Tag Archives: FDA

Allergan is trying to track down women with breast implants it recalled nearly a year ago

Maria Aspan, Fortune: June 03, 2020


More than 10 months after recalling some of its breast implants, Allergan is making a new effort to find tens of thousands of women who still have the dangerous devices.

The pharmaceutical company, now owned by AbbViesaid this week that it will launch a digital and social media ad campaign to alert patients about the July 2019 recall of its textured Biocell implants. Those implants have been linked in academic studies to a sometimes-fatal cancer known as BIA-ALCL, for “breast implant–associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma.” More than 33 women have now died from BIA-ALCL.

Allergan’s announcement comes two weeks after Fortune published an investigation into the persistent problems with breast implants and the health risks, including BIA-ALCL, they have created for millions of women worldwide. These risks have been amplified by decades of inadequate study and problems that were hidden by breast implant manufacturers, as well as the generally poor tracking of medical devices, our investigation found.

Many women affected by Allergan’s Biocell recall told Fortune that they found out about it through social media or news reports, rather than directly from the company or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which requested the recall.

On Monday, Allergan acknowledged that it does not have device-tracking information for some 52,000 Biocell breast implants. Despite “robust efforts” to reach patients since last July, “the company is still seeking to directly contact all U.S. Biocell patients that have not yet been notified,” Allergan said in a press release.

“We are continuing to make every effort to make sure that each and every patient is made aware of the Biocell recall, and knows their implant type and implant history,” John Maltman, Allergan’s vice president of medical affairs, said in the release.

A company spokesperson did not respond to a request for more specifics about when the ad campaign would launch, or what exactly it would entail. And longtime critics of breast implant safety greeted Allergan’s announced plans with skepticism.

“I don’t know how visible it’s going to be,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. “Will the kind of money and effort be put into this in a way that’s comparable to ad campaigns when they’re selling something?

The new ad campaign appears to be at the behest of the FDA, which “asked Allergan to develop a strategy to contact patients who may not have heard about the recall,” an agency spokesperson told Fortune by email on Tuesday, adding that the FDA “is working with Allergan to amplify the message and outreach related to its July 2019 voluntary recall of certain breast implants.”

This is the latest of several actions the FDA has taken on breast implant safety in the wake of Fortune’s investigation. Last month, after speaking with Fortune, the FDA sent a warning letter to Allergan over its longtime failure to comply with regulatory requirements for selling its implants. At the same time, the agency also sent a letter to a smaller manufacturer warning about manufacturing and quality-control issues.

[…]

Read the full article here.

FDA Warns Allergan Over Breast Implant Studies

Sasha Chavkin, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: May 19, 2020


United States health authorities issued a warning letter to leading global breast implant manufacturer Allergan for failing to properly carry out post-market safety studies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that Allergan did not meet its standards for recruiting and following up with participants in studies that included several styles of implants withdrawn from sale worldwide last year due to cancer risks.

Another company, Ideal Implant Incorporated, was rebuked for failing to properly track complaints by customers or take adequate corrective actions for problems identified during a site inspection.

“The FDA will continue to hold manufacturers accountable if they fail to fulfill their obligations,” Dr. Binita Ashar of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health said in an agency statement announcing the warning letters.

In November 2018, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that thousands of women around the world were suffering from serious illnesses after receiving breast implants, a finding that was part of its global Implant Files investigation.

In the months after the Implant Files’ publication, regulators around the world took action to better protect patients. Authorities in France, Canada, and the United States announced bans on Allergan Biocell implants, which were associated with increased risk of a rare form of cancer.

The moves prompted Allergan to announce a global recall of Biocell products last July. (Earlier this month, Allergan was acquired by global pharmaceutical giant AbbVie.)

The recalled implants are among the ones that Allergan was failing to properly study, the FDA found. The agency noted that the studies were crucial to identifying the risks for patients already implanted with Biocells.

“Post-approval studies are especially important to inform our understanding of the long-term potential risks associated with Allergan’s implants, including the models that have since been recalled from the market,” Ashar said in the FDA’s statement.

The agency touted the warning letters as a part of its “ongoing efforts” to better protect breast implant patients, also citing its Medical Device Safety Action Plan and the development of a National Breast Implant Registry to collect data on breast implant safety.

