Tag Archives: FDA regulation

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: FDA Vaccine Rules Challenged as Weak

Brandon Lee and Alex Ruoff, Bloomberg Government: October 23, 2020


U.S. vaccine advisers questioned whether safety and efficacy standards set by Food and Drug Administration officials were high enough to warrant emergency authorization of a shot.

About two dozen outside advisers to the FDA with expertise in infectious diseases met yesterday to weigh in on agency standards that require a vaccine to work in at least 50% of people and for drugmakers to collect two months of safety data on at least half of clinical trial volunteers.

“They haven’t gone far enough” in terms of safety, said Hayley Altman-Gans, a panel member and pediatrics professor at Stanford University Medical Center.

Many panel members and outside researchers who commented during the hearing worried that if a vaccine is rushed out that later turns out to have safety problems or to be less effective than promised, it could backfire in a big way, undermining public confidence in Covid-19 vaccines for years to come.

Several panel members expressed concern that the two-month safety follow-up the FDA is calling for before a vaccine gets an emergency authorization is simply not enough. In addition to safety, it means that doctors won’t know whether a vaccine’s efficacy could fade after just a few months.

Diana Zuckerman of the National Center for Health Research told the committee the vaccine trials “have serious design flaws.”

The trials are too geared to preventing mild infections, and may not show whether they prevent severe infections and hospitalizations, she said. Longer follow up may be especially important because some of the first vaccines, including messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, are based on new technologies that have never been used in an approved product. 

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FDA Panel To Lay Regulatory Groundwork For COVID-19 Vaccine


Noel King and Sydney Lupkin, NPR: October 22, 2020


NOEL KING, HOST:

There are several COVID-19 vaccines in development. But before they are approved, they have to be safe. It’s the FDA’s job to ensure that. Today an FDA advisory panel is meeting for the first time about the coronavirus vaccine. It’ll be making recommendations based not on politically motivated timetables, but on data.

Sydney Lupkin covers the pharmaceutical industry for NPR. Good morning, Sydney.

SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what is the deal with this FDA panel? Who’s on it? What are they going to be doing?

LUPKIN: Well, the FDA regularly turns to committees of outside advisers for guidance. Most often, these panels are asked to evaluate specific drugs or health products, and that helps the agency to decide whether to approve these products. Today’s meeting of the committee that looks at vaccines is going to be a little different.

KING: How?

LUPKIN: Like everything else in this pandemic, it’s a bit unusual. The big difference is that the committee isn’t going to be sifting through data for a specific coronavirus vaccine like it normally would. The meeting will be a broader discussion of how the agency should think about safety and effectiveness of these new kinds of vaccines, particularly safety. Dr. Paul Offit is a committee member who works at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

PAUL OFFIT: How robust should safety data be? How long, for example, after the first or second dose should patients be followed or participants be followed for any possible safety issue?

LUPKIN: They’ll be discussing FDA’s existing guidance to companies, which includes some of that information. They’ll also discuss how studies should continue after the first vaccine is given the green light. What do you do for patients who got a placebo once a vaccine is widely available? Of course, the FDA usually heeds the advice of these committees, but it doesn’t have to.

KING: So since there’s no vaccine to review, I would think that in ordinary times, we would not know about this meeting. It would not be news at all. It’s very clear that the FDA wants to make public that this is happening. Why do they want to do that?

LUPKIN: Well, I mean, it gives the American public a window into the process. There’s been so much discussion around whether the FDA will put politics ahead of science. So it’s important to see what’s going on. And the FDA has questions that it wants answers to. Here’s Dr. Miles Braun, a former FDA epidemiologist.

MILES BRAUN: There is a level of humility that the FDA is coming to its advisers with. And I think that’s a good thing. And if they find out they’ve missed some important things, they’ll address those.

LUPKIN: Committee members will hear presentations from scientists at the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The public will also have an opportunity to weigh in. Diana Zuckerman is the president of the National Center for Health Research, an advocacy group slated to speak.

DIANA ZUCKERMAN: We’ve seen the guidance of what they’re telling companies they’re supposed to be studying. Frankly, they’re not very stringent, so we are concerned about them.

LUPKIN: She hopes the meeting will delve into making sure the clinical trials are diverse, for example. She also questions whether the study approach the FDA suggested to manufacturers is long enough to assess vaccine safety.

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FDA Promises Strong Safety Standards for Covid-19 Vaccines as It Convenes Advisory Panel

Thomas M. Burton, Wall Street Journal: October 23, 2020


SILVER SPRING, Md.—Food and Drug Administration officials gave fresh assurances Thursday that Covid-19 vaccines will undergo rigorous testing before being made widely available—a message they underscored in a meeting with outside medical experts aimed at bolstering the agency’s credibility.

“Only those vaccines that are demonstrated to be safe and effective” will be licensed by the FDA, said Marion F. Gruber, director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review. But some speakers and panel members raised concerns about whether the FDA’s vaccine guidelines for Covid-19 clinical trials are sufficiently rigorous.

These comments came at the first meeting of a 25-member panel of medical experts, including specialists in fields like virology, infectious diseases and biostatistics. The group, which met remotely via video-conferencing, was  established to make recommendations to the FDA on how best to assess the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

“The FDA frequently convenes outside panels of medical experts for their advice on products,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s center for biological products. “But normally panels about vaccines are watched by dozens of people. In this case, it’s watched by many thousands.”

