FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg has formed a top-level working group to propose strategies for enhancing agency functions and processes, starting with the relationship between FDA Centers and its field force. The Program Alignment Group (PAG), announced Sept. 6, 2013, will seek to clarify the roles and responsibilities of product centers and the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) to more effectively align practices, processes, and resources. The panel includes the deputy commissioners for food and veterinary medicine, for global regulatory operations and policy, plus the heads of ORA and all Centers to better coordinate inspection and oversight policies and programs throughout the agency.
Key issues are whether more specialization in FDA inspection and compliance functions would be beneficial, and how risk-based models and performance metrics may improve oversight and compliance outcomes. The agency also is looking for ways to achieve more efficient laboratory operations and to coordinate training for ORA and Center staffs.
Hamburg further explained at a conference on biomedical research the next week that her reorganization effort reflects the impact of a more globalized world for medical product development and production. Historically, ORA has fielded generalists able to inspect and evaluate a broad range of regulated products, but the modern era may require a more specialized regulatory staff. And while these issues have been addressed periodically by FDA Centers, including the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), the PAG will seek a more cohesive approach that considers the differences and needs of all regulated product areas.
CDER director Janet Woodcock, who is on the PAG, sees its mission paralleling her initiative to modernize how CDER regulates pharmaceutical quality. Woodcock seeks to establish an Office of Pharmaceutical Quality (OPQ), which similarly would coordinate drug compliance activities with ORA and take steps to clarify roles and responsibilities of CDER offices and to establish metrics and accountability.
At the PDA/FDA joint regulatory conference Sept. 16, Woodcock emphasized that CDER has to change the way it regulates industry to ensure an agile manufacturing sector that can reliably produce quality medicines, with less extensive agency oversight. One innovation would be to reorganize the review of the manufacturing portion of drug applications according to dosage forms and their predictable “failure modes.” Most product recalls, she noted, involve formulation design problems, such as particulates in parenterals and dissolution failures with solid oral products. This approach will involve setting clinically relative specifications and identifying what changes raise risks for drug safety and efficacy – and what do not.
The PAG is slated to give Hamburg an initial plan for operational changes by early December. And CDER hopes that OPQ will become a reality early next year, said Keith Webber, acting director of CDER’s Office of Pharmaceutical Science, at the PDA conference. The reorganization process is slow, as CDER’s OPQ proposal requires approval by HHS officials and has to be vetted by the Office of Management and Budget; some members of Congress also may want to review how the changes could affect drug shortages and patient access to medicines.