Further action needed to facilitate development of safe, effective treatments

Source The Pew

Over the last two decades, cell therapies (which involve the transplantation of whole cells into a patient), gene therapies (which use genetic material to manipulate a patient’s cells), and other medical treatments intended to repair or replace damaged, diseased, or dysfunctional cells, tissues, and organs have generated increasing public interest. Such treatments, which together make up the field of regenerative medicine, may have the potential to treat a range of problems such as organ failure, traumatic injuries, and serious diseases.

The increase in public interest has been accompanied by substantial private-sector financial investments in the development of regenerative treatments. Relatively few such treatments have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States, but many more are in clinical development, and the number of approved products is expected to grow over the next several years.

But interventions that are marketed as regenerative therapies but have not been reviewed or approved by FDA are widely available, sometimes through clinics that provide these procedures exclusively, though some hospitals or other providers offer them as part of their broader medical services. Most of these businesses or providers offer stem cell therapies derived from a variety of sources—often the patient’s own body—and maintain that these products can be used for a broad array of applications, from cosmetic procedures to treating multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions. In many cases, there is little or no reliable evidence to support the claims behind these potentially unsafe and usually expensive treatments, which are normally not covered by the patient’s health insurance

These businesses have emerged against the backdrop of limited regulatory oversight and enforcement from either state or federal authorities. In the rapidly evolving field of regenerative medicine, it has not always been clear where the responsibility for regulation lies. This lack of clarity has created opportunities for some unscrupulous businesses to market products that have not been fully evaluated for safety and effectiveness.

FDA has recognized the promise of the field of regenerative medicine and the growing risks posed by the proliferation of clinics offering unapproved therapies. In November 2017, the agency released four guidance documents that together constitute its regulatory framework for regenerative medicine, which aims to:

  • Clarify the distinctions between products that are subject to the agency’s full drug approval requirements and those that are not.
  • Streamline the review process for new therapies and reduce some of the regulatory requirements on product developers.

The agency also pledged to increase its enforcement efforts against providers offering high-risk, unapproved interventions.

This report is drawn from a commissioned legal analysis; interviews with experts from the legal, scientific, clinical, bioethics, and advocacy fields; and a review of the related literature, which included peer-reviewed scientific publications, federal guidance documents and regulations, and media articles.

It provides an overview of that regulatory framework and outlines key remaining areas of uncertainty and controversy, as identified by select stakeholders in the field. Among the key findings:

  • Stakeholders generally believe that FDA’s framework provides important clarity on how the agency will regulate regenerative therapies and—by clarifying which products must undergo FDA review before being introduced to the market—will have a significant impact on the trajectory of the field. Moving forward, it would be helpful for the agency to create or finalize any other guidance documents that are essential to supporting the development of safe and effective regenerative therapies, including guidances related to manufacturing standards, the use of real-world evidence, and determining market exclusivity for regenerative therapies.
  • Some areas of ambiguity, as well as controversy, persist, especially over whether FDA has appropriately defined the fundamental concepts that determine whether a product will be regulated as a drug and/or a device. The agency can address these ambiguities over time by clearly communicating its decisions regarding product classification and, when appropriate, by updating the four guidance documents that make up the regenerative medicine framework to reflect those decisions. Providing additional examples of how different products are regulated under the framework will help to clarify the agency’s thinking.
  • The regenerative medicine advanced therapy (RMAT) designation—an expedited development pathway established by FDA under the 21st Century Cures Act that may allow regenerative therapy developers to conduct smaller, shorter trials—increases the burden on the agency to enforce post-approval study requirements to confirm that products are safe and effective. The agency has historically struggled to meet this responsibility. It will be important for FDA to evaluate the RMAT designation and other processes that facilitate regenerative therapy development to ensure that its efforts to speed development and approval do not come at the cost of approving unsafe therapies.
  • Nearly all stakeholders expressed doubts over whether the agency has the resources to fully enforce the framework, particularly regarding the hundreds of clinics that market unapproved stem cell interventions. The agency has pledged to expand its enforcement activities starting in 2020, and it will be important to follow through on that promise.
  • Other public health stakeholders at the national and state levels—including the Federal Trade Commission, National Institutes of Health (NIH), state legislatures, state attorneys general, state medical boards, and other public health and professional organizations—can play a key role in limiting the ability of businesses to market unapproved interventions to patients and providing the public with accurate, reliable information about the field.
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