The Urban Myths of Expanded Access

  • by: |
  • 02/03/2015

Today, senior FDA officials and representatives from leading patient and health policy organizations are meeting in Washington, DC to discuss the urgent and contentious issues surrounding expanded access to investigational drugs.  Yesterday I keynoted the “Expanded Access Programs: New Models for Stakeholder Collaboration, Program Design, Supply Equity and Access for Investigation Drugs” conference. I was pleased to share the day with colleagues such as Richard Klein (Patient Liaison Program Director, FDA’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs) and Diane Dorman (Vice President for Public Policy at NORD).

The full program can be found at

Some points from the conference worth mentioning:

There is “therapeutic misinterpretation” of early scientific data resulting in some patients asking for access to investigational products based on mouse data! Patients see reporting of promising early data in places like USA Today and immediately call the FDA.

Better “expanded access IQ” isn’t just reserved for patients – but is also needed for physicians. Many doctors are unsure of just what there roles and responsibilities are relative to expanded access protocols. Is this even taught in medical school? And then there's the issue of physicans being concerned (and rightfully so given our litigious society)) about liability issues.

The urban myth that adverse events reported through expanded access programs derail the success of FDA approval is not supported by facts. Richard Klein repeatedly told the conference that (to his knowledge) there were no examples of this – and he’s contacted his FDA colleagues in search of such circumstances. Perhaps it’s time for industry to gather examples – if they, in fact, exist – and share them with the FDA as a tool to correct the problem.

Is “expanded access” even the right term to use? It means one thing in the US, and completely unrelated things in other countries. In the UK, for example, “expanded access” is a reimbursement strategy for approved products.

How can IRBs be restructured to expedite review rather than being a bottleneck?

In the words of the great health policy guru, Buffalo Springfield, There's something happening here / What it is ain't exactly clear.

Perhaps, as part of the FDA’s current initiatives to enhance both the timeliness and weight of the patient voice, expanded access plan development and execution should involve patient organizations. Maybe it’s time to harness that power to make the process both more-inclusive and better.

Another issue that remains at-large is who pays for access to these unapproved drugs? What a company can charge is regulated (via draft guidance), but sometimes the drug company will bare all costs, other times some costs, and just as often it’s the patient who writes the check. And IRB and other related costs are often borne by the patient. Perhaps there’s a role for the Federal government.

How about a fund that pays for access for any approved FDA expanded access IND or protocol? I propose that this issue should be a key part of the pending 21st Century Cures legislation being drafted by Representative Fred Upton, the Chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and by Senator Lamar Alexander in the Senate.

All sides want the same thing -- expedited expanded access programs. But name-calling and bridge burning doesn't bring anyone closer together or experimental drugs to dying patients any faster.

Let’s expedite access by enlarging the Expanded Access Ecosystem.

My complete keynote remarks (including commentary on Abigail Alliance v. von Eschenbach and the Right-to-Try debate can be found here.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog