Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Hamburg’

Consumer Market for Personal DNA Sequencing: Part 4

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD RN

FDA Warning for the Leader of Consumer Market for Personal DNA Sequencing Part 4

Word Cloud by Daniel Menzin

This Part 4 of the series on Present and Future Frontier of Research in Genomics has been 

UPDATED on 12/6/2013

23andMe Suspends Health Interpretations

December 06, 2013

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe hasstopped offering its health-related test to new customers, bringing it in line with a request from the US Food and Drug Administration.

In letter sent on Nov. 22, FDA said that 23andMe had not adequately responded to its concerns regarding the validity of their Personal Genome Service. The letter instructed 23andMe to “immediately discontinue marketing” the service until it receives authorization from the agency.

According to a post at the company’s blog from CEO Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe customers who purchased their kits on or after Nov. 22 “will not have access to health-related results.” They will, though, have access to ancestry information and their raw genetic data. Wojcicki notes that the customers may have access to the health interpretations in the future depending on FDA marketing authorization. Those customers are also being offered a refund.

Customers who purchased their kits before Nov. 22 will have access to all reports.

“We remain firmly committed to fulfilling our long-term mission to help people everywhere have access to their own genetic data and have the ability to use that information to improve their lives,” a notice at the 23andMe site says.

In a letter appearing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote that the agency “supports the development of innovative tests.” As an example, she pointed to its recent clearance of sequencing-based testsfrom Illumina.

She added that the agency also understands that some consumers do want to know more about their genomes and their genetic risk of disease, and that a DTC model would let consumers take an active role in their health.

“The agency’s desire to review these particular tests is solely to ensure that they are safe, do what they claim to do and that the results are communicated in a way that a consumer can understand,” Hamburg said.

In a statement, 23andMe’s Wojcicki says that the company remains committed to its ethos of allowing people access to their genetic information. “Our goal is to work cooperatively with the FDA to provide that opportunity in a way that clearly demonstrates the benefit to people and the validity of the science that underlies the test,” Wojcicki adds.


UPDATED on 11/27/2013

FDA Tells Google-Backed 23andMe to Halt DNA Test Service



FDA Letter to 23andME

Department of Health and Human Services logoDepartment of Health and Human Services

Public Health Service
Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Nov 22, 2013

