How Should the FDA Regulate Fecal Transplantation Safely and Effectively?

Last week’s issue of the New Yorker featured a terrific article about fecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT.  Much of the article focused on OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank spun off from MIT that screens donors, processes samples, and ships them to hospitals around the country.  For those who are unfamiliar with FMT, it is a startlingly effective treatment for recurrent C. difficile infection.  C. diff infections have become among the most common hospital-acquired infections in the United States, causing more than 300,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths annually.  And unfortunately, many of these infections are resistant to antibiotics, with resistance rates rising rapidly.  But FMT may provide a way forward: a recent randomized trial (antibiotics versus antibiotics plus FMT) was stopped early, when 94% of patients in the FMT group were cured, as compared to roughly 30% of those in the antibiotics groups.

Coincidentally, I’ve been working with OpenBiome over the past few months on an interesting question that the New Yorker article touched on only briefly: how should the FDA regulate FMT to best ensure its safety and efficacy?  At present, the FDA is proposing to regulate FMT as a biologic drug.  However, many (including OpenBiome’s co-founder, Mark Smith) have argued that it ought to be regulated like human tissue, which from a scientific standpoint it resembles more closely than it does a small molecule drug, given the challenge of characterizing stool’s active ingredients and providing consistency across batches.  OpenBiome’s Policy Director, Carolyn Edelstein, and I are currently working on a paper examining the pluses and minuses of the FDA’s current approach.  I want to briefly summarize a few key points of our paper here, but essentially we argue that classifying FMT as a drug is simultaneously underregulatory and overregulatory.  Our primary goal is to ensure that patients have access to safe, effective treatments – and that means the FDA should be more involved in regulating some aspects of FMT, and less involved in others.

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The Right to Try Meets the Reality of Drug Approval

By Joan H. Krause

[Cross-posted at HealthLawProf Blog]

Whether it be a social media campaign to convince a company to provide an experimental anti-viral drug to a young cancer patient suffering from a life-threatening infection or the debate over appropriate treatment for high-profile Ebola cases, access to potentially life-saving but unapproved medications remains a controversial issue. Two recent articles, published on the same day, illustrate the difficulty of trying to balance desperate patients’ willingness to try unproven therapies with the very real concerns faced by manufacturers undergoing the drug approval process. The first was a Kaiser Health News article describing the passage of “Right to Try” laws in five states. The second was a brief note in the Los Angeles Business Journal that shares of CytRx Corporation, a biopharmaceutical R&D company, had fallen 9% after the company announced that the FDA had placed a partial clinical hold on its clinical trials after a patient’s death.

Right to Try laws are designed to give patients who have exhausted all other treatment options the right to access investigational medications, devices, and biological products that have met Phase I safety milestones. Right to Try legislation has been enacted in Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri, and voters recently approved it by initiative in Arizona. The laws are based on model legislation drafted by the Goldwater Institute, which issued a detailed report on the issue in February 2014. While prohibiting states from blocking patient access to such medications, however, the model legislation does not require manufacturers to provide the products, nor does it require insurance companies to cover the costs. Continue reading

FDA Updates System for Explaining Risks of Meds in Pregnancy

By Emily Largent

On Wednesday, the FDA published the “Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule” (PLLR), which “requires changes to the content and format for information presented in prescription drug labeling . . . to assist health care providers in assessing benefit versus risk and in subsequent counseling of pregnant women and nursing mothers who need to take medication, thus allowing them to make informed and educated decisions for themselves and their children.”  The FDA also issued draft guidance for industry to assist drug manufacturers in complying with the new labeling and format requirements.

The current system, which was developed in the 1970s, uses letters of the alphabet–A, B, C, D, and X–to denote risk, with X being the most dangerous.  The PLLR removes pregnancy letter categories from all prescription drug and biological product labeling.  The new system breaks the risk into three categories: Pregnancy, Lactation, and Females and Males of Reproductive Potential.  Companies will be required to provide a summary of risks, a discussion of the data supporting that summary, and relevant information to help clinicians make prescribing decisions.  The changes go into effect on June 30, 2015.  Labeling for over-the-counter medications will not change.