But Dr. Diana Zuckerman, the director of the National Center for Health Research, a health policy think tank, said the agency must also be willing to take tough measures against companies that fail to follow its rules.

Zuckerman noted that breast implant makers have a history of poor compliance with safety studies mandated by the FDA, which approved silicone breast implants for the U.S. market in 2006 despite scant data on their long-term safety.

Instead, the agency allowed manufacturers Allergan and Mentor to conduct long-term safety studies after their products were already on the market. Within three years, Allergan and Mentor lost touch with 40% and 80% of the patients, respectively, in key sections of these post-approval studies, torpedoing the FDA’s demand that they collect reliable long-term data.

Nonetheless, the agency permitted the implants to remain on the market.

Zuckerman was skeptical that the warning letters would have much effect unless the FDA showed it was willing to take products that violated its rules for safety studies off the market.

“It absolutely should be possible to take off the ones that aren’t studied properly,” Zuckerman said. “I guarantee if they did that the ones that are still on the market would finish their studies.”

Read the full article here

‘They killed her’: Why are breast implants still putting millions of women at risk?

Maria Aspan, Fortune: May 18, 2020


Thirty-three years before her death, Paulette Parr visited her doctor for a popular and relatively routine procedure. It was 1986, and Parr was 35, working in human resources at the local hospital in Sikeston, a 16,000-person Missouri enclave midway between St. Louis and Memphis. A married mother of two young boys, she was interested in what plastic surgeons still call a “mommy makeover,” a catchall for the various procedures that nip, tuck, and lift women back to a pre-childbirth shape. For Parr, that meant getting her first set of breast implants.

For the next 15 years, through losing her first husband and remarrying and getting promoted to her hospital’s purchasing department, Parr was mostly happy with her implants, and with how they made her look and feel. But they were silicone-based, a type the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned in 1992 over concerns that they were causing autoimmune and safety problems, and Parr eventually started to worry about them. So by 2002, when she learned that one of her implants had ruptured and was leaking silicone into her body, Parr’s surgeon replaced them with saline-filled versions. Her new Biocell implants were covered in a roughly textured silicone shell, designed to reduce movement of the device.

That’s when Parr’s implant-related health problems really began, according to a lawsuit her husband has filed against pharmaceutical company Allergan, the maker of Biocell products and one of three major manufacturers of American breast implants. In 2010, after one of her saline implants started leaking, her plastic surgeon replaced them with yet another set of Biocell textured implants, this time filled with silicone, which the FDA had allowed back onto the market in 2006.

“They were gorgeous, and they were put in by a reputable doctor,” says Paulette’s widower, Calvin Parr, months after her death. “We never gave it a second thought.”

Breast implants have long been a punch line, mocked as frivolous markers of female vanity. But that dismissive attitude overlooks a business with a serious and sometimes deadly impact on the health of its overwhelmingly female customer base. More than 8 million American women have undergone breast-related plastic surgeries since 2000; in 2018 alone, more than 400,000 women chose one for either cosmetic or reconstructive reasons. Breast augmentation is the most popular cosmetic procedure tracked by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Many women, especially those affected by breast cancer, say they are grateful to have implants as an option. “It’s a decision that’s personal,” says Lynn Jeffers, the society’s current president, a plastic surgeon, and a cancer survivor who’s getting post-mastectomy reconstruction. “With the data that I have now, I’m comfortable having implants.”

And pharmaceutical companies have been very comfortable selling them, despite a long history of government recalls and product-liability lawsuits. Allergan, which was acquired by AbbVie in May, sold $399.5 million worth of implants in 2017, before regulators around the globe started banning some of its products. Its main rival, Johnson & Johnson, doesn’t break out results for its Mentor Worldwide breast implant business. Smaller specialist Sientra reported annual “breast products” revenues of $46.4 million in 2019.

Those numbers pale in comparison to blockbusters like Allergan bestseller Botox, which raked in $3.8 billion last year. But like Botox, breast implants can have attractive recurring revenue built in for manufacturers and the doctors who use their products. Even under ideal circumstances, breast implants “are not lifetime devices,” the FDA warns, and will likely need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years, for a cost of up to $12,000 per cosmetic procedure.

