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Should Money Have a Seat at the FDA Table?

FDA’s traditional stakeholders are patients, consumers, health professionals, and industry.  Add Congress, media and other government agencies and you have the full set of FDA audiences. What they all have in common: a commitment to the public and individual health of Americans.

While FDA’s focus is health and safety, almost every decision has economic consequences.  Money is never far from the surface. Yet, to my knowledge, Wall Street has never been treated as a stakeholder or an audience of FDA. Now a variant has emerged: organized efforts by venture capitalists (VC) to affect how FDA evaluates drugs, biologics and devices.

Why do VCs care about FDA? Venture capital is financial capital provided to early-stage, high-potential, high risk, growth companies, usually start-ups. Such funding plays a critical role in a large number of medical products that FDA reviews for market approval.

If FDA is more open to innovation and new technology, venture capital firms are more likely to invest in medical product companies in the United States. Conversely, a hesitant, overly cautious FDA makes it more likely that venture capital monies will be used to fund information technology, telecommunications and software companies, rather than life-sciences companies.

What is the VC community doing now about FDA?  Last week, the Medical Innovation and Competitiveness Coalition held a press event, releasing a survey they had conducted in partnership with the National Venture Capital Association. www.nvca.org/vital_signs_data_slides.pdf

In attendance were Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), both members of the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over FDA. The Senators’ interest is the prominent role that small companies and venture capital play in economic growth and job formation.

The survey of venture capital firms found a significant decreased commitment to investment in life sciences over the past 3 years, with more dollars aimed at overseas projects. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The chief reason [for decreased investment], according to most of the 156 venture firms surveyed, is dysfunction at the Food and Drug Administration, an agency investors say is so unpredictable and risk-averse that young companies are now inclined to merely give up on trying to get on the market in the U.S.

This is definitely attention-getting, but needs to be seen in context. VCs are the FDA’s natural critics. Having invested millions of dollars (and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars) in a company’s science and product pipeline, VCs are more likely to see product failures as a result of FDA deficiencies than their own failures to back successful products.  

However, the survey may still have a point….and VCs can be a powerful voice for a stronger, more predictable, science-based FDA.

How has FDA responded?  The Obama Administration has emphasized the importance of innovation in building the US economy. There is some question about the effectiveness of that effort overall, but it has been a serious theme at FDA under Commissioner Hamburg.

Last week, Commissioner Hamburg unveiled FDA’s new initiatives to spur biomedical innovation and improve the health of Americans. According to FDA’s press release, this is FDA’s blueprint for addressing “concerns about the sustainability of the medical product development pipeline, which is slowing down despite record investments in research and development.”

Should “money” have a seat at the table among FDA stakeholders?  Companies and individuals seeking “return-on-investment” are significant contributors to making medical progress possible. VCs are the natural allies of an FDA that wants to be a strong, science-based agency and is willing to admit that its process and judgments can always be made better.

FDA needs to carefully consider the critique being offered by the VC community. FDA Matters supports FDA in its willingness to do so.   


Why is it so hard for investors to pick winners? Why is it so hard for FDA to be flexible?    

Complexity, Uncertainty, Unpredictability: Not Necessarily Bars to FDA Approvals   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. “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.  Read the rest of this entry

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