FDA Pilot Aims to Reduce Risk of Diagnostic Tests for Cancer

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released final guidance on a voluntary pilot program to help reduce the risks associated with certain diagnostic biomarker tests used to guide cancer treatment decisions for patients.

These laboratory-developed tests were designed to detect cancer biomarkers to help clinicians find the most appropriate cancer treatments for their patients. But the agency explained it has “become increasingly concerned that some tests made by laboratories and not authorized by the FDA may not provide accurate and reliable test results or perform as well as FDA-authorized tests.”

Currently, in most circumstances, an in vitro companion diagnostic would be granted marketing authorization alongside the approval of a corresponding cancer therapy. Under limited circumstances, however, the FDA may decide to approve a cancer therapy that requires a diagnostic test, which has not yet received marketing authorization. In these instances, “the benefits from the use of the therapeutic product are so pronounced as to outweigh the risks from the lack of an [in vitro companion diagnostic] with marketing authorization,” the FDA explained back in 2014 in a guidance entitled, In Vitro Companion Diagnostic Devices .

The new pilot program now aims to “address concerns and questions around the use of unauthorized diagnostics” and help improve cancer care for patients, Richard Pazdur, MD, director of the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence and acting director of the Office of Oncologic Diseases in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a press announcement.

The voluntary program will seek to provide greater transparency surrounding performance recommendations for these diagnostic tests. More specifically, the FDA will ask drug manufacturers to provide performance information for tests used to enroll patients in clinical trials that support drug approval. The agency will assess the performance information and establish the minimum performance criteria recommended for similar tests used to select cancer treatments for patients. The results, posted to the FDA’s website, may be used by laboratories to guide their development of diagnostic tests.

The FDA plans to evaluate no more than nine drug sponsors for the pilot program. This initial phase of the program is anticipated to last up to a year.

“We believe this guidance and the launch of the pilot program are important steps toward addressing safety risks posed by the use of poorly performing laboratory developed tests,” Jeff Shuren, MD, JD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

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