He reiterated that one of his top priorities is to focus on staffing. (He also mentioned that he has about 100 “top priorities.”) There’s an important connection. The FDA’s ability to be an innovation enabler is directly linked to the issue of staff. Not necessarily more staff (although more is certainly better), but staff that is permitted, encouraged, cajoled, urged, directed, educated, and rewarded for taking risks – especially outside oncology and orphan diseases.
It’s slow going. There was solid momentum in the creative thinking of divisional staff in the early days of the new millennium, the McClellan years. But this nascent trickle of “entrepreneurial regulation” hit treacle in the face of the Vioxx imbroglio. It was a battle worth fighting – and winning. The agency is still recovering.
The good news is the agency has come a long way back. New pathways for approval are on the books with some notable clinical successes. New thinking on clinical endpoints and biomarkers, the patient-focused drug development initiative (with the patient voice evolving from tellers-of-sad-stories to allies in clinical development), and more robust programs on quality and pharmacovigilance have infused some inside the FDA to think outside the regulatory box. But entrepreneurial regulation must be more than the “some” of its parts. Proposed legislation could help advance and encourage these and other initiatives but, as the Commissioner commented at the FDLI event, new laws mustn’t allow drugs to enter the market that don’t provide therapeutic benefit. Amen and words to the wise.
Embracing the risks of expedited pathways and other aspects of 21st century entrepreneurial regulation requires better internal agency communication, collaboration, and coordination. If victory in that realm becomes the Califf legacy, it would be a hugely important one for both the FDA and the public health. Success rests, as FDA Chief Counsel Liz Dickinson so eloquently phrased it, “on the infusion of new people and novel ideas.”
The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all. -- Jawaharlal Nehru