Two years ago, FDA Matters urged FDA and Congress to review the 510(k) approval process for moderate-risk medical devices. It was recognition that medical devices are different and that the review process had not been thoroughly re-examined in two decades.

I imagined tweaks, possibly substantial ones, to the 510(k) process. I also predicted that those working with the current system would be comfortable with the changes. FDA and industry have been proceeding along these lines…until last week when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) declared that the current system is so flawed that a new regulatory framework is needed.

The FDA and industry discussions are being played out on several fronts: industry proposals, FDA proposals, and negotiations over a five-year extension of the Medical Device User Fee Modernization Act. FDA and industry both think the existing system can be improved.

They have different viewpoints. Industry wants a more predictable process that allows applications for moderate-risk devices to be submitted, reviewed and approved more quickly. FDA admits that evolving requirements and standards may be slowing reviews, but also feels the quality of company submissions is a major impediment to faster reviews.

The medical device industry has played its hand well. At their behest, Congress has sent a message to FDA: go slowly as you revise the medical device approval process, avoid mistakes, and do not create any unintended consequences.

FDA has been deft in its responses. It has talked about changes in abbreviated review processes, has proposed a new speedy “high innovation” review track, and been appropriately attentive to Congressional concerns that the process not be rushed. They have been forthright that user fees will need to increase significantly over the next 5-year period for the agency to meet its growing workload and keep pace with 510(k) reviews.

Industry is reluctant to pay increased fees, given their perception that FDA has failed to meet performance targets in the current user fee program. Industry has suggested that maybe a two-year user-fee reauthorization may be preferable to five-years, giving FDA a chance to implement reforms that would, in turn, justify the increased user fee revenue.

The back and forth discussions between industry and FDA have been heated at times, but always mixing disagreement with civility. That is not to minimize the degree of conflict or occasional harsh words. But by government standards, the two sides are working together well and there is reasonable hope of a satisfactory conclusion that will protect the interests of the American public and stimulate innovation in the medical device industry.

Enter the Institute of Medicine. This branch of the National Academy of Sciences had been commissioned by FDA to study the 510(k) approval process. Its long-awaited report was issued on July 29.

Surprisingly, IOM’s report didn’t provide any insights that would help the negotiating process. Instead, they concluded that: FDA should invest in developing a new regulatory framework to replace the flawed 510(k) medical device clearance process. An effective system could not be built on the current framework.

FDA immediately declared: “FDA believes that the 510(k) process should not be eliminated but we are open to additional proposals and approaches for continued improvement of our device review programs.” Industry, too, has a strong interest in improving, not replacing, the 510(k). They agreed with FDA’s rejection of the IOM report.

FDA and industry will continue working and disagreeing with each other, trying to reach agreement. They now have a common enemy: an IOM that insists that a perfect medical device review system should be created, while FDA and industry know that patching the existing one is the only realistic possibility.

adapted and republished with permission from FDA Matters