Improving the Safety of Imported Foods Through Partnerships

By: Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., and Donald Prater, D.V.M.

Susan Mayne

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

At FDA, we recognize that the partnerships we build with other nations are key to our success in giving American consumers confidence in the safety of the foods they choose to serve their families.

In passing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Congress provided FDA with new authorities to help ensure that domestic food is as safe as possible and that imported food meets U.S. food safety standards. These new authorities to enhance the safety of imported foods take into account a variety of food safety partnerships, including several that FDA has had in place for years.

FDA recently held a two-day public hearing in which we received input from domestic and international food safety experts on how we can build on these strategic partnerships. The safety of imported foods is of great interest to all of us and of utmost concern to the American public. About 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including nearly 50 percent of fresh fruit, 20 percent of fresh vegetables, and 80 percent of seafood. Those imports to the United States come from more than 200 countries and about 125,000 firms.

Camille Brewer

Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., Director of International Affairs at FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

What we took away from this hearing, a call to action that will guide us going forward, was a clear message from experts: There are a range of partnership tools that can enhance the safety of imported foods – from capacity building, to credible third party audits and certifications, to sophisticated forms of regulatory cooperation – and each should be used in a way that ensures it is appropriate for its intended purpose.

Countries that export food to the U.S. represent a continuum of food safety capacities and capabilities, and for that reason, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to partnerships. Experts shared their experiences on how we can work with trading partners that need help in building their food safety systems, which, in turn, can help improve the safety of food imported into this country. Attendees discussed how capacity-building programs can be implemented, and how we can make these programs accessible and useful to various regions in the world.

At the other end of the spectrum: How does FDA leverage the knowledge and best practices of countries that have robust food safety systems, and that we have officially recognized as providing a comparable level of public health protection? So far, FDA has completed official recognition with three such countries – New Zealand, Canada and, just this week, Australia.

Don Prater

Donald Prater, D.V.M., Acting Assistant Commissioner for Food Safety Integration in FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Imported foods must be produced in a way that provides the same level of public health protection as that required of domestic food producers. Some of the questions we considered included: How will it be decided that a measure or procedure used in lieu of an FDA requirement provides the same health protection? How are countries ensuring parity in audits, inspections, verification, and overall oversight?

We also discussed whether, and how, federal agencies might leverage activities and resources with the private sector. How can we consider the role of private entities, such as companies that audit against various private food safety standards, in our oversight of imports?  And we considered the value of export control programs that are specific to certain commodities in terms of risk-based surveillance and planning.

The bottom line? We can use a variety of approaches to enhance the safety of imported food.

Overall, the hearing provided us with a rich tapestry of ideas, opportunities, and challenges that FDA will consider as we enhance our partnership activities. The key is understanding that one size doesn’t fit all.

Click here for the hearing webcast, transcript and additional background. 

Click here for ‘A Conversation with Donald Prater’ on advancing the safety of imported food.

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Camille Brewer, M.S., R.D., is Director of International Affairs at FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Donald Prater, D.V.M., is Acting Assistant Commissioner for Food Safety Integration in FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine

FDA: Helping Small Businesses Get Big Results

By: Brenda Stodart, Pharm.D., and Renu Lal, Pharm. D.

It is well known that small business is vital to the success of the American economy. Less known, though, is how instrumental it has been to the growth and innovation in drug development.

Brenda Stodart

Brenda Stodart, Pharm.D. Captain, United States Public Health Service, Program Director at the FDA’s CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance Program, Division of Drug Information

We may think of the pharmaceutical industry in terms of giant corporations, but the fact is that there are hundreds of small firms – with very few employees – that are developing many of the important drugs that we use every day. FDA defines a small business as one with fewer than 500 employees (including employees of affiliates), but many are much smaller.

Industry sources indicate that, over the past decade or so, more than half of the novel drugs (i.e., those not previously marketed in the United States) developed in this country and approved by FDA, have been developed by small companies. Small companies also impact the generic drug industry creating market choice, competition, and increased access. According to FDA data, of the 2,176 new and generic drug applications submitted to the agency in 2014-2015, at least 639, or about 29 percent, were submitted by firms with fewer than 500 employees.

Small companies have certain advantages. They can be nimble with decision-making and can quickly progress with new ideas. A smaller drug development pipeline allows them to focus on a single or few products. But they also have unique challenges. A small workforce tends to require employees to wear multiple hats, as opposed to their larger counterparts who typically employ teams of specialists. And because many small companies are focused on developing one drug at a time, they often operate on a “high reward-high risk” model. There is a smaller margin for error for a small company that has invested all its resources in developing one drug than for a large company that is able to spread its risk across several products it is developing simultaneously.