Yet as doctors, patients, lawyers, and public health experts tell Fortune, breast implants have remained on the market despite decades of inadequate testing and study, recurrent safety concerns, and poor regulatory oversight. Those problems plague many medical devices, which range from machines used outside the body to artificial parts implanted within it. But breast implants are unique in their affiliation with female sexuality and physical appearance, their intersecting roles as elective beauty products and clinical tools that can help cancer survivors feel more like themselves—and the degree to which patients’ mounting concerns about them have been dismissed for decades. Now, that accumulated failure of oversight has created sweeping, sometimes tragic crises for potentially millions of women.

“There are a lot of women who are really suffering,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. “You have these products that are widely, widely sold, and every few years we learn something new about the problems they cause.”

Breast implant makers walk a particularly fine line when it comes to creating a product that is both safe and “realistic.” Today’s implants are either filled with saline (more likely to break) or silicone (more natural looking and feeling but plagued by a history of safety concerns). Their exteriors can be either smooth or made of a “textured” silicone shell. Smooth implants are more popular in the U.S., but surgeons working with mastectomy patients sometimes prefer textured versions, because the products’ rougher surface enables tissue to grow onto the implant more easily.

All of these variations are prone to malfunctions or side effects, which can include ruptured implants; a buildup of scar tissue that can cause pain and tissue hardening; a large collection of symptoms often known as “breast implant illness,” which can include joint pain, migraines, and chronic fatigue; and, increasingly, a sometimes fatal cancer of the immune system known as ­BIA-ALCL, for “breast implant–­associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma.”

“The breast implants that are on the market right now all have issues,” says Madris Tomes, a former FDA manager who tracks reported medical device failures at her Device Events firm. “I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone that I care about.”

The causes of the various problems with breast implants are still poorly understood, which public health experts blame on a lack of testing or objective, long-term studies that do not rely on manufacturer-provided data or funding. Device makers also have yet to fully report the data the FDA required as a condition of allowing silicone implants back on the market in 2006.

[…]

Read the full article here

CPTF’s Comments on Cyramza for Metastatic Lung Cancer at FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee Meeting

Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund: February 26, 2020


Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund’s Public Comments on Cyramza for Metastatic Lung Cancer at FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee Meeting

Thank you for the opportunity to share our views today. The Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund understands the need for effective new treatments for metastatic lung cancer. However, the data provided by the sponsor does not provide evidence that Cyramza improves survival, and it may worsen quality of life.

Although there are not yet enough long-term data to determine how Cyramza affects patients’ survival, the data that are available are not promising. Survival rates are almost identical with the drug or placebo (HR 0.92). It is important to note that the survival rates were never significantly different, but the difference was smaller as longer-term data were analyzed. We agree with the FDA that based on the confidence intervals, the drug could potentially worsen survival by about 30% — or could possibly improve survival by 30%. That risk of shortening overall survival is especially important because of the other risks of the treatment.

Let’s look at the number of deaths that occurred within 30 days of treatment in the RELAY trial. Of the 221 patients taking Cyramza, 6 died from adverse events, compared to none in the placebo arm. FDA specified that one of these was caused by drug treatment, while a second may have been caused by the drug. Although the FDA agrees with Lilly’s assessment that the other deaths are not caused by the drug or drug combination, those data aren’t made available so we can’t draw conclusions. But even if it is only 2 deaths, that’s almost 1% of the patients – not an irrelevant number! Since this shows that Cyramza can be fatal for these patients, and there is no currently no evidence that it significantly increases overall survival on average for lung cancer patients, the FDA expressed a great deal of concern about this indication. If Cyramza benefits any specific types of patients in terms of overall survival, there is no evidence of who those patients are likely to be.