The PLLR should help many women, as there are more than 6 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year.  Research suggests that over 90% of women use at least one medicine during pregnancy, and about 70% use at least one prescription medicine.  I think the PLLR is a wonderful step to enhance patient education and decision-making.  It will not, however, address our limited current knowledge of the safety of medication use during pregnancy.  About 98% of medicines approved for use in the United States between 2000 and 2010 had limited data to assess the risk for birth defects, for example.  More research is urgently needed, and it’s unfortunate that the rule stops short of requiring companies to conduct studies if none exist.

The Learned Intermediary Rule and Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

By Zachary Shapiro

In the field of pharmaceutical product-liability litigation, the Learned Intermediary Rule (LIR) is a defense doctrine for failure to warn claims, which has been adopted in 22 states, and applied in 48. The LIR means that if a pharmaceutical manufacturer that gives an adequate warning to a prescribing physician, the company has no corresponding duty to directly warn the patient.

This rule has been justified by the belief that the prescribing physicians is “in a superior position to impart the warning and can provide an independent medical decision as to whether use of the drug is appropriate for treatment of a particular patient.” Larkin v. Pfizer, Inc. 153 S.W.3d 758, 763-764 (Ky. 2004). Furthermore, historically, pharmaceutical manufacturers lacked effective means to communicate directly to patients. Courts did not want to extend liability when pharmaceutical companies were complying with FDA regulations regarding proper warnings to consumers. Finally, there was a belief that any direct warning would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.  Continue reading

European Responses to the Ebola Crisis, Part I: Initiatives at the European Medicines Agency (EMA)

By Timo Minssen

The current Ebola outbreak already attracted much attention on “Bill of Health” resulting in some excellent blogs on a horrible topic.

While it is evident that the current health crisis requires both immediate responses and more sustainable changes in health care policy, research and regulation, medicines regulators are collaborating internationally to find innovative solutions enhancing evaluation of and access to potential new medicines to fight Ebola outbreaks. In a statement announced by the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) in September 2014, regulators around the world led by the FDA and the EMA have vowed to collaborate in supporting accelerated evaluation of experimental new drugs to treat Ebola virus infections and say they will encourage submission of regulatory dossiers. This clearly backs up the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision to test experimental Ebola treatments in infected patients in the current outbreak region in West Africa and to speed up the development of vaccines.

In the following I would like to summarize and discuss some of the recent European responses to the current crisis starting with an overview on recent initiatives at the EMA.

Like its US counterpart, the EMA leads a close and consistent dialogue with public and private developers of Ebola products and spends much effort in reviewing available information on the various experimental Ebola treatments currently under development. These experimental drugs range from experimental antivirals or vaccines based on the adenovirus or stomatitis vaccine to experimental therapies based on mono- and polyclonal antibody technologies. One of these unapproved antibody combination drugs – MAPP Biologicals’  ZMapp – has already been used in some care workers affected by Ebola. Other experimental drugs that are currently reviewed by the EMA include Biocryst’s BCX 4430, Fab’entech’s Hyperimmune horse sera, Sarepta’s AVI-7537, Toyama Chemicals and MediVector’s Favipiravir and Tekmira’s TKM-Ebola.

Other companies such as Bavarian Nordic  and the Russian Mikrogen are close to follow.

In addition to monitoring experimental drugs and enhancing global collaboration, the European Medicines Agency has like the FDA initiated several activities in order to support and speed up the development of these drugs towards market approval.  Continue reading

PhRMA Sues HHS (Again) For Trying To Expand 340B Discounts To Orphan Drugs

For all those who have been following the ongoing fight between pharmaceutical companies and HHS over the 340B Program’s coverage of orphan drugs (I know you’re out there), last week PhRMA filed a new complaint challenging HRSA’s interpretive rule on the subject under the APA. For all those who are not (but should be) paying attention to this battle, here’s what’s happening.

The 340B Program allows certain health care organizations (such as disproportionate share hospitals) to purchase drugs for their patients at significant discounts. The Affordable Care Act expanded the number and kind of organizations that can participate in the 340B Program, but it also added an exception stating that most of the covered organizations could not obtain 340B discounts for orphan drugs — or, as the statute puts it, for “a drug designated … for a rare disease or condition.” 42 U.S.C. § 256b(e).

