June 4, 2018
By: Janet Woodcock, M.D.
Janet Woodcock, M.D., Director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
The staff of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) always tries to utilize cutting-edge science and up-to-date process management, befitting our stature as the global “gold standard” in drug regulation. Maintaining that standard requires us to keep up with evolving technology and the latest scientific, medical and regulatory advances. Current factors impacting drug development include the genomic revolution, the rise of targeted therapy, the availability of digital health data, the focus on patient involvement, complex drug-device combinations, globalization of drug development and harmonization of international standards. To be successful drug regulators, we reach well beyond the borders of the FDA. We collaborate with a wide variety of medical and scientific organizations such as those in biomedical research, the pharmaceutical industry, academia, global organizations and other regulatory agencies. Importantly, these collaborations also extend to patients and their caregivers and advocacy groups. All these interactions are critical to successful drug regulation.
I have recently proposed changes to CDER’s new drug regulatory program. These changes are intended to free up resources so that our scientists and physicians have more time to focus on drug development, particularly for unmet medical needs, and on the multiple collaborations needed to make sure candidate drugs are developed and assessed properly, with appropriate input from external scientists, expert physicians and patient communities. The proposals include regulatory and review process changes, as well as organizational restructuring. We also intend to strengthen the support structures, including personnel and Information Technology (IT), that underpin the regulatory process.
As always, our goals are to expand access to safe and effective new drug therapies, conduct efficient and comprehensive safety surveillance, and ensure that accurate information about those drugs is available.
Here are some highlights of our proposal:
- Recruiting the best and brightest individuals from many disciplines – Scientific leadership is vital for our ongoing success. After hiring talented scientists, we need to develop long-term career paths for them so they can become our next generation of seasoned leaders. Our recruitment efforts, strengthened by hiring incentives and other provisions in a new law called the 21st Century Cures Act, will help provide the staffing necessary for continued success in supporting the development and approval of innovative new therapies that meet previously unmet medical needs.
- Enhancing our focus on multidisciplinary teams – Setting standards for approval and assessing innovative new drugs requires large and well-coordinated teams of highly trained professionals with many different types of expertise. CDER’s Office of New Drugs (OND) has a staff of more than 1,000 individuals who work together in many ways. New drug development and approval also requires coordination across many offices within CDER, including the Office of Translational Sciences (OTS), the Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology (OSE) and the Office of Pharmaceutical Quality (OPQ). A central component of our proposed changes involves stronger integration of our talented staff so they can better work together – within and across offices, a concept we refer to as “integrated assessment.” Previously, CDER reviewers would seek consults from specialists in other scientific disciplines (as issues were identified in the course of review). For greater collaboration, a cross-disciplinary team will be assigned to work on a new drug application at the outset.
- Prioritizing operational excellence – Staff throughout CDER face a staggering pace of work, much of which involves attention to detailed administrative procedures. Our proposal would centralize project management functions within OND. CDER currently has 19 separate review divisions that regulate drugs. Over time, many divisions have developed procedures specific to their areas of review. We are proposing a single and consistent process: One organization with one process. Our aim is to enable our scientific and clinical experts to focus on what they know best – science and medicine – and our regulatory experts to manage the many processes we conduct.
- Improving knowledge management – The information we process in our work is vast and diverse. Knowledge management is essential to control the data we receive from outside sources as well as what we generate from within the FDA. We plan to enhance our IT capabilities and access to information to better enable the storage and management of the collected experience of our scientific review staff. Accurate historic information from many past drug reviews is essential to informing current and future reviews – and to assure consistent regulatory decision-making. We want to make it easy for staff to find and use scientific and regulatory data, information and precedents. We’re also proposing changes that will increase the number of offices that oversee our review divisions from five to nine – and we’re envisioning 30 review divisions within those offices – up from our current 19. In addition to enabling greater efficiency, these envisioned changes will help us to better understand the diseases intended to be treated by the drugs we evaluate for approval – another way we aim to enhance our knowledge management.
- Emphasizing the importance of safety across a drug’s lifecycle – Safety remains a key component of our new plans. We will work to establish a unified post-market safety surveillance framework to monitor the benefits and risks of drugs across their lifecycles, both before and after approval.
- Incorporating the patient voice – Patients are the FDA’s most important stakeholder and our vision includes incorporating the patient voice in modern patient-focused drug development. In fact, all the elements in our proposal have a common thread: they ultimately serve to improve health for patients.
Last year, CDER approved 46 novel drugs, 100% of which were reviewed on time – fulfilling our commitments under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA). Our system is effective, but we can always improve. Our new plan is designed to help us generate efficiencies so we can build stronger external collaboration capabilities and enhanced support for the scientific, clinical and technological innovation necessary for new drug therapies.
This proposal to modernize our new drug review processes will help us maintain and advance our global leadership, and better support our deeply committed staff. Both science and technology are changing at a blistering pace, and we need to keep up. Patients depend on the FDA to do what is necessary to provide access to safe and effective drug therapies. They take FDA-approved drugs because they trust us. While we have many steps to go before we can realize these changes, we feel confident that they will reinforce that trust and align us for ongoing success.
Janet Woodcock, M.D., is Director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research