All posts by BIeditor

Beleaguered FDA in talks for drug-company funding

Eleanor Laise, Marketplace: July 13, 2021


Fees paid by drug and device makers influence agency operations at the expense of patient safety, critics say.

Amid a firestorm over its approval of a new Alzheimer’s treatment, the Food and Drug Administration is holding closed-door meetings with companies it regulates — talks that critics say allow drug and device makers to exert outsize influence over the agency’s operations, threatening to erode public trust in the agency at a critical moment.

The talks focus on “user fees” that pharmaceutical and medical-device companies pay to the FDA annually and when applying for approval of new products. The FDA in recent years has become increasingly reliant on such payments, which funded nearly half of the agency’s total spending in fiscal year 2020. In exchange for the fees, the FDA agrees to certain deadlines for reviewing new-product applications, the type and frequency of meetings with companies submitting applications, and other commitments. The medical-product user-fee agreements are generally renegotiated every five years — a process that’s happening now, in advance of the current agreements’ expiration next year — and submitted to Congress for authorization.

Although the FDA is required by law to consult with patient and consumer advocacy groups on the discussions and make minutes of its industry meetings public, the meat of the talks often remains hidden, observers say. Since September of last year, the FDA has held more than 150 meetings with industry to discuss fee agreements for brand-name prescription drugs, generics, medical devices and biosimilars (products similar to branded biologic drugs), which together are expected to generate nearly $2 billion for the agency this fiscal year. Yet consumer advocates and other outside groups attempting to track the discussions say they remain in the dark about most of the details. FDA summaries of some recent meetings have been posted months after the fact or sum up a discussion in a single sentence. Medical-product safety experts say they’ve repeatedly asked for more access and details on the negotiations, to no avail.

“We simply can’t get a view into this process, and the lack of transparency is deliberate,” says Madris Kinard, a former public health analyst at the FDA and CEO of Device Events, which tracks medical-device adverse-event reports.

Details about the negotiations that have trickled out raise alarms among some medical-product safety experts, academic researchers and consumer advocates that the industry’s leverage in these talks ultimately puts patients at risk. User fees are speeding more products to market without a corresponding increase in resources to track the safety of those products, critics say. Yet in the current round of negotiations, FDA efforts to allocate more user fees toward monitoring the safety of medical products already on the market have met industry resistance.

[….]

The main idea behind the user-fee programs was to speed up FDA review of medical-product marketing applications — and they’ve delivered on that front. The median time to approval for standard new-drug applications was 10 months in fiscal 2018. In the years before user fees were first enacted, the median FDA application review time was nearly three years, according to a study by Kesselheim and colleagues at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

[….]

But user-fee deadlines can have serious side effects, some experts say. As the opioid crisis was exploding, “there was a question of ‘Why does the FDA keep approving the opioids?’ ” says a former FDA official. “One reason was that they had applications and had user-fee obligations to review the applications.” So long as an application met the standard requirements, “it would be approved,” he says. “That’s an example of the mindset” created by the deadlines.

Several studies have linked faster drug-approval timelines to safety issues. A 2014 study in Health Affairs found that drugs approved after user fees were enacted were more likely to get new black-box warnings or be withdrawn from the market than drugs approved in the pre-user-fee era. Other studies have found that, compared with drugs approved at other times, drugs given the green light shortly before their user-fee deadlines were more likely to have subsequent safety issues.

[….]

In the current round of medical-device user-fee negotiations, one of the FDA’s goals is to improve device safety, including through increased funding for surveillance of devices already on the market, the agency says. That proposal met stiff resistance from the industry, according to outside groups that have received FDA briefings on the talks. At an April 7 negotiation meeting, the industry expressed the view that fees “should be solely for the premarket review process,” according to a summary posted by FDA. Medical-device trade group AdvaMed didn’t respond to requests for comment.

At the start of the prescription-drug user-fee negotiations, the FDA also emphasized its hope of improving the Sentinel Initiative, a system for assessing the safety of approved medical products. But a related proposal advanced by the FDA during the negotiations was shot down by the industry, a December meeting summary notes.  

[….]

Revolving doors

“There’s not a lot of friction between the industry and the agency” in prescription-drug user-fee negotiations, says a former FDA official. “The industry knows it’s getting good value.”

A sign of the amicable relations: One FDA official leading the current round of prescription-drug user-fee negotiations left the agency in April of this year, according to her LinkedIn profile, to become vice president of science and regulatory affairs at BIO — one of the industry groups she’d just been negotiating with. The former FDA official, Khushboo Sharma, participated in a user-fee negotiation meeting with BIO and other industry representatives as recently as Feb. 12, according to meeting summaries posted by the agency. “That is obviously an outrageous situation and clearly undermines the integrity” of the process, says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit think tank.