Patients treated with Cyramza had a 7 month improvement in progression-free survival. This may be meaningful to patients if it is also associated with an improvement in quality of life. However, the data from the RELAY trial do not support this.  The sponsor spins these results to conclude that the quality of life of life is not worse in patients taking Cyramza, but in fact, patients in the placebo group had fewer symptoms, such as shortness of breath, pain, and daily activity level, as measured by the Lung Cancer Symptom Scale. Our Center has worked with many seriously ill patients over the years, and we’ve found that
patients care about two outcomes: 1) will they live longer and 2) what will their quality of life be in the days, weeks, months, or years they have left. The only patients that care about progression free survival are the ones that don’t understand what it means. When patients are told a drug is promising based on progression free survival, it is confusing and frankly misleading to most patients. They think it means they will live longer.

The results of the research are also worrisome regarding the FDA’s measures of specific adverse events. 72% of patients treated with Cyramza experienced a grade 3 or higher adverse events compared to only 54% of patients treated with placebo.

  • 29% of patients treated with Cyramza experienced a serious adverse event compared to 21% of placebo-treated patients.
  • Bleeding and hemorrhage occurred twice as often in patients treated with Cyramza,
    compared with placebo.
  • Grade 3 hypertension was roughly 5x more common among those treated with Cyramza compared with placebo. Overall hypertension was roughly 4x as prevalent among the Cyramza group.  I disagree with the sponsor’s assertion that hypertension is no big deal. In fact, heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the U.S. and hypertension is called “the silent killer.” Yes, there are medications for it, but they also have side effects that can be debilitating.

Overall, the study’s results suggest that when Cyramza is combined with erlotinib and compared with placebo plus erlotinib, the potential benefits of Cyramza do not outweigh the known risks. Given the data provided, there is no justification for rushing to approve this particular treatment.

We respectfully request that you advise FDA to not approve this indication for Cyramza without evidence that it improves overall survival enough to outweigh the risk for adverse events and reduced quality of life.

After FDA’s Cancer Director Dr. Richard Pazdur instructed the Advisory Committee at length that progression free survival was acceptable evidence for approval even if there was no evidence of overall survival, and even if more effective treatments were already available, the Advisory Committee voted 6 in favor of approval and 5 opposed.

The Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund can be reached at info@stopcancerfund.org or at (202) 223-4000.

NCHR’s Testimony to FDA on TOOKAD to Treat Low-Risk Prostate Cancer

Diana Zuckerman, National Center for Health Research, February 26, 2020


Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.  I am Dr. Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. Our center analyzes scientific and medical data to provide objective health information to patients, health professionals, and policy makers. We do not accept funding from drug or medical device companies, so I have no conflicts of interest.

Although active surveillance is recommended for many patients with low-risk prostate cancer, some patients prefer treatment and that can be a reasonable choice as long as the treatment has a meaningful benefit and does not increase patients’ harms. However, the clinical data for TOOKAD that we are discussing today do not clearly demonstrate that its benefits outweigh its risks – efficacy is uncertain, particularly for U.S. patients, and the drug has the well-known very negative side effects typical of prostate cancer treatments.  

There are 5 major problems with the data, and the FDA did an excellent job of expressing their concerns:

#1.  There was only 1 clinical trial. Replication is the key to science, and effective treatments are available for prostate cancer, so the FDA should not approve a new treatment based on just one study.

#2.  This one trial took place in Europe, and 99.8% of participants were white.  Five patients – not 5% but only 5 men — were not white. Given the higher percentage of African American men who die of prostate cancer, this lack of diversity should not be considered acceptable, unless the FDA is considering approving this product for white men only.

#3. The accuracy of detecting cancer is one major problem. The data showed a high false negative rate. 13.5% of those in the active surveillance arm had a negative biopsy after 2 years. Since it is unlikely that the cancer would spontaneously disappear, this probably reflects false positives in the original diagnosis or false negatives in the post-test. This high false negative rate raises major concerns about the accuracy of biopsies in the treatment arm and at baseline. 

#4. Further, there was a large amount of missing data regarding biopsies at 24 months. Unfortunately, 18.4% of the patients in the treatment arm and 41.5% of those in the active surveillance arm were missing these crucial pieces of information regarding efficacy.  That makes it impossible to draw conclusions based on this one study. 

 #5. The trial was open-label, meaning patients as well as those collecting the data knew whether a particular patient was receiving the treatment or active surveillance. The decision to pursue definitive therapy  — such as surgery — was a subjective decision. Wouldn’t active surveillance patients be more likely to choose treatments later. Also, when biopsy results were uncertain, pathologists may have been biased by their knowledge of whether or not a patient was assigned to the treatment group. 

