Eighty years ago today, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FD&C Act”).  In recognition of this anniversary, EBG reviews how the FD&C Act came to be, how it has evolved, and how the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) is enforcing its authority under the FD&C Act to address the demands of rapidly evolving technology.

I’m Just a Bill

The creation of the FD&C Act stems from a sober event in American History.  In 1937, a Tennessee drug company marketed elixir sulfanilamide for use in children as a new sulfa drug.  The diethylene glycol (“DEG”) used as a solvent for the elxir is poisonous to humans.  The untested drug killed over 100 people, including children.  The public’s response to the disaster prompted and ensured the passage of the FD&C Act in 1938, which included the creation of the process known as pre-market approval, requiring that new drugs be proven safe before going on the market.

Growing Pains and Milestones

Since 1938, FDA’s jurisdiction has expanded as various public health emergencies and other challenges faced by the health care system have caught national attention.  Among the many legislative acts passed over the years, the following are of particular relevance to current developments:

(1) Food Additives Amendment of 1958, addressing safety concerns over new food additives and implementing generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”) requirements;

(2) Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 (the “Hatch-Waxman” Act), establishing the modern generic drug approval system;

(3)  Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, granting FDA authority to require nutrition labels on most foods, and compelling FDA-compliant nutrient and health claims;

(4) Safe Medical Device Amendments of 1990, giving FDA post-market device surveillance authority and device tracking capability at the user level;

(5) Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, defining “dietary supplement” and establishing a regulatory framework for such products;

(6) Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act of 1997, making changes to several FDA regulatory schemes, including biologics, devices, pharmacy compounding, food safety and labeling, and standards for medical products;

(7) Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, authorizing FDA to require a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (“REMS”) to ensure that drug benefits outweigh risks;

(8) Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, expanding FDA authority over manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products;

(9) Drug Quality and Security Act of 2013, expanding FDA’s authority to regulate the manufacturing of compounded drugs as a reaction to a meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated compounded drug products; and

(10) 21st Century Cures Act of 2016, creating the Breakthrough Devices Program, the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy Designation, and exempting certain software products from the definition of “medical device.”

An Old Dog Learning New Tricks

Over the last few years, FDA has felt the impact of and the need to respond to several societal developments.  The country is calling for the government to address drug prices and to gain better control over access to drugs containing controlled substances, such as opioids.  The surge in development of new technology has forced FDA to adapt its historically rigid device regulatory structure to accommodate innovations such as regenerative medicine therapies.  A renewed public focus on the nutritional value of food requires updates to nutritional labeling and food safety regulations, and the new “vaping” trend raises questions surrounding the sale and promotion of new tobacco products.  Across all of these developments, there is a trend toward more focused regulatory pathways that take into account the particular needs and challenges of specific product categories.  Many of these changes are either required or authorized by legislation, such as the 21st Century Cures Act; and statements by the agency, as well as numerous new draft and final guidance documents, give indications as to where FDA is headed in the next few years.

A. Drugs

Increasing Market Competition and Access: FDA is focused on increasing market competition for and patient access to prescription drugs. In furtherance of its Drug Competition Action Plan, the agency published a draft guidance to address the exploitation of REMS and prevent problematic pay-for-delay schemes. In the same vein, FDA implemented a Biosimilar Innovation Plan to facilitate development and approval of biosimilars, hoping to increasing patient access to costly biologics. Last week, FDA also withdrew its draft guidance on biosimilar analytical studies, announcing intent to issue a revised draft guidance in the future.

Drug Development Efficiency: Recent FDA publications also suggest that the agency is prioritizing a more streamlined drug development process. In February 2018, FDA released five guidance documents emphasizing a faster, patient-focused approach for drug development for neurological conditions. In March 2018, FDA updated its benefit-risk framework to further incorporate patient experience into the agency’s regulatory decision-making process. FDA published the first of four of its patient-focused drug development guidances on June 13, 2018.

In response to the opioid crisis, FDA is focusing heavily on changes to the drug compounding and controlled substance space. In March 2018, FDA published a draft guidance on evaluation of bulk drug substances nominated for inclusion in the 503(B) bulks list, requiring a showing of clinical need. FDA also plans to issue notice of proposed regulations for outsourcing facilities later in 2018.  FDA held a Patient-Focused Drug Development Meeting for Opioid Use Disorder in April 2018 and published an associated draft guidance on buprenorphine drug development and clinical trial design issues. We expect to see more FDA movement on drug development as the year progresses, particularly with respect to opioid use disorder treatment therapies.

B. Devices

Streamlining the Device Pathway: FDA continues to implement changes to the regulatory pathway for manufacturers to bring their devices to market.  Per a draft guidance released in April 2018, the agency is expanding the abbreviated 510(k) pathway by creating a voluntary option for manufacturers when there is no acceptable predicate for a new device, but there is another device with the same intended use.  Manufacturers will be able to use the similar device as a “predicate” and demonstrate how their product conforms to newly-developed device-specific objective performance criteria.  While these performance criteria are still under development, they will eventually pave the way for more manufacturers to bring their products to market faster.

Precision Medicine: The national focus on precision medicine has encouraged many manufacturers to develop new products that incorporate genomics-based technology.  FDA is encouraging development of next generation sequencing (“NGS”)-based tests, which analyze larger sequences of the human genome, if not the whole genome, for a variety of different genetic variants.  FDA released two final guidance documents in April 2018, making recommendations on (1) the design and development of a NGS-based test for germline diseases and (2) use of public human genetic variant databases to support clinical validity of NGS-based tests and routes for establishing and justifying algorithms for variant annotation and filtering.

FDA is also evaluating its approach to the regulation of gene therapy products. Commissioner Gottlieb stated that the agency is at “an inflection point” with gene therapy thanks to increased reliability of vectors.  The focus has shifted from the efficacy of gene therapy to its durability, i.e. the long term effects of the treatment.  Recently, Commissioner Gottlieb announced FDA’s intent to start developing gene therapy guidance for products intended to treat hemophilia.

Regenerative Medicine: In efforts to implement its comprehensive policy framework for regenerative medicine and respond to certain provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, FDA intends to create an expedited regulatory pathway for novel regenerative medicine therapies.  FDA is also actively enforcing against stem cell clinics promoting certain regenerative medicine therapies without approval and in violation of current good manufacturing practices.

Software and Artificial Intelligence (“AI”): In acknowledgment of the current “digital age,” FDA published a Digital Health Innovation Action Plan.  In April 2018, FDA released two policy documents – (1) a working model for the Digital Health Software Pre-Certification (Pre-Cert) Program Pilot and (2) guidance on regulation of digital health products with both FDA-regulated and unregulated functions.  Also in 2018, FDA authorized the marketing of AI-based clinical decision software (“CDS”) that functions to alert specialists when computed tomography (“CT”) indicates a potential stroke, as well as an AI algorithm for detection of wrist fractures.