Renu Lal

Renu Lal, Pharm.D., pharmacist at FDA’s Division of Drug Information, CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance Program

For many years, to help level the playing field, FDA has been assisting small pharmaceutical companies to maximize their opportunities for success. The Generic Drug Forum on April 4-5, 2017, is one example of the work we do to support small businesses. Organized by FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Small Business and Industry Assistance (SBIA) staff, representatives from a wide range of pharmaceutical companies will gather to learn about the development, testing, review, and approval of generic drugs. CDER SBIA holds at least four meetings a year as part of a series called the Regulatory Education for Industry (REdI) conferences.

REdI conferences typically attract significant international attendance (in-person or via webcast). This global reach is important, as about 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients used in U.S-manufactured drugs come from more than 150 different countries. The map below shows the geographic distribution of our most recent REdI conference registrants. Thirty percent of registrants were from outside the U.S., representing 55 countries worldwide.

CDER SBIA Conference Map

International participation at CDER SBIA REdI Conference [September 2016]

Many of these companies have never submitted an application for approval to FDA. Whether new or experienced, many are very early in the drug development process. In CDER’s SBIA program, 43 percent of the companies we work with have fewer than 100 employees, and 17 percent have fewer than 10 employees.

Although the mission of CDER SBIA is to help small business, our educational products are available to the entire pharmaceutical industry. In addition to REdI conferences, SBIA also offers webinars with live question and answer sessions by FDA subject matter experts on timely topics of interest to small companies.

SBIA recently held a half-day live webinar, which featured CDER experts from the Office of Pharmaceutical Quality (OPQ) discussing specific microbiology issues. CDER SBIA also provides a variety of helpful resources including a bimonthly electronic newsletter, CDER SBIA Chronicles, an audio podcast, CDERLearn, and online tutorials developed by CDER subject matter experts. We also interact with our constituents through our presentations and exhibits at conferences, and we are always available to help out via phone and e-mail. All slides, webcasts, and documents that we develop to help small companies are posted on the CDER SBIA Learn webpage after the event. REdI conferences and all other SBIA services are available at no cost to all who wish to attend and participate, which is particularly helpful to smaller companies with limited resources.

At a time when quality manufacturing and the safety and effectiveness of drugs in development is as important as ever, CDER understands that providing support to small businesses through education and resources is vital to advancing innovation and protecting public health.

Brenda Stodart, Pharm.D., Captain, United States Public Health Service, is a Program Director at FDA’s CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance Program, Division of Drug Information

Renu Lal, Pharm.D., is a pharmacist at FDA’s Division of Drug Information, CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance Program

FDA in India – Championing a Culture of Quality

By: Mary Lou Valdez

One of FDA’s most strategic outposts is in India, the seventh largest supplier of food and second largest supplier of pharmaceuticals and biologics to the United States. The agency’s office, located in the capital, New Delhi, works to ensure the safety and security of food and the safety and efficacy of medical products exported from India to the U.S.

Mary Lou Valdez with India Office Staff

from left: Dean Rugnetta, FDA Deputy Director, India Office; Mary Lou Valdez, FDA Associate Commissioner for International Programs; Mathew Thomas, FDA Director, India Office

To achieve that goal, the India Office, directed by Mathew Thomas, conducts inspections of Indian medical products and foods facilities that export to the U.S. The office also assists and trains regulators, industry, and other stakeholders in developing and maintaining the quality, safety, and effectiveness of the FDA-regulated products they export.

It’s important for the office to consult regulatory authorities in India to build confidence in each other and to develop quality standards that both countries can trust.

I had the privilege of joining Director Thomas last month for meetings with our regulatory counterparts – the Indian Export Inspection Council (EIC), the Food Safety Standards Agency of India (FSSAI), the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), and the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Despite the diversity of these agencies’ mandates and priorities, a common theme coming out of these meetings was the recognition of the mutual benefits we realize by working together to enhance the effectiveness of our regulatory systems and to advance risk-based and science-based approaches to food and medical product regulation.

Along with other FDA experts, I also participated in a Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) Governing Council meeting and the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) Second Forum, titled “Towards Excellence in Quality.” Hosted by the Word Bank, the GFSP is a public private partnership, established in 2012, which brings together governments, industry, multilateral organizations, and other stakeholders in support of stronger food safety systems. Since its founding, the GFSP has worked with China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. During my visit, we had initial GFSP meetings with Indian regulators, to explore potential synergies as they look to bolster their food safety systems and maximize their investments. FDA’s India Office is well-positioned to help the Partnership and India explore how best to meet these goals.