The FDA held a workshop in September 2018 to discuss issues related to clinical trials of novel treatments for localized prostate cancer.  They concluded that treatment endpoints might be clinically meaningful only if 1) the patients using the new therapy were less likely to undergo subsequent treatment (such as surgery), 2) there was an overall reduction in adverse events, and 3) there was no reduction in long-term cancer control.  However, in this trial, these criteria were not met. 95% of those treated with TOOKAD had adverse event in the weeks after treatment compared to 55% of the men on active surveillance. For many men these problems continued 2 years after treatment, when 34% continued to have urinary problems compared to 16% with active surveillance. Two years after treatment, 38% of patients treated with TOOKAD had erectile dysfunction, compared with 12% of those assigned to active surveillance. In other words, erectile dysfunction was 3x as prevalent among those treated with TOOKAD.

The long-term complications of the treatment that are unclear.  In addition to the urinary problems and ED that might be worse for those who are subsequently treated with surgery, it may be more difficult to obtain accurate biopsies. 

The American Urological Association recommends active surveillance as the best available treatment for low-risk prostate cancer patients, and the data clearly support that recommendation.  We understand that the fear of cancer can persuade men to seek treatment, but if so they should not be bamboozled by ads to choose a product that may have no benefits for them but that does have clear risks of erectile dysfunction and urinary problems. If the FDA thinks this product might have a useful benefit, they should require at least one double-blind study – preferably two – since the treatment does not involved surgery and is therefore easier to blind.  The studies should also include a patient population that represents the diversity of men with prostate cancer. There is no need to rush to approve this particular treatment based on a single, open label trial with endpoints of questionable clinical relevance and problems with inaccurate diagnoses. Better research needs to be completed before approval because the sponsor did not comply with FDA’s recommendations for the study and was even less likely to do so after the product is approved.   

The Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 13 to 2 against approval of TOOKAD to treat low-risk prostate cancer.

NCHR Testimony on Low Nicotine Cigarette Claim

Nina Zeldes, National Center for Health Research, February 14, 2020


Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. My name is Dr. Nina Zeldes and I am here as a senior fellow speaking on behalf of the National Center for Health Research. Our research center analyzes scientific and medical data and provides objective health information to patients, providers and policy makers. We do not accept funding from drug and medical device companies or tobacco companies, so I have no conflicts of interest.

We strongly oppose the approval of this modified risk application by the 22nd Century Group for their low-nicotine combusted filtered cigarette tobacco products. According to the FDA, a modified risk tobacco product needs to demonstrate that it (1) significantly reduces harm to smokers and (2) promotes public health. Unfortunately, evidence is lacking to support the claim that this product significantly reduces harm for smokers. At the same time, it is likely to entice people who have never smoked, especially adolescents, to start smoking.

As the applicant has pointed out, this low nicotine cigarette poses similar risks of tobacco-related disease as conventional cigarettes. Its only advantage is that it contains much less nicotine, and could therefore be less addictive. However, the claims of reduced harm seem to be based entirely on the assumption that people would smoke less often – an assumption that was not adequately supported by the applicant’s data. For example, this product was rated as less satisfying than smokers’ usual brand of cigarettes and less likely to be used again compared to nicotine gum, raising questions about whether smokers would switch completely to this product and ultimately quit smoking.

The FDA briefing document points out that nicotine is often perceived as causing smoking-related health risks. That means that a claim of a product having “95% less nicotine” will be misunderstood as being less likely to cause cancer, when in fact it just means potentially less addictive. Although the applicant provided a voluntary warning that “less nicotine does NOT mean safer”, study participants who were shown this warning still perceived this product as safer than conventional cigarettes. Additionally, the applicant only tested the claims on packaging and not how they would be used in ads and social media. We’ve all learned that the context and imagery in these ads can vastly alter how these claims are interpreted. Tobacco companies have learned how to make very persuasive ads that go beyond the specific claims that they make.

And as we all know, smoking is a habit that is very difficult to break, and addiction to nicotine is only one of the reasons that quitting is so difficult.

