Update from the top: FDA’s Office of New Drugs ongoing reorganization process
January 2, 2020
Rho representatives joined regulators, industry scientists, and numerous patient-advocacy groups at CBI’s Rare Disease Clinical Development & Access conference in Washington 03-04DEC 2019. During an opening plenary session, FDA’s Office of New Drugs (OND) director Dr. Peter Stein shared comments and took questions from the audience. Participants asked a number of questions that indicate a high degree of interest in (and, perhaps, some anxiety about) OND’s ongoing reorganization in general and as it might affect specific current projects at the IND or NDA review stage. This reorganization was announced earlier in 2019 and will, among other things, increase the number of offices overseeing review divisions from 6 to 8, and split and/or redesign review divisions to increase the number of divisions from 19 to 27. The reorganization is being implemented in four phases, with the last set to complete by February 2020. Dr. Stein certainly attempted to address some of the audience’s concerns. His key message: the ongoing reorganization is intended to improve review processes while ensuring continuity for individual projects. In short, FDA doesn’t want to fix what ain’t broke.
Instead, the overall goals are to establish more therapeutically aligned, integrated review teams that take an interdisciplinary and ‘problem-focused’ approach to reviews; and to modernize and standardize review processes across divisions. In the process, he and his team are taking great care to ensure OND operates smoothly, and that review teams have a re-energized scientific focus for their work.
On the former, he hopes the reorganization will make for more sensible Division groupings. Some large divisions such as Neurology or GI/inborn errors are being split up so that Division Leadership can spend more time on the science and be more externally facing (eg, at conferences). Individual review teams are being kept together as much as possible when these new divisional groupings are being designed. Further, he has instructed Division heads overall to avoid revisiting prior agreements made between the sponsor and the review team if the team has moved divisions. He believes strongly that it’s in nobody’s interest to upend established agreements, though he reminded the audience that of course, FDA reserves the right to update its positions as new data accrue. So, sponsor caveat emptor.
On the latter, OND is trying to enhance reviewer consistency and throughput by using a new review template and improved processes that support efficient, integrated reviews of submissions from IND through to approval/post-approval. In addition, a new non-review office called Office of New Drug Policy has been established to support review teams when novel issues come up that lack clear guiding precedent, so that review teams across the OND approach novel issues with greater consistency. Another new cross-cutting office of interest to conference attendees is the planned Division of Rare Disease and Medical Genetics within the new Office of Rare Diseases, Pediatrics, Urologic and Reproductive Medicine. This group will not have direct review responsibilities but rather will offer ‘consultative support’ to help review teams properly exercise ‘flexibility’ in product development programs for example in terms of expected safety database size, a topic that commonly arises, naturally, with rare disease development programs. These rare-disease sponsor projects will still be overseen by the Division that makes the most sense from a therapeutic area – for example, Division of Anti-infectives. The new Division of Rare Disease and Medical Genetics group will also have a mandate to engage outside FDA with patient groups, other regulatory bodies, academia, and even Advisory Committees to ensure they understand realities for rare disease product development. One can only speculate as to why these new responsibilities were not assigned to the longstanding Office of Orphan Product Development.
Overall, the audience took a wait-and-see approach insofar as the reorganization is ongoing and the chips haven’t fallen yet. Time will tell if the major goals of the reorganization are achieved by this structure, but Dr. Stein certainly made his best case for the various rationales for the temporary upheaval. Maybe spring cleaning came a bit early to the OND this year….