Last week, we summarized PhRMA’s comments on the FDA’s proposed amendments to regulations regarding “intended uses.” PhRMA showed how the FDA’s insistence that it could read manufacturer’s minds about intended uses made no sense on an evidentiary basis and ran afoul of First Amendment considerations. Today, we’ll tip our cyber caps to the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), which also issued well thought-out comments on the FDA’s proposal. You can read the AdvaMed July 18, 2017 comments here.
To begin with, the AdvaMed letter excels at doing that thing that judges yell at dumb litigators for not doing in their motions — stating what relief is sought. AdvaMed puts it plainly: “FDA should abandon the Final Rule and instead return to its original and unambiguous proposal to remove the reference to ‘knowledge’ as set forth in FDA’s September 25, 2015 proposed rule regarding the definition of ‘intended uses.’” What’s wrong with the FDA’s proposed rule? It’s bad in its totality, including its reliance the “totality of the evidence” standard. AdvaMed correctly states that “the ‘totality of the evidence’ standard is more outcome determinative than prescriptive.” We are reminded of how Justice Black called judicial balancing tests pretentious cover-ups for courts doing whatever they felt like doing. A totality of the evidence test would mean that the FDA would administer rough justice on a case-by-case basis, sans principle and sans predictability.
That lack of predictability is particularly pernicious where the chilled communications are so critical to public health. AdvaMed provides concrete examples of communications pertaining to both approved and unapproved medical devices that any right-minded person (and any person who thinks they might someday benefit from advanced drugs and devices – that is, everyone) would favor. Such communications include training and technical support, educational meetings about clinical trials and development data, feedback from doctors on investigational development, information about real-world experiences with devices, and engagement with health care professionals on device innovation and improvement. Plaintiff lawyers love to say that drug and device manufacturers have a duty to be the foremost experts on their own products. The communications potentially chilled by the FDA’s vague, overbroad content-less regulation on “intended uses” are all necessary to facilitate such expertise.
AdvaMed makes the same constitutional argument that PhRMA made, though with some different wrinkles. AdvaMed discusses the Washington Legal Foundation case from 1998. The FDA, which raps companies on the knuckles if they are poor at signal detection, should have seen that 1998 case as a very clear signal that its chokehold on truthful off-label communications was unconstitutional. AdvaMed also does a fine job of applying the Central Hudson requirement that regulation of commercial speech must be narrowly-tailored to serve the governmental interest. In its request for comments on the proposed rule, the FDA supplied examples of speech restrictions that mostly related to “activities and communications involving the distribution or promotion of illicit drugs.” There are already non-speech sanctions (including the Controlled Substances act, as well as mail or wire fraud statutes) available to address such criminal activity.
For one brief moment of lucidity, the FDA recognized that a manufacturer’s knowledge that a third party was using a product off-label was not the same thing as the manufacturer’s intent that such product be used off-label. Then the FDA reversed field, and now we have this new proposed rule. AdvaMed makes clear that “it is inappropriate to hold manufacturers responsible for the use of their products by third parties over whom they have no control.” Fairness says as much. So does a concern for unintended consequences. The FDA has more than once acknowledged that collaboration between manufacturers and health care practitioners is essential to help develop new life-enhancing or –saving products. But if manufacturers will be put on the hook for everything they know such collaborators are doing, how can the nature or frequency of such collaboration be unaffected?
AdvaMed concludes its comments with a request that, if the FDA won’t do the right thing and completely back off its wrong-headed “totality of the evidence” test, it should at least issue three clarifications of what would NOT show an intended use: (1) legitimate scientific exchange, (2) truthful, nonmisleading communications, and (3) mere knowledge of third party unapproved uses. In short, the AdvaMed comments are everything the FDA’s proposed rule is not: clear, fair, and protective of speech and scientific development.