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President Trump has pushed to get a vaccine approved quickly, which has drawn concern from some public health experts and political opponents that the FDA would be under pressure to bypass usual precautions to rush a vaccine to market quickly.

FDA officials have vowed not to do so. In addition to convening the advisory panel, they have issued a set of guidelines to govern how vaccine clinical trials will be conducted and evaluated.

They also formulated a set of rigorous standards for the FDA to employ before granting what is known as an emergency-use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine. The EUA is the faster equivalent during the Covid-19 pandemic of a conventional approval by the agency.

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Various speakers questioned whether the shorter EUA test period was sufficient.

“The vaccine trials have serious design flaws,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research in Washington. In addition to the two-month period, she said FDA guidelines focus on measuring milder cases of the disease, and not the most serious cases.  

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FDA Vaccine Rules Challenged as Weak at Advisory Panel Meeting

Anna Edney and Robert Langreth, Bloomberg Business: October 22, 2020


About two dozen outside advisers to the FDA with expertise in infectious diseases met Thursday to weigh in on agency standards that require a vaccine to work in at least 50% of people and for drugmakers to collect two months of safety data on at least half of clinical trial volunteers.

“They haven’t gone far enough” in terms of safety, said Hayley Altman-Gans, a panel member and pediatrics professor at Stanford University Medical Center.

Many panel members and outside researchers who commented during the hearing worried that if a vaccine is rushed out that later turns out to have safety problems or to be less effective than promised, it could backfire in a big way, undermining public confidence in Covid-19 vaccines for years to come.

Archana Chatterjee, advisory panel member and dean of Chicago Medical School, said the public has a lot of concern about safety. Meanwhile, she added, “What we’re being asked to do is to build this plane as we fly it.”

Several panel members expressed concern that the two-month safety follow-up the FDA is calling for before a vaccine gets an emergency authorization is simply not enough. In addition to safety, it means that doctors won’t know whether a vaccine’s efficacy could fade after just a few months.

Panel member Amanda Cohn, who is chief medical officer at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, worried that the efficacy of vaccines that just meet the 50% threshold after two months may see reduced effectiveness a few months later if the shot doesn’t offer a long period of protection.

“Very rarely do we look at [vaccine efficacy] so shortly after completing a series,” according to Cohn, whose organization is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Design Flaws

The advisers weren’t alone in questioning the standards. Diana Zuckerman of the National Center for Health Research told the committee the vaccine trials “have serious design flaws.”

The two-month follow up the FDA has asked for is too short to establish how long a vaccine will work, and the trials are too geared to preventing mild infections, and may not show whether they prevent severe infections and hospitalizations, she said.

Longer follow-up may be especially important because some of the first vaccines, including messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., are based on new technologies that have never been used in an approved product.

The debate over the rigor of the FDA guidelines was one of two main issues debated before the committee, which heard comments from regulators, drugmakers and the public. The second questioned whether trial participants on a placebo should be advised when a vaccine is deemed to be safe and effective.

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CRS: Congress Can Rein in FDA’s Flexible Covid-19 Vaccine Trial Policies

Beth Wang, Inside Health Policy: June 03, 2020


The Congressional Research Service says Congress could rein in FDA’s broad discretionary authority over vaccine clinical trial policies by legislating how the agency and Institutional Review Boards approach clinical trial designs and reviews for the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for future emergencies. In a Tuesday (June 2) report, CRS suggests Congress could provide more specific direction to FDA and IRBs on how to approach clinical trials in emergency situations, and also could appoint a neutral scientific body to consider ethical and scientific issues as well as general guidelines for trials. Congress also could fund global collaboration among regulators, and provide additional funding and resources to facilitate clinical trials, the report suggests, echoing recent calls from lawmakers who have said the United States should get involved with global efforts to fund and develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, applauded CRS for explaining the vaccine approval process to Congress and for telling lawmakers what their options are so Congress can, in Zuckerman’s words, “ensure a better outcome than we’ve seen with the disastrous coronavirus testing situation (in terms of accuracy, transparency, and availability).” The document, she told Inside Health Policy, does a good job of explaining that FDA has authority to lower approval standards for any drug or vaccine unless Congress steps in. “[B]ased on FDA’s actions of the last 3 months, it seems likely that they will do so in ways that could create the free-for-all that currently exists for coronavirus testing,” Zuckerman wrote in an email. “So the CRS is telling Congress that legislation is the option they have if they want to ensure a better outcome.”

Existing law, CRS says, requires FDA and IRBs to weigh considerations about safety and effectiveness against the desire to bring products to market quickly when evaluating proposed clinical trial designs for vaccines.

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Congress previously told FDA what to do in the drug trial and approval space through passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, but FDA was given leeway in how to interpret the law, Zuckerman explained. “It pushed FDA in a particular direction but still gave the FDA the authority to rely on the agency’s subjective judgment,” she said. If Congress were to step in and tell FDA what it should do, it would be a radical departure, Zuckerman added. “[But it’s] probably necessary given FDA’s response to the pandemic so far, and the Administration’s track record of ignoring Congress when it suits them,” she said.

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