Ann Wojcicki
23andMe, Inc.
1390 Shoreline Way
Mountain View, CA 94043
Document Number: GEN1300666
Re: Personal Genome Service (PGS)
Dear Ms. Wojcicki,
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is sending you this letter because you are marketing the 23andMe Saliva Collection Kit and Personal Genome Service (PGS) without marketing clearance or approval in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act).
This product is a device within the meaning of section 201(h) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 321(h), because it is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or is intended to affect the structure or function of the body. For example, your company’s website at http://www.23andme.com/health (most recently viewed on November 6, 2013) markets the PGS for providing “health reports on 254 diseases and conditions,” including categories such as “carrier status,” “health risks,” and “drug response,” and specifically as a “first step in prevention” that enables users to “take steps toward mitigating serious diseases” such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, and breast cancer. Most of the intended uses for PGS listed on your website, a list that has grown over time, are medical device uses under section 201(h) of the FD&C Act. Most of these uses have not been classified and thus require premarket approval or de novo classification, as FDA has explained to you on numerous occasions.
Some of the uses for which PGS is intended are particularly concerning, such as assessments for BRCA-related genetic risk and drug responses (e.g., warfarin sensitivity, clopidogrel response, and 5-fluorouracil toxicity) because of the potential health consequences that could result from false positive or false negative assessments for high-risk indications such as these. For instance, if the BRCA-related risk assessment for breast or ovarian cancer reports a false positive, it could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist. Assessments for drug responses carry the risks that patients relying on such tests may begin to self-manage their treatments through dose changes or even abandon certain therapies depending on the outcome of the assessment. For example, false genotype results for your warfarin drug response test could have significant unreasonable risk of illness, injury, or death to the patient due to thrombosis or bleeding events that occur from treatment with a drug at a dose that does not provide the appropriately calibrated anticoagulant effect. These risks are typically mitigated by International Normalized Ratio (INR) management under a physician’s care. The risk of serious injury or death is known to be high when patients are either non-compliant or not properly dosed; combined with the risk that a direct-to-consumer test result may be used by a patient to self-manage, serious concerns are raised if test results are not adequately understood by patients or if incorrect test results are reported.
Your company submitted 510(k)s for PGS on July 2, 2012 and September 4, 2012, for several of these indications for use. However, to date, your company has failed to address the issues described during previous interactions with the Agency or provide the additional information identified in our September 13, 2012 letter for(b)(4) and in our November 20, 2012 letter for (b)(4), as required under 21 CFR 807.87(1). Consequently, the 510(k)s are considered withdrawn, see 21 C.F.R. 807.87(1), as we explained in our letters to you on March 12, 2013 and May 21, 2013.  To date, 23andMe has failed to provide adequate information to support a determination that the PGS is substantially equivalent to a legally marketed predicate for any of the uses for which you are marketing it; no other submission for the PGS device that you are marketing has been provided under section 510(k) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360(k).
The Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health (OIR) has a long history of working with companies to help them come into compliance with the FD&C Act. Since July of 2009, we have been diligently working to help you comply with regulatory requirements regarding safety and effectiveness and obtain marketing authorization for your PGS device. FDA has spent significant time evaluating the intended uses of the PGS to determine whether certain uses might be appropriately classified into class II, thus requiring only 510(k) clearance or de novo classification and not PMA approval, and we have proposed modifications to the device’s labeling that could mitigate risks and render certain intended uses appropriate for de novo classification. Further, we provided ample detailed feedback to 23andMe regarding the types of data it needs to submit for the intended uses of the PGS.  As part of our interactions with you, including more than 14 face-to-face and teleconference meetings, hundreds of email exchanges, and dozens of written communications, we provided you with specific feedback on study protocols and clinical and analytical validation requirements, discussed potential classifications and regulatory pathways (including reasonable submission timelines), provided statistical advice, and discussed potential risk mitigation strategies. As discussed above, FDA is concerned about the public health consequences of inaccurate results from the PGS device; the main purpose of compliance with FDA’s regulatory requirements is to ensure that the tests work.
However, even after these many interactions with 23andMe, we still do not have any assurance that the firm has analytically or clinically validated the PGS for its intended uses, which have expanded from the uses that the firm identified in its submissions. In your letter dated January 9, 2013, you stated that the firm is “completing the additional analytical and clinical validations for the tests that have been submitted” and is “planning extensive labeling studies that will take several months to complete.” Thus, months after you submitted your 510(k)s and more than 5 years after you began marketing, you still had not completed some of the studies and had not even started other studies necessary to support a marketing submission for the PGS. It is now eleven months later, and you have yet to provide FDA with any new information about these tests.  You have not worked with us toward de novo classification, did not provide the additional information we requested necessary to complete review of your 510(k)s, and FDA has not received any communication from 23andMe since May. Instead, we have become aware that you have initiated new marketing campaigns, including television commercials that, together with an increasing list of indications, show that you plan to expand the PGS’s uses and consumer base without obtaining marketing authorization from FDA.
Therefore, 23andMe must immediately discontinue marketing the PGS until such time as it receives FDA marketing authorization for the device. The PGS is in class III under section 513(f) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 360c(f). Because there is no approved application for premarket approval in effect pursuant to section 515(a) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 360e(a), or an approved application for an investigational device exemption (IDE) under section 520(g) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 360j(g), the PGS is adulterated under section 501(f)(1)(B) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. 351(f)(1)(B).  Additionally, the PGS is misbranded under section 502(o) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 352(o), because notice or other information respecting the device was not provided to FDA as required by section 510(k) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360(k).
Please notify this office in writing within fifteen (15) working days from the date you receive this letter of the specific actions you have taken to address all issues noted above. Include documentation of the corrective actions you have taken. If your actions will occur over time, please include a timetable for implementation of those actions. If corrective actions cannot be completed within 15 working days, state the reason for the delay and the time within which the actions will be completed. Failure to take adequate corrective action may result in regulatory action being initiated by the Food and Drug Administration without further notice. These actions include, but are not limited to, seizure, injunction, and civil money penalties.
We have assigned a unique document number that is cited above. The requested information should reference this document number and should be submitted to:
James L. Woods, WO66-5688
Deputy Director
Patient Safety and Product Quality
Office of In vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health
10903 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20993
If you have questions relating to this matter, please feel free to call Courtney Lias, Ph.D. at 301-796-5458, or log onto our web site at www.fda.gov for general information relating to FDA device requirements.
Sincerely yours,
Alberto Gutierrez
Office of In vitro Diagnostics
and Radiological Health
 Center for Devices and Radiological Health



