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Archive for the ‘Insight on FDA-regulated Industries’ Category

Quality and Safety “Just Don’t Get No Respect”

Monday, February 27th, 2012

In every successful company, the glittery careers and the recognizable names belong to people who develop new products that meet consumer and patient needs. Innovation in new products (and careful husbanding of intellectual property and market share) is what brings in the revenue and determines corporate success.

By comparison, there is little recognition and often sparse resources for the people devoted to making sure those products (new and old) are safe and of high-quality. The best product ever developed is worthless, and possibly harmful, if standards are not maintained and manufacture and supply carefully monitored. The stakes are so much higher for FDA-regulated products.

FDA Matters has previously analyzed how “safe” has many meanings. My focus in this column is the safety of processing, manufacturing and distribution of FDA-regulated products. Is the milk we drink safe from adulteration (either intentional or unintentional)? Are medical devices manufactured with sufficient precision?

Does every batch of a biological product deliver consistently safe results? Are sterile conditions maintained when drugs are manufactured? The list of questions is endless because there are a limitless number of ways in which products can be unsafe.   

When FDA Matters has covered quality and safety issues in the past, we have almost always mentioned our suspicion that CEO’s and others in the corporate suites are not concerned enough.  It is reflected in the recalls, the extended plant closings, the drug shortages caused by suppliers unable to produce quality products, and the number of inspection reports (483’s) that contain substantive and non-trivial problems.

We assume that CEO’s want to produce safe and high-quality products. After all, it is bad for business to do otherwise. Yet, we suspect too many corporate executives are overly focused on new product development, marketing and sales and worry too little about the quality and safety of what they already produce.

Close accountability and adequate resources are the necessary ingredients of quality and safety. Too often, the opposite appears to be the case in corporations: inattention, underfunding, delegation to distant subordinates and overreliance on vendor guarantees.

FDA won’t back down from its vigilance. Commissioner Hamburg’s reorganization of the agency was, in part, to consolidate authority over quality and safety and put it in the hands of an immediate subordinate. Dr. Hamburg did what I hope every corporation would do—insist on closer accountability to the CEO with regard to production of safe, high-quality products. This becomes more urgent as the scope of this responsibility becomes global, more complex and harder to manage.

The foundation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act was enacted so long ago and generally has been so successful, it is easy to forget that FDA was created and built for the specific purpose of protecting consumers and the public health from dangerous products. It is the FDA that cleaned up the market in tonics and patent medicines, ensured there were serious consequences for companies that adulterated food and drug products, and created a basic public trust in the foods, medicines, devices and cosmetics that we use daily.

Quality and safety of FDA-regulated products is also on the mind of Congress. A little more than a year ago, it passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, a thorough overhaul of our nation’s approach to assuring Americans have a safe food supply in a global environment.

This year, as part of the reauthorization of user fee legislation, Congress is probably going to adopt additional provisions addressing the safety of drug imports, the need to eliminate drug shortages, and the necessity of supply chain integrity. Also in that legislation will be the Generic Drug User Fee Act, which funds a significant expansion of FDA’s efforts to inspect generic drug facilities.

Industry, Congress and FDA need to continue their focus on innovation and new products. This is the path that will bring better lives to Americans and allow our nation to better compete in the global economy.

While doing so, they must also pay sufficient attention and provide adequate resources to the fundamental, but less glamorous, job of assuring the processing, manufacturing and distribution of safe, high-quality FDA-regulated products. We must insist on this standard in the American marketplace.


FDA and Industry Relations: A Mix of Frustration and Respect

Monday, February 6th, 2012

There is no one answer to the question: what is the state of FDA-industry relations? FDA Matters hears some say: FDA does what industry asks it to do, the agency is a puppet. Others say that FDA is obstinately blocking industries’ path to new, better and innovative products. Yet others say FDA is misguided at points, but well-intentioned and most often right.

The state of FDA-industry relations turns out to be particularly important in 2012. As part of the user fee reauthorization legislation, Congress will be faced with non-user fee amendments affecting every aspect of FDA’s mission, programs and decisions. Industry will be advocating for some; trying to block others, based in part on its relationship with FDA.   

