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Seven Challenges for FDA–revisited

Most current readers of FDA Matters were not receiving these posts during the first week when we examined seven long-term challenges for FDA. Today’s column updates this topic. It underscores the need to plan for FDA’s future and not let the day-to-day demands consume all the available time.

Each of these challenges requires substantial effort. Two or three years from now, these are the items that everyone will say: “glad we started early.”

Here is an updated version of the seven challenges:

Integrating new science into traditional clinical trials. Constructing real-world clinical trials has never been more difficult. In many clinical areas, we are moving from targeting disease symptomology toward a new paradigm of altering fundamental biological processes. These issues need a broader, more systemic examination, as well as more resources applied to Critical Path and other clinical trial improvement initiatives.

Balancing safety with patient risk and need. All FDA approvals represent a balance between risk and benefit. There is a lot of variability in what the agency views as acceptable risk for patients with life-threatening conditions. FDA often undervalues the needs of patients with disabling conditions that are not life-threatening. In most FDA activities, medical and scientific expertise and insight is the key to decisions. Creating better risk-benefit judgments is different: patients are the experts on what they feel and believe and on what risks they would accept for what benefit. Meaningful dialogue requires that patients lead this process, not be an afterthought.

Sifting valuable information from background noise. Through statute and directive, FDA has been asked to collect, analyze, interpret and utilize massive amounts of data. This includes biological, clinical, adverse event, production and distribution data, and medical and food product tracking. FDA lacks the sophisticated systems it needs. Once these systems are developed, it is still a difficult, highly iterative process to distinguish meaningful patterns from background noise and to create actionable intelligence.

Managing globalization, rather than just responding to it. There needs to be a comprehensive, multi-year plan for managing globalization, including a budget for Congress to consider and fund. Tomorrow’s problems need to be identified and addressed before they become even bigger issues. Food and drug tracking, recall authorities and overseas offices are necessary, but they are not sufficient to meet this challenge.

Resisting the bias toward negative decisions. Uncertainty is inherent in all positive decisions. Taken to the extreme, excess caution could force the whole world of food and drugs to slow down, and then stop. The correct balance is not achieved by a memo or a speech, but by day-to-day actions and enhanced communications. Systematic review of all decisionmaking processes could be an important corrective.

Staying focused on priorities. FDA’s responsibilities greatly exceed its resources. Some mission creep is inevitable and some new responsibilities may be needed to benefit society and the public health. But sometimes FDA needs to say “no.” Such moments are difficult. “No” will never be accepted by policymakers or the public unless FDA is clearer in defining, justifying and explaining its priorities. This must be addressed comprehensively.

Keeping the Best and the Brightest. FDA cannot succeed without a high-quality and committed workforce. Public service is an important attraction of working at FDA. It cannot be allowed to go out of style. Increased appropriations provide the opportunity to rationalize workloads, reduce burn-out, and build morale.

Do you have items you would add to this list? If so, post comments with your suggestions or e-mail me at sgrossman@fdamatters.com.

Note: Each of these challenges will be explored individually in separate posts.

The first of these: “Turning Data into Knowledge” was posted on June 2 and can be found at: http://www.fdamatters.com/?p=275.

The second: “Save the Critical Path-Part 1” was posted on June 17 and can be found at: http://www.fdamatters.com/?p=317.


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