Asked for comment, the FDA sent a link to its post-employment restrictions, which say in part that current employees who have begun seeking employment outside the federal government must immediately recuse from certain matters that affect “the discrete industry, economic sector, or other defined class of organizations in which the prospective employer operates.” BIO didn’t respond to a request for comment. Sharma says that she worked with FDA ethics officials “to ensure I was recusing myself from all appropriate activities. I started seeking post-employment opportunities after negotiations had concluded.”

When the agency’s position does conflict with an industry’s, the FDA “is not going to come out on top,” says Lisa McGiffert, a patient-safety advocate at the nonprofit Patient Safety Action Network. Given the industry’s track record of snagging many items on its wish list, some observers are concerned that the current round of negotiations could chip away at FDA standards for approving new drugs. One issue: the use of “real-world data,” which can come from insurance claims, medical records, disease registries and other sources beyond the bounds of clinical trials. In an August 2020 letter to the FDA about user-fee reauthorization, PhRMA said that real-world data and evidence “may, in some circumstances, be adequate on their own to satisfy the substantial evidence criteria for demonstrating effectiveness” of drugs.

[….]

To read the entire article, click here.

Former ‘Bachelorette’ Clare Crawley Is Removing Her Breast Implants Over Health Concerns—Here’s What to Know

Korin Miller, Health: July 06, 2021


Clare Crawley is opening up about her decision to have her breast implants removed over concerns they’re impacting her health.

The Bachelorette star shared the news in a video posted to Instagram that she titled, “Coming to Terms.”

“I’m sharing this in hopes that it might help others going through something similar feel not so alone,” Crawley, 40, wrote in the caption. “I feel that this was important to share so I can be a resource for anyone going through this as well. I know how being your own health advocate is hard sometimes, and can feel like an uphill battle. This is the reality of life for so many people though! I’m just so incredibly thankful to all the people who are in my life that support me not only in my peaks but in the valleys as well.”

In the video, Crawley revealed that she’s been struggling with persistent medical issues over several years. “I’ve been going through things medically with my body that I have not had answers to, to be honest,” she said. “My skin has been having really bad hives and rash. My whole body is just inflamed and itchy.”

Crawley said that she’s also had “blood test after blood test” and seen several doctors. But test results didn’t give her answers about what is going on in her body.

After having two mammograms and an ultrasound—which revealed what she said were sacs of fluid behind her implants—she consulted with her doctor and decided to have her implants removed. “As much as I love my implants, my body is fighting them and recognizes it as something obviously foreign in my body,” she said, adding that blood tests showed an elevated white blood cell count over the past few years. “My body can’t heal. My body is in fight mode, constantly. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating. It’s all making sense.”

While Crawley said that her decision isn’t the right one for everyone, it’s what’s best for her. “My health is the most important thing. They are coming out,” she said.

Crawley received messages of support in the comments, including from Kayla Lochte, wife of Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, who shared in March that she had her implants removed over health concerns—specifically she specifically cited as breast implant illness (BII). “Best of luck Clare! Get those toxic bags out,” she said.

While Crawley herself didn’t specifically say that she has BII, she implies it. Here’s what you need to know about the condition—and what to do if you think your breast implants may be impacting your health.

What is breast implant illness, exactly?

It’s important to get this out of the way upfront: Breast implant illness (again, BII) isn’t a medical diagnosis, and there are no hard numbers on how often BII happens.

[….]

That said, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded last year that breast implants should have a “black box” warning to help women make “informed decisions” about potential risks associated with breast implants, including BII, which the FDA labels as “systemic symptoms.” It’s also important to note that BII is different from breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that can develop following breast implants, per the FDA.

BII is tricky to diagnose. “The symptoms women report are pretty nonspecific, and could be related to another illness,” Janie Grumley, MD, a breast surgical oncologist and director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Center and associate professor of surgery at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health. “It ends up being that, once we’ve worked out everything else and can’t figure out what’s going on, that’s when we think the issue may be breast implants.”

Research has suggested this is a real health concern. One July 2020 retrospective study published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery looked at 750 patients who had their breast implants removed by a surgeon over a two-year period. Researchers found that patients had “significant and sustained improvement” in 11 different symptoms after surgery. Patients found their symptoms improved within 30 days after having their implants removed.

Another study published in the same journal in January 2019, found that people with silicone breast implants had higher rates of the autoimmune conditions Sjogren syndrome, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis than those who don’t have implants. They also had a higher risk of stillbirth and melanoma.

Why might breast implants make some people sick?