Cancer Diagnostics by Genomic Sequencing: ‘No’ to Sequencing Patient’s DNA, ‘No’ to Sequencing Patient’s Tumor, ‘Yes’ to focus on Gene Mutation Aberration & Analysis of Gene Abnormalities



Personal Genetics: An Intersection Between Science, Society, and Policy

Saturday, February 16, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM

Room 203 (Hynes Convention Center)

On 26 June 2000, scientists announced the completion of a rough draft of the human genome, the result of the $3 billion publicly funded Human Genome Project. In the decade since, the cost of genome sequencing has plummeted, coinciding with the development of deep sequencing technologies and allowing, for the first time, personalized genetic medicine. The advent of personal genetics has profound implications for society that are only beginning to be discussed, even as the technologies are rapidly maturing and entering the market. This symposium will focus on how the genomic revolution may affect our society in coming years and how best to reach out to the general public on these important issues. How has the promise of genomics, as stated early in the last decade, matched the reality we observe today? What are the new promises — and pitfalls — of genomics and personal genetics as of 2013? What are the ethical implications of easy and inexpensive human genome sequencing, particularly with regard to ownership and control of genomic datasets, and what stakeholder interests must be addressed? How can the scientific community engage with the public at large to improve understanding of the science behind these powerful new technologies? The symposium will comprise three 15-minute talks from representatives of relevant sectors (academia/education, journalism, and industry), followed by a 45-minute panel discussion with the speakers.


Peter Yang, Harvard University


Brenna Krieger, Harvard University

and Kevin Bonham, Harvard University


James Thornton, Harvard University



Ting Wu, Harvard University

Personal Genetics and Education

Mary Carmichael, Boston Globe

The Media and the Personal Genetics Revolution

Brian Naughton, 23andMe Inc.

Commercialization of Personal Genomics: Promise and Potential Pitfalls

Mira Irons, Children’s Hospital Boston

Personal Genomic Medicine: How Physicians Can Adapt to a Genomic World

Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University

Citizenship and the Personal Genomics

Jonathan Gitlin, National Human Genome Research Institute

Personal Genomics and Science Policy


How to Tailor Cancer Therapy to the particular Genetics of a patient’s Cancer

‘No’ to Sequencing Patient’s DNA, ‘No’ to Sequencing Patient’s Tumor, ‘Yes’ to focus on Gene Mutation Aberration & Analysis of Gene Abnormalities PRESENTED in the following FOUR PARTS. Recommended to be read in its entirety for completeness and arrival to the End Point of Present and Future Frontier of Research in Genomics

Part 1:

Research Paradigm Shift in Human Genomics – Predictive Biomarkers and Personalized Medicine


Part 2:

LEADERS in the Competitive Space of Genome Sequencing of Genetic Mutations for Therapeutic Drug Selection in Cancer Personalized Treatment


Part 3:

Personalized Medicine: An Institute Profile – Coriell Institute for Medical Research


Part 4:

The Consumer Market for Personal DNA Sequencing


Part 4:

The Consumer Market for Personal DNA Sequencing

How does 23andMe genotype my DNA?

Technology and Standards

23andMe is a DNA analysis service providing information and tools for individuals to learn about and explore their DNA. We use the Illumina OmniExpress Plus Genotyping BeadChip (shown here). In addition to the variants already included on the chip by Illumina, we’ve included our own, customized set of variants relating to conditions and traits that are interesting. Technical information on the performance of the chip can be found on Illumina’s website.

All of the laboratory testing for 23andMe is done in a CLIA-certified laboratory.

Once our lab receives your sample, DNA is extracted from cheek cells preserved in your saliva. The lab then copies the DNA many times — a process called “amplification” — growing the tiny amount extracted from your saliva until there is enough to be genotyped.

In order to be genotyped, the amplified DNA is “cut” into smaller pieces, which are then applied to our DNA chip, a small glass slide with millions of microscopic “beads” on its surface (read more about this technology). Each bead is attached to a “probe”, a bit of DNA that matches one of the approximately one million genetic variants that we test. The cut pieces of your DNA stick to the matching DNA probes. A fluorescent signal on each probe provides information that can tell us which version of that genetic variant your DNA corresponds to.

Although the human genome is estimated to contain about 10-30 million genetic variants, many of them are correlated due to their proximity to each other. Thus, one genetic variant is often representative of many nearby variants, and the approximately one million variants on our genotyping chip provide very good coverage of common variation across the entire genome.