The IPA Forum brings together CEOs of pharmaceutical firms, manufacturers, regulators, and other national and global stakeholders who have a role in shaping India’s complex and diverse manufacturing environment to produce safe, effective, high-quality medical products.

Over the past decade, the Indian pharmaceutical market has grown by nearly 14 percent and continues to experience massive growth. However, in order to fully realize the nation’s potential as an important player in the global pharmaceutical industry, India’s regulatory infrastructure must keep pace to ensure that global quality and safety demands are met. Quality issues are an ongoing challenge for the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Of 42 warning letters issued by FDA’s Office of Manufacturing Quality last year, nine went to Indian facilities. The IPA is working to communicate to its diverse members why quality matters and how to achieve it. Thus, the general theme of its Second Forum “Towards Excellence in Quality,” was an incredibly relevant topic if the global market for FDA-regulated products is to be strong and secure.

No one wants resources wasted on ineffectual development and weak processing or manufacturing systems that could actually impede product success. We all want greater competition, increased options for consumers and patients, and more affordable alternatives to comparable products.

Participants agreed that achieving quality requires regulators and industry alike to champion and advance a quality culture throughout the product life-cycle, by effectively employing the use of data and science and requiring greater transparency.

While I was in India, it was really gratifying to witness the high-esteem and trust Indian regulators and industry have for FDA, and our India Office. In turn, whether it is through their response to inspectional observations, their participation in trainings and seminars or their readiness to share strategic information, we see India committing to quality and compliance. Indian regulators and industry both recognize that a quality culture is imperative if India is to increase productivity, reduce compliance risk, lessen rework, and minimize supply interruptions that result in lost revenue and increased risks to public health.

This greater emphasis on quality will also allow India to participate more fully in existing global venues such as the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) and the Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation Scheme (PIC/S) – which will enable stronger collaboration and synergies among regulators.

Quality is good for economic development, the market, and most importantly, patients and consumers everywhere. FDA’s Office in New Delhi looks forward to continued collaboration with our Indian regulatory colleagues to champion a culture of quality.

Mary Lou Valdez is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs

21st Century Cures Act: Making Progress on Shared Goals for Patients

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

Today, President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act, which, I am pleased to report, builds on FDA’s ongoing efforts to advance medical product innovation and ensure that patients get access to treatments as quickly as possible, with continued assurance from high quality evidence that they are safe and effective.

Robert CaliffCures will greatly improve FDA’s ability to hire and retain scientific experts. One of our ongoing challenges has been recruiting and retaining the experts we need in specialized areas to allow us to get our work done and meet our growing responsibilities. This is an especially important need given the tremendous advances in biological sciences, engineering, information technology and data science. Preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies will become more complex with much greater potential for benefit and in some cases greater risk if used without adequate evidence to exclude risks that exceed potential benefits.

This new law rightly recognizes that patients should play an essential role in the development of drugs and devices to diagnose and treat their disease, since patients are in a unique position to provide essential insights about what it is like to live with and fight their disease. That’s been our perspective as well, and it’s why FDA has continued to advance the science of patient input through our patient-focused drug development program and our partner with patients program for medical devices. As it is, Cures will enhance these ongoing efforts to better incorporate the patient’s voice into FDA’s decision-making.

Cures will also support our efforts to modernize and improve efficiency in clinical trial design. This has been an important FDA priority for decades, but exciting new approaches are now available, and we need to develop a common understanding of which designs should be used for which clinical issues. In cancer, for example, we’re already weighing the use of common control trials, which share a control arm, involve multiple different drugs for the same indication, and may even involve different companies. One of the benefits of using a common control arm is that the overall number of patients who need to be recruited and enrolled decreases, thereby optimizing clinical trial resources and potentially shortening the time it takes to get a new study off the ground

Even without the benefit of Cures, patients have been well-served by FDA’s program efficiencies, emphasis on early meetings, and use of expedited pathway programs to speed approval and delivery of new drugs and devices to patients. Rather than passively processing product applications, FDA works to advise companies and inventors from the earliest stages of the development process on the kinds of medical products needed, how to do the necessary research, and how to viably and effectively translate from concept to product. This not only means that important new products will be developed as efficiently as possible but also that medicines and devices with no chance of success are identified much earlier so that money isn’t wasted on futile development. These programs have been embraced by developers of medical products in this country, and they are making a real and positive difference.

In the United States, the FDA uses expedited programs (fast track, priority review, accelerated approval, and breakthrough therapy) for drugs and biologics more than comparable drug and biologic regulators in other countries use theirs and as a result FDA is the first to approve a majority of novel drugs compared to our foreign counterparts.

