February 20, 2018

The FDA’s Regenerative Medicine Framework is a Big Win for Gene Therapies



Last week, the Niskanen Center joined with the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation in filing comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), offering our support for the agency’s new regenerative medicine advanced therapy (RMAT) designation draft guidance for industry.

Although there are opportunities for marginal improvements to the guidance, and FDA approval processes more generally, we are happy to see that the agency chose to include gene therapies in its interpretation of what qualifies as a regenerative medicine therapy.

Under section 3033 of the 21st Century Cures Act, the FDA was tasked with developing an accelerated approval process for regenerative advanced therapies. Such therapies would qualify for expedited review and approval so long as the drug (a) met the definition of a regenerative medicine therapy, (b) was “intended to treat, modify, reverse, or cure a serious condition,” and (c) “has the potential to address unmet medical needs” for a serious disease or condition. Unfortunately, the bill’s definition of a regenerative medicine advanced therapy was unclear on whether gene therapies, in particular, would qualify. Luckily, the FDA clarified this point. As the RMAT guidance document notes:

gene therapies, including genetically modified cells, that lead to a durable modification of cells or tissues may meet the definition of a regenerative medicine therapy. Additionally, a combination product (biologic-device, biologic-drug, or biologic-device-drug) can be eligible for RMAT designation when the biological product component provides the greatest contribution to the overall intended therapeutic effects of the combination product.

This is an excellent development, and one that portends immense benefits for future gene therapy applications submitted for FDA approval. According to the guidance, the new RMAT designation, unlike other fast-track approval and review processes, “does not require evidence to indicate that the drug may offer a substantial improvement over available therapies.” Liberalizing the threshold standards of evidence for RMAT designation ensures that future gene therapies will encounter fewer unnecessary roadblocks in delivering more effective and innovative treatments for individuals suffering from debilitating diseases.

As we note in our concluding remarks:

Overall, we consider the RMAT guidance to be a stellar improvement over other expedited programs, especially in its qualifying criteria. However, greater clarity is needed in order to capture the benefits of more advanced cell therapies that can help contribute to the healthy aging and well-being of American citizens. As FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently noted: “The benefits of [gene therapy] science—and the products that become available—are likely to accelerate. How we define the modern framework for safely advancing these opportunities will determine whether we’re able to fully realize the benefits that these new technologies can offer.”

We agree wholeheartedly. Developing a regulatory framework that accommodates safety and innovation will be a key determinant of how quickly the benefits of regenerative medicine, gene therapy, and anti-aging research revolutionize the lives of Americans. This guidance is an important and promising step in the right direction. With the right modifications, it can help usher in a new age of healthcare improvement for individuals from all walks of life.

Read the full comments here.