Protecting and Promoting Public Health: Advancing the FDA’s Medical Countermeasures Mission

By Anna Abram

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s wide-ranging public health responsibilities include the vital role we play on the frontlines of national security by facilitating the development and availability of safe and effective medical countermeasures. These are the vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics that are needed to protect our nation from chemical, biological, and radiological and nuclear threats, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate. As in so many areas of public health, our work here is critical, and we are ever-cognizant of its urgency.

One of the many areas in which the agency is continuing to take steps to facilitate the development of medical countermeasures to protect Americans is with respect to the threat of smallpox. The World Health Assembly declared naturally occurring smallpox eradicated worldwide in 1980, following an unprecedented global immunization campaign. However, small amounts of the variola virus – the virus that causes smallpox – still exist for research purposes in two labs; one of these labs is in the U.S. and the other in Russia. Despite the eradication of naturally occurring smallpox disease, there are longstanding concerns that the variola virus could be used as a weapon. Since routine vaccination was discontinued in the 1970s, many people would be at high risk of getting very ill or dying if exposed to this highly contagious virus.

Medical Countermeasures Against Smallpox

The development of medical countermeasures for smallpox presents complex and unique challenges. It is not possible to conduct clinical trials involving patients with naturally occurring smallpox and exposing humans to the variola virus would be ethically unthinkable. To address this challenge – which also applies to many of the high-priority threat agents for which medical countermeasure are being developed – the FDA in 2002 established the Animal Rule, which allows efficacy data to be obtained solely from studies in animals when studies in humans are not ethical or feasible, provided the results can be reasonably extrapolated to expected human use and plans can be made for follow-up study when appropriate. (The FDA finalized guidance on product development under the Animal Rule in 2015).

Anna Abram

Anna Abram is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, Legislation, and Analysis

However, the variola virus poses additional issues for drug developers. Unlike other products studied under the Animal Rule, studies of smallpox countermeasures require not just a surrogate host but also a surrogate pathogen. Most pathogens are capable of infecting multiple host species and therefore can be studied in other, nonhuman, species. But the variola virus only infects humans, which means that variola virus animal models are unlikely to convincingly resemble the human disease. To help delineate a path forward, the FDA issued a draft guidance “Smallpox (Variola) Infection: Developing Drugs for Treatment and Prevention” in 2007 and brought these important issues to an FDA public workshop in 2009 and an FDA advisory committee meeting in 2011. The revised draft guidance issued last week incorporates this input, providing developers with additional clarity on the regulatory path for products intended to treat smallpox. It recommends that efficacy be demonstrated based on studies in two animal models infected with related viruses – such as a monkey model using monkeypox and a rabbit model using rabbitpox. This guidance underscores how the FDA is continually working to identify and apply efficient solutions based on the most up-to date science in its regulation of safe and effective medical products.

The ultimate testament to the success of these efforts is the approval on July 13 of TPOXX (teconvirimat), the first drug with an indication for the treatment of smallpox and the 14th medical countermeasure approved under the Animal Rule. In conjunction with this product approval, the sponsor was awarded the first Material Threat Medical Countermeasure Priority Review Voucher, established by the 21st Century Cures Act, to incentivize the development of certain medical countermeasures against some of the most serious threat agents.

The FDA’s Other Recent Work on Medical Countermeasures

Smallpox isn’t the only area of medical countermeasure work ongoing at the FDA. On July 10, we approved an autoinjector which provides a one-time dose of the antidote atropine to block the effects of a nerve agent or certain insecticide poisonings (organophosphorus and/or carbamate).

We also recently issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Department of Defense (DoD), permitting the emergency use of a specific freeze-dried plasma product manufactured to treat U.S. military personnel with severe or life-threatening hemorrhage or coagulopathy (a condition that affects the blood’s ability to clot) due to traumatic injuries sustained in the conduct of military operations in situations when plasma is not available or when its use is not practical. The use of plasma in combat settings is severely limited by logistical and operational challenges, such as the need for refrigeration and, in the case of frozen plasma, a long thawing period. In January 2018, the FDA and DoD announced a joint program to prioritize the efficient development of safe and effective medical products intended to save the lives of American military personnel.  We are working closely with our DoD colleagues in these important priority areas, including the goal of having a licensed freeze-dried plasma product as soon as possible.

These are just some of the ways in which the FDA has been hard at work to advance our medical countermeasure mission. But there is more work to do and the agency is committed to doing it. We are constantly reminded that chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats – whether deliberate, naturally occurring or accidental – can, and often do, emerge with little to no warning. Emerging threats are often not deterred by geographical boundaries in our modern times. The recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a reminder of the need to remain ever vigilant in our work to advance medical countermeasures as part of protecting and promoting public health.

We are committed to doing all that we can to continue to facilitate the development and availability of medical countermeasures. The FDA’s Medical Countermeasures Initiative (MCMi), established in 2010, is focused on providing clear regulatory pathways for medical countermeasures, advancing regulatory science to support regulatory decision-making, and articulating important regulatory policies and mechanisms to facilitate the timely development and availability of medical countermeasures. These actions are translating into tangible results. Since 2012, the FDA has approved, licensed or cleared more than 120 medical countermeasures (including supplemental changes to already approved applications and modifications to diagnostic devices) for a diverse array of threats including anthrax, smallpox, botulinum toxin, plague, and pandemic influenza.