Our research team has also hand-picked tens of thousands of additional genetic variants linked to various conditions and traits in the scientific literature to analyze on our genotyping chip. As a result we can provide you with personal genetic information available only through 23andMe.

Genetics service 23andMe announced some new cash in the bank today with a $50 million raise from Yuri Milner, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, Google’s Sergey Brin (who also happens to be Wojcicki’s husband), New Enterprise Associates, MPM Capital, and Google Ventures.

With today’s new funding also comes the reduction of the price of its genome analysis service to $99. This isn’t special holiday pricing (as 23andMe has run repeatedly in the past) the company tells me, but rather what its normal pricing will be from now on.

This move is overdue, at least as far as 23andMe’s business model is concerned. Just yesterday TechCrunch Conference Chair Susan Hobbs told me she was waiting for another $99 pricing deal to buy the Personal Genome Analysis product. Sure 23andMe has experimented with various pricing models, including subscription, since its founding in 2007, but had been at an official and prohibitive $299 price point until today. It’s also apparently been rigorously beta-testing various price points in the past couple of weeks, at some point experimenting with some lower than $99.

For comparison, the company’s original pricing began at $999 and offered subscribers just 14 health and trait reports versus today’s 244 reports, as well as genetic ancestry information. Natera, Counsyl and Pathway Genomics are also in the genomics space, but they work by offering their services through doctors rather than direct to consumer.

Since the company’s launch five years ago, it’s had 180K civilians profile their DNA, and representative Catherine Afarian tells us that, post-price drop and funding, its goal is to reach a million customers in 2013. This is a supremely ambitious goal considering it wants to turn an average user acquisition rate of 36K per year into one of 820K in one year alone.

But Afarian isn’t fazed and brings up how the company once sold out 20k in $99 account inventory on something called “DNA Day.” “Once we can offer the service at $99 it means the average American will buy in,” she said.

That $299 was too pricey, according to Hobbs, but $99 might be just right. She said the $99 price point, which yes, is less than an iPhone, was the main factor in her decision to buy in. “23andMe is more ‘nice-to-know’ information rather than ‘need-to-know’ information. It’s nice to know your ancestry. It’s more of a need to know that you are predisposed genetically for a type of cancer, so that you may take precautionary measures,” she said, implying that the data given by 23andMe isn’t necessarily vital medical information, or actionable when it is. While 23andMe can give you indicators about certain disease risks, it doesn’t close the loop, as in tell you what to do to prevent these diseases.

“Its [utility] depends on your genetic data,” said Afarian when I asked her about the usefulness of the product. “If you’ve got a Factor 5 that puts you at risk for clotting, you might want to invest in anti-clotting socks. [And] there’s always something about themselves that people didn’t know.”

Hobbs said eventually that she wouldn’t buy it, but only because she was looking into more exact lineage information for her little girl, and you need a Y chromosome in all DNA tests to show paternal lineage. Afarian also countered this hesitation, saying that what makes 23andMe unique is that it’s not only looking at just your Y or your mitochondrial DNA, but also your autosomal DNA, which does show some patrilineal information for females who lack that precious Y.

While still sort of a novelty, the potential for 23andMe goes beyond lineage and hopefully that extra $50 million will go further than keeping the price low and into research. The company hopes that a million users will result in a giant database of 23andWe genetic info that can be used to spot trends, like which genes mean a higher risk of diabetes/cancer, etc. Which is great if it happens but for now remains a pipe dream for 23andMe/We.


12/13/2012 @ 5:23PM |6,471 views

What Is 23andMe Really Selling: The Moral Quandary At The Center Of The Personalized Genomics Revolution

This week, 23andme, the personalized genomics company founded by Anne Wojcicki, wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, got an influx of investment cash ($50 million). According to their press release, they are using the money to bring the cost of their genetic test down to $99 (it was previously $299) which, they hope, will inspire the masses to get tested.

So should the masses indulge?

I prefer a quantified self approach to this question. At the heart of the quantified self-movement lies a very simple idea: metrics make us better. For devotees, this means “self-tracking,” using everything from the Nike fuel band to the Narcissism Personality Index to gather large quantities of personal data and—the bigger idea—use that data to improve performance.

If you consider that performance suffers when health suffers then a genetic test can been seen as a kind of metric used to improve performance. This strikes me as the best way to evaluate this idea and leads us to ask the same question about personalized genomics that the quantified self movement asks about every other metric: will it improve performance.

