Tag Archives: FDA

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.

Device warning letters plunged nearly 90% over 5 years. An FDA official predicts a rebound

David Lim, MedTech Dive: January 10, 2020


FDA warning letters to medical device manufacturers slid by nearly 90% between 2015 and 2019, but may be set to rebound upward in 2020, according to device center Associate Director for Compliance and Quality Erin Keith. Warning letters are used by FDA to alert a manufacturer it “has significantly violated FDA regulations,” such as misstating what a device is indicated for or having poor manufacturing practices, according to the agency.

Warning letters are used by FDA to alert a manufacturer it “has significantly violated FDA regulations,” such as misstating what a device is indicated for or having poor manufacturing practices, according to the agency.

The downturn in Center for Devices and Radiological Health warning letters from 81 in fiscal year 2015 to nine in 2019 comes amid a major effort to reorganize the FDA device center that proved “very disruptive to the compliance office,” Keith said.

“It is organized in a different way now than it was in the past, so the processes have had to be worked out,” Keith told the Food and Drug Law Institute’s annual compliance conference in December. “We can’t issue a warning letter if we don’t do it timely, according to the evidential requirements.”

[…]

Still, some patient safety advocates are concerned the drop in warning letters cannot be entirely attributed to the restructuring changes at the agency.

“I don’t think that downward trend can adequately be explained by the reorganization that is taking place,” Public Citizen Health Research Group Director Mike Carome said.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, said the trend is emblematic of a regulator that is overly focused on pleasing industry.

“It could have several different causes, reorganization could be one. [Medical Device User Fee Amendments] regulations could be part of it, which requires more meetings. But there is this emphasis on customer service, which is defined as making life easier for the industry. Industry is an important customer, but so is the American taxpayer,” Zuckerman said.

Over the past decade, the device center has also focused on shifting how it communicates with manufacturers, focusing on pushing companies to prioritize making decisions that improve quality and patient outcomes rather than simply achieving compliance with regulatory requirements. The goal, Keith said, is to have companies address potential issues before they rise to the warning letter stage.

“We as a philosophy for the center don’t want to have to go to enforcement,” Keith said. “We want to get to problems when they are smaller and easier to fix.”

Another method FDA has utilized is increasing the number of alternative methods of disseminating information, such as issuing Letters to Health Care Providers and Safety Communications. For example, in April 2019, the agency issued a safety communication alerting patients and providers of mammography problems at a medical clinic in Ohio, noting the facility “was unable to meet the parameters for a key quality control test on the day of the 2018 annual inspection.” FDA noted in the safety communication quality problems at East Palestine Family Medical Clinic dated back to October 2017, and recommended patients screened at the facility receive an additional mammography.

“I think it’s important that we won’t wait to let people know that there is an issue patients and providers need to know about by letting a compliance process catch up to documentation,” Keith told MedTech Dive. “Sometimes we can get what we need, have the public know what’s going on and get a change by sharing information. When it’s more appropriate to use a more traditional compliance activity, we will do that.”

[…]

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Roundup 2019: Breast implants, mesh, paclitaxel-coated devices among hot topics at FDA expert panels

Maria Rachal, MedTech Dive: December 23, 2019


It was a busy year for FDA’s expert advisory committees, called on to tackle many of its biggest medical device questions in 2019, new and old.

The Circulatory System Devices Panel met in June in reaction to a concern that emerged in late 2018 after a meta-analysis found a late mortality signal in patients receiving paclitaxel-coated devices. Other topics, like the benefit-risk profile of transvaginal mesh, had been hashed out in numerous meetings over the past few decades.

​Repeated meetings aren’t necessarily a negative, said Diana Zuckerman, president at the National Center for Health Research since 1999.

“We can’t think of these public meetings as a bad outcome … We wish that people weren’t being harmed by breast implants, by mesh, by Essure, and so on. But if they are being harmed, then I’d much rather there be a public meeting about it then to have it covered up,” Zuckerman said. “For breast implants especially, it’s made an enormous difference in terms of public awareness.”​

Of all the device meetings this year, none seemed to draw as much attention as a March meeting on breast implant safety. It came amid growing recognition of a type of lymphoma that can develop around the devices called breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, as well as a vast collection of potentially related symptoms called breast implant illness.