“All breast implants have a silicone shell that also contains various chemicals and small amounts of heavy metals,” Constance M. Chen, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, tells Health. “Some breast implants also have a silicone filling that can leach off an intact implant or spill out of a ruptured implant. The silicone, chemicals, and/or heavy metals in the body can make some women sick.”

[….]

Scar tissue usually develops around the implant inside the body in an attempt to protect it from the “invader,” Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Center for Health Research who has researched breast implant safety, tells Health. “For some women, the scar tissue provides the protection they need, and they feel fine,” she says. “For other women, their bodies react more strongly, with an autoimmune reaction or other kind of reaction.”

What should you do if you suspect your implants might be causing your health issues?

You should talk to your doctor, Dr. Grumley says. Just know this, per Dr. Zuckerman: There’s no test that can tell if the implants are making you sick while they’re still in your body. But, she says, “if women find that they are developing symptoms that don’t go away, they should consider getting their implants and the scar capsule removed.”

It’s important to see a doctor who has experience in breast implant removal, Dr. Zuckerman says. Not only do they know what they’re doing, they’ll also know to remove the scar tissue that’s formed, which can contain silicone gel. If they don’t, “the chances of your health improving is not as good,” she explains.

[….]

To read the entire article, click here.

My breast implants are making me sick — and I’m not alone

Pamela Appea, Salon: June 20, 2021


In November 2016, a few weeks after I had breast implant surgery, I came down with an unexpected case of thrush (an unappealing fungal infection characterized by a thick white coating on my tongue). As a Black married mother of two, even though I was still sick, I tried — but failed — to power through and take care of my kids. With intense flu-like aches, pain, and fever, it hurt to eat, drink, swallow, or even open my mouth. I couldn’t properly brush my teeth for several days.

Unfortunately, my primary care physician was on vacation. Panicked, I called the Manhattan oncologist whom I had seen a few weeks earlier. He’d been very kind to me following my DCIS breast cancer diagnosis, unilateral mastectomy and post-surgical treatment. The officer’s medical team could barely understand me when I tried to make the appointment on the phone.

“I don’t think you have thrush — didn’t I just see you a few weeks ago?” he said, trying to put me at ease as I stared at his cheerful neon tie. (I think he prided himself on his fun ties.)

It was torture opening my mouth so the doctor could diagnose me.

“Okay, that’s the worst case of thrush I’ve seen in some time,” the seasoned specialist said. He said he was putting me on antibiotics stat. I asked — or rather, wrote on a notepad, since I couldn’t speak clearly — if there could be any connection between the my immune system and the very new breast implant that was now in my body. The oncologist emphatically dismissed the notion as impossible.

Once he got the results of my lab work back, my physician said there was no evidence of anything wrong; I should bounce back in a few days. “These things sometimes happen,” he told me, smiling as he ushered me out.

While the antibiotics eventually cleared up the thrush, unfortunately I have never fully bounced back. In subsequent years since my breast implants were put in, it became even more clear that something was going on with my immune system. But none of my doctors really listened.

Although it was not formerly recognized by the medical community until recently, Breast Implant Illness (BII) has, in the past few years, finally received attention from both media and researchers. Nicole Daruda founded a Facebook’s support group, called Breast Implant Illness Healing by Nicole, in 2013; now, it boasts over 145,000 members. Daruda tentatively estimates that 50,000 women in the US have BII, although precise research-backed numbers are not readily available

“We are overwhelmed by women trying to join the Facebook group to be educated about Breast Implant Illness,” Daruda said. She estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 women message the group’s moderators every month. To try to meet the demand, Daruda later founded a nonprofit, Healing Breast Implant Illness Society of North America.

Research is just barely starting to emerge on BII. One study, published in Annals of Plastic Surgery in 2020, followed 750 women suffering from Breast Implant Illness over a multi-year time period. Once these women surgically removed their breast implants, the vast majority reported the majority of their symptoms had significantly improved or disappeared entirely.

Awareness appears to be growing, too. A wave of celebrities are talking more openly about breast implants and their health and wellness — including Victoria Beckham, Ayesha Curry, Ashley Tisdale, Chrissy Teigen and others.

A documentary that touches on the subject of BII, “Explant,” is screening right now at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows Michelle Visage, one of the celebrity judges on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Visage, a media personality, singer, DJ and actor who was well known for her signature Double-D breasts, found that doctors didn’t take her seriously when she told the specialists her immune system was out of whack. Visage experienced chronic health issues, including Hashimoto’s disease, that she now attributes to her breast implants.

Awareness of BII is crucial given the popularity of breast implants. Since 1998, the number of breast augmentation procedures in the US has increased threefold; now, they are one of the most sought-out cosmetic procedures.