C. Food

Food Safety: Since the Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”) was passed, sixteen rules and dozens of guidances have been released (many of which have been in the last two years), bringing the law close to full implementation. These rules and guidances address the mandatory preventive controls for food manufacturing facilities; mandatory product safety standards; FDA’s new mandatory food recall authority; and the initial required inspection of over 600 foreign facilities and the subsequent requirement to “double those inspections every year for the next five years.” In light of the recent high profile foodborne illness outbreaks at chain restaurants and attributed to romaine lettuce, the agency is hoping the full implementation of the FSMA rules, in tandem with keeping food safety as a high priority for the agency, will minimize the risk of future outbreaks.

Nutrition: In 2018, the agency launched the FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy, which, in addition to implementing new Nutrition Facts Label and Menu Labeling requirements, demonstrates that the agency is looking for more ways to modernize food labels and standards of food product identity to help consumers make healthier decisions. FDA also plans to release short-term voluntary sodium targets for food products in 2019.

Food Labeling: FDA issued a guidance in 2016 on the use of the term “healthy” in food labeling, and continues today to seek stakeholder input on how to redefine the term in such a way as will keep up with scientific advancements and help consumers understand what is in their food products.  FDA is also reviewing stakeholder input on how to define “natural,” and indicated in March 2018 that the agency will “have more to say on the issue soon.”

Dietary Supplements: The dietary supplement industry is a growing industry, and consumers are more interested in alternative products to promote wellness lifestyles. The industry is considered by some to still be the “wild wild west” in terms of enforcement, but FDA seems to be putting its foot down on companies making unsubstantiated claims about dietary supplement products or making claims that would otherwise classify the product as a drug.

D. Tobacco Products

Using its authority to regulate all tobacco products, FDA is addressing the rise in the use of vapes, vaporizers, pens and electronic cigarettes by children.  In April 2018, Commissioner Gottlieb announced the intent to issue new enforcement actions against bad actors, as well as to implement a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, seeking to reduce the amount of children exposed to e-cigarettes and vapes and those manufactures who target children with enticing flavors.   In May 2018, Commissioner Gottlieb stated “If you target kids, then we’re going to target you.”  FDA is also in the process of developing guidance for the development and regulation of e-cigarettes generally, suggesting that e-cigarettes could fall into the over-the-counter pathway due to their potential role in smoking cessation, and is reviewing the toxicology of the products.

Andrew Do, a Summer Associate (not admitted to the practice of law) in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, contributed  to the preparation of this post.

Two cases decided over the last three months have added California[1] and Massachusetts[2] to the list of minority states that hold brand name manufacturers of drugs (“Brand Manufacturers”) liable under state “failure to warn” laws when sued by patients that exclusively used a generic version of the Brand Manufacturer’s drug.  These cases follow the US Supreme Court decision in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 131 S. Ct. 2567 (2011) (“PLIVA”), which held that generic drug manufacturers cannot be held liable for failure to update the safety label of a drug or biologic in violation of state “failure to warn” tort law since regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) prohibit generic manufacturers from unilaterally updating a generic drug’s label.  Following PLIVA, the FDA proposed a rule entitled, “Supplemental Applications Proposing Labeling Changes for Approved Drugs and Biological Products” (“Proposed Rule”) meant to allow generic drug or biologic manufacturers (“Generic Manufacturers”), under certain circumstances, to update safety labels without the requirement that the label match the label of the Brand Manufacturer.  The Proposed Rule also would have required Generic Manufacturers in certain circumstances to collect post-market safety information.  However, after twice delaying publication of a final rule, the FDA withdrew its Proposed Rule last year.   Now that the Proposed Rule has been withdrawn, manufacturers holding New Drug Applications or Biological License Applications (collectively herein, “NDAs”) for the drugs or biologics they manufacture are faced with increased uncertainty with regard to the application of state “failure-to-warn” duties and liabilities, especially in light of the recent decisions by the California  and Massachusetts supreme courts.

The Evolution (or lack thereof) of Failure to Warn Cases

PLIVA held that Generic Manufacturers have only “an ongoing federal duty of ‘sameness’” meaning that a Generic Manufacturer is required only to keep its warning label identical to the Brand Manufacturer’s.  However, PLIVA left the determination of whether Brand Manufacturers would be liable under the same laws up to each state to decide.  Most state courts have not imposed a duty to warn onto Brand Manufacturers when the injury stems from the exclusive use of a generic drug.   However, two recent cases in California and Massachusetts have expanded the number of minority-view states.

While following PLIVA, the California Supreme Court’s decision in T.H. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 4 Ca. 5th 145 (Cal. Dec. 21, 2017) (“Novartis”) in many ways is an extension of Conte v. Wyeth, Inc., 168 Cal.App.4th 89, 94 (2008) (“Conte”), a decision that pre-dates PLIVA.  Conte was the first case to hold that Brand Manufacturers owe a duty of care to patients whose “doctors foreseeably rely on the name-brand manufacturer’s product information when prescribing a medication, even if the prescription is filled with a generic version of the prescribed drug.”  Novartis held that “a brand-name drug manufacturer owes a duty of reasonable care in ensuring that the label includes appropriate warnings, regardless of whether the end user has been dispensed the brand-name drug or its generic bioequivalent.”  The majority’s decision applied factors that focused on foreseeability and public policy justifications for (or against) carving out exceptions to the general duty to warn.  Ultimately, noting that California places greater emphasis on foreseeability than other states when determining whether to obligate a party as having a duty, the Court held that Brand Manufacturers have a duty and “can be liable for the effects of its deficient warning label, despite transferring the NDA to a successor, if the harm is reasonably foreseeable and is proximately caused by the label.”   The Court stated that the federal requirement to revise “a warning as soon as there is reasonable evidence of an association of a serious hazard with a drug” without needing causal proof under 21 C.F.R. § 201.80(e) created a “continuing duty to warn of potential risks.”  The decision was not without controversy mostly because the Court held that the Brand Manufacturer was still duty-bound despite divesting itself from ownership and control of the NDA.