In one of the clearer impacts from an advisory panel this year, FDA followed up months later by asking Allergan to initiate a worldwide recall of certain textured implants, and issuing a draft guidance outlining a black box warning and patient safety informed consent checklist to be included with the implants.

Raylene Hollrah, a breast cancer and BIA-ALCL survivor who has advocated that FDA improve breast implant safety, said that while the advocacy community has made significant strides with regulators and plastic surgeons this year, language in FDA’s draft guidance regarding breast implants’ risks is “way too vague.” Comments on that proposal are due Monday.​

“I am definitely not anti-implant,” she said. “I want women to have a choice but I want it to be a safe one.”

Better transparency on the chemicals and metals contained in breast implants remain at the top of advocates’ list, Hollrah said.

Eight months after the breast implants meetingFDA asked its Immunology Devices Panel to weigh immunological responses to devices based on different metal elements in implants.

Zuckerman said that meeting represented the first time she’d heard high-level FDA scientists and officials link certain immunological responses to devices and vocalize a need to better understand what causes that link, and which patient and product factors increase risk.

“It was very interesting because it wasn’t specific to any particular product,” Zuckerman said. “[When] there’s an advisory committee on one product, there always seems to be a lot of caution about suggesting immunological responses to implants,” adding that panelists seemed “much more open-minded about these issues than they usually are.”

One undercurrent across many meetings was inadequacy of post-approval studies and spotty adverse event reporting, leading to incomplete data with which panelists could form opinions. Once a device is commercialized, it’s very difficult to complete postmarket studies, Zuckerman said.

Even if those postmarket studies and other forms of surveillance are happening, “it’s too late for the patients being harmed,” Zuckerman said. “Most of us would much rather know that some implant that’s going into our body was adequately tested before it was put in our body. Not that it might be tested a year or two later.”

[…]

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NCHR’s Comments on the Safer Technologies Program (STeP) for Medical Devices

National Center for Health Research, November 18, 2019


National Center for Health Research’s Public Comments on 
Safer Technologies Program for Medical Devices; Draft Guidance for
Industry and Food and Drug Administration Staff; Availability
[FDA-2019-D-4048]

Thank you for the opportunity to express our views on the proposed Safer Technologies Program (STeP) for medical devices.

The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a non-profit 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, so we have no conflicts of interest.

We appreciate FDA’s efforts to get medical devices with an improved safety profile to consumers and patients more quickly. However, the mission of the FDA is to protect patients and consumers from medical products that are not proven safe or not proven effective. FDA guidance must be very clear how this program would protect patients from unsafe or ineffective medical devices. The proposed guidance is so vaguely worded that it is not possible to have confidence that patients’ needs will be protected.

We agree that increased interactions with FDA throughout the development process and more timely interactions could 1) speed development and review, and 2) improve the quality of the data available for review by providing more consideration into needed data, study design, and early detection of concerns. Unfortunately, most medical devices are cleared through review pathways that require little or no clinical data to demonstrate safety or effectiveness, and while premarket approval applications (PMA) require clinical trial data, those studies are often small, poorly designed, and lacking in appropriate control groups. Thus, while the proposed Safer Technologies Program may get medical devices to patients sooner, the program will be harmful to patients unless it also strengthens the premarket requirements for scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.

Textured breast implants, Essure, POP mesh, and metal-on-metal hip replacements are just a few of the many examples of devices that were implanted in tens of thousands of patients and consumers prior to being removed from the market due to serious, unexpected complications. It is disturbing that the proposed guidance includes no explicit instructions aimed at reducing the harm caused when patients unwittingly serve as guinea pigs for implants and other devices that were not adequately tested prior to going on the market. It is not fair to patients or their physicians to rely primarily on post-market studies and surveillance, because too many patients will be harmed before those studies are completed, and too many of those studies will never be completed. We therefore respectfully urge the FDA to revise the proposed guidance in ways that ensure that all medical devices undergo more rigorous testing prior to being approved or cleared.

