Young male doctor in telehealth concept

COVID-19’s Impact on Clinical Trials: Meeting Participants Where They Are

By Sarah V. Ferranti and Shine Chen Schattgen

“Decentralized” clinical trials (referred to as “DCTs”) are not novel, but nevertheless failed to gain real momentum given the regulatory and operational complexities involved. In light of COVID-19, however, it seems almost certain that the remote and virtual study activities that characterize DCTs, and a site and sponsor’s ability to flex to “meet the participant where they are” will be critical to the conduct of clinical trials going forward.

In the first half of 2020, as health care facilities prepared for capacity-exceeding patient volumes and equipment shortages, non-essential clinical care and non-COVID-related clinical trials came to a screeching halt. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, 1473 clinical trials were suspended, terminated, or withdrawn between December 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020, with a reported reason that explicitly mentioned COVID-19.

At the same time, initiation of clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments exploded at speeds previously considered unachievable within the clinical trial industry. As of October 13, 2020, 811 COVID-19-related clinical trials had been initiated in the United States. To enable COVID-19 trials and, more recently, to restart previously paused non-COVID trials, clinical trial sponsors and sites have been forced to quickly adapt to protect participants and preserve the integrity of clinical trial data and results.

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computer and stethoscope

Is Real-World Health Algorithm Review Worth the Hassle?

By Jenna Becker

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should not delay their plans to regulate clinical algorithms, despite challenges associated with reviewing the real-world performance of these products. 

The FDA Software Pre-Certification (Pre-Cert) Pilot Program was designed to provide “streamlined and efficient” regulatory oversight of Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) — software products that are regulable by the FDA as a medical device. The Pre-Cert program, in its pilot phase, is intended to inform the development of a future SaMD regulatory model.

Last month, the FDA released an update on Pre-Cert, highlighting lessons learned from pilot testing and next steps for developing the program. One key lesson learned was the difficulty in identifying and obtaining the real-world performance data needed to analyze the clinical effectiveness of SaMDs in practice. Although this challenge will be difficult to overcome in the near future, the FDA’s plans to regulate should not be slowed by insufficient postmarket data.

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Washington, USA- January13, 2020: FDA Sign outside their headquarters in Washington. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the USA.

A New Step for the FDA in Regulating Digital Health Products

By Vrushab Gowda

On September 22, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the establishment of a new initiative to regulate digital health products – the Digital Health Center of Excellence (DHCoE).

In some ways, the announcement does not come as a surprise; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s predecessor, Scott Gottlieb, outlined the DHCoE in a press release two years ago. What does remain to be seen is whether DHCoE represents a true paradigm shift in FDA’s approach to regulating digital health products.

According to Hahn, the DHCoE aims to (1) build partnerships, (2) share knowledge across FDA and with stakeholders, and (3) innovate regulatory approaches. It will be led by the current Director of CDRH’s Division of Digital Health, Bakul Patel.

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Person typing on computer.

Telehealth Policy Brought to the Fore in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Vrushab Gowda

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of telehealth as both a tool of necessity (e.g., minimizing infection risk, conserving thinly stretched healthcare resources, reducing cost) as well as of innovation.

Telehealth services have surged in recent months; in April alone, they constituted over 40 percent of primary care visits nationwide and over 73 percent of those in Boston. “Increasing Access to Care: Telehealth during COVID-19,” a recent publication in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, dissects the issues that have accompanied the growth of telehealth and identifies further areas of potential reform.

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an ambulance parked at the entrance of an emergency department

Racial Disparities Persist in Human Subjects Research

By Beatrice Brown

Human subjects research has long been plagued by racial inequality. While flagrant abuses have been curtailed, disparities have, unfortunately, persisted.

One area ripe for scrutiny is clinical trial enrollment. A 2018 study by William Feldman, Spencer Hey, and Aaron Kesselheim in Health Affairs documents racial disparities in trials that are exempt from typical requirements for informed consent from study participants.

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Researcher works at a lab bench

New Study Provides Insights into Potential Regulatory Treatment of COVID-19 Drugs

By Beatrice Brown

As the global pandemic continues, trials have been established to test whether existing drugs such as hydroxychloroquine could be repurposed to treat patients with COVID-19. There are also hopes that a novel drug will surface. But questions remain about when treatments and vaccines will become available.

There is currently great optimism that a treatment or vaccine will be developed quickly, but there is no assurance that such a vaccine or treatment will be highly effective or that normalcy will return in any particular timeframe. A recent study published in the Lancet ID by Jonathan J. Darrow, Mehdi Najafzadeh, Kristina Stefanini, and Aaron S. Kesselheim provides data that might help to temper enthusiasm with evidence.

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Access to Drugs Before FDA Approval: Video Explainer with Christopher Robertson.

Access to Drugs Before FDA Approval: Video Explainer with Christopher Robertson

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about the regulation of drugs in the United States.

One such concern relates to the use of drugs for treatment of COVID-19 that have not yet been FDA approved.

In this video explainer produced by the James E. Rogers College of Law of The University of Arizona, Christopher Robertson, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research & Innovation, discusses these issues, including the Right to Try Act and off-label use of pharmaceuticals, with NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Alison Bateman-House, MPH, PhD.

Several vaping devices on a table

E-Cigarette Laws that Work for Everyone

By Daniel Aaron

The Trump Administration has retreated from proposed tobacco regulations that experts generally agree would benefit public health. The regulations would have included a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, a favorite of children who use e-cigarettes. Currently millions of youth are estimated to be addicted to e-cigarettes.

The rules also could have reduced nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. Nicotine is the addicting substance largely responsible for continued smoking. If nicotine were “decoupled” from smoking, smokers might turn to other sources of nicotine, rather than continuing to smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing about 500,000 Americans each year, or just about the number of Americans who died in World War I and World War II combined.

Part of the difficulty in regulating e-cigarettes is that, unlike cigarettes, they offer benefits and harms that differ across generations. This concern is called intergenerational equity. How can a solution be crafted that serves all Americans?

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New HarvardX Course on the FDA and Prescription Drugs

Interested in learning more about pharmaceutical policy? Curious about the role of the FDA in ensure safe and effective drugs reach the market? Wondering why drug prices are so high in the US? Readers of my prior posts may enjoy learning more about these topics!

Check out a free HarvardX online course, “The FDA and Prescription Drugs: Current Controversies in Context,” put together by Petrie-Flom Center affiliates Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, Dr. Ameet Sarpatwari, Dr. Jonathan Darrow, and many others, that is now open for enrollment. (Disclosure: I did not play any role in the development or making of the course, but I am serving as a teaching assistant/discussion moderator for the course). Read More