The dissent in Novartis noted that “predecessor liability for failure to warn has never before been recognized by any court, in any jurisdiction” and that two prior decisions, In re Darvocet, Darovan and Propoxyphene Products Liability Litigation, 2012 WL 767595 (E.D.Ky. Mar. 7, 2012) and Lyman v. Pfizer, No. 2:09-cv-262 (D.Vt. July 20, 2012), each rejected predecessor liability as the original manufacturer’s “failure to warn” would be too remote to establish proximate cause of the injury.  In terms of transferring the duty through divestment, the dissent noted that “[t]here is no logical stopping point” for this broad and continuing duty for Brand Manufacturers.   The majority’s opinion offers no guideposts as to when divestment is sufficient to cease liability or at what time interval the predecessor is relieved of this duty.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court struggled with when to impose the duty to warn on a Brand Manufacturer in its recent opinion in Rafferty v. Merck & Co, Inc., 479 Mass. 141 (Mar. 16, 2018) (“Merck”).  While following PLIVA’s strict guidance that Generic Manufacturers cannot be held accountable under failure to warn laws where the Generic Manufacturer has adhered to the “duty of sameness,” the Court found that “public policy is not served if generic drug consumers have no remedy for the failure of a [Brand Manufacturer] to warn in cases where such failure exceeds ordinary negligence.”  However, rather than impose a duty under the plaintiff-friendly negligence standard, the Court held that a Brand Manufacturer’s duty is “the duty not to intentionally or recklessly cause harm to others.”  The court reasoned “that allowing a generic drug consumer to bring a general negligence claim for failure to warn against a brand-name manufacturer poses too great a risk of chilling drug innovation, contrary to the public policy goals embodied in the Hatch-Waxman amendments.”  After establishing this new standard, the Court permitted the plaintiff to amend his complaint to add “a common-law recklessness claim” if the plaintiff could allege that the Brand Manufacturer “intentionally failed to update the label on its drug, knowing or having reason to know of an unreasonable risk of death or grave bodily injury associated with its use.”

Perhaps in response to Novartis, the Court described its holding as applying to a Brand Manufacturer “that controls the contents of the label on a generic drug,” though no additional guidance was provided on the issue of predecessor liability.  By choosing a recklessness standard, Massachusetts becomes the first “middle ground” state on the issue: while becoming a minority state in terms of finding a duty to warn for Brand Manufacturers under the circumstances, it is also “the only court to limit the scope of liability arising under this duty to reckless disregard of the risk of death or grave bodily injury.”

The Federal Regulatory Landscape

FDA regulations require a Brand Manufacturer to obtain FDA approval of all labeling and to update the label of its drug “as soon as there is reasonable evidence of an association of a serious hazard with a drug; a causal relationship need not have been proved.”  The FDA allows the company that holds an NDA to submit a “Changes Being Effected” supplement or “CBE-0” which allows Brand Manufacturers to unilaterally update their labels immediately upon receipt by the FDA of the supplement, under certain circumstances, including strengthening a safety label or adding additional warnings.

However, as the PLIVA decision made clear, this requirement falls squarely on the shoulders of the NDA holder and does not pass onto Generic Manufacturers.  Instead, Generic Manufacturers, under PLIVA, must maintain a duty of “sameness”.  As a result, a Generic Manufacturer may not unilaterally update the drug’s label if the update will cause the label to be different from the brand name drug’s label.  The FDA originally enacted this requirement as part of the Hatch-Waxman Act  to assure prescribers that the generic drug is bioequivalent to the brand name drug, thereby encouraging the use of generic drugs.  However, the Proposed Rule indicates that the FDA was considering changing its position on the issue.

Under the Proposed Rule, a Generic Manufacturer would have had the ability to unilaterally change its drug’s label under CBE-0.  Additionally, a Generic Manufacturer would have been able to send a “Dear Health Care Provider” letter describing the reasons for the change in an effort to disseminate urgent information regarding the drug’s safety, dosage, administration, or efficacy information.  Unfortunately, after extending a public comment period and hosting a Public Hearing to discuss the Proposed Rule, the FDA  withdrew the rule on September 29, 2017.  This decision leaves states in the precarious position of trying to balance the rights of Brand Manufacturers and clients of Generic Manufacturers, as well as traditional theories of tort liability, as the Merck decision clearly demonstrates.   The dissent in the Novartis decision specifically discussed the Proposed Rule and how a final rule on the issue would likely have altered the Court’s analysis and changed its decision.

Conclusion

In the wake of these cases, only one thing is clear: state courts continue to struggle with how to apply the federal preemption of liability for Generic Manufacturers from state failure to warn liability under PLIVA.  Even where states have adopted liability for Brand Manufacturers, additional questions persist.  The Novartis decision creates no clear line of when a Brand Manufacturer’s liability evaporates through the passage of time or divestment from an NDA.  The Merck decision sets out a new standard without applying it.  This leaves Brand Manufacturers with few answers when determining whether to expand their monitoring activities and determining how aggressive to be in filing for a CBE-0 for products the Brand Manufacturer may no longer manufacture or own.

[1] T.H. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.  4 Cal. 5th 145 (Dec. 21, 2017)

[2] Rafferty v. Merck & Co, 479 Mass. 141 (Mar. 16, 2018)

New rules issued on November 7, 2017 by FDA will make it easier for companies to offer certain types of genetic tests directly-to-consumers (DTC), without a health-care provider intermediary.

The first rule exempts “autosomal recessive carrier screening gene mutation detection systems” that are offered DTC from FDA premarket review.  FDA first proposed this exemption in 2015, on the same date as the agency issued a final order classifying these types of tests as Class II medical devices, in response to a request from 23andMe.  The 2015 final rule specified the conditions under which all companies could offer autosomal recessive carrier tests directly to the public.  By finalizing the exemption, FDA is permitting companies to offer these tests DTC without the need for prior FDA review.  These companies will still be subject to general requirements applicable to all medical device manufacturers, as well as to the “special controls” specified by FDA for these types of tests in the final rule.

Similarly, the second rule finalizes a new medical device classification for  DTC “genetic health risk assessment” (GHR)  (i.e., predictive) tests.  The classification specifies the conditions under which these tests may be marketed, and includes the requirement for a 510(k) premarket notification to FDA. However, in a Federal Register Notice, also issued yesterday, FDA proposes to exempt GHR tests from the 510(k) premarket submission requirement after a company has successfully obtained FDA clearance of its first GHR assay, and provided that the company continues to follow the specified special controls for this class of tests.  Comments to this proposed exemption are being accepted by FDA until January 8. 

Please reach out to Gail Javitt or the Food and Drug Law practice team members for additional information.

The passage of the 21st Century Cures Act (“Cures Act”) and revisions to the Common Rule (45 CFR Part 46) (“Common Rule”) in the last year mandated significant changes to informed consent laws.  As a result of these changes, sponsors of research (“Sponsors”), institutions conducting research (“Institutions”), and the institutional review boards (“IRBs”) approving research will need to review policies and practices involving informed consent.  As explained below, a recently published FDA guidance document makes a first step toward implementing some of these changes by permitting waiver of certain consent requirements for low risk research involving human subjects. Additionally, a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court discussed below reminds investigators, Institutions, and Sponsors performing clinical research in Pennsylvania that state informed consent laws and common law must also be considered before conducting clinical research involving human subjects.  The following brief discussion provides some insight into how Sponsors, Institutions, and IRBs should take into account varying sources of law when determining when to require consent for research involving human subjects.