Looking at the situation superficially:

  • FDA and the biopharmaceutical industry would appear to be on good terms. Negotiating the language and terms of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) reauthorization went relatively smoothly and the agreement addresses a number of industry concerns
  • FDA and the medical device industry would appear to be on shaky terms, at best. The negotiations on the reauthorization of the Medical Devices User Fee Act (MDUFA) have been extended and contentious. Only in the last few days has there been an agreement in principle on a proposal for MDUFA reauthorization.    
  • FDA and the food industry would appear to be on excellent terms. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed in late December 2010. Consumers and most of industry supported the legislation and there has been cooperation by industry on implementation.

In each case, things are more complicated beneath the surface.

Drugs and biologics. Industry is broadly supporting FDA’s proposal for reauthorization of PDUFA, having helped negotiate a number of provisions that will improve the drug development, review and approval model used by the agency. When it comes to the additional amendments to be considered by Congress, the unanimity is already breaking down.  

For example, during 2011, The Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO) released a series of proposals for improving FDA. FDA Matters praised BIO for putting forth a bold agenda, while seeing its centerpiece proposal, a new “progressive approval” pathway, as only a starting point for discussion. In a tacit acknowledgement of FDA opposition (not publicly expressed by FDA) and industry dissension, BIO has recently started advocating instead for changes in the existing FDA accelerated approval process.

Medical devices. The difficult relationship between FDA and the medical device industry is long-standing. Both sides have been able to talk, often quite productively, but ultimately the device industry returns to its default position that the FDA needs to be held accountable for its inconsistent guidance and lack of timeliness in its reviews.

The just-released MDUFA reauthorization agreement in principle (in the form of FDA meeting notes) looks like it can bridge the gap that has divided FDA and the medical device industry…or at least that’s my interpretation of industry and FDA press statements.  However, Congress may yet amend the proposal if industry proves divided  in its support.  As to non-user fee amendments in the medical device area, it is to be assumed (given the history) that they will tend toward contentious, with FDA on the defensive.

Food.  Public discussion of the user fee reauthorization legislation has focused on drug and medical device issues, but nothing prevents food from becoming part of the mix. Any issues or amendments left over from the FSMA debate are fair game, as would anything that went into the final legislation despite objection from FDA or some interest group.  

One of the most prominent “leftover” issues is the extent of fees collected from the food industry to support FDA activities (merely calling them “user fees” is enough to generate a heated discussion). While the issue may come up regardless, there is a strong chance that the President’s budget request will contain legislative proposals for new food fees, starting in FY 13.

Conclusion. As the user fee reauthorization legislation moves forward, it may be too much to ask for fair debate, FDA-industry harmony, and quick resolution of outstanding issues. Time is of the essence—the real deadline is closer to July 1 than September 30

It would also be wonderful if all parties (including Congress and industry) would stick with the issues and refrain from bashing FDA. 


Animal Research: An Update on One of FDA’s Core Values

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

The value of animal research in the life sciences is considered an NIH issue. FDA Matters believes that FDA and its stakeholders should be equally involved.

Animal research is the vital first step in the development of new medical products. Before any safety or efficacy testing is permitted in humans, FDA must be satisfied with animal testing data submitted by the product sponsor. Pick any medical breakthrough and you will find animals were tested prior to humans.

For understandable reasons, we tend to focus on the human part of new products. Which patients will be helped and by how much? By the time a company files a New Drug Application (NDA) or the equivalent in biologics and devices, the headline is the human data. While the animal data is always relevant, it has largely served its purpose as the gateway for human trials.

We talk about the people part without recognizing that the pipeline of innovative drugs and devices would collapse if a broad range of research on animals (e.g. non-human primates, pigs, sheep, dogs, rats, mice, zebrafish, fruit flies, worms) was heavily restricted. Over 96% of the animals used in biomedical research are rodents, birds, fish and invertebrates. As background, there is an excellent summary on the need for animal research available from the advocacy organization, Americans for Medical Progress.

Everybody should be for protecting the welfare of animals. Any means to lessen our dependence on research animals should be welcome. Animals should always be treated ethically and pain reduced or eliminated. The fewest number of animals should be used to reach a conclusion that can be relied upon. Laboratories should be accredited and subject to inspection. Problems should be addressed within a facility under the watchful eye of government, accrediting and licensing agencies and in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act.

Since I last wrote on this topic two years ago, the nature of the animal rights movement in the United States has shifted. Successful prosecutions under the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) have purged some of the more violent elements of the movement and discouraged others from engaging in destructive acts. However, a small number of activists still use tactics of harassment, intimidation, and vandalism against some research scientists and veterinarians involved in working with laboratory animals.