Under the MCMi, the FDA is taking key actions to address many of the challenges associated with countermeasure development. For example, we still do not have adequate animal models to support the development of medical countermeasures against many potential biothreats nor do we have sufficient biomarkers to assist in supporting the extrapolation of data generated in animal models to humans. Without such tools, it can be difficult to generate the data necessary to support regulatory decision-making.

Given the urgency inherent in our medical countermeasure work, addressing these regulatory science gaps remains a high priority for the agency. To help address these challenges, the FDA has established a broad and robust portfolio of cutting-edge research under the MCMi Regulatory Science Program and is working with our private sector and government partners, including DoD, to help facilitate the translation of discoveries in science and technology into safe and effective medical countermeasures. Congress has also provided vital support and our recent actions in this space underscore how we are fully leveraging the authorities Congress has given us, including measures enacted as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 and the 21st Century Cures Act.

The FDA remains deeply committed to working closely with its partners to achieve our mission of protecting and promoting the public health, both at home and abroad, by doing our part to facilitate the timely development of safe and effective medical countermeasures to protect our nation.

Anna Abram is the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning, Legislation and Analysis.

Reflections on a Landmark Year for Medical Product Innovation and Public Health Advances and Looking Ahead to Policy in 2018

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Dr. Scott GottliebAs we look ahead to 2018, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on an inspiring year of advances in both medicine and public health for FDA — from groundbreaking medical products brought to market this year, to a record number of generic drug approvals that will promote competition, and to the agency’s ongoing efforts to advance policies that promote safe and effective product innovation, and keep Americans safe from food-related illnesses.

Today, new medical breakthroughs are profoundly altering how we view and treat disease in ways that seemed inconceivable just years ago. In this modern medical setting, FDA is evaluating all aspects of its policies to make sure we’re protecting consumers, while promoting beneficial innovation that has the potential to effectively treat disease for human and animal patients, and improve public health.

A Record Year for New Innovation

As scientific understanding of disease advances and the practice of medicine becomes more tailored to individual patient needs, we also are modernizing how we work with innovators throughout the development process to bring products to patients more efficiently, using the best available science.

For example, FDA recently coordinated the approval of a novel diagnostic device that can detect hundreds of genetic mutations in a single test with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ proposed coverage of the test, thereby facilitating earlier access to this innovative product.

Also, in the rapidly advancing field of individualized medicine, the Agency advanced new draft guidance that addresses better ways to develop treatments that address the underlying molecular changes (e.g., genetic mutations) that often cause or contribute to diseases. This includes uncommon molecular changes that are present in only a small subset of patients. The guidance proposes an approach for drug developers to enroll patients into clinical trials for targeted therapies based on the identification of rare mutations,  when reasonable scientific evidence suggests the drug could be effective in patients with these genomic findings. The new guidance discusses the evidence needed to demonstrate effectiveness for a variety of molecular subsets within a particular disease. The framework could lead to more consistent development and approval of targeted therapies for patients who are likely to benefit from them.

This past August we also saw the practical advent of a whole new way to treat disease with the approval of the first gene therapy product in the United States. We have since approved two more gene therapy medicines. Innovations like these are creating a turning point in the treatment of serious illnesses. With this technology also comes greater potential to cure intractable and inherited diseases.

2017 saw a number of other similar, historic milestones with regard to new innovation. This collective progress reflects a fundamental shift in science that’s enabling us to attack more diseases with novel platforms. We’re increasingly able to identify patient benefit earlier in the development process because of the ability to better target medicines to the underlying mechanisms of disease. At the same time, in many cases these identical tools also allow us to surface safety issues earlier and more effectively.

pie chart of approvals

FDA approved a modern record number (56) of novel drugs and biologics in 2017.

Owing in part to these advances, FDA approved a modern record number (56) of novel drugs and biologics in 2017. Of these 56 novel approvals this past year, 46 were new molecular entities approved by our Center for Drug Evaluation and Research – of which 28 were approved using one or more of FDA’s expedited review programs. Ten of these 56 novel approvals were biological therapeutics that were approved by our Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. We also had a record number of drugs with orphan indications approved. At the same time we eliminated the entire backlog of pending orphan drug designation requests. We also broke records, with the highest number of generic drugs approved in a single month multiple times in 2017, and we recorded the highest annual total of generic drug approvals (1,027) in the agency’s history. We believe that, if current trends continue, we’ll exceed this record number of generic drug approvals in 2018.

2017 generics approvals

Both full approvals and tentative approvals, which do not allow the applicant to market the generic drug product and postpones the final approval until all patents/exclusivity issues have expired.

Our science-based and patient-centered regulatory approach also extends to medical devices, where we’ve focused on a life-cycle approach to product development. This has allowed us to streamline clinical development protocols without compromising on our commitment to rely on rigorous evidence. By carefully considering when clinical data can be better gathered through post-market, as opposed to pre-market, studies, patients are waiting less time to access some breakthrough devices without conceding one bit FDA’s gold standard for demonstrating reasonable assurance of device safety and effectiveness.