Most smokers start smoking as children and adolescents, and yet adolescents were not included in any of the studies provided by the applicant. Previous studies have demonstrated that this group is likely to perceive products with a risk-mitigation claim as less harmful, but that is not proven in this case.

In conclusion, while the claim that this product contains 95% less nicotine may be factually correct, the company’s claims of health benefits are based on the implied assumption that this product would help smokers quit. If that is supposed to be the benefit, their product should have sought to market this product as a cessation aid. Moreover, the packaging does not explain how to achieve this health benefit. Because of such claims, smokers interested in reducing smoking-related health risks might start using this product, instead of quitting or using available FDA-approved cessation products. Meanwhile, non-smokers, particularly adolescents, might start using this product, thinking it is a safe alternative to other tobacco products.

If we’ve learned anything from the vaping epidemic, it is that adolescents are easy to influence, and once they start a habit like smoking or vaping, they are unlikely to stop. We encourage you to let the FDA know that you do not believe that would be an acceptable outcome.

Thank you.

FDA considers black box warning for all breast implants

Mariel Carbone, WCPO Cincinnati: February 09, 2020


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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

The draft warning outlines three main concerns.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Read the original story here.

Artificial Intelligence Is Rushing Into Patient Care – And Could Raise Risks

Liz Szabo, Kaiser Health News,


Health products powered by artificial intelligence, or AI, are streaming into our lives, from virtual doctor apps to wearable sensors and drugstore chatbots.

IBM boasted that its AI could “outthink cancer.” Others say computer systems that read X-rays will make radiologists obsolete.

“There’s nothing that I’ve seen in my 30-plus years studying medicine that could be as impactful and transformative” as AI, said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and executive vice president of Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. AI can help doctors interpret MRIs of the heartCT scans of the head and photographs of the back of the eye, and could potentially take over many mundane medical chores, freeing doctors to spend more time talking to patients, Topol said.

Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—which has approved more than 40 AI products in the past five years—says “the potential of digital health is nothing short of revolutionary.”

Yet many health industry experts fear AI-based products won’t be able to match the hype. Many doctors and consumer advocates fear that the tech industry, which lives by the mantra “fail fast and fix it later,” is putting patients at risk—and that regulators aren’t doing enough to keep consumers safe.

[…]

Relaxed AI Standards At The FDA

The FDA has come under fire in recent years for allowing the sale of dangerous medical devices, which have been linked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to 80,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries over the past decade.

Many of these devices were cleared for use through a controversial process called the 510(k) pathway, which allows companies to market “moderate-risk” products with no clinical testing as long as they’re deemed similar to existing devices.
In 2011, a committee of the National Academy of Medicine concluded the 510(k) process is so fundamentally flawed that the FDA should throw it out and start over.

Instead, the FDA is using the process to greenlight AI devices.

Of the 14 AI products authorized by the FDA in 2017 and 2018, 11 were cleared through the 510(k) process, according to a November article in JAMA. None of these appear to have had new clinical testing, the study said. The FDA cleared an AI device designed to help diagnose liver and lung cancer in 2018 based on its similarity to imaging software approved 20 years earlier. That software had itself been cleared because it was deemed “substantially equivalent” to products marketed before 1976.

AI products cleared by the FDA today are largely “locked,” so that their calculations and results will not change after they enter the market, said Bakul Patel, director for digital health at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. The FDA has not yet authorized “unlocked” AI devices, whose results could vary from month to month in ways that developers cannot predict.

To deal with the flood of AI products, the FDA is testing a radically different approach to digital device regulation, focusing on evaluating companies, not products.

The FDA’s pilot “pre-certification” program, launched in 2017, is designed to “reduce the time and cost of market entry for software developers,” imposing the “least burdensome” system possible. FDA officials say they want to keep pace with AI software developers, who update their products much more frequently than makers of traditional devices, such as X-ray machines.

Scott Gottlieb said in 2017 while he was FDA commissioner that government regulators need to make sure its approach to innovative products “is efficient and that it fosters, not impedes, innovation.”

Under the plan, the FDA would pre-certify companies that “demonstrate a culture of quality and organizational excellence,” which would allow them to provide less upfront data about devices.

