The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced several new initiatives that reflect its ongoing commitment to maintain patient safety, while also championing the need and opportunity for health care innovation.

During opening day of Health Datapalooza, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb highlighted the critical import of novel digital health tools in achieving patient-centered care, and outlined how the agency is committed to moving the ball forward in health care innovation through the following initiatives:

  1. Multi-Function Device Draft Guidance. FDA’s new draft guidance, “Multiple Function Device Products: Policy and Considerations,” explains the FDA’s regulatory approach to multi-function digital health devices—where some functionalities fall under the FDA’s definition of a medical device, and other functionalities do not. The guidance, mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act, provides examples in which the FDA will review certain functional software capabilities in a medical device. Consistent with previous guidance and risk-based frameworks from the FDA, the agency’s enforcement focus will be on medical device functions that diagnose and treat patients. For example, data analysis will be considered a device function for which the FDA would enforce compliance, but data tracking and trending will not.
  2. Software Precertification Pilot Program Expansion and “Pre-Cert 1.0” Roll-Out. Gottlieb outlined three updates to the Software Pre-Cert Pilot Program, originally announced last Fall. The FDA will hold a “user session” on May 10, 2018 to discuss the agency’s general progress on the pilot program, and to conduct an in-depth discussion of the three updates:
    • Draft Working Model – An initial framework and vision which outlines the program’s key components: Excellence Appraisal and Determining Precertification Level, Review Pathway Determination, Streamlined Premarket Review Process, and Monitoring Real-world Performance.
    • Challenge Questions – Key questions about various components of the Pre-Cert program for stakeholders to consider with regard to the areas outlined in the Draft Working Model.
    • Roadmap – An overview of the program’s milestones and timeline toward launching the first version of the program (“PreCert 1.0”).
  3. Expansion of Digital Health Tools for Drug Development. The FDA announced its intention to establish clear policies for integrating the review and validation of digital health tools into drug development programs. The FDA will publish a policy framework, through new guidance, and seek public input on the best practices to incorporate software intended for use with prescription drugs.
  4. Precertification Approach to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Gottlieb recognized the novel role that AI and machine learning can have on the medical device submission process (obviating the need to make multiple submissions) and new software validation tools. Gottlieb also discussed “employing the Pre-Cert approach to AI.” This suggests the FDA’s interest in a more effective approach to regulation of medical devices that use AI. This announcement expands upon the FDA’s brief mention of regulatory oversight of devices using “proprietary algorithms,” included in December’s Draft Clinical Decision Support and Patient Decision Support Guidance. (See our prior blog post analyzing the guidance.)
  5. Premarket Digital Safety Program Launch. Gottlieb announced the creation of a Premarket Digital Safety Program, which would allow for electronic submissions of premarket safety reports for an Investigational New Drug Application.
  6. Information Exchange and Data Transformation Incubator. Gottlieb announced the agency’s new digital health/technology incubator, to be known as the Information Exchange and Data Transformation (INFORMED). The incubator will initially be launched in the cancer context, with fellowship collaborations between the FDA and the National Cancer Institute, as well as with Harvard on AI and machine learning. Crowell & Moring’s Digital Health team is ready to assist with the submission of industry input, as well as strategic counseling on these issues.

The various initiatives, guidance, and calls for industry input reflect the FDA’s quest to be flexible in the face of digital health opportunity and innovation. Not only will the FDA’s newest initiatives support its quest to advance safe, patient-centered care, but these initiatives will provide the regulatory predictability critical to encouraging business investment in innovative technologies and products.