On January 19, 2017, the United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) unveiled a new drug designation process for regenerative advanced therapies, an important first step toward implementation of the regenerative medicine provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act. Products for which a designation as a regenerative advanced therapy (“RAT”) is obtained are eligible for accelerated approval under the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by former President Obama on December 13, 2016 with sweeping bipartisan support.

The accelerated approval provisions for RATs under the 21st Century Cures Act are intended to facilitate expedited review and approval of stem cell therapies and other cellular and tissue products for use in serious or life threatening diseases, which are currently subject to regulation as unapproved drugs. Under the 21st Century Cures Act, regenerative medicine therapies eligible for a RAT designation may include any “cell therapy, therapeutic tissue engineering product, human cell and tissue product, or any combination product using such therapies or products, except for those products regulated solely under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (“PHS”), and part 1271 of Title 21, Code of Federal regulations.”[1]

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, the sponsor of a product must show the following to be eligible for a RAT designation:

  • The drug is a regenerative medicine therapy;
  • The drug is intended to treat, modify, reverse, or cure a serious or life-threatening disease or condition;[2] and
  • Preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug has the potential to address unmet medical needs for such disease or condition.

Pursuant to the FDA website on the Regenerative Advanced Therapy Designation, a sponsor requesting a RAT designation for its product must make such a request either concurrently with submission of an Investigational New Drug application (“IND”), or as an amendment to an existing IND. Consistent with requests for fast track and breakthrough therapy designations, the FDA only requires that a sponsor describe the preliminary clinical evidence that supports a RAT designation, and does not require the sponsor to submit primary data. Information that will be considered includes: a description of any available therapies for the disease or condition already in existence, the study design, the population studied, the endpoints used, and a description of the study results and statistical analyses.

The RAT designation process will be overseen by the newly created Office of Tissues and Advanced Therapies (OTAT). The OTAT will manage the application process for RAT designation, and will notify the sponsor within 60 days of receiving an application as to whether the RAT designation is granted. If a sponsor does not receive a RAT designation for its product the OTAT will provide an explanation in writing of its rationale for the denial.

A sponsor that obtains a RAT designation for its product is entitled to meet with the FDA early in its development program to discuss the potential use of surrogate or intermediate endpoints that may be used to support accelerated approval of the product. RATs may be eligible for accelerated approval based upon surrogate or intermediate endpoints reasonably likely to predict a long-term clinical benefit, and based on data obtained from a “meaningful number of sites” with subsequent expansion to additional sites, along with the collection of additional data in the post-market phase.

The implementation of the RAT designation process will enable manufacturers to begin to take advantage of the less burdensome review process enabled by the 21st Century Cures Act. While some patient advocates have expressed concern that the availability of an accelerated approval pathway for regenerative medicine products may impede the development of robust evidence establishing their safety and effectiveness, and may ultimately result in patient harm, 21st Century Cures’ accelerated approval provisions are likely to be a harbinger of a new wave of regenerative medicine therapies that provide additional options for patients facing serious or life threatening conditions.