Chart of device approvals

In 2017, the agency approved a record number of novel devices — 95. This was more than four times the number of novel devices that received market approval in 2009.

Our commitment to applying the “least burdensome standard” for generating information critical for device approval was strengthened and advanced by provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act. This policy approach is a hallmark of our efforts to help innovators generate high quality evidence that can support marketing approval as efficiently as possible. Our embrace of these principles has resulted in remarkable advances in access for patients. In 2017, the agency approved a record number of novel devices — 95. This was more than four times the number of novel devices that received market approval in 2009.

Modernizing FDA’s Regulatory Programs

These new advances also present new challenges. At FDA, we’re being confronted with the need to regulate highly novel areas of science like gene therapy, targeted medicine, cell-based regenerative medicine, and digital health; where our traditional approaches to product regulation may not be as well suited. To meet these new challenges, we’re taking a fresh look at how we can adapt our customary approaches to regulation. We need to make sure that we’re allowing beneficial new technologies to advance, while continuing to protect consumers as part of our product review processes.

To promote these efforts, we advanced a new policy framework allowing certain diagnostic tests to undergo review by accredited third parties. This new framework will reduce the burden on test developers and streamline the regulatory assessment of these types of innovative products. This approach more readily accommodates the highly iterative nature of these technologies, where tests often undergo routine modifications to improve their precision and clinical utility.

Over the past summer, we also launched a pilot program exploring a new way of regulating digital health devices so that these fast-evolving technologies can similarly undergo the rapid product evolution that’s the hallmark of software tools like medical apps, while FDA maintains the ability to make sure that these digital health tools are being reliably produced. We followed these actions with a suite of guidances that clarify how we intend to regulate certain digital health technologies in a way that encourages innovation.

More broadly, we provided more clarity for manufacturers of low- to moderate-risk medical devices which will reduce unnecessary submissions to FDA for minor modifications that could not significantly affect device safety or effectiveness. As a result, patients will benefit from upgraded products more quickly.

This effort to properly match our policies to the unique attributes of the new technologies we’re being asked to review was also evident in new steps we took across other programs; from our comprehensive policy on regenerative medicine aimed at spurring safe and effective innovation in these potentially transformative products, to our draft guidance for manufacturers of 3D printed medical devices.

We know that the public health benefits derived from our efforts to modernize our regulatory approaches are not confined to the pre-market review process. Advances in our post-market tools and policies can yield meaningful advances for patients in the form of safer products, better information to guide medical decisions, and more opportunity to more efficiently move products to market – if we can have confidence in our post-market oversight. This is why we’re always looking for ways to reform and improve this oversight, and advance the ways that we share this information with patients and providers.

For example, last fall we launched a new searchable database to better inform patients and health care professionals of adverse events reported with drug and biologic products. We’ll be taking other steps soon to improve on the ways that we share important clinical information with patients and providers. These goals also include new efforts to step up our post-market oversight of potentially risky products, and warn consumers earlier of potential problems we find. As an example, we’ve taken decisive action to protect the public from risky stem cell products offered by unscrupulous clinics. We’ll pursue similar actions in 2018.

In 2017, we also took new steps to warn companies making false claims that their unapproved products can treat or cure life-threatening diseases; we advanced a new draft guidance describing FDA’s approach to regulating homeopathic products based on the risk they can pose to consumers; and we took steps to alert the public to the dangers of other unproven and untested products, such as certain body-building products, contaminated dietary supplements and kratom. Among other efforts, we also took new steps to facilitate faster patient access to needed compounded medicines, while protecting the public from poorly compounded drugs. There will be additional enforcement steps in 2018. And we continue to promote work that will enable FDA to use real world data to better inform our regulatory decision-making.

Promoting Drug Competition

Many say that FDA has no role in drug pricing, but I disagree. While we don’t have the authority to regulate prices, we do have the authority — and the responsibility — to ensure that the agency’s policies are not impeding competition that could ultimately be a check to rising drug prices and patient access.

Our role as gatekeeper of cost-effective, high-quality generic drug products is a foundational part of fostering human and animal drug competition. We’re advancing new ways that FDA can help enable patients to get access to more affordable medications. We shared some of the steps the agency is taking with our launch in June 2017 of the Drug Competition Action Plan — from prioritizing our review of generic drug applications, to working to stop companies from finding loopholes in the system that delay the entry of generic drugs to market, to making substantial progress on the generic drug review backlog, to ensuring that low cost drugs get to the patients who can benefit from their effectiveness and more affordable price.

New Steps to Combat Addiction

I’ve noted many times that among my highest priorities as Commissioner is addressing addiction crises facing the nation, principally with respect to nicotine and opioids. In 2017 we announced new plans for how we address these crises. In July, we announced a comprehensive plan that proposes to lower nicotine in combustible cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels. At the same time, we took new steps to enable development of innovative delivery systems that could be potentially less harmful than cigarettes for adults who still want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine. As part of that plan, we formed a new Nicotine Steering Committee. It’s charged with modernizing FDA’s approach to development and regulation of nicotine replacement therapy products that can help smokers quit and stay quit

FDA also unveiled new actions to confront the staggering human and economic toll created by opioid abuse and addiction, starting with my first major action as commissioner to establish an Opioids Policy Steering Committee. Under the leadership of this committee, FDA is reevaluating how drugs that are already on the market are used, both for legitimate purposes and misuse and abuse.

