year period.

In addition to working on the human medical product side, we also developed and, over the next two years will be implementing, an important complementary strategy to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals. This strategy, once fully implemented, also will bring the remaining uses of such drugs to treat, control or prevent disease in these animals under the oversight of veterinarians. All 26 animal health companies who produce those drugs have committed to participate, and 31 products already have been withdrawn from the market.

Pharmacy Compounding: We continued to respond effectively to the 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis that was linked to contaminated compounded drugs. This included conducting more than 90 inspections of compounding facilities across the nation in the past year. As a result, numerous firms that engaged in poor sterile practices stopped making sterile drugs, and many firms recalled drugs that have been made under substandard conditions. Where appropriate, we have worked with the Department of Justice to pursue enforcement action against some of these facilities.

We also have continued to implement the compounding provisions of the Drug Quality and Security Act (DQSA), and to develop and implement policies to address compounding by state-licensed pharmacies and the new category of registered outsourcing facilities.

Food Safety: Over the past year, the Agency has made great strides in implementing the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Through our proposed rules for preventive controls requirements for both human and animal food, standards for produce safety, foreign supplier verification programs, third party auditor accreditation, focused mitigation strategies to prevent intentional adulteration of food aimed at causing large-scale public health harm, and requirements for sanitary transportation practices to ensure the safe transport of food, we are working to ensure the safety of American consumers related to the foods they eat.

Nutrition: Good health depends not just on food safety, but also on what we choose to eat. FDA plays an important role in promoting good nutrition and healthy food choices by helping consumers understand the importance and benefits of good nutrition – and of being able to make informed choices about what we eat.

New rules in 2014 to finalize requiring calorie information on restaurant menus and vending machines give our citizens information they need to make healthy food choices and hopefully help reduce the epidemic of obesity in the United States. We also proposed changes to the familiar “Nutrition Facts” label on packaged foods which, when finalized, will give our citizens updated nutrition information, reflecting the most current nutrition science, to help them make healthy choices when purchasing packaged foods.

Tobacco Control: There are few areas that have as profound an impact on public health as tobacco products, which is why, five years ago, Congress gave FDA the responsibility to oversee the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of tobacco products.

Over the past year, we worked with state authorities to conduct more than 124,000 inspections of retailers to enforce the ban on the sale of tobacco products to children. We unveiled the first of its kind national public education campaign—The Real Cost—to reduce youth smoking. And we took the first steps towards extending the agency’s tobacco product authority over additional products such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (hookah) tobacco, and dissolvables not already subject to such authority through our proposed “Deeming Rule.” In addition, as part of ongoing work on product review decisions, eleven tobacco products that were allowed to enter the market during a provisional period established by the Tobacco Control Act were found “not substantially equivalent” to a predicate tobacco product. As a result of this finding, these products can no longer be sold or distributed in interstate commerce or imported into the United States.

Ebola: The tragic Ebola epidemic in West Africa demonstrates that we do not have the luxury of closing our eyes – or our borders – to the public health problems that exist in the rest of the world. I’m proud that FDA has played an important role in the response to this disease, working closely with colleagues in our government as well as the scientific community, industry and a range of other organizations and nations. We have helped facilitate the development, testing, manufacture, and availability of investigational products for use in diagnosing, treating and preventing Ebola, and worked with sponsors and health care providers to facilitate access to these products as clinical circumstances warrant. In August 2014, FDA designated the drug Z-Mapp as an orphan drug for Ebola, with the hope that this would incentivize further development and study.

And I’m very pleased to report that FDA is represented on the ground in West Africa by dedicated officers of the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service who continue to staff and operate the Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia that was built to treat the health workers who became ill responding to the outbreak. Like everything FDA does, both at home and abroad, our actions on Ebola represent our agency’s continuing commitment to health and safety, and the use of science to advance these important goals.

I am extremely proud of our accomplishments in 2014, and I am confident that FDA will have a successful 2015, as we continue our work to protect and promote the public health.

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