For devices, this past year was the first full year of operation for FDA’s expedited access pathway (EAP) program, which helps speed the development and availability of certain medical devices that demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs for life-threatening or irreversibly-debilitating diseases or conditions. So far, we have granted 24 devices access to this program. Cures builds on EAP by creating the breakthrough device pathway.

The law establishes other new programs as well. For instance, the Limited Population pathway will help streamline the development programs for certain antibacterials and antifungals intended to treat targeted groups of patients suffering from serious or life-threatening infections where unmet need exists due to lack of available therapies. Approvals of these antimicrobials are expected to rely on data primarily targeting these limited populations. The statement “Limited Population” will appear prominently next to the drug’s name in labeling, which will provide notice to healthcare providers that the drug is indicated for use in a limited and specific population of patients. The limited population statement, additional labeling statements describing the data, and FDA review of promotional materials, will help assure these drugs are used narrowly to treat these serious and life-threatening infections while additional evidence is generated to assess safety and effectiveness for broader use.

Cures also creates a new program for  the development of regenerative medicine products, an important and exciting new field that deserves this special focus. The program designates drugs as regenerative advanced therapies and takes appropriate actions to improve the efficiency of development and to enhance the exchange of information among FDA, researchers and developers. An especially important element of this program is the creation of a research network and a public-private partnership to assist developers in generating definitive evidence about whether their proposed therapies indeed provide clinical benefits that are hoped for.

Looking ahead, much still needs to be done to spur product development. There have yet to be successful therapies identified for certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, where underlying scientific knowledge is still lacking.  In addition, we are only at the early stage in building a national evidence generation system based on registries, claims data, and electronic health records that will be a rich source of post-market data and an avenue for conducting more efficient research. Last week we published a consensus of FDA leadership on the use of real world evidence in the New England Journal of Medicine, focusing on the misperception that randomized trials and real world data are incompatible.  In fact, the use of randomization within the context of clinical practice will constitute a major advance in evidence generation and we are actively encouraging proposals with this combination of randomized trials conducted in real world practice. Cures provides support for continued exploration of the use of real world evidence in the regulatory context.

The law also addresses drug firms providing healthcare economic information to payers and formulary committees. This complex area will require careful delineation of principles to guide information exchange to enable these entities to appropriately assess the value of drugs.

With Cures, great progress has been made towards our shared goal of advancing regulatory science so that we can continue to speed the discovery, development, and delivery of medical products to prevent and cure disease and improve health while sustaining the evidence framework that enables assurance to the public of the safety and effectiveness of medical products. We are excited about the major advances in NIH funding, and welcome the increasing focus on rigorous translational science and data sharing reflected in the bill. Furthermore the funding of opioid addiction treatment and mental health services is a major positive element for our country and consistent with tremendous needs that we recognize.

FDA now stands ready to work with Congress, our sister federal agencies and the medical products ecosystem to implement these important provisions as we continue to work on behalf of all Americans to protect and promote public health and promote innovation in this exciting time.

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

The Mutual Reliance Initiative: A New Path for Pharmaceutical Inspections in Europe and Beyond

By: Dara Corrigan, J.D.

Dara CorriganFor FDA professionals focused on drug quality and safety, the rapid increase in imported drugs from nations where we devote limited inspection resources is of great concern. One way to address this concern would be to create an expanded inspectorate, one where investigators and inspectors from FDA and trusted partners, such as those in the European Union, would work together, rely on each other’s inspections, avoid duplicating inspections, and conduct more inspections in areas where the increase in drug manufacturing has greatly increased, like in China and India.

To meet this challenge, FDA has responded with the Mutual Reliance Initiative (MRI). The concept is simple. EU country inspectors inspect in their respective countries, FDA inspects the manufacturing facilities in the U.S., and the EU and FDA would rely upon each other. This would avoid duplication, lower costs, and enable the regulators to devote more resources to other parts of the world where there is greater risk. The savings would be considerable – over the last 5 years, about 40 percent of FDA’s drug inspections were performed in the EU.

The Mutual Reliance Initiative

There is a history to U.S.-EU collaboration. In 1998, in an annex to a U.S.-EU trade agreement, the U.S. and the EU agreed to recognize each other’s good manufacturing practice drug inspections. However, the agreement was never fully implemented.

Since 1998, FDA has expanded its reach beyond U.S. borders by opening foreign offices in China, Europe, India, and Latin America. We conduct more foreign inspections now and have gathered more than 15 years of experience in collaborating with the EU.

