By: Frank Fazio
While the pharmaceutical and device industries are enjoying the Holiday break, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) released a draft guidance for comment that will soon be published in the Federal Register. The document, entitled “Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices” (“Guidance”) provides much needed insight into FDA’s current thinking about those pesky “public” requests posted on web sites or in social media.
The Guidance applies to unsolicited requests for information about unapproved uses of prescription drugs and biological products. It also applies to medical devices marketed for a specific use without product approval or clearance. In regard to such devices, the FDA notes that a request for off-label information would include any use for which approval or clearance would be required.
Through the use of various examples, the Guidance attempts to establish the boundary between solicited and unsolicited requests for off-label information. Making that determination has always been the first step in deciding whether a response is appropriate. The FDA concedes that internet and social media have provided new outlets whereby companies might be confronted with an unsolicited request for off-label information. The Guidance classifies such requests as either non-public or public. Non-public requests are those that are privately directed to the firm and are not visible to the public at large. We all know what to do with those requests, although the Guidance reiterates and reaffirms the standard principles. More interesting are the public requests. The FDA defines these as “an unsolicited request in a public forum, whether directed to a firm specifically, or to a forum at large.” The FDA notes that such requests can occur on company sponsored sites as well as on sites run by third-parties. The FDA recognizes that it is in the interest of the public to permit the company to respond to such requests rather than relying on speculation and the misinformation that might be provided by other lay people on a thread.
So how can the company respond in a compliant manner? The FDA has determined that a response to a public request, whether on a company or third-party site, should be answered in a private manner. The FDA cited concerns about the dissemination of information to other individuals who did not make the unsolicited request as well as the enduring nature of a posted response. The Guidance notes that a firm’s public response to a public request should clearly convey that the question pertains to an off-label use along with specific contact information for the medical or scientific personnel (e-mail, phone, etc.), so that the individual can follow up for additional information. The individual providing such information must clearly disclose their involvement with the firm, and the response may not be promotional in any regard. The public response should also include a direct link to the FDA approved labeling, but may not include links to any other information (e.g. firm or product websites, third-party websites, or other promotional materials). Likewise, the URL for the labeling should not itself be promotional in any way. By way of example, the Guidance notes that www.bestcancercure.com would not be an appropriate URL for the product label. If the individual that made the public request then contacts the medical or scientific personnel, the request is then treated as any other non-public request.
The Guidance is well thought out and makes sense. It permits firms to provide appropriate information in response to public requests without fear that such responses will lead to claims of off-label promotion. The full text can be found at http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/UCM285145
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