The desire for breast augmentation seems so powerful regardless of what else is going on in the world,” said Dr. Diana Zuckerman, founder of the National Center for Health Research. “What most concerns me is how reluctant most plastic surgeons have been to make sure their patients know the risks before making a decision.”

Because breast implant technology has existed for decades, many women erroneously believe they are safe.

[….]

In the years after my implant, some of my symptoms mirrored women on support groups I found online, which is how I figured out I had Breast Implant Illness. While symptoms sometimes waxed and waned, I got used to experiencing a host of autoimmune and other symptoms like insomnia, brain fog, extreme breathlessness, cuts that took weeks to heal, rashes, frequent colds and much more.

But BII is no longer regarded as a myth. Many or even most doctors, including plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn, believe Breast Implant Illness is real. Dr. Youn acknowledges it is a controversial topic among many of his fellow American plastic surgeons.

“If you’re happy with your breast implants and you don’t believe they are adversely affecting your health, then there is no need for treatment. If you are sick and believe your implants may be the cause, speak with your primary care physician and a board-certified plastic surgeon about whether explantation may be a possible solution for you,” Dr Youn said. “There are many causes of the symptoms of Breast Implant Illness (BII) that don’t involve breast implants, so it’s often best to rule those out first,” he continued.

In his 17 years of practice in the metro Detroit region, Dr. Youn, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and The Aesthetic Society, has performed surgery on thousands of women who elected to get breast implants. Anecdotally, he estimates the number patients who later returned to his practice stating they had Breast Implant Illness symptoms is an extremely small percentage.

[….]

Though not all women with breast implants go on to develop Breast Implant Illness, all women deserve education, informed consent, insurance coverage and most important information about potential risks. If, in 2015, there had been an FDA Breast Implant Black Box Warning (which was officially unveiled in late 2020), I honestly never would have gotten breast implants in the first place.

To read the entire article, click here.

Can California’s public universities mandate COVID-19 vaccines?

Robert M. Kaplan and Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., Monterey Herald: April 26, 2021


Last week, the University of California and the California State University system proposed mandating COVID-19 vaccines for faculty, staff, and students beginning in the fall.  Only those with medical conditions aggravated by vaccination or those with legitimate religious objections would be excused.  The policy is consequential: Public university students, faculty and staff include nearly 1,000,000 Californians. But is the mandate feasible? And, should the California universities dive headfirst into what promises to be a complicated controversy?

With waning competition for shots, public health officials now worry about vaccine hesitancy. Lower vaccination rates give more opportunities for variants to develop and could make the pandemic last longer. We all benefit when more people are vaccinated.  Yet, national polls by Stanford and YouGov show that about 20% of Americans will refuse to be vaccinated, and one in three estimate their likelihood of getting vaccinated is below 50%. Only 20% strongly agree that vaccines should be mandated and 45% report that vaccinations should be strictly voluntary.

Requiring vaccinations may be legal. Since 1905, courts have consistently upheld vaccination mandates, but with some exemptions.  Although 50 states and Washington D.C. can require vaccines for primary schools, all states allow medical exemptions.  Further, 45 states permit religious exemptions and 15 recognize philosophical objections.  Only 16 states allow post-secondary institutions to require vaccinations for influenza or hepatitis B.

Despite these precedents, the UC/CSU proposal could be derailed because current CDC policy only allows mandates for vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Technically, no COVID vaccine is currently approved. Instead, the three vaccines have been authorized under a different vetting mechanism called Emergency Use Authorization.  Unlike FDA approval, EUA is a temporary agreement that allows medical products to be used in emergency situations based on FDA’s determination that the benefits “may” outweigh the risks.  That requires a less rigorous standard of evidence than FDA approval. Before the pandemic, EUAs were only used to speed emergency treatments to a relatively small number of people threatened by Ebola, Zika, and anthrax.

To be fair, each of the three authorized (but unapproved) COVID vaccines underwent rigorous testing in large studies. However, the FDA had announced that full approval of these vaccines would require following study participants for “at least one to two years.”  For the EUA’s,  FDA permitted just two months of follow-up and stated that while two months was the minimum to determine safety, it wasn’t sufficient to determine how long the vaccines would be effective.

With the EUAs in hand and bolstered by promising early results and extremely high demand for vaccines, companies had no incentive to continue the trials. Despite advice by scientists to continue studies with the inclusion of a control group, all three companies provided the vaccine to participants who had received a placebo. The ethical reasons for this are obvious; however, the consequence is that a rigorous evaluation of the long-term benefits and side effects is no longer possible in the absence of a placebo control group.

