National Medical Evidence Generation Collaborative (EvGen Collaborative)

By: Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., and Robert M. Califf, M.D.

Readers of FDAVoice may have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot lately about the topic of evidence generation (for example, see here and here). Scientific evidence—how it’s created, how it’s interpreted, how it’s used to protect the health of Americans—is at the heart of all that we do at FDA.

Rachel Sherman

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

Over the course of your career, you’ve probably experienced the feeling of being visited by an important insight, but you’ve lacked the kind of clear, unequivocal evidence needed to feel confident that what you were proposing would actually work. Well, you aren’t alone. There has long been a chronic shortage of the information needed to inform decisions affecting health and healthcare, regardless of whether those decisions are being made by patients, physicians, regulators, payers, or other stakeholders.

For this reason, we’re especially pleased to share with you some of the efforts underway this past year to build a National Medical Evidence Generation Collaborative, or EvGen for short. We have a new website devoted to this collaborative, where you can watch videos on the EvGen vision and learn more about the many stakeholders involved.

A key EvGen goal is to leverage previously isolated data systems in a way that ensures that available information collected during healthcare-related activities (e.g., medical research, medical product development, clinical care) can be brought to bear for the benefit of all. As outlined in a recent publication, by combining insights, expertise, and technologies from across the spectrum of federal and private health sectors, we can build a new healthcare environment, one in which, for example, clinical research is embedded seamlessly within real-world clinical practice to create a cycle of improvement in care and outcomes, what is known as a continuously learning healthcare system.

Robert Califf

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

The vision for EvGen put forward by its many supporters is a momentous opportunity to transform how we approach the myriad decisions that affect different parts of the healthcare ecosystem. For instance, patients would benefit from a more comprehensive, patient-centered and evidence-driven approach that engages them as active participants in care and research. At the same time, practitioners and other healthcare professionals would have access to constantly growing sources of scientific evidence that would enable them to more confidently determine which treatments work best for which patients. And payers would have the information needed to identify which treatments truly provide value to those they cover.

Although the activities described on the EvGen website are a major step forward, much remains to be done. Working together, we can help build a healthcare world in which patients, clinicians, and policymakers have access to the high-quality scientific evidence to support the best choices for individual patients and populations.

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

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

What We Mean When We Talk About EvGen Part II: Building Out a National System for Evidence Generation

By: Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., and Robert M. Califf, M.D.

In an earlier FDA Voice blog post, we discussed a pair of concepts – interoperability and connectivity – that are essential prerequisites for the creation of a successful national system for evidence generation (or “EvGen”). In this post, we take a look at how we would apply these constructs as we go about building such a system.

Building EvGen

Rachel Sherman

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

Creating knowledge requires the application of proven analytical methods and techniques to biomedical data in order to produce reliable conclusions. Until recently, such analysis was done by experts operating in centers that typically restricted access to data. This “walled garden” approach evolved for several reasons: the imperative to protect the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive medical data; concern about the negative consequences that could arise from inappropriate, biased, or incompetent analysis; and, the tendency to see data as a competitive asset. Regardless of the specific reason, the result has been the same: widespread and systemic barriers to data sharing.

If we are to reverse these tendencies and foster a new approach to creating evidence of the kind envisioned for EvGen, we must bear in mind several critical principles:

  1. There must be a common approach to how data is presented, reported and analyzed and strict methods for ensuring patient privacy and data security.
  2. Rules of engagement must be transparent and developed through a process that builds consensus across the relevant ecosystem and its stakeholders.
  3. To ensure support across a diverse ecosystem that often includes competing priorities and incentives, the system’s output must be intended for the public good and be readily accessible to all stakeholders.

What Would EvGen Look Like in Practice?

Robert Califf

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

What would a robust national platform for evidence generation look like? It may be helpful to envision EvGen as an umbrella for all activities that help inform all stakeholders about making treatment decisions.

The task of evaluating drugs, biologics, or devices encompasses different data needs and methods. However, all share a common attribute: the characterization of individuals and populations and their associated clinical outcomes after they have undergone diagnostic or prognostic testing or been exposed to a therapeutic intervention.

Moreover, when medical practice itself is part of the evaluation, characterization of the organization and function of delivery systems is critical. In other words, the kinds of evidence needed to evaluate medical products for safety and effectiveness and the kinds of evidence needed to guide medical practice overlap substantially.

Over the last decade, there has been enormous progress in the area of “secondary use,” in which data collected for one purpose (for instance, as part of routine clinical care) can be reused for another (such as research, safety monitoring, or quality improvement).

