Real World Evidence: Times They Are a (Slowly) Changin'

August 2, 2016 Peter J. Pitts


Per the FDA’s PDUFA VI "commitment letter," the agency will face some real world deadlines to advance the use of real world evidence. But, since we’re dealing with the real world, let’s get real – guidance is unlikely until the end of 2022 at the earliest. (That's the timeline agreed to via the PDUFA VI negotiations.)

Step One towards these new 21st century rules of the regulatory road will be a series of public meetings and regulatory workshops. It will be curious to see who shows up at the table.

PDUFA VI User fees will support agency policy development in the area, and FDA has pledged to meet the following benchmarks:

  • End of FY 2018 – Convene one or more public workshops with key stakeholders, including patients, biopharmaceutical companies, and academia, to gather input into issues related to real world evidence (RWE) use in regulatory decision-making.

  • End of FY 2019 – Initiate (or fund by contract) appropriate activities (e.g., pilot studies or methodology development projects) aimed at addressing key outstanding concerns and considerations in the use of RWE for regulatory decision-making.

  • End of FY 2021 – Publish draft guidance on how RWE can contribute to the assessment of safety and effectiveness in regulatory submissions, for example in the approval of new supplemental indications and for the fulfillment of post-marketing commitments and requirements. FDA will work toward the goal of publishing a revised draft or final guidance within 18 months after the close of the public comment period.

Ground Zero for a real-world evidence regulatory pathway will be Sentinel, the existing public/private program aimed that uses a variety of databases to track, collect and analyze adverse event reports about drugs, vaccines and medical devices.

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Modeled after successful programs such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Safety Datalink, Sentinel allows FDA to conduct safety surveillance by actively querying diverse data sources, primarily administrative and insurance claims databases but also data from electronic health record (EHR) systems, to evaluate possible medical product safety issues quickly and securely.

Sentinel, mandated under the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA), will get a $50m boost over five years under PDUFA VI. Sentinel currently has information on over 100 million patients.

Similarly, efforts are underway to establish a National Device Evaluation System (NDES). As currently envisioned, the NDES would be established through strategic alliances and shared governance. The system would build upon and leverage information from electronic real-world data sources, such as data gathered through routine clinical practice in device registries, claims data, and EHRs, with linkages activated among specific data sources as appropriate to address specific questions.

As FDA Commissioner Rob Califf and Deputy Commissioner Rachel Sherman recently commented:

"Creating knowledge requires the application of proven analytical methods and techniques to biomedical data in order to produce reliable conclusions … There must be a common approach to how data is presented, reported and analyzed and strict methods for ensuring patient privacy and data security… Rules of engagement must be transparent and developed through a process that builds consensus across the relevant ecosystem and its stakeholders … To ensure support across a diverse ecosystem that often includes competing priorities and incentives, the system’s output must be intended for the public good and be readily accessible to all stakeholders."

When it comes to the regulatory science of real world evidence, we are still in early days, but the times they are a changin.’ (And you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone.)

This article originally appeared on and is shared here with permission.

Peter J. Pitts  is an authority on global regulatory policy 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.

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