What do we know about safety?  137 million Americans have had at least one dose of the vaccine.  Although at least half have experienced bothersome reactions, very few have reported serious side effects that resulted in permanent damage or death. The FDA and CDC have two systems to track real-world reactions. V-SAFE is an app that regularly asks vaccinated individuals to report any health problems. Unfortunately, very few individuals use it.  The other system, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is designed for health care providers to report bad reactions to vaccines.   As with V-SAFE, reporting is not enforced and therefore reactions are under-reported.  The current systems are limited because they were not designed to accurately determine how many people experience adverse events.

UC/CSU should be commended for proposing a bold strategy to address a serious problem.  A mandate to vaccinate university communities could turn the campuses into COVID safe zones. However, it is likely to encounter serious legal challenges if none of the vaccines are FDA approved before the mandate is implemented. Instead of waiting for the FDA to deny approval for insufficient evidence, the UC and CSU systems could use their exceptional creativity and research capability to produce better evidence that would inform the FDA about the long-term scientific safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.

Robert M. Kaplan is a faculty member at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and a former Associate Director of the National Institutes of Health. Diana M. Zuckerman is the President of the Washington DC-based National Center for Health Research. She is an expert on the safety and effectiveness of medical products. You can view the original article here

4 in 10 Adults Over 50 Consult Online Reviews When Picking a Doctor

Steven Reinberg, HealthDay: April 14, 2021


Finding a new doctor can be a daunting task. For help, many older adults turn to online reviews, a new study finds.

In fact, many people rate online reviews as highly as they would a recommendation from friends and family when picking a doctor, the new research found.

“Doctors and policymakers should know that many older adults are viewing and valuing online ratings and reviews when choosing physicians,” said researcher Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren. He’s an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

[….]

Diana Zuckerman is president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit think tank that conducts research on a range of health issues. She said that choosing a doctor is a complex undertaking.

“The trouble with these ratings is they’re not based on how good the physician is,” said Zuckerman, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “They’re usually based on convenience issues, like how long do you have to wait in the waiting room, how nice is the doctor, and does the doctor listen to you. These are all nice things, but they’re not really the important things.”

[….]

In all, the survey found that 40% of adults aged 50 to 80 have used online doctor rating sites and trust them almost as much as recommendations from family or friends for choosing a doctor. Also, online ratings were seen as more important than where a doctor went to medical school or trained.

[….]

Women, people with more education and those with chronic conditions were the most likely to turn to online rating sites, the investigators found.

[….]

Zuckerman said that most people don’t have the expertise to rate a doctor in ways that are meaningful in terms of how good a physician is or how good the medical care that they’re going to get is.

Often, online ratings should be taken with a grain of salt, she said, because you don’t know exactly what the ratings are based on.

The recommendation of friends or family members can be helpful, but in the end, it’s going to be how your experience with a doctor measures up to your needs and expectations that are important. And you shouldn’t be afraid to change doctors if you’re dissatisfied with your care, she advised.

Zuckerman agreed with the researchers that it’s up to policymakers and clinicians to set standards and criteria for online reviews. Patients, too, need to understand the pros and cons of online ratings.

You can read the entire article here.

What Genentech is doing to fix biotech’s diversity problem

Fortune Editors, Fortune: April 7, 2021


There’s a big problem with clinical trials: a lack of diversity. And that issue is ultimately detrimental to countless people’s lives and health.

Take, for example, breast cancer research. For a long time, the thinking in the health care world was that Black women didn’t develop breast cancer as often as white women, but when they did, they were more likely to die because of it.

“There was this assumption that it was an issue of access to care, the quality of care,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit think tank that analyzes the latest research and helps consumers and organizations put that information to work. But “if you looked at the research, you saw that the original major studies of breast cancer treatment were done on white women.”

That meant the research featured fewer women with triple-negative breast cancer, which Black women develop more often than white women. “Because [women with triple-negative breast cancer] weren’t studied,” Zuckerman continues, “[the researchers] didn’t realize that the treatments that they were studying would not work on those types of cancer.”

Zuckerman talks with Fortune’s Ellen McGirt on this week’s episode of Leadership Next, a podcast about the changing rules of business leadership. Also on the episode with McGirt and cohost Alan Murray is Alexander Hardy, who became CEO of biotech company Genentech two years ago.

Hardy has made it clear that he’s committed to boosting diversity within the biotech world and in clinical trials, and he was already doing so before the pandemic. But COVID-19 crystallized some of the issues in the U.S.

[….]

During the show, Hardy also discusses the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the biotech industry, and how those changes could spill over into research on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, and cancer.

To read the entire article and listen to the podcast, click here.

Coronavirus Relief Act Gives Drug Makers New Sway Over FDA

By David S. Hilzenrath, Project on Government Oversight:


Last year, based on growing concerns about the safety of certain sunscreens, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a plan of action.

It proposed concluding that, for two sunscreen ingredients, the risks outweigh the benefits, and it proposed declaring that there was insufficient data to support the safety of a dozen others—for example, one that has shown up in blood plasma, amniotic fluid, urine, and breast milk.

It proposed restricting properties of spray sunscreens to reduce the risk of inhaling them and suffering lung disease, and it proposed requiring that many sunscreens meet a stricter standard for protection against ultraviolet radiation.

It said it wanted to eliminate “potential confusion permitted by the current labeling regime,” under which a product labeled with a higher sun protection factor or SPF can provide “inferior protection” than one with a lower SPF because it filters a narrower spectrum of ultraviolet radiation.

The FDA’s proposal was apparently derailed by the coronavirus.

More specifically, by part of Congress’s response to the pandemic: the economic relief legislation known as the CARES Act, passed in late March.

While Americans were focused on a deadly plague and its devastating fallout, Congress fundamentally altered FDA oversight of thousands of drugstore items.

Little-noticed provisions of the CARES Act gave manufacturers new sway over the consumer protection agency and streamlined the process by which the FDA makes decisions about so-called over-the-counter or OTC drugs—products marketed for personal health and sold without a prescription.

[…]

“User Fees”

[…]

While the CARES Act requires the FDA to negotiate with industry, it requires the agency to “consult” with others, such as “representatives of patient and consumer advocacy groups.” In the realm of prescription drugs, the so-called patient advocacy groups the FDA consulted the last time user fees came up for renewal generally had ties to the pharmaceutical industry, POGO’s 2016 “Drug Money” investigation found.

The FDA and manufacturers have for years been laying the groundwork for adoption of user fees for over-the-counter products. In 2016 and 2017, they held a series of meetings on the subject. Industry participants included Procter & Gamble, Bayer, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, and a trade association, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

The plan the FDA and industry developed set out “performance goals” for the agency to meet under an anticipated user fee regime, including what the document describes as “substantially shortened timeframes” for the FDA to act on requests from manufacturers of over-the-counter drugs.

“This goals document represents the product of FDA’s discussions with the regulated Industry, and consideration of input by public stakeholders,” the document, called a “commitment letter,” says.

The performance goals “are important for facilitating timely access to safe and effective medicines,” the document says.

The plan the FDA and industry developed was contingent on action by Congress. Now that Congress has acted, the FDA plans to follow the performance goals in that document, FDA spokesman Charlie Kohler said in an email to POGO.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, said the commitment letter “does not seem appropriate.”

“Performance goals should include at least as much attention regarding evidence of safety or effectiveness as it does to the issues that industry cares the most about,” Zuckerman said by email.

Historically, industries have embraced user fees as a means of reducing regulatory delays. For Congress, getting companies to pay for regulators’ salaries has been an easier pill to swallow than spending taxpayer dollars or adding to federal budget deficits.

The new user fees will enable the FDA to increase its budget and staffing for overseeing nonprescription drugs.

In the 2016 slide presentation, the FDA said it was spending just $8.2 million a year and had the equivalent of only about 30 full-time employees to oversee “hundreds of thousands of products consumed – in many cases, on a daily basis – by millions of Americans.”

The FDA compared the $8.2 million to what it said was the $8 million cost of producing “the ‘Blackwater’ episode of the hit TV series Game of Thrones.”

According to the industry’s Consumer Healthcare Products Association, over a five-year period, the user fee program will generate more than $130 million in fee revenue for the FDA.

 

[…]

Read the full article here

What People With Cancer or Compromised Immune Systems Need to Know about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

National Center for Health Research: April 1, 2020


The coronavirus can infect anyone, young or old, healthy or frail. People with cancer and other serious health conditions, and their loved ones, need to be especially careful. Here’s what you need to know.

Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and radiation, can weaken the immune system and possibly cause lung problems. People who have weakened immune systems or lung problems are more likely to have serious symptoms if they become infected with this virus. Anyone with cancer in the lungs (whether lung cancer or cancer that has spread to the lungs) is especially at risk if they develop COVID-19.

If you had scheduled surgery, screening, or other procedures that were considered not urgent or not immediately life-threatening, those might have been postponed. This is for everyone’s protection. Many hospital staff,  including doctors, nurses, receptionists, and cleaning staff, have been exposed to the virus and don’t know whether they can infect others.  If you are battling cancer or doing follow-up after successful treatment, you don’t want to be exposed to the coronavirus when you go in for surgery or testing procedures.  And, you don’t want your medical center to be less able to fight the coronavirus at a time when it is spreading throughout your community.