The Sentinel Initiative, launched in response to a Congressional mandate to develop an active postmarket risk identification and analysis system, is one example. Modeled after successful programs such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Safety Datalink, Sentinel allows FDA to conduct safety surveillance by actively querying diverse data sources, primarily administrative and insurance claims databases but also data from electronic health record (EHR) systems, to evaluate possible medical product safety issues quickly and securely.

Another example, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network (PCORnet), is a national system that includes many of the attributes needed for EvGen. PCORnet includes participation from government, industry, academia, and patients and their advocates. Whereas FDA’s Sentinel system is built primarily on claims data repurposed for safety surveillance, PCORnet is designed to leverage EHR data in support of pragmatic clinical research.

The NIH’s Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory has demonstrated through its Distributed Research Network that the concept of secondary data use can be extended into the realm of prospective pragmatic interventional trials. The NIH Collaboratory program, which includes many of the same health care systems involved in Sentinel and PCORnet, has 10 active trials underway.

In addition, the Reagan-Udall Foundation Innovation in Medical Evidence Development and Surveillance (IMEDS) Evaluation Program is exploring governance mechanisms to ensure that private-sector entities, notably regulated industry, can collaborate with Sentinel data partners to sponsor safety queries about marketed medical products. Such measures have the potential to expand the involvement of private-sector partners beyond the arena of methodology, further helping to ensure that Sentinel continues its expansion into a national resource.

Similarly, efforts are underway to establish a National Device Evaluation System (NDES). As currently envisioned, the NDES would be established through strategic alliances and shared governance. The system would build upon and leverage information from electronic real-world data sources, such as data gathered through routine clinical practice in device registries, claims data, and EHRs, with linkages activated among specific data sources as appropriate to address specific questions.

As substantial work already is being done in all of these areas, valuable experience is being gained. The next step is to ensure that these pioneering efforts coalesce into a true national resource. More on that in future postings.

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

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

What We Mean When We Talk About EvGen Part I: Laying the Foundation for a National System for Evidence Generation

By: Rachel E. Sherman, M.D., M.P.H., and Robert M. Califf, M.D.

Rachel Sherman

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

Across the clinical research enterprise, there is a growing awareness of serious shortfalls in the current paradigm of generating the scientific evidence that supports medical product evaluation and clinical care decisions and the need to modernize methods and expectations surrounding this evidence base.

We know, for instance, that most clinical practice guideline recommendations are not based on high-quality evidence, typically derived from appropriately designed randomized controlled trials. We also know that adherence to standards supported by such high-quality evidence results in better outcomes for patients.

There is reason to believe that we’ve arrived at a tipping point where previously separate, “siloed” efforts can be linked to create a national system for evidence generation (EvGen). In this first of a series of posts, we’ll take a look at the elements required to build such a national system, beginning with a pair of foundational concepts—interoperability and connectivity.

Interoperability

Robert Califf

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

Put simply, interoperability is the idea that different systems used by different groups of people can be used for a common purpose because those systems share standards and approaches. To take one example: modern train tracks employ agreed-upon standards in terms of track gauge and other specifications so that many different kinds of vehicles can safely use the rail system.

In similar fashion, a national system for evidence generation that applied common data standards and definitions could “lay the track” for significant improvements in the exchange of biomedical data. Patients, consumers, professional groups, payers, the medical products industry, and health systems all stand to benefit from potential gains in efficiency and reductions in cost that would accompany standardized approaches to data collection, curation, and sharing, once up-front investments are absorbed. Then, with these standards in place, effort could be devoted to generating actionable knowledge rather than simply managing data.

Connectivity

Establishing interoperable systems is a critical step in building a national system for evidence generation. An equally important step is to enable collaboration among the many groups that generate data, for example patients, clinicians, hospital systems, health insurance organizations. Evidence is derived from high-quality data that often originates from many different sources or settings. We can create an interconnected environment that leverages all the available data to provide answers to important public health questions. A defining characteristic of such a network is the ability to leverage all available data for different tasks as needed, allowing the network to integrate complex relationships between data input and output. Coupled with interoperable standards, a national system for evidence generation based on these principles will be capable of generating very large quantities of data and enabling those data to flow among system components.

The result? Researchers will be able to distill the data into actionable evidence that can ultimately guide clinical, regulatory, and personal decision-making about health and health care.

These two core constructs represent the essential scaffolding that must be developed and put in place to support a national system for evidence generation. In our next posting, we’ll examine ways we can begin building and continuously improving such a system for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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

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