FDA approved concept. Rubber stamp with FDA and pills on craft paper. 3d illustration.

Book Review: ‘Drugs and the FDA: Safety, Efficacy, and the Public’s Trust’ by Mikkael A. Sekeres

By Matthew Chun

In Drugs and the FDA: Safety, Efficacy, and the Public’s Trust, oncologist Mikkael A. Sekeres tells a captivating story of how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration became the agency it is today and how it makes some of its toughest decisions regarding the regulation of potent drugs.

Sekeres centers his narrative on the controversial 2011 Avastin hearings, in which the FDA reconsidered and ultimately withdrew the breast cancer indication for Genentech’s Avastin drug. Having served on the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) tasked with making a recommendation to the FDA based on the hearings and clinical data, Sekeres provides a relatable personal account of the emotion-filled proceedings and the agonizing decision to withdraw approval of a beloved treatment option that never lived up to its promising initial results.

As he recounts his experience as an ODAC member, Sekeres skillfully weaves in historical references to various regulatory failures, including poisoned vaccines, opioid deaths, thalidomide-induced birth defects, and the woefully inadequate response to HIV/AIDS, which shaped the role of the FDA since its inception in 1930. Upon describing how the FDA developed its modern system of checks and balances to ensure drug safety, efficacy, and accessibility, Sekeres then illustrates how the Avastin hearings put all of these processes and values to the test. Among other things, Drugs and the FDA encourages readers to grapple with several important themes that pervade the agency’s decision-making process, including (1) the tension between drug safety and accessibility, (2) the relative weight of expert opinion versus patient autonomy, and (3) the role of democracy and transparency in drug regulation.

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Pregnant woman sitting across desk from doctor wearing scrubs and holding a pen

Excluding Pregnant People From Clinical Trials Reduces Patient Safety and Autonomy

By Jenna Becker

The exclusion of pregnant people from clinical trials has led to inequities in health care during pregnancy. Without clinical data, pregnant patients lack the drug safety evidence available to most other patients. Further, denying access to clinical trials denies pregnant people autonomy in medical decision-making.

Pregnant people still require pharmaceutical interventions after becoming pregnant. Until maternal health and autonomy is prioritized, pregnant people will be left to make medical decisions without real guidance.

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Genetic counselors, genetic interpreters, and conflicting interests

By Katie Stoll, Amanda Mackison, Megan Allyse, and Marsha Michie

The booming genetic testing industry has created many new job opportunities for genetic counselors. Within commercial laboratories, genetic counselors work in sales and marketing, variant interpretation, as “medical science liaisons” to clinicians, and providing direct patient care. Although the communication skills and genetics expertise of the genetic counselor prepare them well for these roles, they also raise concerns about conflicts of interest (COI).

Why are genetic counselors leaving clinics and hospitals for industry jobs? Alongside greater job flexibility and taking on new challenges, a big reason is better pay. Hospitals and clinics have difficulty competing with the higher salaries at commercial labs because of continuing challenges in insurance reimbursement. Apart from limited preventive care covered under the Affordable Care Act, genetic counseling is inconsistently covered by private payers. Medicaid reimbursement for genetic counseling is state-dependent, and Medicare does not recognize genetic counselors as reimbursable health care providers at all.

Genetic counselors’ primary objective has historically been to help patients navigate difficult medical genetic information and decisions, supporting their autonomy.  But as laboratory employees, they must also navigate their employer’s financial interests, including increasing the uptake of genetic testing. In this changing landscape, can the profession of genetic counseling maintain the bioethical principles of beneficence, informed consent, and respect for autonomy that have been its foundation and ethos? Read More