FDA Guidance on Waivers of Consent

On July 13, the United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued a guidance document titled “IRB Waiver on Alteration of Informed Consent for Clinical Investigations Involving No More Than Minimal Risk to Human Subjects” (“Consent Guidance”).  The Consent Guidance states that “FDA does not intend to object to a sponsor initiating, or an investigator conducting, a minimal risk clinical investigation for which an IRB waives or alters the informed consent requirements” to the extent that the IRB documents that: the research “involves no more than minimal risk;” the waiver “will not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects;” the research “could not practicably be carried out without the waiver;” and “subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation,” if appropriate.  The Consent Guidance is an initial step toward implementing Section 3024 of the Cures Act, which amended the Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act to provide FDA with the authority to exempt certain research of drugs or medical devices from informed consent requirements if the research poses “no more than minimal risk” to human subjects and includes “appropriate safeguards to protect the rights, safety, and welfare” for participating subjects.  However, current FDA regulations do not provide IRBs with the power to waive consent except in certain circumstances involving an emergency or a life-threatening situation.  While FDA’s guidance documents contain disclaimers that the documents, themselves, lack any authority and cannot be relied upon, Sponsors, Institutions, and IRBs should be confident moving forward under the Consent Guidance as it stems directly from authority granted to FDA under the Cures Act and is consistent with the approach taken by the revised Common Rule.  The FDA is expected to provide updates to its own human research subject protection regulations in 21 CFR Parts 50 and 56, which based on the Consent Guidance will include “minimal research” provisions similar to the Consent Guidance and the revised Common Rule.  These rules will also address new provisions regarding identifiable biospecimens, which are not addressed under the Consent Guidance.  Once these new rules are established, FDA has stated that it will withdraw the Consent Guidance.

Recent Case Law

While Federal laws and regulations shape many aspects of informed consent, state laws may impose additional nuances that providers must understand. For example, a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will impact the manner in which informed consent must be obtained by physicians practicing in the state of Pennsylvania.  In Shinal v. Toms, M.D., 162 A.3d 429 (2017), Court held that physicians may no longer rely upon information provided by non-physicians to satisfy physician obligations under the MCARE Act, 40 Pa.  Stat. § 1303, et seq, which imposes a duty on physicians to obtain informed consent before performing certain procedures.  The specific law at issue was Section 504 of the MCARE Act, which creates a duty for a physician “to a patient to obtain the informed consent of the patient” before performing surgery, administering radiation or chemotherapy, administering a blood transfusion, inserting a surgical device, or “administering an experimental medication, using an experimental device or using an approved medication or device in an experimental manner.”  In Shinal v. Toms, M.D., 162 A.3d 429 (2017), the plaintiff asserted that Section 504 required Dr. Toms, the plaintiff’s surgeon, to provide all information and receive a patient’s informed consent personally in order to fulfill the physician’s duty for obtaining informed consent under the statute.  After an initial discussion with Dr. Toms regarding certain surgical options, the plaintiff later called to ask additional questions regarding different surgical procedures and was directed to a nurse to have her questions answered.  The plaintiff argued that her consent for the surgery was not sufficiently informed because the information provided to her about her surgical options should have been provided by Dr. Toms.  The Court agreed, and its 4-3 decision held that physicians in Pennsylvania must directly “disclose the information required to obtain informed consent.”

While Shinal involved consent for a surgical procedure, Section 504 of the MCARE Act also requires physicians to obtain informed consent  before administering an experimental drug or device.  This ruling will undoubtedly require many Institutions in Pennsylvania to change how informed consent is obtained from potential subjects in clinical trials, as it is common practice within the industry for physician investigators to delegate the informed consent process, or at least certain portions of the consent discussion with potential research subjects, to members of the Institution’s study staff.  Sponsors will likewise want to investigate the consent processes of Institutions conducting research on their behalf in Pennsylvania and review informed consent templates used by these Institutions to ensure they reflect the holding in Shinal.

The position expressed by the Shinal Court that only information provided by a licensed physician may be considered in determining whether the physician fulfilled his or her duty to provide informed consent appears to be unique among the states.  Nevertheless, it demonstrates to Sponsors, Institutions, and IRBs the importance of looking beyond FDA regulations and the Common Rule when developing and maintaining standard operating procedures and templates for obtaining informed consent.  Even if certain research may meet “minimal risk” rules at a federal level, Institutions must still abide by applicable state laws with regard to the requisite consent required before treating patients within the study.

At the end of July, FDA released a tangible plan for promoting innovation in the development of digital health products. In this Digital Health Innovation Action Plan, FDA acknowledges that digital health technologies are critically important in advancing health care, and that traditional FDA pathways to market are not well suited for all of these technologies. Over the last few years, FDA has taken a deregulatory approach with respect to low risk digital health products and has issued guidance regarding its enforcement discretion approach to wellness products, medical device data systems, medical imaging communication and storage devices and certain mobile apps. However, there still has been uncertainty with respect to whether, and how, other digital health technologies will be regulated. This new plan paves the way for additional regulatory clarity and streamlined pathways to market for digital health developers.

Some of the key aspects of the plan include:

  • Issuing 21st Century Cures Act implementation guidance. The Cures Act, which was passed in December of last year, includes provisions clarifying FDA’s regulation of software. Specifically, these provisions explicitly exclude certain software from FDA’s definition of a “medical device,” including electronic health records and software that encourages healthy living, displays, transmits, stores or performs limited conversion of medical device data and supports administrative activities. As a result, these products are not subject to FDA’s oversight. The planned draft guidance, which the Agency hopes to release by the end of the year, will reconcile these new Cures provisions with existing FDA guidance. Cleaning up and clarifying policies in this space will help solidify FDA’s interpretations and reduce regulatory uncertainty.
    FDA also commits to providing guidance regarding products that include regulated and unregulated functionality. The Cures Act makes clear that the fact that an unregulated application co-exists with a regulated application within a solution does not submit the unregulated functionality to FDA oversight. FDA still may consider how the unregulated software impacts the safety and effectiveness of the regulated software, but the unregulated software nevertheless remains unregulated.
  • Running a pilot program focused on “pre-certification” of digital health developers. In September, FDA will launch a pilot pre-certification program applicable to manufacturers of stand alone medical device software. The purpose of the program is to develop objective criteria that, if met, would demonstrate an entity’s ability to reliably develop high quality, safe and effective software. The intent is for FDA to use these criteria to develop a framework to pre-certify software developers that satisfy the requirements. In turn, pre-certified developers would be subject to a streamlined premarket review for new lower-risk products (e.g., less premarket submission information would be required and/or review times would be faster). FDA indicated that, in some instances, pre-certified companies would be able to market certain lower risk products, that presumably would be subject to 510(k) clearance today, without any premarket review at all. However, to account for reducing the front end requirements, FDA envisions that developers will collect real-world data once their products hit the market to assure they are safe and effective.
  • Issuing CDS software guidance. By the first quarter of 2018, FDA plans to issue draft guidance detailing which CDS is not subject to FDA regulation. The Cures Act carves out transparent, professional use CDS from the definition of a medical device. This carved-out CDS is software that is not intended to be relied upon as the primary basis for a clinical decision, but rather allows the healthcare professional to independently review and assess the underlying rationale for the software recommendation in connection with making a clinical decision. While guidance on how FDA interprets the relevant Cures language on this issue will be helpful, it is equally, if not more important, for the Agency to provide guidance on CDS that falls outside of the Cures Act exemption (e.g., consumer clinical decision support, machine learning and non-transparent CDS).
  • Finalizing 510(k) Guidance on Software Changes. FDA’s Digital Health Innovation Action Plan also includes finalizing the draft guidance on “Deciding When to Submit a 510(k) for a Software Change to an Existing Device.” This guidance is the software counterpart to FDA’s draft guidance on “Deciding When to Submit a 510(k) for a Change to an Existing Device,” which has had a controversial past. FDA first attempted to revise its guidance on when a 510(k) is required due to a change made to a device in 2011. FDA was required by Congress to withdraw its 2011 draft guidance due to the potentially significant impact the draft guidance would have on industry. In August 2016, FDA published this pair of draft guidance documents. Given the disagreement and debate that has surrounded this topic, a definitive FDA approach will provide manufacturers greater certainty regarding any submission requirements for the range of software changes made to traditional medical devices, as well as to stand alone software devices.
  • Adopting the IMDRF’s Approach to Clinically Evaluating SaMD Once Finalized. FDA also intends to adopt the final version of the Software as a Medical Device (SaMD): Clinical Evaluation guidance as published by International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF). FDA released draft guidance that incorporated this IMDRF document in 2016. While it is unclear how procedurally FDA will adopt a final version of the IMDRF policy without public review and comment, the IMDRF framework will nevertheless provide insight into FDA’s thinking on clinical evaluation requirements for medical device software given the Agency’s leadership in the IMDRF work group that drafted the document and this pre-emptive endorsement. It also serves as a reminder that despite FDA efforts to minimize regulatory burdens for low risk digital health products, moderate and high risk medical device software remains subject to FDA’s premarket review. The 21st Century Cures and CDS guidance, both of which are expected after IMDRF’s SaMD’s Clinical Evaluation document is finalized, will be instrumental in clarifying which digital health products are subject to such requirements.

