Friday, February 08, 2008

FDA-CMS Parallel Reviews: A Mixed Bag

Parallel reviews by the Food & Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services may be just around the corner.

According to a research note put out by Stanford Group’s David Blaszczak, Greg Frykman and Jan Wald earlier this week, the agencies are close to issuing a Federal Register notice that will solicit comments on a voluntary program that would allow a manufacturer to receive an approval from FDA and a national coverage decision from CMS at approximately the same time.

The idea for a parallel review process was first proposed after Mark McClellan left his post as commissioner of FDA to become administrator of CMS in 2004. Given his experience at the heads of both agencies, it seemed natural that McClellan would be interested in a closer relationship between FDA and CMS, but plans for a demonstration project were eventually scrapped.

Questions about whether the agencies were starting to work more closely together resurfaced during the erythropoietin safety debate. Rather than wait for FDA to conclude its safety review of EPO, CMS conducted a simultaneous assessment and issued a national coverage decision before FDA had reached a final conclusion on restricted labeling. We have covered that story extensively in The RPM Report; subscribers can click here and here to read all about it.

So what would parallel reviews mean for industry? The majority of manufacturers certainly won’t be pleased about the potential for FDA and CMS to work more closely together: the Stanford team notes that drug and biologic sponsors are likely to complain about a more extensive FDA review process, which could slow down drug approvals. Confidentiality is also likely to be a top complaint.

But industry’s queasiness also stems from a fear that parallel reviews could blur the line between two agencies with two very different missions: FDA’s review of safety and efficacy, and CMS’ determination of whether coverage is “reasonable and necessary.” Inevitably, the conversation turns to whether cost would start to become a factor in either decision—the same reason that most of industry remains uneasy about a national center on comparative effectiveness.

Since the proposed process would be voluntary, it’s likely most manufacturers won’t take advantage of it. But Stanford believes that “forward-thinking” companies should consider it, under the following circumstances:

• they have a potentially successful product anticipated for, or in registrational development,
• that is likely to cause a paradigm shift in the management of one or more serious and life-threatening diseases and;
• for which premium pricing is under internal consideration.

If nothing else, the proposal should serve as a reminder that sponsors should avoid waiting until after FDA approval to open coverage discussions with CMS. On the contrary, that exchange needs to take place early and often.

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