Equally important was the 2012 passage of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. Congress recognized that FDA cannot and should not monitor the world’s drug inventory by itself and authorized FDA to accept the findings of a foreign inspector when its drug inspectorate is capable of conducting inspections that meet U.S. standards.

Working With The EU Inspectorates

The MRI was launched in May 2014. As part of MRI, FDA and EU assembled dedicated teams to assess the risk and benefits of entering into a mutual recognition agreement. FDA was invited to observe the EU’s Joint Audit Programme, in which two EU nations audit the inspectorate – the regulatory authority – of another member. FDA first observed the audit of Sweden’s inspectorate by auditors from the United Kingdom and Norway. Since then, FDA has observed an additional 12 audits of drug inspectorates across the EU with more audit observations planned through 2017.

This unprecedented access allows FDA observers to gather firsthand knowledge of the laws that govern EU GMP drug inspections and how inspectorates manage the drug inventory within their respective borders. Also, interacting with auditors across the EU provides a unique opportunity to understand the regulatory framework in the EU. With 28 member states (27 after Britain leaves the EU), there can be differences FDA must understand.

And to clarify, the so-called “Brexit” has no impact on FDA’s relationship with our United Kingdom counterparts at this time. Once the UK finalizes its departure from the EU, FDA and the UK will reexamine existing commitments and, if necessary, renegotiate any existing agreements. According to reports, it is likely going to take the UK and EU two years to finalize the terms of the Brexit.

MRI is one of the key components of the pharmaceutical sector covered in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships (T-TIP) but could also take another path if the initiative progresses more quickly than the trade negotiations.

The observation and analysis of the drug inspectorates in the EU has only been possible because of the extraordinary devotion and collaboration across FDA. Observers of the audits have included subject matter experts, management, and investigators from the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, the Office of Regulatory Affairs and the Office of Global Regulatory Operations and Policy. These same FDA employees, and others, guided FDA successfully through the EU’s audit of FDA in September 2015 when the EU visited three district offices, the main campus, and a drug laboratory as part of its assessment. The EU team applied the same criteria that it applies within the EU when it audits its own member states.

Looking Forward

What is next? We hope to sign an agreement with the EU soon and are working to complete assessments of the capability of the drug manufacturing inspectorates of two to four countries within the EU.

These first steps with the EU will lead toward our goal of an expanded inspectorate, containing investigators and inspectors from FDA and from across the EU. These collaborations will enhance our ability to evaluate risk, produce better data, and minimize public health risk globally. Indeed, the need to engage globally in different ways is imperative. With MRI, we are moving boldly forward in that direction.

Dara Corrigan, J.D., is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Global Regulatory Policy

Trade Alert: FDA Issues New Import Data Requirements

By: Howard Sklamberg, J.D.

One of FDA’s many responsibilities is to review imported products regulated by the agency to determine admissibility. This job has become increasingly challenging with growing volumes of imports of FDA-regulated products each year — from six million import entries in 2002 to 35 million in 2015.

Howard SklambergTo help meet that challenge in a way that benefits both government and the trade community, import entries of products regulated by FDA are submitted through an electronic system called the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). A final rule published on November 29 in the Federal Register specifies certain data that must be submitted in ACE when an FDA-regulated product is offered for import into the United States. The effective date of the rule is December 29, 2016, 30 days from the date of publication.

The trade community helped us pilot ACE, which is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), from August 2015 to May 2016. In July 2016, ACE became the sole CBP-authorized system for electronic submissions of entries that contain FDA-regulated products.

The rule also includes technical revisions to certain sections of FDA regulations:

  • The owner or consignee of an FDA-regulated product is now defined as the importer of record. This brings FDA regulations up to date with previous revisions to customs laws. (21 CFR 1.83 and 21 CFR 1005.2)
  • FDA will now directly provide a notice that an FDA-regulated product is to be sampled, rather than having to go through CBP to provide that notice. (21 CFR 1.90)
  • FDA may now provide written notices electronically to the importer of record about FDA actions to refuse FDA-regulated products and/or subject certain drug products to administrative destruction. (21 CFR 1.94)
  • The rule clarifies that FDA can reject an entry for failure to provide through ACE the complete and accurate information required by the rule.

As a result of the more streamlined import process for FDA-regulated products provided by ACE, the rule is expected to lead to an efficient use of FDA and importer resources, and more effective enforcement of laws and regulations enforced by FDA.