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

FDA Challenged Over Metal Implants ‘Public Health Travesty’

Sasha Chavkin, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: November 14, 2019


Patients who suffered debilitating immune reactions after being implanted with metal-containing devices have joined doctors, scientists and industry representatives to testify before a United States government advisory panel probing the risks of immunological responses to metals placed inside the body.

The hearing represented the most systematic look by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the issue of adverse reactions to metals, a problem that affects a minority of implant patients but one that can cause severe pain, neurological damage and cognitive impairments.

“I’m in a great deal of pain, so please bear with me,” testified Sue Francis, a hip implant patient who has experienced severe health effects stemming from her reaction to metal. “We need to recognize that these metals from day one are interacting with our bodies.”

Metals are a major component of common devices such as artificial hips, spinal fusion implants and the contraceptive coil Essure, but there is limited scientific research on auto-immune and allergic responses to them.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported extensively on hip implants and Essure as part of its global Implant Files investigation, which revealed massive gaps in medical device oversight that left patients vulnerable to flawed and poorly tested products.

Patients and their advocates urged the FDA to order more detailed disclosure of the metals used in devices, to require device labels to disclose the risks associated with metals, and to send a letter to doctors across the country alerting them to the threat of adverse metal reactions.

[…]

Unlike hearings earlier this year on breast implants and vaginal mesh that focused on specific products and regulatory steps, yesterday’s hearing focused on trying to understand and improve the state of scientific knowledge on metal reactions.

As such, it is unlikely to result in the short term in dramatic steps such as banning products from the market.

Experts urged the FDA to make the hearing the beginning of a sustained effort to gather data on the problem of metal reactions, including their differential effects among patients of different gender, age and socioeconomic status.

For example, the substantial majority of adverse responses to metal devices occur among women, who are generally more vulnerable to auto-immune, rheumatic and thyroid disorders.

“There’s a need for more and better pre-market research,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Center for Health Research. “We need to really have better data on diversity of patients.”

Read the original article here.

FDA Advisers Hear About Problems, Research Needs With Metal Implants

Mary Jo M. Dales, MedPage Today: November 14. 2019


Reports of adverse events related to metal-containing implants are on the rise. While still rare on a proportional basis, the numbers are increasing as the sheer volume of surgical implants has expanded, an FDA advisory committee was told Wednesday.

At the first day of a two-day meeting of the Immunology Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee, members heard from experts that it isn’t easy to tease out which patients are likely to have an adverse event. While patients with a known metal allergy might be an obvious risk group, the ability to screen for these allergies is limited.

And while these devices each have a unique identifier, the metallic components within individual devices are seldom detailed in this labelling further limiting the patient’s ability to avoid a known metal allergy, based on public testimony given during the meeting. Over 50 registered speakers were granted speaking time at the two-day meeting.

In a discussion of an array of histologic, imaging, and serologic studies that might be useful for selected out patients at risk for metal-related adverse events, experts pointed out that these measures alone fell short. Abnormal test results do not reliably predict adverse events. Further, the combinations of tests that might be indicative would be prohibitively expensive to perform on a large population of patients to determine a small sub-population at risk.

As device implantation has grown in recent years, so have problems tied to them. In 2012, for instance, the FDA held a two-day advisory committee meeting to address failure rates and adverse effects from metal-on-metal hip implants. That led the agency a few months later to put restrictions on these products. Still, issues remain around management of patients who received them. And that’s just one type of metallic implant, of which there are hundreds if not thousands.

Earlier in 2019, the FDA announced efforts to further evaluate the safety of specific materials used in medical devices and how to better identify patients who might be at increased risk of experiencing a hypersensitivity response. The agency is accepting public comment on the issue until December 16.

[…]

In public testimony Wednesday, Karin Pacheco, MD, MSPH, an allergist at National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado in Denver, presented data on 1,500 patients with unexplained joint failure referred by their orthopedic surgeons who have ruled out infections and mechanical issues. The findings indicate that half of these patients are sensitized to something in the joint — about a quarter of them to the relevant metal in their implant, about 20% to bone cement, and a smaller proportion to both components.