The committee will recommend new policy steps to address this crisis. FDA also is taking immediate action where needed, as we did with FDA’s first-of-its-kind request to remove a currently marketed opioid pain drug from sale due to the public health consequences associated with the product’s abuse and misuse. We’ve also worked to identify ways to decrease exposure to opioids, prevent new addiction, and support the treatment of those with opioid use disorder; for example, through new Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy requirements for makers of immediate-release opioids, and requiring labeling changes to add important clarifying information regarding the use of medication-assisted treatments for patients suffering from opioid use disorder. We’re continuing to pursue other creative ways to address the crisis, such as leveraging different forms of packaging, storage and disposal of opioid medications.

Protecting and Empowering Consumers

It’s not only medical products and policies where FDA can innovate to better serve the public – we’ve also made much progress in the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was designed to keep the American public safe from food-related illness. Implementing the most comprehensive food safety reform in 70 years requires a massive commitment from federal, state and local governments to food producers, farmers and other stakeholders that are working to protect the public health in new and innovative ways. That’s why in July we announced more than $30 million in funding for states to help implement new produce safety requirements. We also launched an innovative software tool called the Food Safety Plan Builder that assists food manufacturers in creating a food safety plan to help prevent foodborne contamination and ultimately protect public health. And we’re looking at other ways to empower farmers and producers to ensure the law’s modernized requirements are effectively fulfilled.

I also believe in empowering people to make better choices. This is reflected in our continued efforts to pursue the practical implementation of the menu-labeling rule. We listened to public feedback and have proposed practical solutions to make it easier for industry to meet obligations in these important public health endeavors, while ensuring restaurant patrons have access to the nutrition information they need.

Empowerment also is critical for patients facing life-threatening or debilitating illness. This year we held our first-ever patient engagement advisory committee meeting. This is a pioneering effort that seeks to strengthen our engagement with patients and secure the patient voice in our regulatory decision-making.

We also understand that in many serious diseases, patients want earlier access to experimental treatments. We’ve taken new steps to improve the expanded access resources we have to serve patients, including enhancing our online Expanded Access Navigator Tool and simplifying the process for approving a patient’s request for access to an investigational treatment. Last month, as part of our commitment to expediting drug development for rare diseases, we issued draft guidance that describes a possible new approach for companies to collaborate and test multiple drug products in the same clinical trials for a specific ultra-rare pediatric disease, thereby reducing the number of patients that need to be treated with placebo. This framework can be applied more widely to other ultra-rare diseases.

In everything we do at FDA, our top priority is to protect the public health. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident in 2017 than in the areas of the United States that were impacted by last year’s hurricanes.

The devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma brought to public view some of the critical work FDA does in overseeing the safety of the food and medical products. We worked around the clock to ensure that farmers in Texas and Florida could safely handle their crops affected by flooding. We remain deeply committed to the recovery in Puerto Rico and that island’s long-term success. We worked closely with drug and medical device manufacturers in Puerto Rico to take steps to address potential and apparent shortages of medical products that resulted from the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.

Although we’re seeing progress in Puerto Rico owing to the hard work of federal and local authorities — and primarily because of the resilience of the American people who are affected — our work and commitment to hurricane victims and patients in need of critical medical products will continue into 2018.

Improving our Stewardship of Vital Drugs

Antimicrobial resistance continues to be a major public health challenge. Addressing this problem requires adoption of a “one health” approach that involves new efforts to use antibiotics more responsibly in both human and animal medicine. To better manage antibiotic usage in food animals, in 2017 FDA completed its implementation of a groundbreaking Guidance for Industry (GFI #213). This new guidance document eliminates the use of medically important antimicrobials for food production purposes and brings the remaining therapeutic uses of antibiotics in animals under veterinary oversight.

A total of 292 approved drug applications were impacted by this new guidance; with 84 drug applications withdrawn, 93 applications for oral dosage form products intended for use in water converted from over-the counter (OTC) to prescription, and another 115 applications for products intended for use in feed converted from OTC to Veterinary Feed Directive. This is a major accomplishment. It represents a milestone in our efforts to promote judicious use of antibiotics in animal health. We will take additional steps in 2018 to build on these successes, and improve stewardship over medically important antibiotics.

A look ahead to 2018

When I look back at my eight months as Commissioner, since coming aboard at FDA in May, I’m humbled by the many accomplishments of the agency’s dedicated professional staff.

We’ve achieved a great deal in 2017. We’re committed to making even more progress this year. 2018 holds promise in even more areas where the agency will take steps to advance beneficial innovation by adopting new measures to make sure our processes are efficient, human and animal products are safe, and practical solutions are implemented that protect and promote the public health. The launch of our Unified Agenda highlights some of our priorities. These include advancing biosimilar policies, modernizing how we advance over-the-counter products, and better informing women about health issues and risk factors.