The battle between PhRMA and HHS is over is whether this statutory exclusion applies to orphan drugs or orphan indications. There are many drugs which have received an orphan designation for certain indications but are also FDA-approved and prescribed more generally for non-orphan indications. In such a case, can a 340B facility purchase the drug at a discount if it is being prescribed for a non-orphan indication?  Continue reading

Congressmen Express Concern About Proposed Changes to Generic Drug Labeling Rules

By Bob Bohrer

I have previously posted on pharmaceuticalpolicy.blogspot.com about the FDA’s proposed change to the rules for generic drug labels and an estimate of the liability costs that might be incurred by the generic drug industry as a result of the proposed change.  The Generic Pharmaceutical Manufactuer’s Association lobbying efforts appear to have motivated Congressmen Steve Israel (D-NY) and Timothy Bishop (D-NY) to draft a letter to the FDA requesting changes to the proposed rule.  A copy of the Congressmen’s letter to the FDA can be downloaded through this link.

Upcoming Event: Emerging Issues and New Frontiers in FDA Regulation

lab_colored_beakers_slideEmerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

October 20, 2014 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Alston & Bird, The Atlantic Building, 950 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004-1404

Registration is now open online. A limited number of free seats are available to Harvard affiliates. For more information or to request a seat, please email us at petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu by October 7th.

Please join the Food and Drug Law Institute and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School for an academic symposium on cutting-edge legal and regulatory issues facing FDA.  Leading academics will present papers on mobile health, stem cells, personalized medicine, and other novel medical product issues, as well as food regulation.  Papers will be available to registered attendees in advance, and will be published in an upcoming issue of the Food and Drug Law Journal.

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What’s Next If the FDA Holds the Line on Social Media?

By Kate Greenwood
[Cross-posted at Health Reform Watch]

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was reopening the comment periods for the two draft guidances on the use of social media to promote prescription drugs and medical devices that it released in June:  Internet/Social Media Platforms with Character Space Limitations: Presenting Risk and Benefit Information for Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices and Internet/Social Media Platforms: Correcting Independent Third-Party Misinformation About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices. Both guidances have drawn criticism from industry and observers, with the FDA being charged with, in the words of Pharmaguy at the Pharma Marketing Blog, “not being technically savvy enough to understand the nuances of social media and search engine advertising.”

In the draft guidance on social media platforms with character space limitations, such as Twitter and sponsored links on Google and Yahoo, the FDA states that “if a firm chooses to make a product benefit claim, the firm should also incorporate risk information within the same character-space-limited communication.” The draft guidance would allow companies to limit the risks that are presented within a character-and-space-limited communication to those that are the most serious, as long as the communication also includes a direct hyperlink to a destination (for example, a landing page) that is devoted exclusively to a complete discussion of the product’s risks. The FDA emphasizes in the draft guidance that “[i]f an accurate and balanced presentation of both risks and benefits is not possible within the constraints of the platform, then the firm should reconsider using that platform for the intended promotional message (other than for permitted reminder promotion).”  In the first round of comments, PhRMA commented that the amount of information that companies are required to include in a single communication “would make the use of Twitter and comparable platforms impossible in all but the rarest cases.” With regard to sponsored links, PhRMA also noted that the guidance assumes that advertisers have more control than they in fact do over “the appearance – and order of appearance – of information on such platforms.”

It will be interesting to see whether and how the FDA responds to these comments, as well as to any additional comments filed during the period that comments are reopened, which ends on October 29th. If the agency holds the line (as I think it should) and continues to require that companies provide at least some balance between risks and benefits in all advertising and labeling, regardless of platform, companies will no doubt (continue) to look for alternatives.  Continue reading

10/20/14: Emerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

lab_colored_beakers_slideEmerging Issues and New Frontiers for FDA Regulation

October 20, 2014 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Alston & Bird, The Atlantic Building, 950 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004-1404

Symposium co-sponsored by the Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI) and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Please join the Food and Drug Law Institute and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School for an academic symposium on cutting-edge legal and regulatory issues facing FDA.  Leading academics will present papers on mobile health, stem cells, personalized medicine, and other novel medical product issues, as well as food regulation.  Papers will be available to registered attendees in advance, and will be published in an upcoming issue of the Food and Drug Law Journal.