Further, people with allergies and revised to another implant with different components do “extremely well,” she said. The implications are that sensitization to implant components is a cause of joint failure. “We think that nickel, cobalt and chromium, and maybe titanium, are the culprits, but we need more research.”

“If you have a history of skin reactivity [to device components], then you probably need to be tested” before receiving an implant, she said. Pacheco emphasized that over a million joint replacements are done each year in the U.S. and more of them are going to people ages 45-64.

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, urged comparative effectiveness research.

“If certain implants seem to be causing certain reactions with certain kinds of patients, wouldn’t it be very important to know how that compares to other alternatives of the same kind of implants? We can’t treat all hip implants that are polyethylene and metal as if they’re all the same,” she said.

“We can’t treat all metal-on-metal implants as if they’re the same. We need to compare different models, different implants made in different ways with different materials by different companies and get some kind of real data” that patients and physicians can use to make informed decisions, Zuckerman added. Until then, figuring out how much is due to patient vulnerabilities and how much is the difference between various devices will remain challenging.

Several speakers detailed their personal experiences of adverse events, including neurologic and rheumatologic events that followed their receiving an implant. Linda Radach said she received a metal-on-metal hip implant requiring two subsequent revision surgeries, concluding, “The bottom line between all the harm is the materials. Go after that. Set rigid standards for biocompatibility testing.”

[…]

The Immunology Devices Panel will hear additional comments on Thursday, especially in regard to dental amalgam, and will respond to a series of questions posed by FDA staff.

Read the original story here.

How the FDA and EPA’s failure to communicate could put patients in danger

Sarah Karlin-Smith, Annie Snider, and Sarah Owermohle, Politico, November 7, 2019.


For decades a chemical used to sterilize medical devices and surgery tools has been the only option to ensure safe devices for billions of critical health care procedures.

But the chemical, ethylene oxide, has been shown to cause cancer, and growing panic among people living near plants that sterilize medical devices has led to a major crackdown and the shutdown of the factories in several states.

Now the Food and Drug Administration is warning that closure of the facilities where ethylene oxide is used could threaten the lives of patients and limit their access to everything from pacemakers to equipment for hip replacements and feeding tubes that save the lives of premature babies.

The story of how American lives may be threatened over the use and production of this chemical is an example of what happens when two bureaucracies — the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency — fail to work together. The situation raises questions about whether federal health authorities were too slow to connect the dots between the environmental concerns around the cancer-causing gas — which EPA first disclosed five years ago — and the potential consequences to the medical device industry, which uses the gas to clean roughly half of all sterile devices, or more than 20 billion products a year.

“We need to harmonize our federal agencies so they are in sync, so that one isn’t causing problems that the other has to try and fix,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a watchdog group that conducts health research it can use to influence policymakers. The organization accepts no money from medical treatment companies.

Already, one sterilizing facility in Illinois has shuttered under pressure from state authorities to cut the emissions, and a second in Michigan has said it will end its sterilizing operations by the end of year. Meanwhile, the state of Georgia has temporarily closed two facilities and lawmakers there are pressing for the closure of a third.

“Without [this sterilizing technique] … the sickest patients would be most at risk,” FDA wrote in briefing documents ahead of a two-day meeting that kicked off Wednesday to obtain expert recommendations about how to reduce or eliminate ethylene oxide emissions in medical device sterilization without compromising the availability of devices.

Caught flat-footed, FDA is now scrambling to find alternative sterilizing processes, as the Environmental Protection Agency and states consider tightening emissions standards for these facilities, potentially threatening the industry’s ability to continue operating. Experts say it is unclear if the technology even exists to reduce facilities’ emissions enough to protect nearby communities from elevated cancer risks, according to EPA’s calculations.

“Inadequate sterilization would threaten modern medicine as we know it,” said Kara Mascitti, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s University Health Network, at Wednesday’s FDA meeting.

As EPA takes its time to update national emissions standards for sterilizers, states are stepping in to use their authorities to crack down.

