Showing posts with label Adam Feuerstein. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adam Feuerstein. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Waiver of Informed Consent - proposed changes in the 21st Century Cures Act

Adam Feuerstein points out - and expresses considerable alarm over - an overlooked clause in the 21st Century Cures Act:

In another tweet, he suggests that the act will "decimate" informed consent in drug trials. Subsequent responses and retweets  did nothing to clarify the situation, and if anything tended to spread, rather than address, Feuerstein's confusion.

Below is a quick recap of the current regulatory context and a real-life example of where the new wording may be helpful. In short, though, I think it's safe to say:

  1. Waiving informed consent is not new; it's already permitted under current regs
  2. The standards for obtaining a waiver of consent are stringent
  3. They may, in fact, be too stringent in a small number of situations
  4. The act may, in fact, be helpful in those situations
  5. Feuerstein may, in fact, need to chill out a little bit

(For the purposes of this discussion, I’m talking about drug trials, but I believe the device trial situation is parallel.)

Section 505(i) - the section this act proposes to amend - instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to propagate rules regarding clinical research. Subsection 4 addresses informed consent:

…the manufacturer, or the sponsor of the investigation, require[e] that experts using such drugs for investigational purposes certify to such manufacturer or sponsor that they will inform any human beings to whom such drugs, or any controls used in connection therewith, are being administered, or their representatives, that such drugs are being used for investigational purposes and will obtain the consent of such human beings or their representatives, except where it is not feasible or it is contrary to the best interests of such human beings.

[emphasis  mine]

Note that this section already recognizes situations where informed consent may be waived for practical or ethical reasons.

These rules were in fact promulgated under 45 CFR part 46, section 116. The relevant bit – as far as this conversation goes – regards circumstances under which informed consent might be fully or partially waived. Specifically, there are 4 criteria, all of which need to be met:

 (1) The research involves no more than minimal risk to the subjects;
 (2) The waiver or alteration will not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects;
 (3) The research could not practicably be carried out without the waiver or alteration; and
 (4) Whenever appropriate, the subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation.

In practice, this is an especially difficult set of criteria to meet for most studies. Criterion (1) rules out most “conventional” clinical trials, because the hallmarks of those trials (use of an investigational medicine, randomization of treatment, blinding of treatment allocation) are all deemed to be more than “minimal risk”. That leaves observational studies – but even many of these cannot clear the bar of criterion (3).

That word “practicably” is a doozy.

Here’s an all-too-real example from recent personal experience. A drug manufacturer wants to understand physicians’ rationales for performing a certain procedure. It seems – but there is little hard data – that a lot of physicians do not strictly follow guidelines on when to perform the procedure. So we devise a study: whenever the procedure is performed, we ask the physician to complete a quick form categorizing why they made their decision. We also ask him or her to transcribe a few pieces of data from the patient chart.

Even though the patients aren’t personally identifiable, the collection of medical data qualifies this as a clinical trial.

It’s a minimal risk trial, definitely: the trial doesn’t dictate at all what the doctor should do, it just asks him or her to record what they did and why, and supply a bit of medical context for the decision. All told, we estimated 15 minutes of physician time to complete the form.

The IRB monitoring the trial, however, denied our request for a waiver of informed consent, since it was “practicable” (not easy, but possible) to obtain informed consent from the patient.  Informed consent – even with a slimmed-down form – was going to take a minimum of 30 minutes, so the length of the physician’s involvement tripled. In addition, many physicians opted out of the trial because they felt that the informed consent process added unnecessary anxiety and alarm for their patients, and provided no corresponding benefit.

The end result was not surprising: the budget for the trial more than doubled, and enrollment was far below expectations.

Which leads to two questions:

1.       Did the informed consent appreciably help a single patient in the trial? Very arguably, no. Consenting to being “in” the trial made zero difference in the patients’ care, added time to their stay in the clinic, and possibly added to their anxiety.
2.       Was less knowledge collected as a result? Absolutely, yes. The sponsor could have run two studies for the same cost. Instead, they ultimately reduced the power of the trial in order to cut losses.

Bottom line, it appears that the modifications proposed in the 21st Century Cures Act really only targets trials like the one in the example. The language clearly retains criteria 1 and 2 of the current HHS regs, which are the most important from a patient safety perspective, but cuts down the “practicability” requirement, potentially permitting high quality studies to be run with less time and cost.

Ultimately, it looks like a very small, but positive, change to the current rules.

The rest of the act appears to be a mash-up of some very good and some very bad (or at least not fully thought out) ideas. However, this clause should not be cause for alarm.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Can a Form Letter from FDA "Blow Your Mind"?

Adam Feuerstein appears to be a generally astute observer of the biotech scene. As a finance writer, he's accosted daily with egregiously hyped claims from small drug companies and their investors, and I think he tends to do an excellent job of spotting cases where breathless excitement is unaccompanied by substantive information.

However, Feuerstein's healthy skepticism seems to have abandoned him last year in the case of a biotech called Sarepta Therapeutics, who released some highly promising - but also incredibly limited - data on their treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. After a disappointing interaction with the FDA, Sarepta's stock dropped, and Feuerstein appeared to realize that he'd lost some objectivity on the topic.

However, with the new year comes new optimism, and Feuerstein seems to be back to squinting hard at tea leaves - this time in the case of a form letter from the FDA.

He claims that the contents of the letter will "blow your mind". To him, the key passage is:

We understand that you feel that eteplirsen is highly effective, and may be confused by what you have read or heard about FDA's actions on eteplirsen. Unfortunately, the information reported in the press or discussed in blogs does not necessarily reflect FDA's position. FDA has reached no conclusions about the possibility of using accelerated approval for any new drug for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and for eteplirsen in particular.

Feuerstein appears to think that the fact that FDA "has reached no conclusions" may mean that it may be "changing its mind". To which he adds: "Wow!"
Adam Feuerstein: This time,
too much froth, not enough coffee?

I'm not sure why he thinks that. As far as I can tell, the FDA will never reach a conclusion like this before its gone through the actual review process. After all, if FDA already knows the answer before the full review, what would the point of the review even be? It would seem a tremendous waste of agency resources. Not to mention how non-level the playing field would be if some companies were given early yes/no decisions while others had to go through a full review.

It seems fair to ask: is this a substantive change by FDA review teams, or would it be their standard response to any speculation about whether and how they would approve or reject a new drug submission? Can Feuerstein point to other cases where FDA has given a definitive yes or no on an application before the application was ever filed? I suspect not, but am open to seeing examples.

A more plausible theory for this letter is that the FDA is attempting a bit of damage control. It is not permitted to share anything specific it said or wrote to Sarepta about the drug, and has come under some serious criticism for “rejecting” Sarepta’s Accelerated Approval submission. The agency has been sensitive to the DMD community, even going so far as to have Janet Woodcock and Bob Temple meet with DMD parents and advocates last February. Sarepta has effectively positioned FDA as the reason for it’s delay in approval, but no letters have actually been published, so the conversation has been a bit one-sided. This letter appears to be an attempt at balancing perspectives a bit, although the FDA is still hamstrung by its restriction on relating any specific communications.

Ultimately, this is a form letter that contains no new information: FDA has reached no conclusions because FDA is not permitted to reach conclusions until it has completed a fair and thorough review, which won't happen until the drug is actually submitted for approval.

We talk about "transparency" in terms of releasing clinical trials data, but to me there is a great case to be made for increase regulatory transparency. The benefits to routine publication of most FDA correspondence and meeting results (including such things as Complete Response letters, explaining FDA's thinking when it rejects new applications) would actually go a long way towards improving public understanding of the drug review and approval process.