Introducing IMEDS, a Public-Private Resource for Evidence Generation

By: Robert M. Califf, M.D.

FDA has been working to establish a national resource for FDA-approved medical products that can be used by public and private-sector entities, including regulated industry, to conduct large scale evaluations of safety issues in an environment that is secure and protects patient privacy. These evaluations include epidemiologic studies of medical products in collaboration with multiple healthcare data partners and the analytic center utilized by FDA through the agency’s Sentinel System. This new resource is called the Innovation in Medical Evidence Development and Surveillance System, or IMEDS.

Robert CaliffOne of the unique aspects and advantages of IMEDS is that it was launched on January 1, 2017 as a public-private partnership by the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the Food and Drug Administration, a not-for-profit organization created by Congress in 2007 to advance regulatory science. The IMEDS framework specifically provides governance that allows private-sector entities to gain access to the system with appropriate oversight. As a result, the FDA Sentinel System’s distributed data as well as scientific methods and tools will now be available for entities outside of FDA who want to conduct important research to advance patient safety. Through Sentinel, FDA routinely utilizes information from large amounts of electronic healthcare data to better inform regulatory decisions.

IMEDS policies and procedures were adopted with broad stakeholder input and FDA concurrence over the past year. The program was tested with a pilot project sponsored by Pfizer. Epidemiologists and other staff from participating Sentinel Data Partners, the analytic center at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Institute, which operates FDA’s Sentinel’s activities and Pfizer studied two drug safety questions using rapid query templates known as modular programs. Lessons learned from the pilot have been incorporated into the full scale IMEDS program, which will now offer researchers nationwide access to modular programs as well as customized epidemiologic studies. IMEDS provides several important advantages for both regulated industry and regulators, including FDA:

  • First, the large underlying distributed database offers privacy-protected information about medical products used by millions of patients. The data are quality checked to FDA standards and formatted using the same common data model used by FDA.
  • Second, modular programs incorporate epidemiologic methods and computer software templates which are routinely used by FDA.
  • Third, years of collective experience with distributed drug safety analyses amassed by analytic center and data partner staff provides critical context for new IMEDS users.
  • Finally, IMEDS ensures transparency with detailed descriptions of analytic decisions and publication of results in sufficient detail to promote replication by others.

Using modular programs, the system is capable of rapidly evaluating important safety issues that are of concern to patients, healthcare providers, industry, and regulators. The size of the IMEDS distributed database enables identification of even small exposed populations, and it also allows rare adverse events to be captured. If initial case reports of adverse events cause concern, the system can focus on defined populations, taking a drug or biologic and determine rates of adverse events on a national scale. These investigations can be extended to include comparative studies assessing risk using appropriate adjustment for risk factors, which is critical when using observational data. In addition, it is possible to perform descriptive analyses of off-label use, appropriate use, medication errors, health outcomes after branded and generic drug use, and product uptake patterns before and after regulatory risk management actions.

Modular Programs form the backbone of FDA’s use of Sentinel for what we call Active Risk Identification and Analysis (ARIA). On those occasions when ARIA is not sufficient to address a safety signal, FDA may impose a post marketing requirement (PMR). With IMEDS, enhancements to a modular program or customized epidemiologic studies could reduce the logistical steps and resources necessary to initiate a PMR. IMEDS allows industry to address pharmacoepidemiology and risk management responsibilities in an efficient and effective manner, but it does not make regulatory decisions or alter the existing relationship between FDA reviewing divisions and regulated industry.

Because it relies on common and transparent procedures and infrastructure that can be understood by all participants, IMEDS appropriately shifts the focus from debates over differing methods and data to the underlying clinical and public health questions of concern. And IMEDS also has the potential to create economies of scale for all participants.

At the core of IMEDS’ innovative approach is the fact that it embraces and enables a long term partnership between FDA and the public and private sector. As new tools and methods leave the development pipeline and enter production for FDA use, they also are incorporated into IMEDS. For example, FDA is working to incorporate patient-provided data as well as randomization into Sentinel infrastructure to support clinical research in a real world setting. Such work could be accelerated through support from sponsors working through IMEDS.

And sponsors will surely have other new ideas for expanded uses of the system. Indeed, FDA is confident that IMEDS sponsors will play a key role in shaping the future of evidence generation to help answer outstanding questions about the safe and effective use of medical products in a broad range of populations. The governance process for IMEDS enables other stakeholders such as medical specialty societies, healthcare delivery systems, healthcare payers, and patient organizations to sponsor studies that will help accomplish this. We have a strong foundation in place. Organizations interested in partnering with IMEDS and building on this foundation should email IMEDS@reaganudall.org for additional information.

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