Pre-certified companies could then release devices with a “streamlined” review—or no FDA review at all. Once products are on the market, companies will be responsible for monitoring their own products’ safety and reporting back to the FDA. Nine companies have been selected for the pilot: Apple, FitBit, Samsung, Johnson & Johnson, Pear Therapeutics, Phosphorus, Roche, Tidepool and Verily Life Sciences.

High-risk products, such as software used in pacemakers, will still get a comprehensive FDA evaluation. “We definitely don’t want patients to be hurt,” said Patel, who noted that devices cleared through pre-certification can be recalled if needed. “There are a lot of guardrails still in place.”

But research shows that even low- and moderate-risk devices have been recalled due to serious risks to patients, said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. “People could be harmed because something wasn’t required to be proven accurate or safe before it is widely used.”

Johnson & Johnson, for example, has recalled hip implants and surgical mesh.

In a series of letters to the FDA, the American Medical Association and others have questioned the wisdom of allowing companies to monitor their own performance and product safety.

“The honor system is not a regulatory regime,” said Jesse Ehrenfeld, who chairs the physician group’s board of trustees. In an October letter to the FDA, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) questioned the agency’s ability to ensure company safety reports are “accurate, timely and based on all available information.”

[…]

Read original story here.

NCHR Comments on FDA’s Notice on the Modified Risk Tobacco Product Application for Copenhagen Snuff Fine Cut

National Center for Health Research, January 21, 2020


National Center for Health Research’s Public Comments on FDA’s Notice on the Modified Risk Tobacco Product Application for Copenhagen® Snuff Fine Cut

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the FDA Notice on the Modified Risk Tobacco Product Application for Copenhagen Snuff Fine Cut.

The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research, policies, and programs on a range of issues related to health and safety. We do not accept funding from companies that make products that are the subject of our work.

We strongly oppose the approval of this modified risk application for Copenhagen Snuff Fine Cut with the claim “IF YOU SMOKE, CONSIDER THIS: Switching completely to this product from cigarettes reduces risk of lung cancer” for the following reasons:

  • This safety claim could result in a higher number of dual users, and there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that dual use would reduce the risk of lung cancer. 
  • Even if an individual’s complete switch from combustible tobacco products to this product reduces a user’s risk of lung cancer, we agree with the FDA’s own website, which indicates that the use of smokeless tobacco products increases the risks of other types of cancers, such as oral, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer, as well as other diseases.
  • Because snuff has risks, data are needed to ensure that the marketing of this product as a modified risk product would not increase the number of non-smokers who would start using tobacco products. Increased use is likely, especially among teens and young adults, because, as with vaping, when people hear claims that a product is “safer,” they often misinterpret that to mean the product is “safe.”
  • Research has already shown that individuals who start using smokeless tobacco products, such as this product, are more likely to start using combustible tobacco products.
  • The modified risk statement could be interpreted as suggesting that Copenhagen Snuff Fine Cut can be used as a smoking cessation strategy. However, the sponsor has not provided scientific evidence that using this product helps people stop smoking. 
  • Although smoking and lung cancer deaths have both gone down in Sweden and Norway, the company has not provided evidence that these “favorable public health outcomes” are due to smokeless tobacco products. In addition, there is no evidence that additional reductions would occur in the U.S. market if this modified risk reduction application is approved, because the healthcare system, tobacco reduction campaigns, popular products and cultural influences are different than they are in Sweden and Norway.

In summary, a modified risk statement may encourage people who do not smoke to begin using this tobacco product and could lead to more dual usage, therefore, this product would not reduce the health risks for lung cancer.

For questions or more information, please contact Nina Zeldes, PhD at the National Center for Health Research at nz@center4research.org or at (202) 223-4000.

References

  1. US Food and Drug Administration. Executive Summary of USSTC MRTP Application for Copenhagen® Snuff Fine Cut. Silver Spring, MD: US Food and Drug Administration; 2020. https://digitalmedia.hhs.gov/tobacco/static/mrtpa/Copenhagen/2.3-executive%20summary%20_Redacted.pdf

No Shortage of Controversies for New FDA Commissioner

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


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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

Read the original story here.