Registration is now open online. A limited number of free seats are available to Harvard affiliates. For more information or to request a seat, please email us at petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu.

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House Hearing on Regulation of Laboratory-Developed Tests Displays More Consensus Than Disagreement

The Health Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing last week on the FDA’s proposed draft guidance regarding laboratory-developed tests (LDTs), as part of its “21st Century Cures” initiative. The hearing, which can be viewed online (here and here), featured representatives from the FDA, industry, and research organizations. And although the various panelists offered differing views on the propriety of the FDA’s decision to begin exercising its regulatory authority over LDTs, there seemed to be more agreement than disagreement among the panelists.

Most interestingly, as Representative Henry Waxman pointed out toward the end of the hearing, “[no]body on the panel [is] arguing that there shouldn’t be a very careful scrutiny of these tests. It seems like the question is who should do it: CLIA or the FDA.” Representative Waxman’s subsequent colloquy with Harvard Medical School Professor Christopher Newton-Cheh on this point particularly helped to differentiate the historical roles of CMS and the FDA in this space. But even those panelists who opposed the FDA’s involvement seemed supportive of expanding CMS’ authority under CLIA to conduct clinical validity analyses. (Anyone interested in the administrative law aspects of this issue should know that problems of shared regulatory jurisdiction have recently received increased scholarly attention, with Jody Freeman and Jim Rossi providing a particularly thorough treatment of the issue in their recent article, Agency Coordination in Shared Regulatory Space.)  Continue reading

Live Blogging: Post-Trial Responsibilities Conference, Session 2

By Zachary Shapiro

Hello from the Post-Trial Responsibilities conference! I will be live blogging session 2: where speakers will be providing important perspectives on PTA. Barbra Bierer is monitoring the discussion.

We started with Richard Klein calling in from FDA:

Richard is talking about post-trial responsibilities. He points out that there is a justice issue here with ensuring access to health care and up to date interventions. He points out that while the FDA can encourage Post-Trial Access (PTA), it has no authority to require or ensure it. He points to moral authority, rather than legal. Foreign trials, however, are a different story, as the FDA has sway over protocol applications that are submitted in the US. Richard begins highlighting some specific considerations for protocol drafters and IRBs: particularly focusing on determining monitoring plans, as well as figuring out financial responsibilities for the provision of PTA.

He moves on to highlight that there is more of a moral obligation than a legal obligation. FDA is supportive of the provision of PTA. He believes that enthusiasm must be tempered, as there are situations when PTA is not appropriate. These include studies that have significant safety concerns, studies of bio-markers as well as validation studies that do not specifically examine safety and effectiveness. There are also situations where PTA is simply not feasible, particularly if additional drugs do not exist (one thinks of the recent Ebola treatment), if there is insufficient safety data, or if there is no practical capacity or resources to provide safety monitoring. We must also be aware of financial limitations, especially for start-up biotech firms that might not have deep pockets. Continue reading

NYULMC: Compassionate Use Could Impact Long-Term Medical Benefits

A new working group at the NYU Langone Medical Center has issued preliminary findings from their studies on the research ethics of compassionate use. Among their findings include:

  • Biotechnology companies have no legal or regulatory obligation to provide access to unapproved treatments on the grounds of compassionate use. Some companies allow access under the guidance of well thought out policies; some companies decline to allow access; some companies grant access but have no set guidelines; and some companies change their practices midstream as a result of public pressure. This lack of uniform policy is confusing to those seeking unapproved treatments.
  • Contrary to widespread perception, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not an obstacle to those seeking compassionate use. In fact, the FDA almost always defers to the company that is developing the unapproved treatment to decide whether to grant compassionate use acces.
  • The “human impulse” to help patients facing insurmountable odds motivates both the general public’s support for compassionate use and so-called “right to try” laws to help gain access to unapproved treatments. However, increasing access to unapproved therapies may prove detrimental in the long run to longstanding and effective research and clinical trial systems through which interventions are proven effective and safe, and given regulatory approval.

You can learn more about the working group and read more of their findings here.

Questioning Quorn

By Diana R. H. Winters
[Cross-posted on HealthLawProfBlog.]