Although FDA has been expected to release many of these policies for years, the Digital Health Innovation Action Plan is aggressive, promising five draft or final guidance documents in just over six months, while at the same time conducting the pre-certification pilot program.  Whether this is a reflection of the new administration, a new Commissioner or a new (or renewed) focus on digital health innovation, it is a welcome development and one that will be watched closely by software companies, traditional medical device manufacturers and patients alike.

On May 9, 2017, Scott Gottlieb, M.D. was confirmed by the Senate as the new Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”).  As Commissioner, he will be immediately responsible for shaping FDA policy on a number of current issues, including addressing and implementing several mandates stemming from the 21st Century Cures Act, (“Cures Act”), which was signed into law on December 13, 2016 with tremendous bipartisan support. The Cures Act contains over 200 sections that create new obligations for FDA; however, most pressing for Commissioner Gottlieb are three requirements that must be fulfilled within 180 days of the Cures Act’s passage (June 11th, 2017).

These requirements are:

  • Submission of a work plan to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives for any projects, which will use funding from the FDA Innovation Account created under Section 1002 of the Cures Act;
  • Development of “a plan to issue draft and final versions of one or more guidance documents, over a period of 5 years, regarding the collection of patient experience data, and the use of such data and related information in drug development” pursuant to Section 3002 of the Cures Act, which is codified at 21 U.S.C. 360bbb-8c; and
  •  Publication of “a list of reusable device types” pursuant to Section 3059 of the Cures Act, which is codified at 21 U.S.C. 360.

Commissioner Gottlieb has a long professional history in the pharmaceutical industry working in both the public and private sectors. His firsthand experience as a former Deputy Commissioner at the FDA provides him with unique insights into the internal workings of the administration. As a former consultant advising on FDA policies to the pharmaceutical industry, Commissioner Gottlieb is also familiar with recent issues and trends affecting the industry, many of which are addressed within the Cures Act.  Despite having only one month to organize and address the mandates of the three above-referenced sections of the Cures Act, we believe Commissioner Gottlieb will likely meet these deadlines based on his prior knowledge and experience.

We will continue to monitor and provide insight on Commissioner Gottlieb’s activity as FDA Commissioner, and the implementation of key Cures Act provisions as they develop. For insight into how Commissioner Gottlieb has historically viewed key issues impacting the FDA, and mandates under the Cures Act, please view our previously published client alert.

On January 19, 2017, the United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) unveiled a new drug designation process for regenerative advanced therapies, an important first step toward implementation of the regenerative medicine provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act.  Products for which a designation as a regenerative advanced therapy (“RAT”) is obtained are eligible for accelerated approval under the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by former President Obama on December 13, 2016 with sweeping bipartisan support.

The accelerated approval provisions for RATs under the 21st Century Cures Act are intended to facilitate expedited review and approval of stem cell therapies and other cellular and tissue products for use in serious or life threatening diseases, which are currently subject to regulation as unapproved drugs. Under the 21st Century Cures Act, regenerative medicine therapies eligible for a RAT designation may include any “cell therapy, therapeutic tissue engineering product, human cell and tissue product, or any combination product using such therapies or products, except for those products regulated solely under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (“PHS”), and part 1271 of Title 21, Code of Federal regulations.”[1]

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, the sponsor of a product must show the following to be eligible for a RAT designation:

  • The drug is a regenerative medicine therapy;
  • The drug is intended to treat, modify, reverse, or cure a serious or life-threatening disease or condition;[2] and
  • Preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug has the potential to address unmet medical needs for such disease or condition.

Pursuant to the FDA website on the Regenerative Advanced Therapy Designation, a sponsor requesting a RAT designation for its product must make such a request either concurrently with submission of an Investigational New Drug application (“IND”), or as an amendment to an existing IND. Consistent with requests for fast track and breakthrough therapy designations, the FDA only requires that a sponsor describe the preliminary clinical evidence that supports a RAT designation, and does not require the sponsor to submit primary data.  Information that will be considered includes: a description of any available therapies for the disease or condition already in existence, the study design, the population studied, the endpoints used, and a description of the study results and statistical analyses.

The RAT designation process will be overseen by the newly created Office of Tissues and Advanced Therapies (OTAT). The OTAT will manage the application process for RAT designation, and will notify the sponsor within 60 days of receiving an application as to whether the RAT designation is granted. If a sponsor does not receive a RAT designation for its product the OTAT will provide an explanation in writing of its rationale for the denial.

A sponsor that obtains a RAT designation for its product is entitled to meet with the FDA early in its development program to discuss the potential use of surrogate or intermediate endpoints that may be used to support accelerated approval of the product. RATs may be eligible for accelerated approval based upon surrogate or intermediate endpoints reasonably likely to predict a long-term clinical benefit, and based on data obtained from a “meaningful number of sites” with subsequent expansion to additional sites, along with the collection of additional data in the post-market phase.