Even though EPA found in 2014 that ethylene oxide was linked with breast cancer, leukemia and other cancers at much lower exposure levels than previously thought, and finalized that conclusion in 2016, it wasn’t until EPA released new monitoring data in August 2018 that emissions from sterilizing facilities caught the attention of state and local regulators and the public.

An outcry arose in the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook in August 2018 after the Chicago Tribune used that EPA data to report that the community faced an elevated cancer risk, thanks to a Sterigenics sterilizing facility located in the neighborhood. The facility became a major issue in Illinois’ 2018 gubernatorial election, in part because the incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s former private equity firm owned Sterigenics.

But it wasn’t until the newly elected Democratic governor took office in Illinois in 2019 and banned the facility from using ethylene oxide that the issue hit FDA’s radar, said Suzanne Schwartz, the deputy director of the office of strategic partnerships and technology and acting office director in FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Outside experts say the situation represents the pitfalls that can occur when federal agencies do not properly communicate with each other.

“EPA has had this on their radar screen, they’ve known that there is a problem. They’ve been talking about it. And somehow as far as we know that information either did not get to the FDA or did not get to the FDA in a way that anyone at the FDA said, ‘Ah, if we don’t look into this we could end up with a shortage of devices that are lifesaving and important devices,'” Zuckerman said. “How could this have not been of concern to them years ago?”

FDA says it has proactively addressed the issue since it commenced working with EPA, states and the device industry following the Willowbrook plant closure in early 2019. The agency notes it helped prevent a shortage of critical breathing equipment by working with one device manufacturer to quickly find a new sterilization site. FDA also launched two contests to develop new sterilization techniques and figure out how to minimize pollution from ethylene oxide sterilization. FDA will work with contest winners to accelerate the availability of the technology. Those initiatives are already bearing fruit, and FDA told POLITICO it believes there may be new short-term mitigation strategies that it will be able to announce in the next few months.

FDA stressed that regulating air pollution falls outside of its jurisdiction and it told POLITICO the agency doesn’t get alerted if facilities that produce medical products it oversees are violating air regulations and posing a safety concern. Therefore, Schwartz said, there’s little it could have done to foresee this crisis sooner given that EPA never changed its standards for ethylene oxide emissions.

“As part of the processes that occur with manufacturing, there are various toxins that are emitted. The key here is for the EPA to be establishing what are those standards that are allowable so that the manufacturers that are responsible for producing these products and have emissions can then be compliant with the emissions [regulations],” said FDA’s Schwartz. “Otherwise it’s outside FDA authority.”

[…]

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When Recalls Fail: Many harmful products remain in homes and stores. Why that happens, what needs to change, and how to protect yourself.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports: October 31, 2019


Antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella are linked to contaminated chicken, sickening many and hospitalizing more than 200 people for almost a year and a half, though it was known that the plants processing the chicken had failed federal food safety standards. Why did the outbreak go on for so long before the unsafe chicken was pulled from store shelves?

breast implant lacking premarket safety research is linked to a rare cancer, but years pass and women die before regulators acknowledge the connection and a manufacturer recalls the devices. Why did it take patient outcry before the potentially deadly implants were taken off the market?

An inclined sleeper for babies is put on the market without adequate safety testing or adherence to infant sleep guidelines. Over the next decade, as the sleeper becomes a best seller, dozens of babies die while using it. Why did it take public exposure before the manufacturer recalled the product?

In 21st century America, it’s easy to assume that the products we put on our plates, in our homes, and in our bodies are safe and effective. Many people expect that we have robust consumer protections in place—a system that vets products thoroughly before allowing them to be sold and that recalls products swiftly if they prove to be dangerous.

But product safety regulation and the recall process are part of a complicated and imperfect system that varies widely depending on the type of product, the industries involved, and the government agencies tasked with overseeing it. For instance, a recall does not get put into motion automatically when a product is known to cause harm. Recalls, if they happen at all, can take years to be initiated, often only after public protest and sometimes following injuries or deaths.

Moreover, when a recall is issued, consumers often aren’t made aware. Almost 70 percent of Americans said that they had not heard about a recall in the past five years for any product they own, according to a Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of 1,010 adults, though millions of products are recalled each year. And only 21 percent of Americans said they had heard about a recall and responded to it in that time frame. Of those, about two-thirds said the issue had to do with their car, 19 percent said it involved food, 9 percent a health product, and 9 percent a children’s product.

