Maria Rachal, MedTech Dive: December 23, 2019
It was a busy year for FDA’s expert advisory committees, called on to tackle many of its biggest medical device questions in 2019, new and old.
The Circulatory System Devices Panel met in June in reaction to a concern that emerged in late 2018 after a meta-analysis found a late mortality signal in patients receiving paclitaxel-coated devices. Other topics, like the benefit-risk profile of transvaginal mesh, had been hashed out in numerous meetings over the past few decades.
Repeated meetings aren’t necessarily a negative, said Diana Zuckerman, president at the National Center for Health Research since 1999.
“We can’t think of these public meetings as a bad outcome … We wish that people weren’t being harmed by breast implants, by mesh, by Essure, and so on. But if they are being harmed, then I’d much rather there be a public meeting about it then to have it covered up,” Zuckerman said. “For breast implants especially, it’s made an enormous difference in terms of public awareness.”
Of all the device meetings this year, none seemed to draw as much attention as a March meeting on breast implant safety. It came amid growing recognition of a type of lymphoma that can develop around the devices called breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, as well as a vast collection of potentially related symptoms called breast implant illness.
In one of the clearer impacts from an advisory panel this year, FDA followed up months later by asking Allergan to initiate a worldwide recall of certain textured implants, and issuing a draft guidance outlining a black box warning and patient safety informed consent checklist to be included with the implants.
Raylene Hollrah, a breast cancer and BIA-ALCL survivor who has advocated that FDA improve breast implant safety, said that while the advocacy community has made significant strides with regulators and plastic surgeons this year, language in FDA’s draft guidance regarding breast implants’ risks is “way too vague.” Comments on that proposal are due Monday.
“I am definitely not anti-implant,” she said. “I want women to have a choice but I want it to be a safe one.”
Better transparency on the chemicals and metals contained in breast implants remain at the top of advocates’ list, Hollrah said.
Eight months after the breast implants meeting, FDA asked its Immunology Devices Panel to weigh immunological responses to devices based on different metal elements in implants.
Zuckerman said that meeting represented the first time she’d heard high-level FDA scientists and officials link certain immunological responses to devices and vocalize a need to better understand what causes that link, and which patient and product factors increase risk.
“It was very interesting because it wasn’t specific to any particular product,” Zuckerman said. “[When] there’s an advisory committee on one product, there always seems to be a lot of caution about suggesting immunological responses to implants,” adding that panelists seemed “much more open-minded about these issues than they usually are.”
One undercurrent across many meetings was inadequacy of post-approval studies and spotty adverse event reporting, leading to incomplete data with which panelists could form opinions. Once a device is commercialized, it’s very difficult to complete postmarket studies, Zuckerman said.
Even if those postmarket studies and other forms of surveillance are happening, “it’s too late for the patients being harmed,” Zuckerman said. “Most of us would much rather know that some implant that’s going into our body was adequately tested before it was put in our body. Not that it might be tested a year or two later.”
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