FDA will continue to provide assistance to filers working to properly submit the required data. Some of the measures we have instituted:

  • We are offering telephone meetings with importers, customs brokers, and other stakeholders, in real-time, while they are filing entries in ACE. Request a meeting by emailing ACE_Support@fda.hhs.gov.
  • An ACE Support Center is staffed 24/7. Reach FDA staff by email at ACE_Support@fda.hhs.gov or by phone at a domestic toll-free line (877-345-1101) or a local/international line (571-620-7320).
  • Upon request, FDA will assist in a filer’s first ACE submission, or for filers who import various commodities, FDA will assist with every first submission of a particular commodity.
  • Additional assistance for general import operations and policy questions, including FDA product codes and entry requirements, is available via email at FDAImportsInquiry@fda.hhs.gov or by calling 301-796-0356.

ACE replaces the Automated Commercial System, an older electronic submission system. Additionally, ACE provides an efficient single window for importers. Prior to the development of ACE, importers of products regulated by multiple government agencies could in some cases be required to submit information more than once.

ACE has already shown promise in accomplishing the dual goal of protecting public health while also serving the needs of the trade community by facilitating a more efficient review for admissibility of compliant products. FDA processing times for both automated and manual review have already been substantially reduced, by approximately 75% and 93% respectively, compared with the agency’s processing times in the previous system.

The ACE system serves to protect public health by allowing FDA to focus its limited resources on those FDA-regulated products being offered for import that may be associated with a greater public health risk.

Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

SCORE at Six Months: Meeting the Challenge of Complex Recalls

By: Stephen Ostroff, M.D., and Howard Sklamberg, J.D.

When a potentially contaminated food is on the market, time is of the essence to keep people from becoming ill. Yet there are times when it is difficult to determine what actions should be taken. This can happen when we do not have enough information to reach a clear decision.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D.

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

To better address these situations, in April FDA established a team of senior leaders that is brought in to make decisions in the most challenging cases. The team is called SCORE, which originally stood for Strategic Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation, but it soon became clear that the scope of its work is broader than outbreaks. The team looks at cases in which recalls and other actions may be needed, even when there are no reports that people have fallen ill. So SCORE now stands for Strategic Coordinated Oversight of Recall Execution.

And we’re happy to report that SCORE is already making a difference, helping to overcome obstacles and streamlining processes to get potentially harmful foods off the market as soon as possible to reduce further consumer exposure.

In the last six months, SCORE has reviewed and directed operations in cases that include flour contaminated with peanut protein, (a major food allergen), facilities contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, pistachios in which Salmonella was detected, and baby food that was not manufactured in compliance with infant formula regulations. All of these cases resulted in recalls and announcements issued by the firms and FDA.

Howard Sklamberg

Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy

SCORE was launched, in part, in response to concerns raised by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General about FDA’s ability to ensure that companies initiate voluntary recalls in a prompt and effective manner. While FDA staff were already helping to facilitate thousands of prompt and successful voluntary recalls, we recognized the need for an enhanced response in certain, more complex cases.

In the cases brought to the team, we believe that SCORE has helped determine the right course of action and shorten recall timeframes, getting the products off the market faster. SCORE has helped improve tactical planning, leading to additional inspections and sampling assignments, and to getting the word out to more consumers about potentially dangerous products. In one case, FDA suspended a food facility’s registration after a reinspection and additional sampling requested by SCORE showed continued contamination. Suspension of registration effectively shuts a facility down until FDA determines that there is no longer a reasonable probability that foods produced there will cause serious illnesses or death.

We set individual deadlines and got prompt results in these, and other, instances. FDA staff are seeing these actions as a model for their efforts going forward.

FDA has been evolving over the past few years into an agency that speaks with one voice in its oversight of food safety. SCORE’s membership includes leaders from within the directorates of Foods and Veterinary Medicine and Global Regulatory Operations and Policy, in addition to the Office of the Chief Counsel. The spectrum of expertise covers inspections and investigations, compliance and enforcement, policy, legal, communications, outbreak response and, most important, science.

This team is in its infancy but the results it has achieved thus far signal an integrated approach to food recalls that will help ensure a swift response no matter what obstacles arise. The arrival of the compliance dates for the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act rules overseeing the safety of domestic and imported foods are putting additional food safety controls in place to help reduce food contamination. And the work of SCORE and its colleagues will continue.

SCORE’s goals for the next year include identifying and closing gaps that slow the process of determining whether a food is a threat to public health or interfere with identifying the right actions to take in response to potential contamination. Our ultimate goal is to continue to improve our ability to protect consumers from contaminated food.

Stephen Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, and Howard Sklamberg, J.D., is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy.

New FDA/EMA rare diseases and patient engagement clusters underway

By: Jonathan Goldsmith, M.D., FACP, and Sandy Kweder, M.D., RADM (Ret.) US Public Health Service

Drug development and approval happens across the globe and we at FDA strive to collaborate with other countries and international regulatory agencies to ensure public health. One of our most valuable collaborators is the European Medicines Agency (EMA) — our counterpart agency for drug regulation in Europe that coordinates a network of 4,500 scientists and evaluates and supervises medicines for more than 500 million people in 31 countries.

