By Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
The tragic Ebola epidemic is an extraordinary global public health crisis, and FDA is taking extraordinary steps to be proactive and flexible in our response – whether it’s providing advice on medical product development, authorizing the emergency use of new diagnostic tools, quickly enabling access to investigational therapies, or working on the front lines in West Africa.
FDA has an Ebola Task Force with wide representation from across FDA to coordinate our many activities. We are actively working with federal colleagues, the medical and scientific community, industry, and international organizations and regulators to help expedite the development and availability of medical products – such as treatments, vaccines, diagnostic tests, and personal protective equipment – with the potential to help bring the epidemic under control as quickly as possible.
These efforts include providing scientific and regulatory advice to commercial developers and U.S. government agencies that support medical product development, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department of Defense (DoD). The advice that FDA is providing is helping to accelerate product development programs.
Our medical product reviewers have been working tirelessly with sponsors to clarify regulatory requirements, provide input on manufacturing and pre-clinical and clinical trial designs, and expedite the regulatory review of data as it is received. FDA has been in contact with dozens of drug, vaccine, device, and diagnostic test developers, and we remain in contact with more than 20 sponsors that have possible products in pipeline.
We also have been collaborating with the World Health Organization and other international regulatory counterparts – including the European Medicines Agency, Health Canada, and others – to exchange information about investigational products for Ebola in support of international response efforts.
Investigational vaccines and treatments for Ebola are in the earliest stages of development and for most, there are only small amounts of some experimental products that have been manufactured for testing. For those in limited supply, there are efforts underway to increase their production so their safety and efficacy can be properly assessed in clinical trials.
As FDA continues to work to expedite medical product development, we strongly support the establishment of clinical trials, which is the most efficient way to show whether these new products actually work. In the meantime, we also will continue to enable access to investigational products when they are available and requested by clinicians, using expanded access mechanisms, also known as “compassionate use,” which allow access to such products outside of clinical trials when we assess that the expected benefits outweigh the potential risks for the patient.
In addition, under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) authority, we can allow the use of an unapproved medical product – or an unapproved use of an approved medical product – for a larger population during emergencies, when, among other reasons, based on scientific evidence available, there is no adequate, approved, and available alternative. To date, FDA has authorized the use of five diagnostic tests during this Ebola epidemic: one was developed by DoD, two were developed by CDC, and this week FDA issued EUAs for two new, quicker Ebola tests made by BioFire Defense.
To further augment diagnostic capacity, we have contacted several commercial developers that we know are capable of developing rapid diagnostic tests and have encouraged them to work with us to quickly develop and make available such tests. Several entities have expressed interest and have initiated discussions with FDA.
We also are monitoring for fraudulent products and false product claims related to the Ebola virus and taking appropriate action to protect consumers. To date, we have issued warning letters to three companies marketing products that claim to prevent, treat or cure infection by the Ebola virus, among other conditions. Additionally, we are carefully monitoring the personal protective equipment (PPE) supply chain to help ensure this essential equipment continues to be available to protect health care workers.
And at least 12 FDA employees are being deployed to West Africa as part of the Public Health Service’s team to help with medical care. We are proud that they are answering the call.
As you can see, FDA has been fully engaged in response activities and is using its authorities to the fullest extent possible to continue its mission to protect and promote the public health, both domestically and abroad. Our staff is fully committed to responding in the most proactive, thoughtful, and flexible manner to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
I could not be more proud of the dedication and leadership that the FDA staff involved in this response has shown. I therefore want to take this opportunity to thank more than 250 staff, including those soon to be on the ground in West Africa, who have already contributed countless hours to this important effort, and who will continue to do so in the coming days and weeks as we address this very serious situation. I am hopeful that our work and the coordinated global response will soon lead to the end of this epidemic and help reduce the risk of additional cases in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration