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Has FDA Slipped Back into Anti-industry Mode?

An industry CEO wrote me to observe: FDA is returning to the anti-industry paradigm of the past.  His concern is understandable. Yet, I respectfully disagreed with him. It is natural to fear change. It is easy to confuse activism with ideology.

FDA Matters believes there are two perspectives from which to judge the situation of FDA versus industry.

The first perspective is relative. The nation elected a liberal Democratic president committed to change. He had the opportunity to appoint an ideological FDA commissioner…someone who would have seen FDA’s mission as re-regulating the entire FDA world after 8 years of perceived neglect.  

Instead, the President appointed Dr. Margaret Hamburg, an experienced administrator whose strength is pragmatic approaches to public health problems. As I have written before, being a big city health commissioner predisposes and reinforces pragmatic rather than ideological thinking.

Compared to what might have been in a Democratic administration with Democratic congressional majorities…FDA and Dr. Hamburg are a lot more open to industry concerns than could be expected.

The second perspective is thematic.  Commissioner Hamburg has been explicit about embracing innovation and recognizing that a safety-only perspective is counter to the public health. New medical products are more than just hope; they relieve suffering, restore functioning, strengthen families and sometimes they provide cures. These are all public health values, too.

The ongoing revolution in biological sciences is very much on Dr. Hamburg’s mind. The commissioner speaks often about how FDA needs to strengthen and expand regulatory science at FDA to develop the tools necessary to evaluate increasingly complex medical products.

This is definitely pro-industry. An FDA that is ill-equipped and uncertain is one that won’t be able to evaluate new science or recognize subtleties. FDA’s default response then becomes “no.” Dr. Hamburg does not want this to happen any more than industry does.

Some of the alleged anti-industry initiatives need to be seen in context.

Almost all FDA-regulated companies intend to abide by the law. Yet, there are lots of missteps that go unrecognized and lots of evidence of people cutting corners or being outright frauds. In the face of this, FDA enforcement had become lax. For the most part, companies are being pushed into greater vigilance of their own actions…..where good and bad practices may mean life or death for some patients and consumers. While painful to some, I don’t see this as anti-industry.

Context is also important in assessing whether the current review of the medical device approval process is anti-industry, which some believe. I see the review as long overdue, given the importance of medical devices and the arcane way in which they are approved. A comprehensive re-examination has not occurred in more than 15 years. In the end, I think FDA and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) are going to reach conclusions that are “uncomfortable but acceptable” to industry. The industry will be able to flourish once the controversy is behind them.

It hurts FDA, as well as industry, if there are fewer new drug and device approvals or if systems cannot be put in place to make our food safer. The success of FDA-regulated industries is important to FDA.

Dr. Hamburg understands this and is acting accordingly.


Some related columns from FDA Matters:

Public Health Leadership Comes to FDA. FDA leadership–Dr. Hamburg and Dr. Sharfstein– come from an entirely different mold than their predecessors. They have begun an era of public health leadership at the agency. FDA staff and agency stakeholders will eventually come to appreciate that this difference is good for FDA. Read the rest of this entry »

CARS: The Vehicle for FDA’s Future. Commissioner Hamburg has spoken a number of times about the importance of regulatory science. She is right. FDA must have the scientific tools and methodologies to be a 21st century regulatory agency. FDA needs to define regulatory science, develop programs to support it, and package them in a way that will quickly bring recognition and funding. Read the rest of this entry »

Executions in China: A Thanksgiving Message. Sometimes it takes other people to give us a perspective on our own values. Today, Associated Press reports that two men were executed in China for tainting milk powder with melamine, an industrial chemical. The adulterated milk killed at least six children and reportedly sickened more than 300,000. Read the rest of this entry »

“No Surprise” That Medical Devices Are Under Scrutiny. My column entitled, “Re-Evaluating the Medical Device Approval Process” 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 »

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