Arguments rage all over the place on this one, but the short answer is that SNP tests—which is the kind of DNA scan 23andme relies upon— don’t tell us all that much (yet).  They analyze a million genes out of three billion total and the impact those million play in long term-health outcomes is still in dispute. For example, the nature/nurture split is normally viewed at 30/70—meaning environmental factors play a far more significant role in long-term health outcomes than genetics.

Moreover, all of the performance metrics used by the quantified self movement are used to for behavior modification—to drive self-improvement. Personalized genomics isn’t there yet. As Stanford University’s Nobel Prize-winning RNA researcher Andy Fire once told me, “if someone off the street is looking for pointers on how to live a healthier life, there’s nothing these tests will tell you besides basic physician advice like ‘eat right, don’t smoke and get plenty of exercise.’”

And even with more well-regarded SNP tests, like the ones that examine the BRCA 1 and 2 markers for breast cancer—which  . NYU Langone Medical Center bioethicist Arthur Caplan explains it like this, “Say you test positive for a breast cancer disposition—then what are you going to do? The only preventative step you can take is to chop off your breasts.”

So if prevention is not available the only thing left is fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, in the past few decades, there have been hundreds of studies linking stress to everything from immunological disorders to heart disease to periodonitic troubles. So while finding out you may be at risk for Parkinson’s may make you feel informed, that knowledge isn’t going to stop you from developing the disease—but the resulting stress may contribute to a host of other complications.

This brings up a different question: if personalized genomics can’t yet help us much and could possibly hurt us—where’s the upside?

Turns out there’s a big upside: Citizen science. SNP tests are not yet viable because we need more info. 23andme talks about the “power of one million people,” meaning, if one million take these tests then the resulting genetic database could lead to big research breakthroughs and these could lead to all sorts of health/performance improvements.

This is what 23andme is really selling for $99 bucks a pop—a crowdsourced shot at unraveling a few more DNA mysteries.

And this also means that the question at the heart of the personalized genomics industry is not about metrics at all—it’s about morals: Should I risk my health for the greater good?


You can browse your data for all of the variants we test using the Browse Raw Data feature, or download your data here.

before you buy (59) »

What unexpected things might I learn?

How does 23andMe genotype my DNA?

Can I use the saliva collection kit for infants and toddlers?

getting started (20) »

When and how do I get my data?

How do I collect saliva samples?

How long will it take for my sample to reach the lab?

account/profile settings (20) »

Which Ancestry setting in My Profile should I choose?

How do I use Browse Raw Data?

What do the options under the “Account” link in the upper right-hand corner control?

product features (145) »

I know that a particular person is my relative. What’s the probability that we share a sufficient amount of DNA to be detected by Relative Finder?

What is the average percent DNA shared for different types of cousins?

How does Relative Finder estimate the Predicted Relationship?

research initiatives (8) »

What do I get in return for taking surveys?

What is your research goal?

What is 23andMe Research?








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Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN



Ethical Considerations in Studying Drug Safety — The Institute of Medicine Report

Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., Steven N. Goodman, M.D., M.H.S., Ph.D., and Ruth R. Faden, Ph.D., M.P.H.

August 22, 2012 (10.1056/NEJMhle1207160)

The tumult arising from revelations of serious safety risks associated with widely prescribed drugs, including rosiglitazone (Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline), rofecoxib (Vioxx, Merck), and celecoxib (Celebrex, Pfizer), has led to widespread recognition that improvement is needed in our national system of ensuring drug safety. Notwithstanding federal legislation in 2007 that strengthened the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the postmarketing period,1 critical weaknesses in the national system persist.

Central to these weaknesses are dilemmas surrounding not only the science but also the ethics of drug-safety research,2 many of which came to the fore in the heated public debate about the Thiazolidinedione Intervention with Vitamin D Evaluation (TIDE) trial, which compared the cardiovascular outcomes of long-term treatment with rosiglitazone with those of pioglitazone (Actos, Takeda) in patients with type 2 diabetes.3 At the request of the FDA, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee, on which we served, was convened to examine the ethics and science of FDA-required postmarketing safety research. In this article, we review the key ethics findings from the committee’s May 1, 2012, report4 and offer some reflections on the challenges ahead.