Dr. Jonathan Goldsmith

Jonathan C. Goldsmith, M.D., FACP, FDA’s Associate Director Rare Diseases Program, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Office of New Drugs

For more than a decade, FDA and EMA scientists have collaborated to help solve some of our biggest challenges. We work with them in groups called “clusters.” The first cluster was initiated in 2004. Since then clusters have been formed to focus on treatments for children; establish effective measures for the development and use of biosimilar medications as cost effective alternatives to brand name biologic drugs; evaluate new treatments for patients with cancer; set standards to help develop medicines personalized to a patient’s genetic makeup, and much more. Both agencies have benefited from this joint work. The EMA summarizes these and our other clusters on its website.

We are excited about the initiation of our most recent cluster activity with our EMA colleagues. Just last month we established a cluster that will work to advance treatments for patients with rare diseases. This cluster’s primary goal is for FDA and EMA scientists to share valuable information about their work and to collaborate on certain review aspects of rare disease drug development programs. FDA’s core members of the cluster include experts from FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Rare Diseases Program, the Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research’s director’s office, and the Office of Orphan Products Development, but other experts will be engaged on specific topic areas as the cluster evolves. Among many other important activities, our agencies will collaborate on:

  • Identification and validation of trial end points;
  • Potential trial designs when only small populations of patients are available for testing the safety and effectiveness of prospective new therapies;
  • Ways to apply flexibility in evaluation of drug development programs;
  • Expediting the review and approval of drugs to treat rare diseases to bring new drugs to patients in need as soon as possible.
Sandra Kweder

Sandra Kweder, M.D., Rear Admiral (Ret.) US Public Health Service, FDA’s Deputy Director, Europe Office, and Liaison to European Medicines Agency

Our work also builds on another exciting and recent development — a patient engagement cluster formed in June 2016 to incorporate the patient’s involvement and viewpoint in the drug development process. FDA and EMA are interested in understanding patient’s experiences and gaining input on their tolerance for risk and uncertainty, on current therapy and its benefits or shortcomings and on the benefits that patients seek. This cluster, among other valuable efforts, will:

  • Help each agency learn how the other involves patients in their work, and to develop common goals of expanding future engagement activities with patients;
  • Discuss ways for finding patients that can serve as spokespersons for their community;
  • Explore ideas to help train selected patients and advocates to effectively participate in agency activities, and;
  • Develop strategies for reporting the significant impact of patient involvement.

Given the focus of both of these new clusters, we expect they will address new areas of interest and also draw on expertise from all of the other clusters, such as oncology, pediatrics, and orphan diseases, contributing to more advanced and robust collaborations across both of our organizations.

Focusing on patients with rare diseases and working to advance patient input enhances the value of our cluster activities. With our colleagues at the EMA we look forward to accomplishing more than what we can individually.

Jonathan C. Goldsmith, M.D., FACP, FDA’s Associate Director, Rare Diseases Program, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Office of New Drugs

Sandra Kweder, M.D., Rear Admiral (Ret.) US Public Health Service, FDA’s Deputy Director, Europe Office, and Liaison to European Medicines Agency

FDA Is Preparing Guidances that Will Help Food Companies Prevent Foodborne Illness

By: Susan Mayne, Ph.D., and Tracey Forfa, J.D.

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When we were drafting and seeking public comment on the rules that will implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), we promised that we would do whatever we could to help the regulated industry understand and meet the new requirements.

Susan Mayne

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

We meant what we said about “educating before and while we regulate,” since these new standards will ultimately transform the nation’s food safety system.

This month, we have taken important steps in fulfilling that promise with the release of three draft guidances that when finalized will help domestic and foreign food facilities meet the requirements of the preventive controls rules that became final in September 2015.

Those rules require hazard prevention practices in human and animal food processing, packing, and storage facilities. FSMA created the framework that holds manufacturers accountable for having a food safety plan, implementing it, verifying that it is working, and taking corrective action when it isn’t. Compliance dates are fast approaching for large food facilities. The human food facilities must meet preventive controls and Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements (CGMPs) and the animal food facilities must meet CGMPs by September 19, 2016. (The preventive controls rules have staggered compliance dates; smaller facilities have a year or more additional time to comply.)

One of the draft guidance documents covers ways to comply with the preventive controls requirements of the human food rule. Given the scope of that rule, we are prepared to issue only five draft chapters now, covering specific sections of the rule, but we will ultimately issue 14 chapters in all.