Many of the research advocacy groups say a greater threat to medical progress is proposed state and federal legislation, often authored by animal rights lobbyists, that has little to do with animal welfare but rather seeks to restrict or raise the cost of animal-based research. An example is The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act legislation, which continues to draw strong support in Congress. As of April 29, 2012, the House version (HR 1513) has 165 sponsors and the Senate version (S 810) has 14 sponsors.  

These bills would virtually eliminate chimpanzee research, which includes work in vaccines, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, malaria and some types of cancers. Although we use only a comparatively small number of chimpanzees in animal research, I am told that the work often provides essential information that cannot be obtained in any other way.

While the legislation is purportedly about animal welfare, these bills are really designed to limit the biomedical research that we all support and which, we hope, results in FDA-approved medical products.

For me, the choice is easy. I want a product or procedure tested in animals before it is given to me or my loved ones. I believe in protecting animals, but human rights come first.

The importance of animal research needs to be a core value for FDA. Those who benefit from animal research (including patients and industry) need to provide the manpower and financial resources to counter the animal rights movement in America and its threat to medical progress for humans.


Bold Discussions: Possible New Approval Pathways for Breakthrough Drugs

Monday, November 14th, 2011

For discussion purposes, let’s assume that there is a broad consensus that patients would benefit if new drugs and devices could get to the US market sooner. Current market barriers can be fearsome: long timeframes, high cost and regulatory uncertainty.  How can we fix this problem? What costs and risks are involved in getting products to patients faster?

These are old questions, renewed this year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) proposal to create a “progressive approval” process. This is controversial, but also worthy of widespread discussion. FDA Matters finds itself interested and open-minded about ways to permit earlier market-access if patients will benefit and the safety risk minimized.

Currently, FDA has several mechanisms for helping drugs move faster through the approval process, but only one might be said to be an alternative pathway. FDA describes it as follows:

ACCELERATED APPROVAL:  [I]n 1992 FDA instituted the Accelerated Approval regulation, allowing earlier approval of drugs to treat serious diseases, and that fill an unmet medical need based on a surrogate endpoint….For example…FDA might now approve a drug based on evidence that the drug shrinks tumors because tumor shrinkage is considered reasonably likely to predict a real clinical benefit [e.g. prolonged survival].

Since creation of the program, FDA has granted an average of about four accelerated approvals to drugs each year, sometimes for more than one clinical indication. More than half of these indications have been shown subsequently to have clinical benefit and FDA has converted the approval from accelerated to regular. Others accelerated approval drugs are still being studied and a few have been withdrawn.  

FDA has itself shown interest in moving beyond accelerated approval. Early this fall, FDA released a report, Driving Biomedical Innovation: Initiatives to Improve Products for Patients. In a section entitled “Expedited Drug Development Pathway,” the agency observes:

Sometimes during the development of a new drug to treat a serious or life-threatening disease that has few therapeutic options, the new treatment performs much better than standard-of-care in the early trials. While there is general agreement that such a drug should be developed quickly, there is not a common understanding of how to appropriately speed up development while simultaneously gathering adequate evidence about the performance of the product.

FDA envisions a series of meeting with stakeholders to develop this concept and answer a number of difficult questions about the nature of a new pathway and how it could be implemented.

Consistent with this, BIO had already been talking about transforming the FDA approval process by permitting a “progressive approval” and market access for innovative products that:

  • treat an unmet medical need,
  • significantly advance the standard of care, or
  • are highly targeted therapies for distinct sub-populations.

The November 11, 2011 BioCentury reported that Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) will be circulating draft legislation to create two new FDA approval pathways, presumably beginning the process of providing details for BIO’s concept. Here are the new approaches:

  • Progressive approval would require data "reasonably likely" to predict clinical benefit, the standard currently used for accelerated approval. Unlike accelerated approval, drugs could receive progressive approval without data from a surrogate endpoint.
  • Exceptional approval could be granted when the data necessary to satisfy the standard for approval "cannot ethically, feasibly or practicably be generated."

Much more needs to be said about how these would be implemented. In particular, it is not uncommon for a drug to produce solid safety data and/or startlingly good efficacy data in phase 2 (preliminary human trials), then fail in phase 3 (clinical trials to support approval).

Even after we see the bill text, the BIO/Hagan effort must still be seen as a conversation starter. But it is a discussion well worth having.