The coronavirus is spreading in all 50 states, in urban, suburban, and rural areas, so it is important to listen to health experts (and governors or mayors) who tell you to stay home, limit contact with others, and keep a distance of 6 feet away when you or your family members or caregivers go grocery shopping or other essential activities.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause respiratory illness. The new (novel) coronavirus is called SARS-CoV-2 and the illness it causes is called coronavirus disease 2019, which is why it’s abbreviated as COVID-19.  Since it is new, nobody has immunity from it.

How does COVID-19 spread between people?

The virus usually spreads through close contact with other people, especially through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes – or even when they breathe normally. These droplets can travel through the air and can be inhaled or get into the noses, mouths, or eyes of people nearby.

It is most contagious when the person has symptoms, but it is possible to catch the virus from infected people who have no symptoms at all. In addition, these droplets (as well as fecal matter containing the virus) can end up on surfaces where it can survive for hours or even days. When you touch these surfaces and then touch your face, you can be exposed to the virus. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands regularly.  If you don’t have antiseptic wipes, you can wipe down surfaces in your bathroom, kitchen, and other rooms with bleach of rubbing alcohol to help prevent exposure.  However, most of the time the virus is spreading through close contact with people who have it.

What about food or food packaging?  The risk of catching the virus from packaging is very low, but since the virus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel, it’s a good idea to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after handling mail, takeout containers, and packaging from groceries. You can also disinfect food packages using a cleaning product that kills viruses, but don’t use disinfectants on food.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms tend to start between 2 and 14 days after coming into contact with the virus.  Although some people have compared the symptoms to a cold or flu, there are some differences.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Fever (this can come and go)
  • dry cough
  • tiredness

Other symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • aches and pains
  • sore throat
  • trouble breathing
  • chest pain or pressure
  • pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • loss of sense of smell (and sense of taste)

These symptoms are less common but can be signs of COVID-19:

  • runny nose
  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal discomfort

Most people who are infected with this coronavirus have mild symptoms and can recover at home in about 2 weeks. However, symptoms can become severe.  These are the ones that require immediate medical attention:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • persistent chest pain or pressure
  • confusion or inability to awaken
  • blueish color in the lips or face

People who are older than 60, and people who have existing serious health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, are more likely to develop severe illness and complications from COVID-19. This includes people who are receiving cancer treatments that can weaken the immune system.  The most serious complications include pneumonia, organ failure, and death.

How can I protect myself and others?

The best way for anyone to protect themselves is to avoid being exposed to it. There are no proven medications or vaccines, so don’t be fooled by false claims (especially those made by telemarketers).

“Social distancing” or “physical distancing” refers to staying away from other people because it is impossible to know who has the virus.  The safest people in your life are the ones you are living with who are not exposed to others who might have the virus (in other words, they are not going to work or spending time close to other people). Staying at home and not seeing your loved ones is not fun, but it is essential for your own safety and for everyone else’s.  If everyone does that now, the spread of this virus will be reduced sooner, and some of these restrictions will no longer be necessary in a few weeks.

  • stay at home
  • avoid public spaces
  • avoid public transportation and unnecessary travel
  • avoid social gatherings
  • work from home
  • stay at least 6 feet away from people when out in public
  • avoid physical contact in social situations, such as shaking hands, hugging or kissing

AND

  • wash your hands using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being out in public
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available (or wash your hands as soon as you get home)
  • avoid touching your face when your hands aren’t clean or you are out in public
  • avoid contact with people you don’t know very well
  • clean and disinfect surfaces you touch daily, including things you might not think of like doorknobs, light switches, faucet handles, and phones. Make sure you use a cleaning agent that is effective for killing viruses.

What about a face mask?  Experts say that you only need to wear a face mask if you have the virus, to avoid infecting other people you must come in contact with.  It is not clear that it protects you unless you are in close contact with someone with the virus.  If you want to be extra cautious, since the masks that doctors and nurses use are in short supply, you can use homemade masks or scarves to cover your face when you are out in public.  But you should NOT be out in public except when absolutely essential.

If you are undergoing cancer treatment that can weaken your immune system or cause lung problems, here are extra steps to protect yourself:

  • Make a plan with your doctor to monitor for symptoms
  • Avoid friends and family except those you live with or depend on for essentials.  Otherwise, rely on your phone to maintain contact.
  • Have a plan with your loved ones or caregiver if you or they get sick
  • Have the medications you rely on and order any you need in advance (to be delivered, if possible)
  • Ask a friend or family member to shop for groceries for you
  • Wash your hands (20 seconds with soap and water) even more often if you are exposed to others

What should I do if I develop symptoms?

If you develop a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, call your doctor. If you are currently receiving chemo, a fever is a medical emergency.  Other severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion or inability to awaken, or blueish color in the lips or face, means you need to call 911. Tell the 911 operator that you think you have COVID-19 so the responders can take the necessary precautions to protect themselves.