Nobody innovates in a silo. Advancements in medicine, biotechnology, food science, and the whole of public health are possible only because of the collaboration of the public health community. FDA is in a unique position to bring together stakeholders from across the sector — patients, industry, academics, providers, other government agencies — to ensure innovation translates into successful outcomes that protect and benefit the public. That’s what drives us at FDA. It’s what we’ll pursue in the year ahead.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

FDA Takes Important Steps to Stem the Tide of Opioid Misuse and Abuse

By Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

 America is awash in immediate-release (IR) opioids. About 90 percent of all opioid pain medications prescribed – or 160 million prescriptions a year – are for IR formulations like hydrocodone and acetaminophen or oxycodone and acetaminophen combinations. Many people who are currently addicted to opioids became medically addicted. Their first exposure to opioids was from a legal prescription, and for many, that prescription was written for an IR formulation of these drugs. Many addicted patients may then move on to higher dose formulations or more accessible illegal street drugs.

At FDA, we believe it’s necessary to continue to take steps to address both ends of this continuum, the potential gateway to addiction that is often the IR formulations, and the higher dose, extended-release formulations, both of which carry a significant risk of overdose and mortality. We are taking several actions to address these challenges. This week, we issued letters notifying 74 manufacturers of IR opioid analgesics intended for use in the outpatient setting that their drugs will now be subject to a more stringent set of requirements under a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS). The REMS requires that training be made available to health care providers who prescribe IR opioids, including training on safe prescribing practices and consideration of non-opioid alternatives.

Dr. Scott GottliebFDA also will soon issue a final guidance document that will assist potential applicants who plan to develop, and submit to FDA, an application to seek approval of a generic version of abuse-deterrent formulations (ADFs) of opioid drugs. Most of the currently approved opioids with labeling describing abuse-deterrent properties are extended release/long-acting (ER/LA) formulations of opioids. These drugs are generally formulated to be more resistant to the sort of manipulation that would otherwise make them amenable to snorting and/or injecting. Addicted patients who start by using the IR drugs will sometimes migrate onto the ER/LA formulations, and then try to manipulate those higher-dose formulations in ways that can provide a more immediate “high” through injection or snorting. But there are currently only brand name ADF formulations. These steps that FDA is taking are aimed at addressing each end of the spectrum of abuse and addiction.

With respect to the new REMS measures to address the safer use of the IR opioid pain medications, these short-acting drugs will now be subject to the same regulatory requirements as the ER/LA opioid analgesic formulations. Since 2012, manufacturers of ER/LA opioid analgesics have been subject to a REMS, which requires, as its primary component, that training be made available to prescribers of those products. To meet this requirement, the sponsors of the ER/LA opioid analgesics have been providing unrestricted grants to accredited continuing education providers for the development of education courses for health care professionals based on content outlined by FDA, which the agency calls the “Blueprint.” FDA is now extending these REMS requirements to the IR manufacturers.

While some of the ER/LA manufacturers also make IR opioids, today’s action will greatly expand the number of products covered by the REMS. The existing REMS currently includes 64 ER/LA opioid analgesic products. Once the action is finalized, an additional 277 IR opioid analgesics will be subject to these REMS requirements.

In addition to expanding the REMS to include IR products, FDA is modifying the content of the educational “Blueprint” required under the REMS. The agency is adding content on pain management, including non-opioid alternatives. This includes principles related to the acute and chronic pain management; non-pharmacologic treatments for pain; and pharmacologic treatments for pain (both non-opioid analgesic and opioid analgesic). The revised Blueprint will also cover information about the safe use of opioids, and basic information about addiction medicine and opioid use disorders.

For the first time, this training will also be made available to other health care professionals who are involved in the management of patients with pain, including nurses and pharmacists, which is in addition to prescribers of opioid analgesics. FDA believes that all health care professionals involved in the management of patients with pain should be educated about the safe use of opioids so that when they write or dispense a prescription for an opioid analgesic, or monitor patients receiving an opioid analgesic, they can help ensure that the product is properly indicated for the patient and used under appropriate clinical care.

FDA’s new Opioid Policy Steering Committee is also considering whether there are circumstances when FDA should require some form of mandatory education for health care professionals, and how the agency would pursue such a goal. The agency’s purpose is to reduce overall exposure to opioids by making certain that prescribing doctors are properly informed about appropriate prescribing recommendations, that providers understand how to identify the risk of abuse in individual patients, and know how to get addicted patients into treatment. In fact, today, the agency issued a public notice to solicit input on a detailed series of questions related to these goals. FDA has also been scheduling meetings with provider organizations and sponsors engaged in dispensing drugs – including health systems and pharmacy chains, in an effort to solicit additional input on new strategies.

Sending out the manufacturer notification letters is the first step in extending the REMS to the IR drugs. This process could take about a year to finalize. The modified REMS will continue to include a requirement for patient Medication Guides, patient-counseling documents, and plans for assessing the effectiveness of the revised REMS. The crisis of opioid addiction is a public health tragedy of enormous proportions. By putting in place safety measures for IR opioid analgesics, and creating a more robust path to converting the high dose opioids to formulations that are more resistant to manipulation, we are addressing both ends of this crisis. Our hope is that we can help prevent new patients from becoming addicted, and keep some individuals from experiencing the serious adverse effects associated with these medications.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

FDA and Health Professionals, Safeguarding the Public’s Health

By: Anna M. Fine, Pharm.D.

