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FDA News Release

FDA unveils plan to eliminate orphan designation backlog

For Immediate Release

June 29, 2017

Release

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unveiled a strategic plan to eliminate the agency’s existing orphan designation request backlog and ensure continued timely response to all new requests for designation with firm deadlines. The agency’s Orphan Drug Modernization Plan comes a week after FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb committed to eliminating the backlog within 90 days and responding to all new requests for designation within 90 days of receipt during his testimony before a Senate subcommittee.

As authorized under the Orphan Drug Act, the Orphan Drug Designation Program provides orphan status to drugs and biologics that are defined as those intended for the safe and effective treatment, diagnosis or prevention of rare diseases, which are generally defined as diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. Orphan designation qualifies the sponsor of the drug for various development incentives, including tax credits for clinical trial costs, relief from prescription drug user fee if the indication is for a rare disease or condition, and eligibility for seven years of marketing exclusivity upon approval. A request for orphan designation is one step that can be taken in the drug development process and is different than the filing of a marketing application with the FDA.

Currently, the FDA has about 200 orphan drug designation requests that are pending review. The number of orphan drug designation requests has steadily increased over the past five years. In 2016, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development received 568 new requests for designation – more than double the number of requests received in 2012. The increased interest in the program is a positive development for those with rare diseases and under this new plan, the agency remains committed to advancing the program to ensure it can efficiently and adequately review these requests.

“People who suffer with rare diseases are too often faced with no, or limited, treatment options, and what treatment options they have may be quite expensive due in part to significant costs of developing therapies for smaller populations,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “Congress gave us tools to incentivize the development of novel therapies for rare diseases and we intend to use these resources to their fullest extent in order to ensure Americans get the safe and effective medicines they need, and that the process for developing these innovations is as modern and efficient as possible.”

This is the first element of several efforts the FDA will undertake under its new “Medical Innovation Development Plan,” which is aimed at ensuring that the FDA’s regulatory tools and policies are modern, risk based, and efficient. The goal of the plan is to seek ways the FDA can help facilitate the development of safe, effective and transformative medical innovations that have the potential to significantly impact disease and reduce overall health care costs.

Among the elements of the plan to eliminate the backlog, the FDA will deploy a Backlog SWAT team comprised of senior, experienced reviewers with significant expertise in orphan drug designation. The team will focus solely on the backlogged applications, starting with the oldest requests. The agency will also employ a new streamlined Designation Review Template to increase consistency and efficiency of its reviews. The program will also look to collaborate within the agency’s medical product centers to create greater efficiency, including conducting joint reviews with the Office of Pediatric Therapeutics to review rare pediatric disease designation requests.

To ensure all future requests receive a response within 90 days of receipt, the agency will take a multifaceted approach. These efforts include, among other new steps: reorganizing the review staff to maximize expertise and improve workload efficiencies; better leveraging the expertise across the FDA’s medical product centers; and establishing a new FDA Orphan Products Council that will help address scientific and regulatory issues to ensure the agency is applying a consistent approach to regulating orphan drug products and reviewing designation requests.

The agency intends to communicate around the successful elimination of the backlog by mid-September and will soon provide more information about the Medical Innovation Development Plan. 

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, promotes and protects the public health by, among other things, assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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Page Last Updated: 06/29/2017
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