People who experience mild symptoms can usually stay home and will recover in about 2 weeks. But, if you are receiving treatment for cancer, be sure to tell your doctor.  Do not just show up at the doctor’s office with symptoms:  Call them first so you have tell them about your symptoms and they can help decide what to do.  If you do become sick, you can take the following steps to protect others:

  • Stay home, unless you need essential medical care
  • Wear a facemask when you are near others.  (People caring for you should also wear a facemask).
  • Stay away from others in your home as much as possible
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, properly dispose of tissues, and wash your hands
  • Monitor your symptoms and temperature

If you were not tested for COVID-19, you should follow those steps until at least one week has passed since you first noticed symptoms or your fever goes away for 3 full days without fever-reducing medicine.  If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 based on test results, you should follow these steps until you have 2 negative test results taken 24-hours apart, your fever goes away without fever-reducing medicine, and your symptoms improve.

What if my cancer treatment is delayed?

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, they are likely to want treatment as soon as possible.  Treatment or testing may seem more urgent than it really is, especially with cancers that often grow slowly, such as prostate cancer or breast cancer. And, if you don’t have COVID-19, you don’t want to be exposed to it during cancer surgery, testing, or follow-up appointments.  Talk to your doctor about what is the best strategy to get the treatment you need when it is safe to do so.

Questions?

We are here to help by answering your questions.  We do not provide medical care.  If you have questions contact info@center4research.org and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

FDA considers black box warning for all breast implants

Mariel Carbone, WCPO Cincinnati: February 09, 2020


Although many other survivors choose implants after their mastectomies, [Lily McBreen is] adamant that she won’t. Having almost lost her life once, she’s worried the side effects of receiving breast implants could endanger it again.

[…]

“I wanted to avoid the rheumatological symptoms that have been out in the news for so many decades,” she said. “There has been so many accounts of women complaining of problems with them.”

Those symptoms, which women are calling “breast implant illness,” are among the many reasons the United States Food and Drug Administration could soon take extreme measures when it comes to educating the public about implants.

[…]

Currently, the black box warning exists only as a draft while the FDA continues to consider its implementation.

The draft warning outlines three main concerns.

First, “breast implants are not considered life time devices” and women may require more surgery if complications occur.

It also states that implants have been associated with BIA-ALCL.

[…]

Finally, it describes how some patients have reported a variety of symptoms, including “joint paint, muscle aches, confusion, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease and others.”

The FDA is also proposing a patient decision checklist, which would include situations in which the device should not be used, considerations for a successful breast implant candidate, risks of surgery, the importance of using an appropriate physician, the risk of BIA-ALCL and other symptoms and discussion of other options.

Still, some have said these proposals don’t go far enough, including Diana Zuckerman who is President of the National Center for Health Research. The center initiated the Breast Implant Working Group, which is made up of six experts including patient advocates and plastic surgeons.

“The FDA’s draft Black Box warning is too vaguely worded on BIA-ALCL and breast implant illness, and includes jargon that will not be understood by all patients,” the working group said in a statement. “The FDA draft Black Box states that ‘breast implants have been associated with the development of a cancer of the immune system called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).’ Association implies correlation rather than causation. In fact, the evidence is clear that breast implants can cause BIA-ALCL.”

Read the original story here.

No Shortage of Controversies for New FDA Commissioner

Thomas M. Burton, The Wall Street Journal: January 29, 2020


New Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen M. Hahn rises at 4 a.m. each day for an hour of intensive strength and stamina training. On stressful days, he fits a second workout in during the late afternoon.

Dr. Hahn, 60, takes over an FDA under fire for failing to adequately respond to the health threat from growing use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. This spring, he and the agency will face applications from e-cigarette companies and have to decide what e-cigarette products can qualify to stay on the market.

[…]

Dr. Hahn also faces thorny decisions on stem-cell research and use of cannabidiol, or CBD, that will likely put him in the hot seat between rival advocacy groups.

The man taking on these challenges comes to the FDA with a sterling reputation in medicine and management, but with no previous government experience, unlike his predecessor Scott Gottlieb. That has some concerned about his ability to tackle the issues ahead.

“Always we have concerns when someone comes in who doesn’t know the FDA, which is a complex organization,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the public-interest research group National Center for Health Research in Washington.  “I never think it’s a good idea.”

What’s more, Dr. Hahn may not have long to make his mark if Mr. Trump fails to win re-election Nov. 3. “It’s a hard thing to come in with so little time [in the president’s term] and so little government experience,” said a former FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, who served under President Obama. “It’s so difficult to change policy with so little time.”

Dr. Hahn didn’t immediately comment for this article.

[…]

Read the original story here.