At our recent third annual Health Professional Organizations Conference, some of FDA’s most senior leaders exchanged views and discussed issues of mutual interest with senior representatives from key health professional organizations.

Anna FineHeld on FDA’s White Oak campus in Silver Spring, Md., and organized by the FDA’s Office of Health & Constituent Affairs (OHCA), the event was attended by 30 professional organizations representing physicians, nurses, physician assistants, dentists, optometrists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and others.

An open and ongoing dialogue between these professionals and FDA is a vital part of addressing many important public health issues. In her opening remarks, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg offered a few examples, such as health professionals’ contributions to the FDA’s MedWatch and Adverse Event Reporting programs and their work in interpreting and addressing medical products’ safety signals. A drug’s safety profile is continually evaluated after FDA approval, and health professionals are encouraged to report suspected adverse events to FDA which allows FDA to conduct comprehensive safety evaluations. Dr. Hamburg also emphasized the importance of health professionals’ engagement in regulatory science research, which provides essential support for the agency’s decisions and ability to bring innovative products to market.

Mitch Zeller, the Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, speaking at the third annual Health Professional Organizations Conference, on May 14, 2014

Mitch Zeller, Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, speaking at the agency’s third annual Health Professional Organizations Conference. See more photos of this event on Flickr.

Key FDA leaders who gave presentations throughout the day included Mitch Zeller, the Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products; Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Acting Chief FDA Scientist; and Dr. Peter Lurie, Acting Associate Commissioner of FDA’s Office of Planning and Policy.

In addition, senior scientists from FDA’s centers for drugs, medical devices and food discussed FDA’s priorities and answered questions from the audience. The robust dialogue between the panel members and our stakeholders covered many public health issues including youth and tobacco and FDA’s proposed changes to the food label.

Feedback from the audience highlights the need for such a conference.

“It’s great to have this dialogue with FDA officials. It demonstrates that they respect our organizations and want our feedback,” said one stakeholder representative.

“I love coming to these annual meetings, not only to meet FDA personnel but to talk with colleagues in other professions. This is a one-of-a-kind forum,” said another.

As a pharmacist and team leader within OHCA, I can attest to the fact that my FDA colleagues and I benefited as well. We learned a lot about our stakeholders’ concerns and established new connections with health professional organizations—contacts that we plan to follow-up on to explore new opportunities for mutual cooperation and collaboration in the interest of the public health.

Anna M. Fine, Pharm.D., is Director of the Health Professional Liaison Program in FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs.

For National Women’s Health Week, FDA Resources Help Women Make Informed Health Choices

By: Marsha B. Henderson, M.C.R.P.

“Ask your mother.” In households throughout the country, women often make decisions about foods and medical products for themselves and their loved ones.

8547850411_6e188c4b11_o-1As we celebrate National Women’s Health Week (May 11-17), I want to highlight some of the many ways in which FDA is working to make sure that women have the resources they need to make informed health choices.

FDA’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH) offers educational resources to help women at every stage of their adult lives—covering topics that range from college health to healthy aging. We develop and disseminate easy-to-read health materials and educational videos for women. We also connect women to these resources and other safety information on the FDA’s For Women website.

Throughout this week, OWH will be conducting special health promotions to connect women to resources on how to stay healthy. Starting today, women can order a free kit of OWH health materials on topics including mammograms, sleep problems, pregnancy, and contact-lens care. OWH is also collaborating with FDA’s Office of Communications to share tips for new mothers and other resources.

Lastly, we’re using social media to challenge women to take better care of their health. Encourage the women in your networks to follow us on Pinterest for a special challenge and health tips each day of the week. Use #1wk4health to participate.  In addition, follow @fdawomen and join us on May 13 at 1 pm for a Twitter chat we are co-hosting with the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Office of Research on Women’s Health; the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health; and Everyday Health.

Once the week is over, I hope you will continue to look to FDA for women’s health resources. Encourage the women in your community to read our health materials, watch a video or participate in one of our social media activities.

Marsha B. Henderson, M.C.R.P., is FDA’s Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health

Johns Hopkins and UCSF-Stanford join FDA’s Centers of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

If you’ve been following my blog series about the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS), you know about a critical component of nearly all FDA efforts to promote innovative approaches to developing and evaluating our regulated products – collaboration! This week FDA made two new additions to its network of academic partnerships known as Centers of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSIs).

Stephen OstroffThe first partner brings together a team of leading scientists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) in a joint effort with Stanford University. The second, Johns Hopkins University, builds on a long history of collaboration with FDA. Both partners received FDA funding through a competitive application process to establish CERSIs that will promote cross-disciplinary regulatory science training, scientific exchanges, and leading-edge research focused on FDA science priority areas.

This latest expansion of our CERSI network is an exciting development. The specialized, cutting-edge science required for FDA’s increasingly complex mission makes it imperative that we leverage available knowledge and infrastructure from collaborative partners in academia. These partnerships enrich the breadth and depth of FDA expertise, enabling us to base our regulatory decisions on the most current scientific evidence. They also enable FDA to bring its expansive experience to academia, ensuring that the new scientific approaches being developed at these institutions can be applied in a way that increases their usefulness for evaluating FDA-regulated products. And most important of all, patients and consumers will ultimately benefit from the investment.