That disparity is not surprising, says David Friedman, CR’s vice president of advocacy and a former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Unlike other federal agencies, NHTSA requires manufacturers to notify car owners directly about recalls. To track recalls, it helps that every car has a unique vehicle identification number and every owner has a registration. Other agencies—the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission—generally have fewer tools and requirements for recalls. In some cases, laws can actually shield agencies from accountability and protect companies from liability, Friedman says.

Even when consumers learn about a recall, they often aren’t given simple, effective ways to respond. Some entail disassembling and mailing in part of the product for a refund, or not using the product until a replacement part is mailed—a process that can take months. As a result, many recalled products remain in use, risking further injury.

How, then, can consumers ensure that the products they buy have been safety tested and have not caused problems since their release? In some cases, it’s impossible to fully know. But the examples described here provide a sense of how regulatory oversight sometimes works for—and against—consumers. Plus, we share steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

[…]

Dangerous Breast Implants

Raylene Hollrah was 33 years old in 2007 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. A year and a half later, when she was ready for reconstructive surgery, she chose a silicone-filled implant with a textured surface made by Allergan. Hollrah, from Hermann, Mo., believed a selling point of the implant was that she’d automatically be enrolled in a 10-year study “so I could help other women,” she says.

What Hollrah didn’t know is that medical devices—including breast implants, artificial joints, and pacemakers—are subject to much less rigorous premarket testing than drugs are. That’s partly because the FDA didn’t begin regulating medical devices or requiring research on their efficacy and safety until 1976, after many devices were already in use.

Silicone breast implants were introduced in the 1960s with little to no safety research, says Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., president of the National Center for Health Research. Even after the FDA began regulating them, the agency didn’t require premarket studies until 1991—when it determined there was insufficient safety research, and soon after put a moratorium on sales.

In 2006, when the FDA did approve silicone implants, it was on the condition that manufacturers conduct post-market studies, one of which included Hollrah. But that wasn’t made clear to her early on. And as time passed, more problems emerged. In 2011, the FDA announced a link between silicone- and saline-filled implants and a form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

But Hollrah didn’t learn about breast implant associated ALCL, or BIA-ALCL, until 2013, when one of her implants swelled and she tested positive. “I removed breast cancer,” Hollrah says, “and then I put something right back in my body that gave me cancer again.”

Around the time of Hollrah’s diagnosis, Allergan dropped her from its post-approval study. In fact, Allergan lost track of many participants, in part because it was difficult to follow up with the women, who were given no real incentives to stay involved in the studies, Zuckerman says. As a result, the research was never completed. Yet the FDA did not penalize manufacturers or recall the implants.

Fortunately for Hollrah, her cancer was caught early. She had her implants removed in 2013 and is now cancer-free.

But it wasn’t until July 2019 that the FDA announced the recall of Allergan’s textured implants due to a reported worldwide total of 573 BIA-ALCL cases, 481 of them from Allergan, including 33 deaths.

When asked why it took eight years after the FDA acknowledged the risk of BIA-ALCL for the agency to request a recall, an FDA spokesperson said it took the action after learning, in the spring of 2019, of “a significant increase in known cases of BIA-ALCL.”

Though the recall is a victory for women affected by BIA-ALCL, other concerns remain. For one, “when medical devices are recalled, there’s typically not a rigorous process to reclaim the flawed products,” says Lisa McGiffert, a co-founder of the Patient Safety Action Network and a former patient-safety expert at CR.

There’s also no established system for device manufacturers to find and notify doctors and patients about a recall. Hollrah notes that she has yet to receive a recall notification from Allergan.

For its part, Allergan says that “patient safety is a priority” and that it is committed to ensuring the safe and effective use of its products.

Still, hundreds of thousands of women are estimated to have a recalled device in their bodies and no easy choices. The FDA recommends implant removal only for women with a diagnosis of BIA-ALCL. But women don’t always have obvious symptoms. “Although BIA-ALCL is treatable if caught early, no one wants to wait to see if they get cancer,” says Sara Castro, an attorney at Farr law firm in Punta Gorda, Fla., who is working with affected women.