Of possible interest to readers:

While the accelerated approval approach has been successful, it also raises a host of methodological questions. One of the best critiques is Professor Tom Fleming’s Surrogate Endpoints And FDA’s Accelerated Approval Process (Health Affairs, 2005).


Medical Device Melodrama: A Great Story With a New Plot Twist

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Two years ago, FDA Matters urged FDA and Congress to review the 510(k) approval process for moderate-risk medical devices. It was recognition that medical devices are different and that the review process had not been thoroughly re-examined in two decades.

I imagined tweaks, possibly substantial ones, to the 510(k) process. I also predicted that those working with the current system would be comfortable with the changes. FDA and industry have been proceeding along these lines…until last week when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) declared that the current system is so flawed that a new regulatory framework is needed.  

The FDA and industry discussions are being played out on several fronts: industry proposals, FDA proposals, and negotiations over a five-year extension of the Medical Device User Fee Modernization Act. FDA and industry both think the existing system can be improved.

They have different viewpoints. Industry wants a more predictable process that allows applications for moderate-risk devices to be submitted, reviewed and approved more quickly. FDA admits that evolving requirements and standards may be slowing reviews, but also feels the quality of company submissions is a major impediment to faster reviews.

The medical device industry has played its hand well. At their behest, Congress has sent a message to FDA: go slowly as you revise the medical device approval process, avoid mistakes, and do not create any unintended consequences.

FDA has been deft in its responses. It has talked about changes in abbreviated review processes, has proposed a new speedy “high innovation” review track, and been appropriately attentive to Congressional concerns that the process not be rushed. They have been forthright that user fees will need to increase significantly over the next 5-year period for the agency to meet its growing workload and keep pace with 510(k) reviews.

Industry is reluctant to pay increased fees, given their perception that FDA has failed to meet performance targets in the current user fee program. Industry has suggested that maybe a two-year user-fee reauthorization may be preferable to five-years, giving FDA a chance to implement reforms that would, in turn, justify the increased user fee revenue.

The back and forth discussions between industry and FDA have been heated at times, but always mixing disagreement with civility. That is not to minimize the degree of conflict or occasional harsh words. But by government standards, the two sides are working together well and there is reasonable hope of a satisfactory conclusion that will protect the interests of the American public and stimulate innovation in the medical device industry.

Enter the Institute of Medicine. This branch of the National Academy of Sciences had been commissioned by FDA to study the 510(k) approval process. Its long-awaited report was issued on July 29.

Surprisingly, IOM’s report didn’t provide any insights that would help the negotiating process. Instead, they concluded that: FDA should invest in developing a new regulatory framework to replace the flawed 510(k) medical device clearance process. An effective system could not be built on the current framework.

FDA immediately declared: “FDA believes that the 510(k) process should not be eliminated but we are open to additional proposals and approaches for continued improvement of our device review programs.” Industry, too, has a strong interest in improving, not replacing, the 510(k). They agreed with FDA’s rejection of the IOM report.

FDA and industry will continue working and disagreeing with each other, trying to reach agreement. They now have a common enemy: an IOM that insists that a perfect medical device review system should be created….while FDA and industry know that patching the existing one is the only realistic possibility. 


All FDA Stakeholders Affected by Medical Device Reforms      October 31st, 2010

There are so many visible, contentious FDA issues right now….that reform of the medical device approval process has received only a fraction of the attention it deserves. Other centers at FDA and non-device stakeholders need to be watching more closely. FDA Matters is. Read the rest of this entry

“No Surprise” That Medical Devices Are Under Scrutiny           October 1st, 2009

Five weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled, “Re-Evaluating the Medical Device Approval Process.” It was not widely-read. I assumed it was because everyone already knew that a review was underway at FDA with more activity coming. Apparently, I was wrong.  Read the rest of this entry

Re-evaluating the Medical Device Approval Process        August 27th, 2009

Earlier this year, a GAO report concluded that many high risk medical devices have not been adequately reviewed. In June, the House Health Subcommittee held the first of what may be a series of hearings on medical devices. The media appears increasingly interested in medical devices and is raising more questions.

All these events are a prelude to FDA and Congress undertaking a major re-evaluation of the product approval process for medical devices. It would be a relief if FDA could diagnose and treat its own medical device problems, leaving the Congress and the media to watch. Read the rest of this entry


Is the Human Body Just An Exquisitely Intricate Machine?