Like those FDA previously established at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University, CERSIs are part of FDA’s effort to promote a vibrant, collaborative, regulatory science culture that enables us to tackle the scientific challenges presented by breakthroughs in medical product development and to improve food safety and quality.

As with the others, the joint UCSF-Stanford and the Johns Hopkins CERSIs will be managed by OCS’s Office of Regulatory Science and Innovation, together with teams of scientists from across FDA. Each new CERSI brings specific goals and unique strengths to enhancing FDA’s regulatory research and review.

The UCSF-Stanford CERSI will bring West Coast representation to the CERSI network and enable FDA to access UCSF’s powerhouse in quantitative sciences and pharmacology. Pre-eminent teams of scientists from both institutions and FDA scientists will be working together to develop and offer courses and workshops in drug development and regulatory science through UCSF’s American Course in Drug Development and Regulatory Sciences (ACDRS).

This CERSI will also offer scientific exchanges and training that target three of FDA’s regulatory science priority areas: transforming toxicology to improve product safety, improving clinical studies and evaluation, and harnessing diverse data through information sciences to improve health outcomes. In addition to FDA funding, the UCSF-Stanford CERSI is leveraging funds from the two academic institutions, through courses like the ACDRS, and from a recent Burroughs Wellcome Foundation Award in Innovation in Regulatory Sciences.

The Johns Hopkins CERSI will focus on three core FDA strategic priorities: clinical evaluations, social and behavioral science, and food safety. The university’s internationally recognized faculty in these areas and its geographic proximity to FDA will facilitate intellectual exchange among university faculty, FDA staff, and scientists. FDA staff can take advantage of workshops, symposia, courses, certificate programs, and a Master’s degree in Regulatory Science as well as others areas close to FDA’s strategic goals. Johns Hopkins is also known as a leader in innovative approaches to educational and life-long learning, including Internet-based courses that will be available to FDA scientists and staff worldwide.

Collaborating with our academic partners is crucial to our ability to expand the scientific foundation and infrastructure FDA needs to deliver on the promises of using 21st century science and technology to fulfill our regulatory mission.

Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D., is FDA’s Acting Chief Scientist

Salute to Science: FDA’s Student Poster Symposium

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.For many people, the hot summer months in the nation’s capital mean a time to depart for the beach or other less humid destinations. But one of the events I look forward to each year takes place during the hottest days of summer, right here on FDA’s White Oak Campus just outside of Washington, DC. It’s when I get to participate in the annual Salute to Science Student Poster Symposium.  Each of the posters on display offers a detailed and stimulating summary of the approximately 100 projects undertaken by FDA student interns during their internships.

Now celebrating its 8th year, the internship program provides high school students, college undergraduates and even postgraduates with a great training ground for the next stage of their scientific education. Each intern takes on a hands-on research topic to pursue under the watchful eye of a scientific mentor from either FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) or from the U.S. Air Force Wind Tunnel, which is located next door to our White Oak Campus.

As I looked over the posters and talked to the students about their projects, I was struck by their scientific sophistication as well as the remarkable range of topics addressed, ranging from a “virtual human head simulator,” which provides electrical stimulation that could be used to design novel neuro-prosthetic devices, optimize treatments, and assess the safety of medical devices such as MRIs, to the evaluation of a laser beam profile on optical properties of intraocular lens implants. The array of work demonstrated not only the promise of these students, but the breadth of scientific work undertaken here at FDA.

I was especially pleased to see so many young women participating in our internship program, given that women make up only 24 percent of the nation’s overall science and engineering workforce. The fact is, FDA is a welcoming place for female scientists and engineers; in addition to me, many of our top scientific positions are held by women.

This internship, and the Commissioner’s Fellowship Program for health care professionals, scientists, and engineers who may not have considered FDA in planning their career path, are helping to lay the groundwork for and train the next generation of FDA scientists.

They are part of our efforts to integrate strong science and research training requirements and programs, cultivate the expert institutional knowledge and innovation necessary to address gaps and challenges posed by novel products and areas, and continue to ensure safety and efficacy in the service of medicine and public health.

I am confident that the bright, creative, enthusiastic, and hard-working students who participated in FDA’s intern program will be part of the next generation of scientific leaders and innovators, and seeing their efforts gives me great hope for the future of this agency, and of the nation.

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

Regulatory Science Is Not Boring

By: Susan Kelly

I’m a relative newcomer to government work, joining FDA about 18 months ago after decades of being a journalist. My job is to assign, write and edit FDA Consumer Updates, news stories posted on fda.gov that are designed to give consumers important information in language that’s easy to understand. Not too technical or bureaucratic.

To endear myself to my new colleagues, I decided to write about anything that we saw as boring, leaving them to write about the hotter topics. I’m not easily bored, so I thought this would work as a noble gesture.

