Received this article by e-mail and am passing it on.
Vice President of Public Affairs
Medical Device Manufacturers Association (MDMA)
I wanted to make sure you saw the front page story in yesterday’s New York Times' Business section detailing the challenges patients and innovators are having with FDA.
MDMA and others have been working on this story for several weeks, and we believe this story turned out well to show the real-world impact of unnecessary delays.
This is a very compelling piece and has received widespread attention in Congress and Washington media.
I would encourage you to pass this along to the local business and health care reporters in your community to ensure this important topic gets more exposure.
In addition, if your company utilizes social media, this would also be a great item to post and increase its visibility.
All the best,
Medical Treatment, Out of Reach
By ANDREW POLLACK
Late last year, Biosensors International, a medical device company, shut down its operation in Southern California, which had once housed 90 people, including the company’s top executives and researchers.
The reason, executives say, was that it would take too long to get its new cardiac stent approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“It’s available all over the world, including Mexico and Canada, but not in the United States,” said the chief executive, Jeffrey B. Jump, an American who runs the company from Switzerland. “We decided, let’s spend our money in China, Brazil, India, Europe.”
Medical device industry executives and investors are complaining vociferously these days that the industry’s competitive edge in the United States and overseas is being jeopardized by a heightened regulatory scrutiny.
The F.D.A., they and others say, appears to be reacting to criticism that its approvals for some products had been lax, leading to a spate of recalls of some unsafe medical devices, like implanted defibrillators and hip replacements.
Now, executives of device companies say the F.D.A. has gone too far in flexing its regulatory muscle, and they worry that a slower, tougher approval process in a weakened economy could chill investments and cripple innovation.
In addition, they say that American patients are being deprived of the latest technology because companies routinely seek approval for new devices in Europe first. For instance, heart valves that can be installed through a catheter instead of open-heart surgery have been available in Europe since 2007 but will not be available in the United States until late this year at the earliest.
“Ten years from now, we’ll all get on planes and fly somewhere to get treated,” said Jonathan MacQuitty, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with Abingworth Management.
Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., already has. She went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif.
“Sunnyvale is 40 miles south of my house,” said Ms. Conger, who has become an advocate for faster device approvals in the United States. “I had to go to England to get my surgery.”
Stenum Spine Hospital in Germany has performed disk surgery on 1,000 Americans over the last eight years, said Jim Rider, the hospital’s American marketing agent.
Acknowledging industry concerns, the F.D.A. on Tuesday proposed creating an “innovation pathway” aimed at speeding regulatory reviews of a small number of groundbreaking devices. And last month the agency announced measures it said would make the regulatory process more predictable for the vast majority of devices.
“A consistent and predictable review process will stimulate investment here at home and keep jobs from going overseas,” Dr. Jeffery Shuren, the director of the agency’s medical device division, told reporters.
But Dr. Shuren said the F.D.A. would not relax its standards, arguing that Europe’s system might be too lax. He said that a breast implant, a lung sealant and an implant for elbow fractures were approved in Europe but not in the United States, and then had to be taken off the market in Europe for safety reasons.
“We don’t use our people as guinea pigs in the U.S.,” he said
Medical device executives said they welcomed the steps, but continued to express concerns. Consumer advocates, like Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen, however, said that device regulation was already much less stringent than for drugs and that the F.D.A. was caving in to industry demands rather than ensuring consumer safety.
Dr. Charles Rosen, a spine surgeon who is also president of the Association for Medical Ethics, said that the newest devices were not always best. He said he had at least 50 patients who had suffered serious problems from an older artificial disk. Many of those patients, he said, had gone to Europe to get them before they were available in the United States.
Just since November, three reports — two sponsored by device industry trade groups and one conducted by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers — have raised concerns about the F.D.A. approval process. One report found that the rate of recalls in Europe was similar to that in the United States, suggesting faster approvals overseas were not hurting patients.
The complaints are driven in part by financial pressures. Venture capitalists, because of the financial crisis and their own poor returns, have less money and need quicker returns on their investments from the companies they back.