Another hurdle: Though Allergan will pay for replacement implants in the case of a cancer diagnosis or implant defect, it doesn’t cover the surgical costs of preventive implant removal. Most insurers won’t cover it, either.

Scot Glasberg, M.D., past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and a consultant for Allergan, says that “if a woman has any concerns whatsoever, she should see a plastic surgeon who is board certified,” specializes in breast implants, and is knowledgeable about BIA-ALCL to go over her screening and testing options.

Women considering breast-implant surgery (or any medical device procedure) should ask their surgeon for an informed consent form that details what the device contains, and known risks. “This form is not mandated yet,” says Hollrah, who did not have that protection before her surgery and has since worked with Zuckerman, Glasberg, and others to develop a patient form and clearer warnings. And they have made progress on that front: On October 24, 2019, the FDA recommended that patient labeling for breast implants include a patient decision checklist, a boxed warning, an information booklet, and a patient device card. A final decision on that recommendation isn’t expected until 2020 at the earliest. 

Madris Tomes, a former program manager at the FDA who now runs Device Events—which gathers adverse event reports on medical devices—recommends researching your device. One free source is an online FDA database called MAUDE (Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience). “Two-thirds of all recalls begin as an adverse event report,” Tomes says.

[…]
Read the original article here.

FDA calls for new warnings for breast implants

Laurie McGinley, The Washington Post: October 23, 2019.


The Food and Drug Administration, under fire from women who say they were harmed by breast implants, proposed on Wednesday that manufacturers detail possible complications from the devices, including rare cancers, a range of other symptoms and the need for additional surgeries.

The agency recommended that manufacturers use a boxed warning — the FDA’s strictest caution — to clearly spell out the risks of implants, including that they are not lifetime devices and that the chances of complications increase over time. The warning also would list the devices’ association with a rare form of lymphoma and say some patients have reported fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain.

The agency also proposed that patients be given a checklist to guide conversations with their surgeons about the risks and benefits of implants before women put down deposits for their surgeries. The move is a response to complaints from patients who said they weren’t adequately told about potential problems before surgery.

“We have heard from many women that they are not fully informed of the risks when considering breast implants,” FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and Jeff Shuren, director of the agency’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. The new recommendations are “designed to help inform conversations between patients and health care professionals when breast implants are being considered,” they added.

The FDA’s steps are the latest effort to deal with reports of complications involving devices that have been at the center of sometimes angry debate and legal actions for decades. The devices are used in about 400,000 surgeries in the United States every year, with 75 percent of the women involved getting implants for cosmetic reasons. Most of the rest get them as part of reconstruction after surgery for breast cancer.

Over the past few years, patients who say they were harmed by the devices have become increasingly active on social media sites that have enabled tens of thousands of patients to exchange information. The emergence of a rare cancer linked to implants in recent years also has drawn more attention to potential health problems associated with implants.

The FDA has said that 573 cases worldwide have linked the implants to a rare cancer since the agency began tracking the issue in 2011. The vast majority of those cases involved Allergan textured implants, which have been recalled. Thirty-three women have died of what’s known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, the agency said. At the same time, thousands of women have complained of fatigue, brain fog and other problems that collectively are called “breast implant illness.”

Nicole Daruda, an activist from Vancouver, Canada, who runs one of the most popular websites for women who have had trouble with implants, welcomed the FDA’s announcement, but said it was long overdue. “This is what needs to happen,” said Daruda, who had her implants removed after experiencing several health problems. “But I don’t think it would have without our putting intense pressure” on the agency.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research who has been working on implant issues for 30 years, said the FDA’s moves are “very important.” But she expressed concern they might yet be weakened, and are not legally binding because they are in the form of “guidance” to the industry. Whether the implant makers actually follow the recommendations “depends on how much pressure the FDA puts on the manufacturers,” she said.

