Over the past few weeks I have been covering some of “The Top 10 Regulatory Issues for Today’s Drug Developers” that keep me up at night. One is patient-focused drug development.
Last week, I looked at how advocacy groups, specifically Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), have made significant progress in introducing the patient voice into the drug development process. Read more. Today, I’ll cover Right to Try legislation and expanded access.
I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion about this topic with Pat Furlong, the Founding President and CEO of PPMD, along with Tim Franson, Chief Medical Officer at YourEncore. Here is some of that exchange:
Peter: How do you feel about Right to Try legislation and expanded access? Should language and deliverables for expanded access issues be in PDUFA VI?
Pat Furlong: Right to Try legislation is an outcry by the patient community to get some access some way, some how. The Right to Try bills I’ve read, are variable but in general have no real meat on them that give you the pathway to get what you’re looking for. There’s a lot left on the table that is not understood by the patient community.
That said, trials are so narrow. In the Duchenne space there was a study that used the six-minute walk test and invited anyone who was ambulatory and had the diagnosis. What we learned from that study is that the sort of sweet spot or area in which we can look at a sensitive measure are children who walk between 250 and 400 meters. Now, you can imagine if you were a parent in a disease where the child is diagnosed between four and six years old. He reaches a plateau at about seven or eight in terms of ambulation and then starts to lose those functions. By the time he’s 11 he’s off his feet. By the time he’s 13 or 14 he doesn’t move his arms. And dead by about 25. So if you’re a little boy, if you’re four years old, you can’t be in the study because it’s seven years and above. If you’re non-ambulatory or if you walk slower than 250 meters or faster than 400, you’re off the bus. And you can imagine being screened for a clinical trial and the physician says to you, “Your son walks too fast. Come back when he’s slower.” Knowing the trajectory of this illness and you say, “What? I’ll come back in six months when he’s slower?” Expanded access has to be on the table for these patients because they only have one opportunity.
Peter: Why do pharmas put these rules in place?
Pat Furlong: Companies are reluctant (to offer expanded access programs) because of the expense and because of the worry that it could negatively impact their study. What the Right to Try legislation represents is the importance of providing opportunities and access to patients in need. I think foundations could come in and work with companies if we can understand how they price drugs and be able to support safety studies to include a wider range of patients.
Tim Franson: FDA is not the problem with expanded access. We do have an opportunity perhaps to create new ways to approach the issues associated with expanded access. For rare diseases, what if you could promote all the companies contributing to a common placebo database so that you don’t have to replicate that with every trial? Then that’s good for the patients, that’s good for the development process, and it changes how we approach expanded access issues.
Perhaps, as part of the FDA’s current initiatives to enhance both the timeliness and weight of the patient voice, expanded access plan development and execution should involve patient organizations. Maybe it’s time to harness that power to make the process both more-inclusive and better.
Another issue that remains at-large is who pays for access to these unapproved drugs? What a company can charge is regulated (via draft guidance), but sometimes the drug company will bare all costs, other times some costs, and just as often it’s the patient who writes the check. And IRB and other related costs are often borne by the patient. Perhaps there’s a role for the Federal government. How about a fund that pays for access for any approved FDA expanded access IND or protocol?
All sides want the same thing -- expedited expanded access programs. But name-calling and bridge burning doesn't bring anyone closer together or experimental drugs to dying patients any faster. Let’s expedite access by enlarging the Expanded Access Ecosystem.
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Authored By: Peter J. Pitts is an authority on global regulatory issues and an Executive Partner at YourEncore. He is a former FDA Associate Commissioner, the Chief Regulatory Officer for Adherent Health Strategies, and the President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a policy institute he founded in 2004.