Sunday, July 17th, 2011


In most discussions of science and medicine, there is an implicit assumption that the human body is a machine—complex and biological, but still a machine. If we could only understand all the mechanisms, processes and parts of that machine, then we could prevent and cure disease.  Yet, the further we travel into the biology of life, the more complexity we find and the less certainty and predictability.


“The human body as a machine” is a metaphor, not a fact. Once we accept this, FDA Matters believes we can become liberated from unrealistic expectations about medical discovery and FDA’s role as a gatekeeper for new products that benefit patients.


Medical progress is the direct result of basic and clinical research conducted according to rules of scientific evidence and proof that have been refined over several decades. Our knowledge grows and our methods of discovery improve through our nation’s support for medical research at NIH and regulatory science at FDA, as well as billions invested by industry. 


Even still, we can’t consistently or logically explain why good scientific hypotheses tested in well-controlled trials often produce unimpressive clinical outcomes. Or why some medical products are clearly helpful for some patients in a clinical trial, but of no benefit to other patients who appear indistinguishable in baseline characteristics.  


Researchers, medical products companies and FDA would love to know the answers to these questions. Until we do, we are powerless to explain, predict or prevent the persistent and expensive discovery failures that are frustrating patients (and investors) who are desperate for medical successes.


We imagine the failures come from the imperfection of our knowledge. This is certainly true, but not a complete answer.


For several hundred years, physicists assumed the world was a machine, a so-called clock-work universe. This was logical and worked remarkably well to explain and predict physical phenomena. Then quantum mechanics demonstrated unpredictable, random, counterintuitive outcomes in the physical world. Ultimately, quantum mechanics increased our knowledge of the physical world, but only after its uncertainty and inconstancy became part of the calculations.


Similarly, there is no clock-work biology just waiting for us to discover all the mechanisms, processes and parts. Some complex biological responses may prove to be “explainable” only through unpredictable, random, counterintuitive activity.*


This may be true of individual responses, as well. If each of us has a unique fingerprint and a unique personality, why should it be hard to imagine that we each have our own biology that can never be fully defined or predicted, even if we could identify all the unique machine-like (e.g. genetic) elements?


If the metaphor (man as machine) is incomplete–and some degree of biological response is inherently unpredictable, uncertain, unknowable, as well as individualized—then FDA’s current standards of evidence and proof are not optimum for stimulating medical discovery. Many products that would benefit patients may not reach the market.


FDA Matters believes the FDA understands this is a problem, at least at the senior management level. However, the agency currently lacks the culture or impetus to incorporate complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability into its approaches to approving medical products. Admittedly, it also operates in an environment where it is gently praised for approvals when they occur….and harshly vilified later if an unresolved or unexpected issue (i.e. uncertainty) is a source of clinical problems.


Patients, physicians, researchers and medical products companies want an environment where a higher level of patient benefit can be achieved, even at the cost of a slightly larger degree of uncertainty and unpredictability. FDA needs to accept and act on this challenge or face rising discord with those stakeholders.




* Note: there is some work specifically on how quantum mechanics may explain certain biological processes, such as photosynthesis, but the analogy here is only that random, unpredictable biological responses play a very large confounding role in biological discovery, even greater than commonly attributed. See also: “Biology faces a quantum leap into the incomprehensible” http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/nov/12/biology-quantum-leap


Earlier columns from FDA Matters that are related:


Post-Market Safety: Getting the Most Out of Inferences That Aren’t Proofs  June 21st, 2011

In the FDA-regulated world, success is often defined as approval of a new product or indication based on two, well-controlled clinical trials. However, the scrutiny doesn’t end there. FDA’s mission includes determining whether already-approved drugs perform safely and effectively when used by large numbers of patients in routine medical practice.

To understand what happens under these “real world conditions,” FDA has expanded its post-market efforts, including development of a monitoring system (called Sentinel) that will be able to track drug usage and medical history information on tens of millions of patients. Although such information will be useful, it can only provide post-hoc inferences, not proof of causation. Even with this limitation, FDA Matters thinks developing the system is worthwhile and may provide multiple benefits. Read the rest of this entry


Scientific Reductionism and the End of Medicine      December 27th, 2009

“For the last 400 years, science has advanced by reductionism … The idea is that you could understand the world, all of nature, by examining smaller and smaller pieces of it. When assembled, the small pieces would explain the whole.” (John Holland)


Have you ever heard someone accused of “reductionist thinking?” You probably will in 2010 because scientific reductionism is a critical, but rarely articulated, foundation of personalized medicine.   Read the rest of this entry

When an Investigator Knocks on Your Door

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The last Congress was dominated by the economy, health reform and the election campaign. Congressional oversight and investigations (O&I) never gained much traction. So far this year, appropriations and budget have dominated Washington. Not much other work has been done.