Bigger device companies also complain about the F.D.A., but not as much as struggling start-ups. “The F.D.A. is asking for larger trials, more thoughtful trials, all in the interest of the American public,” said Dr. Stephen N. Oesterle, senior vice president for medicine and technology at Medtronic.
To be sure, the United States remains the clear world leader in medical device innovation, according to the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Some 32 of the 46 medical technology companies with annual sales exceeding $1 billion are based in the United States, the report said.
Still, the report said the United States’ lead was slipping.
Device companies have been seeking early approval in Europe for years because it is easier. In Europe, a device must be shown to be safe, while in the United States it must also be shown to be effective in treating a disease or condition. And European approvals are handled by third parties, not a powerful central agency like the F.D.A.
But numerous device executives and venture capitalists said the F.D.A. has tightened regulatory oversight in the last couple of years. Not only does it take longer to get approval but it can take months or years to even begin a clinical trial necessary to gain approval.
Disc Dynamics made seven proposals over three years but could not get clearance from the F.D.A. to conduct a trial of its gel for spine repair, said David Stassen, managing partner of Split Rock Partners, a venture firm that backed the company. “It got to the point where the company just ran out of cash,” Mr. Stassen said. Disc Dynamics was shut down last year after an investment of about $65 million.
Dr. Shuren of the F.D.A. said the agency had concerns from preliminary studies that the material in the gel could cause cancer and that the gel would come out of the disk, requiring a new operation.
Some companies and investors are even contemplating forgoing the American market completely.
“We never intend to spend a nickel in the United States for clinical trials,” said William Starling, a venture capitalist who also runs Synecor, a device company incubator in North Carolina.
Mr. Starling is an investor in Spinal Kinetics, whose artificial disk was implanted in Ms. Conger in England.
The company began working with both the F.D.A. and European regulators in early 2005. It won approval in Europe in 2007 after testing its device in 30 patients and spending $4 million. Since then, thousands of the disks have been implanted.
Only last May did it receive approval for a final trial for F.D.A. approval that would involve about 250 patients. But hard-pressed investors are not willing for now to put up the $50 million or so the trial would cost, Mr. Starling said.
In the meantime, Spinal Kinetics is moving its manufacturing to Germany and has already laid off 20 people in Silicon Valley. One reason for the move, Mr. Starling said, was that some countries in Asia and Latin America allowed use of devices that have been approved in the country in which they are made. So moving manufacturing out of the United States opens up those markets.
Totally forsaking the lucrative American market could be difficult. While approval in Europe is easier, health care systems there tend to spend less on medical devices. Even if a device were approved, doctors in Europe might not use it if there was not enough data proving it really works.
Some companies, however, are trying to generate some sales in Europe in an effort to be acquired by a bigger company, which could then afford to deal with the F.D.A.
Dr. Shuren of the F.D.A. said in an interview that there had been “no conscious effort” to make device approvals tougher. “We are dealing with increasingly more complex devices coming to market,” he said.
But numerous executives say agency reviewers seem to be more cautious as Congress and others criticize the agency for being too lenient. Critics cited two recent examples: the DePuy hip implant recalled last year and an instance in which top agency officials approved a knee repair implant, made by ReGen Biologics, over the strenuous objections of their scientific reviewers.
Pharmaceutical executives are also complaining about how tough the F.D.A. has become. But they are not forsaking the American market, in part because there is not a big disparity in the regulatory system for drugs between the United States and Europe.
Some figures bear out a toughening in devices. The F.D.A. last year granted 19 premarket approvals — the type of clearance required for the most highly regulated devices — down from 48 in 2000.
The average time to win an approval through the less stringent 510(k) pathway, which is used for most devices, rose to 116 days in fiscal year 2008 from 97 days in fiscal year 2002. Agency figures show there have been increases in the proportion of applications sent back for questioning.
Investment by American venture capitalists in the medical device sector has fallen 37 percent since 2007 to $2.3 billion last year, according to the MoneyTree survey from PwC, the National Venture Capital Association and Thomson Reuters. That is steeper than the 27 percent drop for all venture capital investing.
Last year, total venture capital investing increased 19 percent while investment in medical devices fell 9 percent.
Vice President of Public Affairs
Medical Device Manufacturers Association
1350 I St, Suite 540
Washington, DC 20005