The implementation of the RAT designation process will enable manufacturers to begin to take advantage of the less burdensome review process enabled by the 21st Century Cures Act.  While some patient advocates have expressed concern that the availability of an accelerated approval pathway for regenerative medicine products may impede the development of robust evidence establishing their safety and effectiveness, and may ultimately result in patient harm, 21st Century Cures’ accelerated approval provisions are likely to be a harbinger of a new wave of regenerative medicine therapies that provide additional options for patients facing serious or life threatening conditions.

____

[1] 21st Century Cures Act Sec., Sec. 3033(8).  Human Cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) are regulated solely under section 361 of the PHS Act and the regulations of 21 C.F.R. Part 1271 if all of the following criteria are met: the HCT/P is minimally manipulated, intended for homologous use (as reflected in labeling and advertising), is not manufactured by combining cells or tissues with another article, except for water, crystalloids, or a sterilizing, preserving or storage agent, and does not have a systemic effect nor is dependent upon the metabolic activity of living cells for its primary function. Therefore, if a product meets all of the aforementioned criteria, the HCT/P will still be regulated under 21 C.F.R. Part 1271 and will not be subject to regulation as a drug product.

[2] The FDA will use its standard definitions found in its Expedited Program Guidance as a guide to determining whether a product meets the required criteria, such as whether a condition is “serious or life-threatening” or whether a drug is “intended to treat a serious disease or condition.”

Congress is currently considering two bills that would dramatically alter the ways in which all federal agencies develop and publish rules. If enacted, both would create significant new obligations for agencies such as CMS and the FDA, expand the scope of judicial review of rules, and would increase the potential for political influence over the rulemaking process. Both bills passed the House on party-line votes, and are under consideration by the Senate.

The first bill, H.R. 5, would overhaul multiple phases of the federal rulemaking process. These proposed changes would make the rulemaking process significantly longer and more complex for agencies, and includes provisions that could prevent some rules from ever taking effect. The key provisions of the bill are summarized below:

  • Prior to publishing any rule (1) with an expected annual impact of $100 million or more, (2) that may reduce employment, or (3) that involves a novel legal or policy issue, an agency would have to publish an advance notice that it intends to publish a proposed notice of rulemaking, and must solicit comments on the notice. A proposed rule could only be published after this new additional process is complete.
  • Whenever an agency publishes a proposed rule for public comment in any of the categories described above, it would have to explain the basis for the rule, the data it relied on, and would have to explain the alternatives to the rule and justify why they were not adopted. In addition to the current public comment period, once a proposed rule was published an interested party could then request a hearing to contest the quality of the information relied on by the agency. Any resolution of this new step would slow down the rulemaking process further.
  • In all cases where a rule is expected to have an annual impact of at least $1 billion annually, the agency would now be required to conduct a public hearing limited to fact issues. This would add to the time and cost of publishing a new or revised rule.
  • When a final rule is published, the agency would be required to explain in the preamble to that rule why the rule will have the lowest possible cost unless it involves public health, safety, or welfare.
  • All agencies would be required to publish all documents considered by an agency prior to publishing the rule.  This would eliminate the deliberative process privilege that has been in place for decades, which is intended to promote the exchange of views within an agency, and may have a chilling effect on agency deliberation. In many cases, a final rule could not take effect until all of the information relied on by the agency had been made available electronically for at least six months unless the agency or the President claims an exception.
  • Recipients of federal funds would be prohibited from advocating for or against the rule, or appealing to the public to either support or oppose the rule.
  • Guidance documents issued by agencies, including manuals, circulars, and other subregulatory publications would no longer have any legal effect and could not be relied on by the agency for any actions. The bill does not explain how many important parts of federal programs, such as the administration of grants or cost accounting for hospitals in the Medicare program would be handled. These and other programs rely heavily on the detailed information found only in agency manuals and guidance. Without these guidelines, health care providers, suppliers, manufacturers, and researchers among others would find it increasingly difficult to comply with federal laws.

The bill would also make drastic changes in the scope of any judicial review of published agency rules. The bill would overturn the Supreme Court’s landmark Chevron decision, which established the principle that when an agency is charged with administering a statute and interprets ambiguous statutory language in a regulation, courts will defer to the agency’s permissible interpretation of the law. In its place, the bill would authorize courts to review all questions of law involving a regulation without giving weight to the agency’s experience or expertise. Courts would be empowered to impose their own constructions of the law on an agency, upending decades of precedents. This has the potential to increase federal courts’ dockets and place those courts in the position of reviewing technical information without all of the resources available to conduct a review. In addition, by allowing courts to decide cases without relying on the agency’s rationale, this increases the potential for inconsistent decisions and confusion among regulated entities such as health care providers, suppliers, and manufacturers seeking to comply with federal laws.

The second bill, H.R. 26, focuses more on expanding Congress’s control over the rulemaking process once an agency has completed the public notice and comment procedure under current law. It also expands the legislative veto over rules, which currently is authorized only when Congress disapproves of a rule and requires the President’s concurrence.

Under the bill, agencies would be required to report all new rules to Congress, and must identify all “major rules” as determined by the Office of Management and Budget that (1) will have an annual impact of $100M or more, (2) increases costs or prices, or (3) will have a significant impact on competition, employment, investment, or foreign trade. The report to Congress must also contain an analysis of the projected number or jobs that would be gained or lost as result of the rule. All major rules with the exception of those necessary for an emergency, enforcement of criminal laws, or to implement a trade agreement would not go into effect unless both houses of Congress approve the rule by a joint resolution within 70 legislative days after the agency submits its report. There is only one chance to obtain approval of a major rule during a session of Congress; if the joint resolution is not approved, or if no action is taken, the bill would bar Congress from considering a second resolution on the same rule during the same two-year session of Congress. This would allow Congress to override an agency and force the agency to begin the rulemaking anew, if at all. Congress would retain the authority to disapprove all other rules by a joint resolution. The bill also allows for judicial review of Congress’s actions only to review whether or not it followed the procedure in the statute; the merits of any action would be unreviewable.

In addition to expanding control over prospective rules, the bill would also add a sunset provision for existing rules. All agencies would be required to review current rules at least once every ten years and report to Congress; if Congress then failed to enact a joint resolution to retain the rules, they would be nullified.

Although the bills passed the House, it will be much harder for the Senate to pass them as well. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to end debate and bring the bills to a vote. Since the Republicans only hold 52 seats, they would need additional votes from Democrats in order for the bills to pass.

Early January has seen the release by FDA of a flurry of information on drug and device manufacturer communications, largely reaffirming FDA’s long-held approach to restricting manufacturer communications regarding off-label uses of approved drugs and medical devices. The most significant positive development arising from these documents is the Agency’s concession on proactive pre-approval communications with payors about investigational drugs and devices, allowing certain information to be provided to payors prior to a product’s approval. FDA’s guidance documents issued this week also clarify some grey areas surrounding the circumstances under which manufacturers may communicate about information that is consistent with or related to an approved indication, but is not included in approved product labeling.

