In May, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, along with Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg "to express significant concern about [FDA's] use of draft guidances to make substantive policy changes." The letter notes that draft guidances are becoming default FDA policy, notwithstanding that they are issued for comment purposes only. Moreover, draft guidances are not revised, finalized, or withdrawn in a timely manner.
Additionally, as previously reported, draft guidances often are the only information that the medical community, FDA-regulated entities, and FDA review staff may have on the agency's current position on important issues. Stakeholders feel constrained by the policy positions laid out in draft guidance, even (or perhaps especially) when those positions are inconsistent with consensus within the biomedical community-a fourth concern of the senators. In its September 2012 Report to the President On Propelling Innovation In Drug Discovery, Development, and Evaluation, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended, among other things, that the FDA rely on-and reflect the consensus of-the scientific community in developing and revising guidances. Despite this recommendation, however, the senators cited recent draft guidances by the FDA that did not incorporate recommendations by the international scientific community.
The letter requests FDA to respond to the following information requests and questions:
1. A list of all Level I Draft Guidances, including the date issued, and the timeline with which you plan to withdraw, revise, or finalize each guidance.
2. An update on Agency-wide activities to implement the "best practices" to make the finalization of guidance more efficient and expeditious, as discussed in the 2011 report Food and Drug Administration Report on Good Guidance Practices: Improving Efficiency and Transparency.
3. Have you implemented the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommendation to rely more on the biomedical community in help developing and revising guidances, and if so, could you provide examples of specific guidances?
4. For the guidances still in draft form, how do you ensure your staff does not follow the guidance in the absence of any other policy or final guidance?
5. What is the average amount of time in calendar days that the FDA has taken to finalize draft guidances in the last five years? What is the range?
Because these are all minority members on the HELP committee it will be interesting to see if the FDA ever responded to their requests.