The FDA’s steps are the latest in the agency’s stepped-up scrutiny of the devices, which included a dramatic two-day hearing in March during which many women demanded the FDA take steps to ensure patients have more information about the devices. About the same time, Zuckerman and Scot Glasberg, a past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, formed a working group that included activists to make recommendations to the FDA, including for a boxed warning and a patient checklist of possible problems.

What the FDA is proposing “is very close to what we gave them,” Glasberg said, adding that other groups also made suggestions to the agency.

More than 70,000 women also signed a petition asking the FDA to require a checklist. The FDA, in issuing its recommendations on Wednesday, asked for public comment for 60 days before finalizing the guidance.

Breast implants became available in the United States in the 1960s. Three decades later, after years of reports about ruptured devices and possible links to autoimmune diseases, the FDA called for a moratorium on their use, saying manufacturers had not proved the devices’ safety and effectiveness. The devices were available only for cancer patients who were undergoing reconstructive procedures, and even then, only as part of a clinical trial. In 2006, the agency lifted the ban, approving two new silicone implants.

In 2011, the FDA issued a safety communication saying that women with breast implants might have a small increased risk of developing the rare lymphoma. In July, the implant maker Allergan announced a worldwide recall of its Biocell textured breast implants after the FDA found a sharp increase in a rare cancer and deaths linked to the products and asked the company to withdraw them from the U.S. market.

The FDA, in its proposed guidance Wednesday, also called for new screening guidelines for possible ruptures, as well as a recommendation that manufacturers include product ingredient information in the devices’ labeling that is easy for patients to understand.

Read the original article here.

Women Should Be Warned of Breast Implant Hazards, F.D.A. Says

Roni Caryn Rabin, NY Times: October 23, 2019


Women considering surgery to receive breast implants should be warned of the risk of serious complications, including fatigue, joint pain and the possibility of a rare type of cancer, the Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday.

Agency officials are urging manufacturers to print a boxed warning on the packaging of the implants, and to provide a checklist spelling out the risks for patients considering surgery. It will be left to doctors to review those risks with women seeking breast implants.

The measures are not mandatory and are now open to public comment and industry input. But the recommendations reflect a growing acknowledgment at the agency that implants may cause more harm in women than previously known.

Several years ago, the agency linked implants to a rare form of immune system cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma. In July, at the request of the F.D.A., one manufacturer, Allergan, recalled textured breast implants linked to the cancer.

More recent studies have reported higher rates of autoimmune disease among women with breast implants. Advocates for women with these complications called the F.D.A.’s proposals on Monday “an important step,” but noted that the action is only a recommendation.

“What matters most is what happens next,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research in Washington, who has analyzed breast implant studies and has been advising patients.

She said surgeons should be required to go over the checklist with prospective patients before they put down a deposit.

“If breast implants can cause cancer of the immune system, doesn’t it make sense they can cause other systemic problems of the immune system?” Dr. Zuckerman asked.

Millions of women have implants, silicone sacks filled with saltwater or silicone gel that are used to enlarge the breasts for cosmetic reasons or to rebuild them after a mastectomy for breast cancer.

Breast augmentation with implants is the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure. Some 313,000 augmentations were performed in 2018, a 4 percent increase over the number in 2017. Breast reconstruction after cancer surgery accounts for another 100,000 procedures.

But thousands of women with implants have reported developing debilitating illnesses, such as severe muscle and joint pain, weakness, cognitive difficulties and fatigue — a constellation of symptoms some experts call “breast implant illness.”

Some of the ailments are forms of connective tissue disease, which includes lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other serious autoimmune conditions.

Dr. Zuckerman has found that most breast implant studies were carried out by manufacturers or plastic surgery associations and did not track long-term outcomes, or lost so many participants to follow-up that results were not meaningful.

The studies focused on well-defined illnesses, she said, ignoring debilitating symptoms that lacked specific diagnoses, and most were too small to detect rare diseases.

Earlier this year, the agency warned two implant manufacturers that they had failed to carry out adequate long-term safety studies of implants, which had been mandated as a condition of their approval.

The proposed checklist and boxed warning were developed in response to demands by patients who testified last March at an advisory panel meeting about illnesses they blamed on their implants.