FDA Matters Blog
Register to get regular updates from FDA Matters FDA Matters Home

Long-term Challenges Need Short-term Attention

Most current readers of FDA Matters were not receiving these posts during June, when we examined seven long-term challenges for FDA. Some of these challenges may take years to accomplish; all need to be started now.

We are less than 7 months into the new Commissioner’s tenure. Three or four years from now, she will be judged by whether she moved the agency forward in these areas. I think she has gotten off to a very good start, but there is immense amount of work still required.

Here are 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. More resources need to be 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. There may be even more variation in their response to the needs of patients with severely 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.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2009-2012 by HPS Group. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to those wishing to quote or reprint from this site, providing it is properly attributed to FDA Matters: The Grossman FDA Report™.