FDA Matters thinks this will change soon. Without money to spend on new programs and no interest in legislating new regulations, most committees have little else to do other than O&I.  As a result, FDA and FDA-regulated industries can expect a lot of attention from Congressional investigators. Even without Congressional prodding, FDA, the Department of Justice, and Inspector Generals are likely to be doing more investigations.

Despite what most FDA-regulated companies will tell you, they are not well-prepared to be investigated.  When an investigator knocks on their door, they either pay too little attention or go instantly into crisis mode. Neither is likely to be appropriate or in the company’s best interest.

To find the best response, companies need to understand who’s doing the investigating and how they view the situation.

If you did something that FDA program staff or inspection/enforcements staffs considers “wrong,” then the best response is to admit it forthrightly (if true) and act quickly to undo your mistake or clarify the situation. FDA is more likely to work with you to resolve a problem if they feel you have been cooperative, honest and contrite. It always amazes me how few companies seem to respond this way and instead take a defensive posture.

It is altogether different if you are under investigation by a Congressional Committee or FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the HHS Inspector General, the Department of Justice, or US Attorneys. Generally, their investigators live in a world of black and white, neatly divided between good guys and bad guys.

Unlike program staff and inspectors at FDA, it rarely occurs to these investigators that intent, extraneous events or misunderstandings might provide reasons to temper their judgments. Dealing with such nuances is not part of their job.

I saw the contrast as a legislative staffer in the Senate who also spent time with investigators. My world was painted in shades of gray; their world in black and white.  Most people in FDA-regulated industries are like me. The constant search for bad guys is not part of their jobs or temperament. Few have insight or experience in dealing with investigators with a different world view.

Because Congressional, civil and criminal investigators see the world in blacks and whites, it is never a positive experience to be sitting across the table from them. All company options are likely to be bad, including public humiliation, civil liability and criminal prosecution. Exoneration is a remote possibility, even if you fervently believe you have done nothing wrong.

FDA-regulated companies can (and should) limit their exposure to such situations through systematic preparations. Companies need to be able to review and monitor their own actions at a very granular level. A level of transparency is required that makes most companies nervous. Even more difficult for corporate culture: prompt action to dismiss any employees who violate company rules and any supervisors who looked the other way. No exceptions can be made, even if it includes someone from the executive suites.

Companies that follow this path are less likely to become the target of an investigation. Even if investigated, a company that can document strict programs–prospectively initiated and rigorously enforced—will usually do much better than one promising “never to do it again.” A pre-existing company commitment to tough enforcement may be the only way to get an investigator to consider your alleged wrongdoing in shades of gray, rather than black and white.



FDA and Election 2010: Oversight and Investigations        November 13th, 2010

President Obama’s election and the distraction of health reform have distracted us from the disruption that divided government imposes on FDA. With the new Republican majority, the agency will find itself buffeted by political forces that are as concerned about "scoring points" as they are about improving government. FDA Matters thinks this will have a large impact on FDA, as well as the agency’s stakeholders. Read the rest of this entry


Will the New Congress Be Good for FDA-Regulated Industries?   December 19th, 2010


FDA Matters is hearing that FDA-regulated industries will benefit from the 2010 election. It is assumed that a Republican-led House and more Republicans in the Senate will benefit drug, device and food companies. After all, aren’t Republicans more business-friendly and more concerned about perceived regulatory excess?


Those saying and thinking these things may be in for a rude awakening. Even worse, they may find themselves nostalgic for the “good old days” (whenever those were). Everybody—FDA, industry, patients and consumers—is going to have a rough time over the next two years. Industry will be heard more often, but not always have the winning position. Read the rest of this entry





Public Incentives and Drug Development: More is Usually Better

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011


A former colleague often declared: life sciences companies have no alternative to re-investing in developing more drugs, biologics and medical devices. I always thought this naïve because of its implication that life sciences research is self-perpetuating and does not need encouragement.  


Currently, Congress seems primed (through oversight and possibly legislation) to consider the role of companies and government in medical product development. This week, FDA Matters explores the nature and need for incentives to conduct life sciences’ research; last week’s column looked at issues surrounding the pricing of medical products.