In May 2008, the FDA ordered the manufacturer of rosiglitazone, GlaxoSmithKline, to conduct a trial in response to evidence from meta-analyses that rosiglitazone was associated with a higher risk of myocardial infarction and death from cardiovascular causes than placebo or medications that were not based on nonthiazolidinedione comparators.5,6 Other studies suggested that pioglitazone, an alternative thiazolidinedione, was not associated with such risks.7,8 Before enrollment began, some argued that the evidence of the inferior safety of rosiglitazone was strong enough to make the trial ethically unjustifiable. Two FDA epidemiologists wrote in a 2008 memorandum that a head-to-head trial “would be unethical and exploitative” and that even a robust informed-consent process could not overcome the problem.9 This was not the consensus FDA view, which was that the uncertainty regarding the cardiovascular risks associated with rosiglitazone, as well as those associated with pioglitazone, was sufficient to justify a trial.10

These concerns triggered a February 2010 letter from members of Congress to the FDA demanding a justification for the trial and alleging that the consent form did not provide adequate risk information.11 In response, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg expanded the FDA investigation of the safety of rosiglitazone, obtained advice from an FDA advisory committee, and asked the IOM to convene our committee.6 Although the FDA advisory committee recommended that the TIDE trial be continued if rosiglitazone was permitted to remain on the market, in September 2010, the FDA halted the trial and placed stringent new restrictions on the availability of rosiglitazone.12,13

The TIDE experience made the FDA appreciate the need for greater attention to the ethics of postmarketing research. First, it posed questions about what standard of evidence about drug risk justifies a decision by the FDA to require postmarketing research, particularly randomized trials, as well as what evidence could render such trials unacceptable. Second, it raised questions about what ethical obligations the FDA has to patients who participate in these studies. Finally, it highlighted a potential FDA role in ensuring that institutional review boards (IRBs) are completely informed in their efforts to protect study participants. Although major deficiencies with the TIDE consent form were identified by some FDA scientists and, later, by the IOM committee (Table 1TABLE 1Major Deficiencies in the Informed-Consent Form for the TIDE Trial.),4,9 the TIDE investigators countered that it had been approved by “480 ethics committees and IRBs.”14 However, the language of the consent form, the trial design, and the materials supporting the justification of the trial raised a question for the IOM committee about whether these bodies adequately understood the nature of the evidence that gave rise to the trial. The IOM committee proposed a framework for evaluating the ethics of FDA-required postmarketing research15 and made a number of ethics findings and recommendations.4

Ethical Responsibilities of the FDA

The IOM committee began by noting that the public health mission of the FDA gives rise to potentially competing ethical obligations “to protect the public’s health by having strong science on which to base regulatory decisions” and “to protect participants in research that it requires.”4Requiring a postmarketing study is an ethical decision, reflecting a weighing of these values.

The committee described the conditions that must be present to justify a decision to require a postmarketing study. The FDA should require postmarketing research only when, first, the uncertainty about the benefit–risk balance of a drug is so great that a responsible decision about its regulatory status cannot be made on the basis of existing evidence; second, the research will reduce this uncertainty; third, the FDA will use the research results expeditiously to make a regulatory decision; and fourth, sufficient protections for research participants can be ensured.

The committee argued that when the FDA requires a postmarketing study, it assumes a measure of ethical responsibility for the welfare of the study participants; exercise of that responsibility cannot be handed off to contractors or the industry sponsor. The responsibility is particularly strong when the patients’ treatment is determined by the study, such as in a randomized trial, linking any adverse outcomes directly to a regulatory decision to require a study of that type. This determination led to one of the most important recommendations from the IOM committee: the responsibilities of the FDA to research participants mean that it should mandate a randomized design only if the FDA “has concluded that an observational study could not provide the necessary information [to help answer the important public health question at issue], that an RCT [randomized, controlled trial] is likely to generate the information within the necessary timeframe, and that the necessary RCT is ethically acceptable.” This recommendation comports with but adds some further conditions to the current legal authority of the FDA under the FDA Amendments Act of 2007, which empowers the agency to require a randomized trial if it cannot obtain the data it needs from an observational study.1

In light of the critiques of the TIDE trial as inherently unethical, the committee addressed the justifiability of trials in which participants may encounter a net increase in risk, as compared with ordinary clinical care, but no realistic prospect of personal benefit. It argued that such trials can be justified only if they are necessary to answer a critically important public health question, if the potential risk is acceptable and minimized, and if special safeguards are in place, including a highly explicit informed-consent process to ensure that patients understand that they are potentially shouldering additional risk solely to contribute to the public good.

