Combination Products Review Program: Progress and Potential

By: Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., and Robert M. Califf, M.D.

Nina Hunter

Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., FDA’s Associate Director for Science Policy in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

About a year ago, we shared with you our Combination Product Review, Intercenter Consult Process Study Report, which was developed by FDA’s Office of Planning. The report’s findings were derived from focus group studies with reviewers from FDA’s different Centers and included input from industry. Since then, we have built on foundational policies and processes to address many of the issues identified in the report.

The team has made tremendous progress toward the goal of modernizing the combination products review program by improving coordination, ensuring consistency, enhancing clarity, and providing transparency within the Agency as well as with all stakeholders. We are excited to share our progress with you now. The table below summarizes some key achievements from the past year, including publication of draft guidances, a variety of new processes, and a look at future goals.

Robert Califf

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

As technologies advance across multiple fields, the distinctions that previously allowed combination products to be neatly categorized by FDA’s medical product centers are blurring or even vanishing.

Combination products account for a growing proportion of products submitted for review, and FDA will continue to pursue new approaches to collaboration that ensure safe, effective and innovative medical products are made available to patients as quickly as possible. Continued collaboration with you, our stakeholders, will be critical as together we continue to make progress in this important area.

We are still listening and have much more work to do!

Combination Products Review Table

This table summarizes key Combination Product Review Program achievements from the past year. Click on table for PDF version.

The PDF version of the table is also located here: combination-products-review-program

Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., is FDA’s Associate Director for Science Policy in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

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

Piloting an Improved Intercenter Consult Process

By: Michael Rappel, Ph.D., and Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H.

Over the last few months, we’ve shared what FDA is doing to improve the review of combination products, including establishing the Combination Product Council and identifying necessary process improvements through lean mapping of the combination product review process. We are pleased to update you on the proposed intercenter consult request (ICCR) process that will be piloted across the Agency today.

Michael Rappel

Michael Rappel, Ph.D., Senior Science Advisor in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and member of the Lean Management Team.

Combination products—those that combine drugs, devices, and/or biological products—present both policy and review challenges in large part because they include constituent parts that fall into more than one regulatory category (e.g., drug and device; drug and biologic) covered by more than one FDA product center. As such, close intercenter collaboration and communication are important to facilitate timely, appropriately-tailored and well-informed submission review. A combination product will generally have a lead center which may seek consults from the other centers that oversee one of the product’s constituent parts. Timely and consistent consults are critical, yet achieving this has been challenging due to different policies, practices, and timelines for consults across centers and insufficient communications between centers and sponsors.

Our new process addresses these issues with four important improvements:

  • Establishing timelines, specific to center and submission type, for identifying products as combination products and issuing and completing consults needed to support the review;
  • Developing  a tiered consult approach that streamlines interactions across centers and identifies a clear process for identifying the right experts for a consult;
  • Defining clear roles and responsibilities for the Lead Center, the Consulted Center(s), the Office of Combination Products (OCP), and the Combination Product Council for review of a combination product submission; and,
  • Creating a standard, semi-automated, user-friendly ICCR form that is managed electronically to ensure 1) users always have the most updated version and 2) all forms, and thus all intercenter combination product consults, are tracked through a single system.
Rachel Sherman

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

FDA will begin piloting this new ICCR process today in select offices within our three medical product centers, focusing on those offices or divisions that routinely receive combination product submissions that require cross center consults. The pilot will be comprised of three phases, with phase 1 planned to last for two months. Additional offices in each center will be rolled into the pilot in subsequent phases with the goal of achieving implementation across all Offices by the end of 2Q 2017 (targeted).

During each phase of implementation, we will collect quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate success. What we learn at each stage will allow us to refine processes, procedures, and training for subsequent phases. In particular, data from phases 1 and 2 will be used largely to refine the initial steps of the ICCR process (e.g., consult request, ICCR form, reviewer assignment) though some limited consult completion data (e.g., consult quality and timeliness) available for Investigational Device Exemptions/Investigational New Drugs may provide initial insights on consult closeout. Consult completion data for other submission types will also be collected but may not be available for several months due to the longer submission review timelines.