While these pronouncements provide drug and device manufacturers with some additional leeway in their communications regarding investigational products and certain information about the approved uses of their products that is not included in the approved labeling, they do not address long-standing questions regarding the circumstances under which manufacturers may communicate about unapproved uses of their products in light of recent First Amendment case law. Instead, these last words of the Agency under the outgoing administration signal that, at least under the direction of current administration, FDA is not inclined to significantly expand manufacturers’ ability to communicate regarding unapproved uses of their products without the risk of enforcement. The eventual impact of the new administration on FDA’s approach to off-label communications remains a significant unknown.

In draft guidance on Drug and Device Manufacturer Communications with Payors, Formulary Committees and Similar Entities – Questions and Answers released on January 18, FDA signifies its acceptance of the position long held by industry and payors alike that payors need access to information regarding investigational drugs and devices to help them plan and budget for coverage of these products once they are approved. In the draft guidance, FDA states that it will not object to manufacturers providing payors with “unbiased, factual, accurate and non-misleading” information regarding investigational drugs and medical devices, provided that those communications include a clear statement of the investigational status of the product and that its safety and effectiveness have not been established, along with information regarding the stage of product development of the product.

Information that may be provided by manufacturers in accordance with FDA’s recommendations in the draft guidance includes information about the product such as its drug class or design, the indication sought and the patient population under investigation, a factual presentation of the results of clinical and pre-clinical studies without any conclusions regarding the product’s safety and effectiveness, the anticipated timeline for FDA approval, product pricing information, and anticipated marketing strategies and product-related programs and services, such as patient assistance programs. FDA also recommends that manufacturers update payors with any significant new information about the investigational product that differs from information previously communicated to them.

As suggested by its title, the primary focus of the draft guidance is on the communication of health care economic information (“HCEI”) regarding prescription drugs to payors, interpreting the changes to FDAMA Section 114 included in the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law in December. Notably, unlike FDA’s recommendations regarding pre-approval product communications with payors, this portion of the draft guidance does not apply to HCEI regarding medical devices. The draft guidance also makes it clear that the expanded HCEI communications permitted by FDAMA 114, as amended, are limited to payors, and similar flexibility in the levels of evidence required to support HCEI communications to payors do not apply to communications with health care providers or consumers. Additionally, consistent with the statute, the draft guidance limits the HCEI that may be provided to information that “relates to” an approved indication, confirming that FDA does not currently intend to permit the proactive dissemination to payors of HCEI related to off-label use.

In a series of questions and answers, FDA provides recommendations regarding the types of HCEI that may be provided, the scope of the payor audience to which this information may be provided, the types of competent and reliable scientific evidence that may be relied upon, the information that must be disclosed along with HCEI provided to payors, and perhaps mostly usefully, examples of the circumstances under which FDA will determine HCEI to relate, and not to relate, to an approved indication. FDA describes the categories of information that will be deemed to relate to an approved indication, even if they do not appear within, or vary in some respects from, the approved labeling; provided that the information is not inconsistent with the approved labeling. These include, among others, information on duration of treatment, burden of illness, length of hospital stay, information including actual patient use of an approved drug that varies from the approved dosing regimen, and information derived from clinical data demonstrating an effect on a validated surrogate endpoint or a comparison of safety and effectiveness with another drug or intervention.

FDA’s approach to “related” information in the draft guidance is similar to that taken in another draft guidance it released on January 17 on Medical Product Communications that are Consistent with the FDA-Required Labeling – Questions and Answers. In the Medical Product Communications draft guidance, FDA provides recommendations for manufacturers of drugs and medical devices on communications, including communications with health care providers, consumers and payors and in promotional materials, regarding information that is not included within the FDA-approved package labeling, but is consistent with that labeling.

In determining whether information provided by manufacturers is consistent with the product’s approved labeling, FDA will consider three factors. First, FDA will compare the information to the conditions of use in the approved labeling. To comply with the recommendations in the guidance, the information must relate to an indication, patient population, and dosing and administration instructions within the scope of those set forth in approved label, and it must not be inconsistent with any use limitation or directions for handling or using the product in the approved labeling. Second, the suggestions regarding the use of the product in the HCEI information must not increase the potential for patient harm relative to information in the approved labeling or otherwise adversely impact the risk-benefit profile of the product. Finally, the directions for use in the approved labeling must allow the product to be used safely and effectively under the conditions of use suggested in the HCEI information distributed by the manufacturer. If all three of these factors are met, FDA will not view that information, alone, as evidence that the manufacturer intends to promote the drug or device for a new intended use.

To assist manufacturers in applying these factors, the guidance includes examples of the types of communications that are, and are not, consistent with a product’s approved labeling. In describing the types of evidence required to support the disclosure of information that is not included in, but is consistent with, the approved labeling, FDA states that the data must be scientifically and statistically sound to support the representations made by the manufacturer to avoid being false or misleading, but because the safety and effectiveness of the product for the approved indication has already been established, the evidence need not meet the applicable approval or clearance standard for the product. For drug products, this means that two adequate and well-controlled clinical trials will not be required. The evidence must, however, be accurately characterized and any material limitations on the evidence must be clearly and prominently disclosed in language appropriate for the intended audience.

FDA also has, within a ten day period, released two other pieces of information relating to drug and device manufacturers’ communications regarding their products. On January 9, FDA issued a Final Rule on Clarification of When Products Made or Derived From Tobacco Are Regulated as Drugs, Devices, or Combination Products; Amendments to Regulations Regarding “Intended Uses”, clarifying the Agency’s position that a determination of a regulated product’s intended use may be determined based upon the totality of the evidence of the manufacturer’s objective intended use of the product, including the manufacturer’s knowledge of the product’s actual use for an off-label indication in practice.[1]  FDA states in the preamble to the Final Rule, however, that it will not bring an enforcement action based solely on a manufacturer’s knowledge that an approved or cleared product is being prescribed or used for an unapproved use.

The Proposed Rule released in September 2015 deleted from the drug and device intended use regulations at 21 CFR §§ 201.128 and 801.4 a reference to a manufacturer’s knowledge of off-label uses, specifically the statement that “[Intended use] may be shown by the circumstances that the article is, with the knowledge of such persons or their representatives, offered and used for a purpose for which it is neither labeled nor advertised.” Many commenters on the Proposed Rule had interpreted that deletion as excluding a manufacturer’s knowledge of off-label use from the evidence that may be relied upon to establish a manufacturer’s intent to promote a drug or device for an off-label use. The preamble to the Final Rule expresses FDA’s disagreement, and clarifies that FDA proposed deleting that language merely to avoid a potential misinterpretation that a manufacturer’s knowledge of an unapproved use of an approved or cleared medical product, without more, automatically triggers a requirement for that manufacturer to provide additional labeling for the unapproved use. FDA asserts that its intent was not to change the scope of information that could be relied upon as evidence of a manufacturer’s intended use of the product.  The amended language set forth in the Final Rule provides that “”intended use may be shown, for example, by circumstances in which the article is, with the knowledge of such person or their representatives, offered and used for a purpose for which it is neither labeled nor advertised.”