There was an article a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times about “engineered foods,” and how “a handful of high-tech start-ups are out to revolutionize the food system by engineering ‘meat’ and ‘eggs’ from pulverized plant compounds or cultured snippets of animal tissue.”   The author discussed some of the business models, interviewed some of the entrepreneurs, and contemplated some of the implications of “Food 2.0.” The concerns she noted involved the nutritional impact of these foods, and the possibility of resource-intensive production.

But what sort of screening will these food products go through before they enter the food supply? How will FDA vet these new foodstuffs for toxicity or allergenic properties? It won’t. Manufacturers can self-affirm that food products are safe, based on their own studies, and market them on that basis with no prior FDA approval. This is the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) route to marketability. A manufacturer could also choose to submit to the formal food additive approval process, which is extremely time-consuming, but considering the breadth of the GRAS exception, they probably won’t. Many more GRAS notifications are filed per year than food additive petitions.  Continue reading

The Expressive Dimension of Donor Deferral

By Dov Fox

The Guardian and L.A. Times are the latest major news organizations to decry trans-Atlantic restrictions on blood donation by men who have sex with men (MSM). The case against such categorical bans has been reignited by an influential piece that Bill of Health editor Glenn Cohen recently published with co-authors Jeremy Feigenbaum and Eli Adashi in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cohen, Feigenbaum, and Adashi make a powerful case why sexual orientation should be just one component among others used to assess the risk that blood donors might spread HIV.[i]

But their argument elides exactly what is—and isn’t—wrong with excluding men who have sex with men from donating blood. At times they suggest the longstanding U.S. ban reflects “outdated homophobic perceptions.” Yet they acknowledge that it was “well-intentioned and guided by a need to protect the integrity of the national blood supply.” Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration that enacted the lifetime MSM ban solicited guidance from the National Gay Task Force whose recommendations were adopted into Red Cross blood collection procedures.[ii] It’s unlikely the policy was motivated by animus as opposed to concern for public health.

Elsewhere, the authors imply the policy’s chief offense is that it deprives MSM of a crucial “civic opportunity.” But giving blood, even if it shares the life-saving potential of military service and registration as an organ donor, is not typically regarded as a duty of citizenship tantamount to voting or jury service.[iii] So it’s not its effects on those it excludes that makes the donor ban so bad.

The best reason to let low-risk gay men give blood lies in the demeaning message that excluding them expresses, what I’ve called the expressive dimension of donor deferralContinue reading

The FDA Proposal for Regulating Laboratory Diagnostics Could Improve Patient Care

[Note: I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to write a response to a recent commentary posted on the Hastings Center Bioethics Forum about the FDA's proposed draft guidance for the regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs), an issue I have previously written about for this blog. My response, which is posted here at the Bioethics Forum, is cross-posted below.]

Wendy Chung’s commentary last month about the FDA’s proposed draft guidance for the regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) is heavily critical of the agency’s plans. Professor Chung argues that the FDA’s involvement in this space will have two primary negative consequences: it will stifle innovation and it will harm patient care.

But the FDA’s proposal seems designed to address precisely these two consequences. The proposal could improve patient care by collecting, for the first time, clinical validity data on tens of thousands of LDTs in current use. And by using an extensive system of carve-outs, the FDA is seeking to minimize potential harms for diagnostic innovation. Understanding these key portions of the FDA’s disclosure to Congress is critical to a full policy discussion of the situation.  Continue reading

Public Health Trumps Corporate Speech

By David Orentlicher
[Ed Note: Cross-posted at HealthLawProfBlog.]

Reversing its previous deference to corporate speech interests, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit came down in favor of consumer protection in a July 29 decision. In American Meat Institute v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the court upheld a federal government regulation requiring meat companies to disclose the countries of origin for their products. If your beef comes from Argentina or Canada, you will know that from its label.

More importantly, the court gave the Food and Drug Administration greater freedom to reduce tobacco use in the United States. In explaining its reasoning, the court repudiated the logic of an earlier decision by the court that rejected the FDA’s graphic warnings for cigarette packs. According to the meat labeling opinion, the cigarette warning decision did not allow sufficient leeway for the government to mandate warnings or other informational disclosures to consumers.

Perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court will restore the D.C. Circuit’s previous balance, but for now, the tide has turned in favor of the public’s health.