Specific actions that the FDA should take to meet its ethical obligations include specifying the study design, title, end points, and primary analyses; identifying design features that it views as ethically and scientifically indispensable; and, for clinical trials, specifying a safety-monitoring scheme. The committee recommended that the FDA routinely communicate with IRBs about required postmarketing studies — for example, by issuing a letter to accompany IRB applications that conveys information that is material to the IRB’s determination of the ethics of the research, as well as providing additional communications over the life of the study as warranted by new information about the drug or by changes in professional practice. The committee also believed that the FDA was ethically obligated to actually use the findings from required studies to make timely regulatory decisions.

The IOM committee emphasized that the adequacy of the informed-consent process is only one element in the ethics of FDA-required postmarketing research. Other central, and indeed prior, features include ensuring that the selection of participants is equitable and that the level of risk to which they are exposed is acceptable. The committee also recognized, however, that there are challenges to achieving meaningful informed consent in postmarketing trials of drugs for which there is a signal indicating the possibility of drug-related harm. In such cases, there is a suspicion that the benefits of the drug may not justify its risks and often that it may have a worse benefit–risk profile than alternative drugs available to treat the same condition. The committee concluded that for postmarketing trials of such drugs, there are “heightened obligations to ensure that potential research participants understand the risks posed by study enrollment.”4 This was of particular importance for rosiglitazone, because the cardiovascular problem it appeared to cause was the same outcome that good diabetic control was supposed to improve — in other words, if this elevation in risk were real, there could be little offsetting benefit.

The committee recommended several measures to strengthen the consent process in order to maximize patients’ understanding of the context in which the trial is being conducted, including what is already known about the risks associated with the drug. The report discussed both specific disclosures in the informed-consent form and special efforts that could be made to ensure adequate comprehension of complex information regarding risks (Table 2TABLE 2Mechanisms for Strengthening the Informed-Consent Process for Postmarketing Drug-Safety Studies.). To assist IRBs, the committee recommended that the FDA issue guidance interpreting current informed-consent regulatory requirements in the context of required postmarketing studies.


Because a true picture of the benefit–risk profile of a drug only emerges over time, two different IOM committees have stressed the need for the FDA to fully embrace a “life-cycle approach” to drug regulation, in which its obligations to protect public health are taken as seriously once a drug is on the market as they are before approval is granted.4,16 Postmarketing regulatory oversight is assuming heightened importance as the FDA accrues additional authority to fast-track drugs for approval on the basis of more limited evidence than was previously required in order to address unmet medical needs and accelerate innovation.17-19 This changing landscape raises several challenges for ensuring the ethical conduct of research with approved drugs and balancing societal interests in drug innovation and drug safety. We highlight two of these challenges here.

First, not all postmarketing research is ethically equivalent. The TIDE trial represented an iconic kind of postmarketing study: an FDA-required randomized trial to study a drug whose benefit–risk profile was under a cloud of suspicion and at a time when alternative treatments were available, albeit not all well studied. The risks to patients of participating in the trial probably outweighed the prospect of direct benefit. By contrast, when the FDA requires an observational study that uses previously collected data, the clinical experience of the participants is unaffected, the risks incurred are not at the behest of the FDA, and ethical concerns are largely confined to confidentiality and the right to control one’s medical information.

Both of these scenarios can be distinguished from the context in which a phase 4 trial is required as a condition of an accelerated drug approval and is initiated soon thereafter. Here, the trial requirement is not imposed because of a newly emerging concern about a drug already in clinical use but because additional evidence is needed to confirm the initial judgment that the benefits of a new drug are likely to outweigh its risks. Often, this initial judgment is based on the use of a surrogate end point for drug benefit, not on the clinical outcomes that matter most. Especially when the new drug targets an unmet medical need, it may be in the patients’ best interest to take it, pending further timely research. The ensuing trial is undertaken to confirm the improvement in clinical outcomes predicted by the surrogate — a different epistemic and ethical situation than that in which substantial evidence suggests that the surrogate is misleading or that other harms might offset a known clinical benefit.

The volume of phase 4 and other research with FDA-approved drugs is increasing, not only because of the expanded authority of the FDA to require such research but also because of the growing volume of comparative-effectiveness research. In some cases, there may be no or little ethical difference between FDA-required postmarketing research and comparative-effectiveness research initiated by academic investigators. By contrast, a comparative-effectiveness study of two widely used drugs that is not occasioned by heightened concern about the risks of one drug relative to the other is markedly different, ethically, from a study required by the FDA to pursue a safety signal that is already of such concern that practice patterns are shifting, even if both studies use randomized designs.