Even with this resolve, my heart sank when I was asked to write about regulatory science – one of FDA’s highest priorities. Do you remember the character Chandler Bing from the TV show “Friends”? I could hear his voice in my head: “Could this BE more boring?”

But I resolutely set about my task and five Consumer Updates later, I’m here to tell you that regulatory science is NOT boring. Not even close.

The official definition: “Regulatory science is the science of developing new tools, standards and approaches to assess the safety, effectiveness, quality and performance of FDA-regulated products.”

Ok. Put down the remote and give me a minute.

FDA has a huge impact on your daily life. Think about the foods you eat, medicines you take, vaccines your kids are given, the medical devices as commonplace as band-aids and toothbrushes and as complicated as an artificial heart, the foods and medicines you give your pets. FDA’s job is to make sure that products like these, and many, many more, do what they’re supposed to do —and do it safely.

Regulatory science is the proof that’s in the pudding, so to speak. It’s how FDA collects the scientific evidence it needs to determine if a regulated product will actually make your life better. It’s how FDA collects the scientific evidence it needs to ensure that the foods you eat at home or in restaurants are safe to eat. (How they taste is not our problem.)

Regulatory science identifies and tracks nasty bacteria that contaminate food. It creates genetic tests to determine if medication could work for you specifically—not just for people who are like you in some way. It puts human cells on a computer chip that mimic the function of organ systems, thereby possibly reducing the need to test new drugs on animals.

It’s the virtual family—a scary looking group of computer models that scientists can use to see what medical devices would work for their patients.

I especially liked meeting the scientists. Some of them struck me as a bit eccentric, as you might expect. Others are shy and reticent. What they have in common is a genuine commitment to make the world a better place – a safer place.

So the next time that you read the words “regulatory science,” take a second look. The work that goes on under that banner could save your life someday.

Susan Kelly is the managing editor of Consumer Health Information at FDA.

Quick Look at FDA’s Mexico Post and Our Global Work

By Phyllis J. Marquitz, M.Sc., J.D.

En Español

Food is something that we all have in common. It brings people together across cultures, borders and tables. Today, about 49 percent of fresh fruits, 21 percent of fresh vegetables and 85 percent of seafood eaten in the United States are imported. Many of these products originate from Mexico, and the volume of imported goods is increasing.

Plate of musselsIndeed, Mexico ranks second only to Canada as the largest agricultural trading partner with the United States with bilateral trade of over $20 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The ever-increasing imports of food are reshaping the way FDA does business, and the task of ensuring that food is safe and of high quality for American consumers no longer begins or ends at the border.

One important step FDA has taken to ensure the quality of food is to move some of our operations beyond our borders, opening 13 offices in other parts of the world since 2009. The office in Mexico opened in 2010 and is located in the capital, Mexico City, the largest city and most important cultural, educational and financial center.  Our five-person office, which includes one other FDA staffer plus three local employees, is part of the agency’s regional Latin American Office, with posts in Costa Rica and Chile.

Part of what we do is educate industry groups and academia about FDA’s public health regulations so that firms will have the tools they need to implement preventive measures that will help ensure that products are safe throughout the supply chain. In this year alone, our Mexico City office organized 20 outreach events that drew over 1,000 representatives from industry, universities and local governments.

A key part of our job is to help implement existing international arrangements between the United States and Mexico and other foreign governments. These arrangements facilitate and help ensure high quality standards we expect and insist on before any food, drug, or other health care product can be imported into the United States.

To help maintain preventive controls and science-based standards and enable swift regulatory action, we conduct outreach activities, translate documents and exchange strategic, scientific, and regulatory information routinely with our Mexican counterparts. They include the Mexican Federal Commission for Protection for Sanitary Risks, known as COFEPRIS. A recent example was the case of a non-compliant dietary supplement that contained active pharmaceutical ingredients. COFEPRIS acted on FDA’s information by conducting its own product analysis and stopped manufacturing of a product that might otherwise have entered the United States.

We’ve also sponsored pilot projects with Mexican counterparts to increase our knowledge base around the inspection systems in both countries. We need to know specifically how preventative systems work in day-to-day production and how Mexico enforces its regulations to ensure product safety and quality.

Partnerships with regulatory counterparts are also part of FDA’s efforts to protect public health. An example is an FDA Statement of Cooperation with COFEPRIS, signed in June 2012. This arrangement demonstrates a strong commitment at all levels of the U.S. and Mexican Governments to work together on food safety under a recent Food Safety Cooperative Arrangement, signed by the U.S. Secretaries of USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (FDA’s parent department) and their Mexican counterparts in May 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland.

With the FDA-COFEPRIS arrangement, FDA recognizes that COFEPRIS, through the Mexican Shellfish Sanitation Program (MSSP), has an effective molluscan shellfish sanitary control system in place. FDA and COFEPRIS will oversee continued compliance with the U.S. National Shellfish Sanitation Program requirements through jointly conducted audits of the MSSP. These audits include checking water quality and production standards at the source.

FDA continues to work with its international counterparts and partners to help ensure that safe, nutritious food is produced world-wide – before it is made available to U.S. consumers.

Phyllis Marquitz, is Assistant Regional Director for Latin America (Mexico City) within FDA’s Office of International Programs, Office of Global Regulatory Operations and Policy