By Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA Commissioner
FDA has a long history of supporting patient access to investigational new treatments. This includes working with drug and device companies through the clinical trial process that may lead to FDA approval of the treatment. We also offer expanded access programs that provide investigational drugs and devices to patients with serious conditions (generally prior to product approval), when there is no therapeutic alternative.
Each year, FDA receives over 1,000 applications for the treatment of patients through expanded access, also known as compassionate use, and the agency authorizes the vast majority (about 99%). FDA recognizes that time is critical for these seriously ill patients who do not have alternative therapies, and who cannot take part in a clinical trial of an investigational therapy.
Submissions are authorized quickly, often in a matter of days. In the case of emergencies, FDA will typically provide authorization over the phone in a matter of hours. In an effort to eliminate potential hurdles that might delay or even discourage applications, FDA streamlined the expanded access process by introducing a new application form which a physician may use to request expanded access for their patient. Form FDA 3926 reduced the number of required information fields and attachments, and is estimated to take only 45 minutes for a physician to complete. Before expanded access can occur, the drug company must decide whether or not to provide the product. FDA cannot require a manufacturer to provide a product.
Today, we’re lifting another potential burden for physicians who apply to FDA to use an investigational drug to treat their patient.
Prior to treating a patient under expanded access, the physician must obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at their facility. This is an important step to protect the rights, safety and well-being of human subjects in clinical research – but assembling the full board may cause delays because it may not routinely meet.
As part of a plan to simplify the process for physicians seeking access to an investigational product to treat their patient, I’m announcing today that just one IRB member – the chair or another appropriate person – can now approve the treatment. I believe the simplified IRB process will facilitate access while still protecting patients.
More simplifications and clarifications are in the pipeline.
We’ve seen some reluctance among companies to provide investigational drugs for expanded access. This may have been due, in part, to uncertainty about how data for adverse events that occur during treatment under expanded access are viewed by FDA. Companies have voiced concerns that any apparent negative effects might jeopardize the product’s development.
We recognize that patients receiving expanded access are usually treated outside of a controlled clinical trial setting. As a result, they may have more advanced disease than clinical trial participants, be receiving other drugs at the same time, and have other diseases. FDA recognizes that these factors make it more difficult to determine the cause an adverse reaction.
To clarify how adverse event data in these circumstances are viewed, we’ve updated the guidance for industry entitled, ‘Expanded Access to Investigational Drugs for Treatment Use: Questions and Answers’ (questions 25 and 26). The guidance clarifies that suspected adverse reactions must be reported “only if there is evidence to suggest a causal relationship between the drug and the adverse event.”
I’m confident these changes will help to address recent issues raised by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said that FDA “should further clarify how adverse event data are used.” We are still evaluating the GAO recommendations to identify other possible ways to respond to their concerns.
We’re committed to helping patients and physicians fully understand the expanded access process. Dedicated staff in the Office of Health and Constituent Affairs and CDER’s Office of Communications, Division of Drug Information, already assist physicians and patients in navigating this system. We issued three final guidance documents last year to clarify and explain the process. This past July, we collaborated with the Reagan-Udall Foundation, patient advocacy groups, the pharmaceutical industry, and other federal agencies to launch a new online tool called the Expanded Access Navigator. This includes a directory where companies can submit public links to their expanded access policies, the criteria used by companies to determine whether to make a drug available through expanded access, and contact information. The directory offers patients and physicians a helpful starting point for researching available investigational therapies.
In addition, we’re working with the Reagan-Udall Foundation to expand this new tool. I’m pleased to announce that Reagan-Udall will expand its portfolio to include FDA’s Rare Disease Program, with the goal of promoting more expanded access to treatments for rare disorders.
Looking ahead, there will be more options for expanded access. FDA will continue our efforts to educate stakeholders on these opportunities and further simplify the process in order to improve the program.