The government’s goal in incentivizing certain life sciences research is to stimulate activity that meets or resolves societal needs (e.g. drugs and devices for cancers, therapies for rare diseases, treatments for tropical diseases). Idealistically, the incentives encourage vital, new activity without providing subsidies for research that would have occurred without incentives.  


The reality is different. If the rules (statutory or administrative) for receiving incentives are drawn too tightly, then many research projects will not be undertaken, losing the benefits that society would otherwise receive.


To explain this better, I have identified three broad categories of public incentives for research:


Ordinary research incentives. These are the incentives available for all corporate-supported research. These include the research and development (R&D) tax credit, access to government technology transfer programs and patent protection. For most industries, and even most life sciences research, these seem sufficient to stimulate a high-level of research investment.


Upgraded incentives.  Ordinary research incentives are sometimes not enough to stimulate life science research that will benefit society. As a result, Congress has created a number of upgraded incentives for medical product development.


For example, Congress has provided partial patent term restoration for drug companies experiencing particularly long delays in receiving marketing approval. This has led to increased research investment (as well as boosting the generic drug market as part of the same legislation).  


Also, Congress created the Orphan Drug Act to provide incentives for research on drugs for rare diseases/small populations. This law incorporated a number of incentives, notably up to seven years market exclusivity for any new orphan indication on a drug.  


FDA also provides a number of upgraded incentives for particular types of research through its expanded access and accelerated approvals programs. User fee waivers granted to first products from new companies also stimulates research investment.  


Extraordinary incentives.  Sometimes even upgraded incentives aren’t enough to stimulate vitally important research. In those cases, Congress may consider incentives designed to dramatically alter the normal risk/reward/certainty calculation that usually precedes research investments.


Thus far, I can think of only one instance of extraordinary incentives. In 2007, Congress enacted a program that awards a “priority review voucher” for successful development of a new treatment for a neglected tropical disease. Owning a voucher entitles a company to ask for a priority review (6 months) by FDA of an unrelated product that would otherwise be granted a normal review (10 months). Currently, Congress is looking at legislation (S. 606) that would extend this voucher program to developers of products to treat pediatric rare diseases.


It is up to Congress to decide whether to encourage particular life sciences research beyond the ordinary incentives. When upgraded or extraordinary incentives are under consideration, the goal is stimulating substantial additional research….and the development of many new drugs that are particularly beneficial to society.   


In all such situations, there is a risk that incentives will be provided to research that would have occurred anyway. My own experiences suggest that overly tight restrictions on program eligibility result in understimulatoin of needed research. When creating incentives and, also, assessing their impact later, Congress needs to take the broad view of the societal good that can be achieved by upgraded and extraordinary incentives for research.




Drug Product Pricing 101                 March 26th, 2011

A thousand good deeds of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have been washed away by the decision of K-V Pharmaceuticals to charge $1500 per dose for Makena, a drug that reduces the risk of pre-term delivery in pregnant women. There is an easy comparator: the same therapy has been compounded in pharmacies for years at a cost of $10 to $30 per dose. Congressional and public reaction has, quite understandably, been one of outrage.

No one knows the right price for this drug, but there are ways to find out. In conversations this week, FDA Matters discovered that many knowledgeable people don’t know that there are tools to rationally evaluate and guide product pricing decisions. Read the rest of this entry

Drug Product Pricing 101

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


A thousand good deeds of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have been washed away by the decision of K-V Pharmaceuticals to charge $1500 per dose for Makena, a drug that reduces the risk of pre-term delivery in pregnant women. There is an easy comparator: the same therapy has been compounded in pharmacies for years at a cost of $10 to $30 per dose. Congressional and public reaction has, quite understandably, been one of outrage.


No one knows the right price for this drug, but there are ways to find out. In conversations this week, FDA Matters discovered that many knowledgeable people don’t know that there are tools to rationally evaluate and guide product pricing decisions. (more…)

FDA and Its Regulated Industries: A Cornerstone of America’s Economic Future

Monday, March 7th, 2011


On March 7, the Alliance for a Stronger FDA released a white paper on the far-reaching and positive economic impact of a strong FDA and the industries it oversees.  The report is intended to provide interested parties, including Congress and Executive Branch policymakers, with information on FDA’s role in economic growth. A number of groups–consumers, patient advocates and industry–provided comments to the Alliance on the impact of FDA on the American economy.


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