Tracey Forfa

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

These initial chapters cover basic information about establishing preventive controls in a human food facility. The first chapter is about the food safety plan in which a human food facility outlines how it has identified and evaluated its food safety hazards and how it will control hazards requiring preventive controls. The subsequent chapters provide direction on conducting a hazard analysis; understanding the biological, chemical and physical hazards that are commonly of concern; identifying and implementing the preventive controls that will significantly minimize or prevent hazards; and managing the preventive controls through such actions as monitoring, corrective actions and verification activities.

The other two draft guidances when finalized will help domestic and foreign facilities comply with key requirements in the Preventive Controls for Animal Food rule, which covers all animal food, including animal feed and pet food. One of those documents provides direction on ways to comply with the rule’s CGMP requirements, which are baseline food safety and sanitation standards for animal food facilities. This draft guidance also provides information on provisions related to the CGMP requirements, such as qualifications and training of personnel.

While CGMPs have long existed for the production of human food, this is the first time that most animal food producers will be subject to CGMPs. Concerns about incidents of food contamination that were sickening and killing pets were among the driving forces behind the enactment of FSMA.

The third draft guidance when finalized will help domestic and foreign food facilities whose by-products of human food production are used as animal food. Such by-products include grain products and vegetable pulp. They also include foods like potato chips, baked goods and pasta that are safe to eat but considered the wrong size, shape, color or texture.

Food producers required to meet food safety requirements for human foods had been concerned that they would have to meet a whole new set of requirements for such by-products. The draft guidance makes clear that the by-product will only be subject to limited CGMPs to protect it from contamination during holding and distribution, if the human food facility is subject to and in compliance with FDA’s human food CGMPs and all applicable human food safety requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and implementing regulations and is not further processing the by-products for use as animal food.

If the human food facility is further processing the by-products, the facility has a choice of complying with the requirements of either the human or animal food rule, as long as the food safety plan addresses how the facility will prevent or significantly minimize the hazards for the animal food that require a preventive control.

These draft guidances, and the others that we’re working on for the FSMA rules, will be further refined based on input we receive from the public. The comments we received on the proposed FSMA rules were important in helping us shape the final rules so we look forward to working with stakeholders in the same way on these documents.

Meeting the FSMA mandate involves cooperation between the FDA and the food industry. From the smallest food operation to the largest company, we want to be sure that we’re all on the same page and these draft guidances will help get us there.

Susan Mayne, Ph.D., is Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Tracey Forfa, J.D., is Acting Director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine

Practical Applications of FDA Regulations for the Indian Food Industry

By: Dean Rugnetta

Dean RugnettaGlobalization of the food supply chain and advances in food processing technologies have led American consumers to develop a taste for a variety of foods and cuisines from different countries. Increasingly, U.S. grocery stores sell foods from Asia, Latin America, and many other parts of the world. Indian exporters have recognized this marketing opportunity, and FDA information shows an increase in U.S. imports from India over the past 10 years. A wealth of ready-to-eat Indian specialties can be found in cans and bottles on U.S. store shelves including Indian curries (a.k.a. gravies), canned sweets, pickled cucumbers, and Indian pickles (chopped fruits and vegetables marinated in brine).

A serious potential health risk in canned and bottled foods

FDA’s regulations for processing shelf-stable or commercially sterile food — such as certain canned and bottled foods — were promulgated in the 1970’s in response to deaths related to botulism poisoning. Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by the bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.  FDA’s regulations require that processors heat and/or formulate low acid canned foods and acidified foods in a manner that eliminates favorable growth conditions for such toxins.

The regulations also require that supervisors in plants that manufacture such products be trained in appropriate processing methods. In the United States, FDA collaborates with industry groups, academia and other stakeholders to offer “Better Process Control Schools,” which typically provide two to five days of training.

Better Process Control School in India

Better Process Control School Class Group Photo

Students attending Better Process Control School in India

India now has a Better Process Control School where supervisors at any of the 300 FDA-registered facilities can attend training on how to safely process low acid canned foods and acidified foods. The school was established in 2010 when FDA’s India Office partnered with FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), and a local university in New Delhi, India. The school has convened three separate times since then, most recently this spring. The training helps local processors learn FDA’s regulatory requirements and fulfill a regulatory mandate. Processors that successfully complete the course receive a certificate.

The long-term goal of the training partnership in India is to establish a locally sponsored, self-sustaining class and demonstrates how FDA’s international outreach efforts are improving the safety of imported food products.

Dean Rugnetta is the Deputy Director of FDA’s India Office in New Delhi, India 

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