YOUR GO-TO SOURCE FOR ANALYSIS OF ISSUES AFFECTING THE PHARMA & BIOTECH SECTORS

In light of the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) public health challenge, the FDA issued guidance on March 18 on general considerations for conducting clinical trials of medical products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidance aims to “assist sponsors in assuring the safety of trial participants, maintaining compliance with good clinical practice (GCP), and minimizing risks to trial integrity.”

Partners Kathleen Sanzo and Jacqueline Berman provide key takeaways from the guidance in this LawFlash.

With the increasing numbers of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and the declaration of a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are assessing how this situation may impact business operations.

Some areas that companies should consider include the following:

  • Supply chain disruption, including active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) and excipient shortages
  • Drug shortages and related FDA notices
  • FDA inspection priority shifts
  • Potential impacts on import surveillance
  • Delays in FDA’s review of pending drug applications
  • Possible impacts on clinical trials and necessary changes to relevant trial documents
  • The impact on drug promotion and new risks created by the changing landscape

For further analysis, please see our March 13 LawFlash, Potential Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Pharmaceutical and Biotech Industries.

FDA issued a draft guidance, Demonstrating Substantial Evidence of Effectiveness for Human Drugs and Biological Products (Draft Guidance), on December 19, 2019, as an expansion of its 1998 guidance, Providing Clinical Evidence of Effectiveness for Human Drug and Biological Products (1998 Guidance). The 1998 Guidance provided examples of evidence that FDA could consider to be confirmatory evidence to potentially support FDA approval of a marketing application based on one adequate and well-controlled clinical trial. The new Draft Guidance provides further detail on clinical trial design considerations, as well as forms of confirmatory evidence that sponsors may consider when proposing to rely on a single adequate and well-controlled clinical trial.

As part of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) overall reorganization of the Office of New Drugs, the former Office of Hematology and Oncology Products (OHOP), the FDA office responsible for approving cancer therapies, was recently restructured and renamed the Office of Oncologic Diseases (OOD).

Per Dr. Richard Pazdur, the acting OOD director, the reorganization will allow for greater stakeholder engagement and streamline the drug review process. OOD is now composed of six divisions, including three divisions of oncology.

Over the last few months, FDA has continued its efforts to encourage and facilitate the use of the agency’s Expanded Access Program (EAP). This follows other FDA EAP actions, including its announcement of program improvements. Overall, these steps appear to signal that FDA is trying to position the EAP as a desirable option for patients, healthcare providers, and industry following the passage of the Federal Right to Try statute, in which, as noted in FDA’s recent Right to Try Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), the agency plays a very limited role.

Human cell and gene therapy research has advanced dramatically in recent years and opened the door to potential treatments for diseases once considered incurable. On January 15, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), issued a joint statement announcing plans to keep pace with the rapidly growing and evolving field through new policy guidance and other assistance. According to the statement, FDA is turning its attention and additional resources toward these therapies in 2019 due to a “large upswing” in the number of cell and gene therapy investigational new drug (IND) applications. Based on an assessment of the more than 800 cell-based and gene therapy INDs current on file with the agency, FDA projects that it will receive more than 200 cell and gene therapy INDs per year by 2020, and will approve 10 to 20 such products per year by 2025.

To accommodate the uptick and to ensure regulation of firms that may be operating outside of regulatory compliance, the statement sets forth FDA’s planned actions to support cell and gene therapy product development in 2019:

After several delays, the revised US Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (also known as the Common Rule) went into effect on January 21. The Common Rule is generally applicable to research conducted or supported by one of the federal departments or agencies that has integrated the rule into its own regulations (e.g., US Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health), US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense). Some clinical trial sites may also apply the Common Rule across all clinical research projects, regardless of funding source, through a US Office for Human Research Protections Federal Wide Assurance.

Despite the mandate under the 21st Century Cures Act to harmonize FDA regulations with the Common Rule to the extent practicable and allowable under existing legislative provisions, FDA has yet to propose aligning regulations. Rather, FDA issued guidance titled Impact of Certain Provisions of the Revised Common Rule on FDA-Regulated Clinical Investigations. As of right now, while FDA is aware of new inconsistencies between its human subject regulations and the revised Common Rule, the agency has advised that when a given study is subject to both sets of regulations, the rule that offers greater human subject protection should be applied. The guidance sets forth FDA’s position on the following areas of potential discrepancies between the Common Rule and FDA regulations:

FDA recently signaled that it plans to be more involved in facilitating expanded access to investigational new drugs. This follows the agency’s announcement of its efforts to improve and clarify the expanded access program (EAP), as well as state and federal legislation intended to simplify the process to use investigational drugs for treatment purposes.

One item that stakeholders may have missed, given the almost daily FDA developments, was the agency’s announcement that it will continue to improve and clarify its expanded access program (EAP). Specifically, FDA

  • updated its EAP webpage to streamline content and make the page more user friendly;
  • established an agency-wide Patient Affairs Staff and Health Care Provider Affairs Program to increase FDA engagement with stakeholder groups;
  • established an agency-wide Expanded Access Coordinating Committee to facilitate cross-center communications and discussion of cross-cutting issues; and
  • established a work group for the implementation of the Federal Right to Try law.

These follow a May 2018 independent assessment commissioned by the agency, which found that while stakeholders reported positive overall perceptions of the EAP and FDA’s role, there continue to be “pain points.” For instance, there continues to be confusion regarding program navigation, difficulties with multi-stakeholder coordination, and administrative burden.

Update: FDA has now extended the comment period for this proposed rule to February 13, 2019.

FDA recently announced a proposal to add an exception to the agency’s informed consent requirements. Under the proposed rule, FDA will allow Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to waive or alter informed consent for clinical trials that present only minimal risk to the subjects. This proposal is similar to the policy set forth in FDA’s guidance document on the same topic, which we have written on previously.