These differences highlight the need for IRBs to be sensitive to the place where a study falls within the life cycle of a drug and to the reason for the research. Depending on who is initiating the research, for what reasons, and when, the same study design may have very different ramifications for the benefit–risk balance of the study and what patients need to know in order to provide meaningful informed consent. Trials that may be regarded as unethical late in the life cycle because of accumulated evidence can be much easier to initiate earlier if the need for additional research is anticipated and planned at the time of initial approval. In the case of rosiglitazone, this need could have been anticipated from preapproval data showing an adverse effect on serum lipids as well as the use of a surrogate end point (glycemic control) for a first-in-class drug.5,20

Second, the experience with rosiglitazone underscored the fragility of our current system of discovering risks associated with drugs. This system relies heavily on drug sponsors and FDA scientists to conduct safety analyses on the basis of data from clinical trials, some or all of which are not publicly available, and to release findings to the public. It has been shown repeatedly that the published record can misrepresent evidence known to the FDA.21,22 In the case of rosiglitazone, scientists from GlaxoSmithKline and the FDA had information from 42 clinical trials, of which only 7 were published and the others were inaccessible. Triggered by concerns expressed by the World Health Organization in 2006, GlaxoSmithKline conducted and shared with the FDA a meta-analysis of the safety of rosiglitazone that used these data, confirming a possibly elevated risk of ischemic events, but neither these results nor the primary trial results were shared with the public until an unrelated court settlement forced GlaxoSmithKline to release its complete clinical-trial data.23 This access led to the published meta-analysis by independent researchers that made these data and concerns public in 2007.5

It is often the work of independent scientists that has highlighted critical safety problems with approved drugs.5,24-29 Yet currently, data from premarketing studies that are submitted as part of a new drug application or a supplemental new drug application are largely shielded from release to external scientists and the public owing to concerns about a competitive disadvantage to drug sponsors.30,31 The IOM committee stopped short of calling on the FDA to increase public access to such data but recommended that the agency initiate a process to determine ways to “appropriately balance public health, privacy, and proprietary interests to facilitate disclosure” of relevant data.4 Greater transparency would better equip independent scientists to investigate early safety signals.31 Consideration should be given to making drug-safety data from clinical trials available to the public on request once the FDA has reached a decision regarding a new drug application or a supplemental new drug application or once the manufacturer has abandoned the application, unless the manufacturer can articulate a persuasive reason why it would result in competitive harm and the FDA determines that this harm outweighs the public health benefits of releasing the information.


The experience with rosiglitazone and the TIDE trial offers a lesson in how our current approach to the oversight of drug-safety and postmarketing research can fail both the public and the research participants. Although terminating the TIDE trial was justifiable, it left regulators with highly suggestive but nondefinitive data on the relative safety of rosiglitazone and the closest clinical alternative, pioglitazone.32

Reactive policymaking is tempting but problematic. The history of regulation of human subjects research suggests that rules that are “born in scandal and reared in protectionism”33 often fall short of providing meaningful protections to research participants and that, once adopted, regulations can ossify and become difficult to dislodge. Nevertheless, the IOM committee’s report makes a number of actionable recommendations that the FDA can implement under its existing authority.34 In addition, appointment of an independent ethics advisory board would strengthen the decision making of the FDA as it confronts emerging ethical challenges — both those arising from required postmarketing trials and those stemming from powerful new drug surveillance systems, such as the FDA’s Sentinel Initiative. As the pace of the translation of discoveries from bench to bedside continues to intensify, so too does the imperative for thoughtful ethical governance throughout the life cycle of a drug.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and, except where noted, do not represent the official position of the Institute of Medicine or of the committee that produced the report discussed in this article.

Drs. Faden and Goodman chaired, and Dr. Mello was a member of, the Institute of Medicine committee that produced the report discussed in this article.

Disclosure forms provided by the authors are available with the full text of this article at NEJM.org.

This article was published on August 22, 2012, at NEJM.org.

We thank the other IOM committee members for contributing to some of the ideas discussed.


From the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston (M.M.M.); the Departments of Medicine and Health Research and Policy, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA (S.N.G.); and the Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (R.R.F.).


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