In the preamble to the Final Rule, in response to comments that existing First Amendment jurisprudence restricts FDA from bringing enforcement actions based on truthful and non-misleading speech regarding a product’s off-label use, FDA states that it is separately examining its rules and policies relating to firm communications regarding unapproved uses of approved and cleared medical products, and while those broader policy considerations are being addressed separately from the Final Rule, “[n]evertheless, it is important to note here that we do not agree with the assertion that the current case law allows FDA to consider speech as evidence of intended use only when it is false or misleading.” FDA cites recent Second Circuit precedent[2] to support its view that the Second Circuit’s 2014 Caronia decision does not foreclose the government’s ability to prove misbranding using promotional speech as evidence that a drug is intended for an off-label use. FDA goes on to describe the significant public health considerations that the Agency believes support its approach to limiting manufacturer communications regarding off-label uses of their approved or cleared products.

FDA makes similar assertions in a document posted to the docket for the November public hearing on Manufacturer Communications Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products entitled, “Memorandum: Public Health Interests and First Amendment Considerations Regarding Unapproved Uses of Approved or Cleared Medical Products.” In a notice published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017, FDA announces that it has reopened the comment period that was opened in connection with the public hearing on off-label communications that took place November 9 and 10, 2016 to allow interested parties an opportunity for additional comment based on the content of the memorandum and the two draft guidances discussed above. In this memorandum, FDA describes in detail the public policy considerations guiding its assessment of its restrictions on off-label communications, and the legal authority it believes supports its restriction of these communications and their use as evidence of intended use to support misbranding actions. FDA also describes its views on several alternative approaches to addressing the public health interests at issue.  FDA seeks additional comments on its views expressed in the memorandum and potential alternative approaches to regulating manufacturer communications regarding off-label indications of their approved products.  The docket will remain open until April 19, 2017.

[1] In addition to its provisions specific to determinations of when a tobacco product will be regulated as a drug or device, the Final Rule also amended intended use regulations at 21 CFR §§ 201.128 and 801.4.

[2] United States ex rel. Polansky v. Pfizer, Inc., 822 F.3d 613 n.2 (2d Cir.2016).

Recent federal and state legislative efforts signal an increased focus on a significant and largely underappreciated public health threat – antimicrobial resistance (i.e., when a microorganism (such as a bacteria or virus) is able to resist the effects of medications such as antibiotics and antivirals, causing such medications to be ineffective). The results of a 2014 study underscore the magnitude of the threat of so-called “superbugs,” estimating that the number of deaths worldwide attributable to antimicrobial resistance will reach 10 million by 2050.  By comparison, the same study projected 8.2 million deaths from cancer, and 1.2 million deaths from traffic accidents by 2050.  Legislative efforts to address antimicrobial resistance span from encouraging development of new pathways to market for antimicrobial drugs to expanding data collection and monitoring efforts to better understand the scope of the problem.  The combination of new data and less-restrictive pathways to market simultaneously provide pharmaceutical companies with a faster entry into the market for antimicrobial drugs and a better understanding by local health departments and hospitals of the need for new drugs to combat resistant strains of microorganisms.

Federal Initiatives

On the federal side, the 21st Century Cures Act (the “Act”), signed into law by President Obama on December 13, 2016, includes several measures related to antimicrobial resistance.  For example, the Act creates a new approval pathway for “limited population drugs,” which are antibacterial or antifungal drugs “intended to treat a serious or life-threatening infection in a limited population of patients with unmet needs.” While the Act allows FDA to approve limited population drugs with less data than typically would be required, the approval is restricted to “the intended limited population,” and the manufacturer must meet additional labeling requirements to inform physicians of the drug’s limited approved use.  In addition, manufacturers of drugs approved through this pathway are required to submit any promotional materials to FDA at least 30 days before they plan to use them.

While adding specific labeling requirements for new drugs approved for limited populations, the Act also changes labeling requirements for susceptibility test interpretive criteria. Susceptibility test interpretive criteria includes the myriad of testing options used to determine whether a patient is infected with a specific microorganism or class of microorganism that can effectively be treated by a drug.  The Act requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to replace the currently existing susceptibility test interpretive criteria from the drug’s packaged insert or labeling with a reference to a FDA website to be built where such criteria for all drugs will be held.  Manufacturers have one year from the day the website is established to move its susceptibility test interpretive criteria to the so-called “Interpretive Criteria Website.”

The Act also increases monitoring and reporting of antimicrobial drug use and antimicrobial resistance at federal healthcare facilities, like VA hospitals and facilities run through the Indian Health Service or the Department of Defense. Further, it requires annual federal data reporting on aggregate national and regional trends related to antimicrobial resistance. A broad base of reliable data on antimicrobial resistance and the associated morbidity and mortality does not currently exist. However, along with the federal government, certain states are also making efforts to improve data collection in this space.

State Initiatives

Many states receive funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to collect data about patients with extremely resistant strains of microoganisms, like carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacea, or “CRE” – a bacteria that kills an estimated 600 Americans each year. The Illinois Department of Health, for example, developed a registry in 2014 that tracks positive lab tests for extremely drug-resistant organisms, including CRE.  Illinois began tracking this information following a deadly outbreak of CRE in 2013.  Health care facilities participating in the registry receive alerts when an infected patient is transferred in and must report CRE-positive culture results of patients within seven calendar days.  The most recent annual report shows a 7% increase in overall cases; however, a recent article posits that the increase may be somewhat attributable to better reporting efforts by hospitals gaining experience identifying CRE.  Similar programs exist in many states, but these programs typically do not track the outcomes of CRE cases.

A recently proposed bill in California (California Senate Bill 43) would require hospitals to include information within death certificates that identifies whether “any antimicrobial-resistant infection…was a factor in the death.”  Specifically, the bill would require the “attending physician [who] is legally obligated to file a certificate of death” to determine whether, in the physician’s professional judgment, an antimicrobial-resistant infection was a factor in the patient’s death.  State law already mandates tracking of over 80 communicable diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis (A-E), but only tracks antibiotic-resistant infections of VRE and MRSA if they are contracted while a patient is already in the hospital.

Given the magnitude of the potential threat, it is reassuring that legislative initiatives are showing an increased focus on antimicrobial resistance. New pathways to market for antimicrobial drugs and increased public awareness of the rising threat of “superbugs” should lead to additional innovation by drug manufacturers.  The limited population pathway may also cause some manufacturers to reassess their pipelines and strategies to market drugs toward limited populations.  For manufacturers facing expensive and burdensome FDA requirements to market new antimicrobials to a general population, the limited population pathway may provide a cheaper and faster entry into the market.  Early entry into the market can then fund additional efforts expand the label beyond a limited population.