This iterative approach will ensure implementation of a robust ICCR process that enables efficient, effective collaboration on the review of combination products. Further, auditing regarding combination product designation and consult tier assignment completed by each center will verify effective knowledge transfer or highlight gaps to focus on in subsequent improvement efforts.

This current effort has been driven by a cross-Agency ICCR working group and builds on the important work of many others across the Agency.

We hope this overarching approach to cross-center activity will, if successful, serve as a flagship model for other cross-Agency initiatives requiring close collaboration. We believe that this kind of nimble, adaptive cooperation reflects the future of medical product development and review in an increasingly complex and nuanced arena. Stay tuned—we plan to keep you updated on our progress along the way. Meanwhile, if you have any feedback or input, please feel free to contact us at: combinationproductICCRpilot@fda.hhs.gov.

Michael Rappel, Ph.D., is Senior Science Advisor in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and is a member of the Lean Management Team

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

Developing a Consensus Voice: The Combination Products Policy Council

By: Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., and Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H.

We recently announced the launch of lean process mapping to build a better system for combination products review – one that is more cohesive, more collaborative, more systematic, and more predictable. We look forward to providing an update on this effort soon.

Nina Hunter

Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., FDA’s Associate Director for Science Policy in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

In the meantime, we’re delighted to announce the creation of FDA’s first Combination Products Policy Council. Building on successful cross-cutting efforts such as the Biosimilars Implementation Committee and the Medical Policy Counsel in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), the Council will be a senior-level, agency-wide forum for discussing, resolving, and implementing product and policy issues. Because of the multiple FDA organizations involved, this council will have decisional authority on issues relating to combination products, cross-labeled products, and medical product classification.

The different parts of a combination product and the different product types labeled for use together in premarket applications for combination products and cross-labeled products can create complexities for reviewers and require expertise from multiple centers.

Rachel Sherman

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

Currently, the lead center manages the review process using procedures associated with the center-specific application type and user fee goal dates. But differences in statutory and regulatory requirements for different application types, including evidentiary standards, data requirements, and review limitations, make it challenging to coordinate reviews and ensure alignment and consistency in addressing issues across centers.

In response to these complexities, we are creating a key component in the Office of the Commissioner that can convene parties across centers, foster understanding and consistent application of requirements, and develop a unified FDA position on issues that arise. Although this process will not replace the existing formal appeal process, we anticipate that many issues can be resolved before reaching that stage.

Council Mission

  • Modernize the inter-center consultation process and related aspects of combination product and cross-labeled product review;
  • Promote development of innovative, safe, and effective combination products and cross-labeled products; and
  • Promote alignment in addressing challenging medical product classification issues.

The Council will be composed of representatives from relevant centers and offices. In addition, experts from within centers and other FDA offices will provide expertise as needed for specific policy topics under consideration.

In addition to serving as a communications hub, the Council will be involved in the development of agency-wide and external communications such as draft guidances, publications, and blog posts on policy decisions. FDA envisions a variety of topics may be relevant for consideration by the Council, including such “front-burner” items as product jurisdiction and designation practices, application of evidentiary standards for clearance/approval to combination products and cross-labeled products, and regulation of novel products.

We’ve heard that many stakeholders desire a voice in modernizing the combination review program, and we’re listening! In addition to the topics listed above, one of the Council’s priorities will be to consider how best to seek input from external stakeholders on various issues. We would hope that such comments include policy issues recommended for discussion and recommendations on how the policy issue could be addressed or implemented.

We are confident that the Council’s efforts will ensure transparency and consistency in our approach to combination product policy development and implementation, ultimately helping to ensure that innovative combination products marketed to the American people are safe, effective, and appropriately labeled. We look forward to providing updates about the Council, as well as additional modernization efforts in this important area.

Nina L. Hunter, Ph.D., is FDA’s Associate Director for Science Policy in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco

Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., is FDA’s Associate Deputy Commissioner in the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco and the Chairperson of the Council