Many proposals to accelerate and improve medical product innovation and regulation focus on reforming the product development and regulatory review processes that occur before drugs and devices get to market. While important, such proposals alone do not fully recognize the broader opportunities that exist to learn more about the safety and effectiveness of drugs and devices after approval. As drugs and devices begin to be used in larger and more diverse populations and in more personalized clinical combinations, evidence from real-world use during routine patient care is increasingly important for accelerating innovation and improving regulation.
First, further evidence development from medical product use in large populations can allow providers to better target and treat individuals, precisely matching the right drug or device to the right patients. As genomic sequencing and other diagnostic technologies continue to improve, postmarket evidence development is critical to assessing the full range of genomic subtypes, comorbidities, patient characteristics and preferences, and other factors that may significantly affect the safety and effectiveness of drugs and devices. This information is often not available or population sizes are inadequate to characterize such subgroup differences in premarket randomized controlled trials.
Second, improved processes for generating postmarket data on medical products are necessary for fully realizing the intended effect of premarket reforms that expedite regulatory approval. The absence of a reliable postmarket system to follow up on potential safety or effectiveness issues means that potential signals or concerns must instead be addressed through additional premarket studies or through one-off postmarket evaluations that are more costly, slower, and likely to be less definitive than would be possible through a better-established infrastructure. As a result, the absence of better systems for generating postmarket evidence creates a barrier to more extensive use of premarket reforms to promote innovation.
These issues can be addressed through initiatives that combine targeted premarket reforms with postmarket steps to enhance innovation and improve evidence on safety and effectiveness throughout the life cycle of a drug or device. The ability to routinely capture clinically relevant electronic health data within our health care ecosystem is improving, increasingly allowing electronic health records, payer claims data, patient-reported data, and other relevant data to be leveraged for further research and innovation in care. Recent legislative proposals released by the House of Representatives’ 21st Century Cures effort acknowledge and seek to build on this progress in order to improve medical product research, development, and use. The initial Cures discussion draft included provisions for better, more systematic reporting of and access to clinical trials data; for increased access to Medicare claims data for research; and for FDA to promulgate guidance on the sources, analysis, and potential use of so-called Real World Evidence. These are potentially useful proposals that could contribute valuable data and methods to advancing the development of better treatments.
What remains a gap in the Cures proposals, however, is a more systematic approach to improving the availability of postmarket evidence. Such a systematic approach is possible now. Biomedical researchers and health care plans and providers are doing more to collect and analyze clinical and outcomes data. Multiple independent efforts – including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Sentinel Initiative for active postmarket drug safety surveillance, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s PCORnet for clinical effectiveness studies, the Medical Device Epidemiology Network (MDEpiNet) for developing better methods and medical device registries for medical device surveillance and a number of dedicated, product-specific outcomes registries – have demonstrated the potential for large-scale, systematic postmarket data collection. Building on these efforts could provide unprecedented evidence on how medical products perform in the real-world and on the course of underlying diseases that they are designed to treat, while still protecting patient privacy and confidentiality.
These and other postmarket data systems now hold the potential to contribute to public-private collaboration for improved population-based evidence on medical products on a wider scale. Action in the Cures initiative to unlock this potential will enable the legislation to achieve its intended effect of promoting quicker, more efficient development of effective, personalized treatments and cures.
What follows is a set of both short- and long-term proposals that would bolster the current systems for postmarket evidence development, create new mechanisms for generating postmarket data, and enable individual initiatives on evidence development to work together as part of a broad push toward a truly learning health care system.