On October 23, 2023, FDA announced the availability of a revised draft guidance titled “Communications From Firms to Health Care Providers Regarding Scientific Information on Unapproved Uses of Approved/Cleared Medical Products.” The draft guidance supersedes the agency’s 2014 draft guidance, “Distributing Scientific and Medical Publications on Unapproved New Uses,” and it provides more direction for industry on how information regarding unapproved uses of approved/cleared medical products can appropriately be shared with healthcare providers (HCPs).
The draft guidance coins a new acronym, SIUU, for scientific information on unapproved uses of an approved/cleared medical product, and provides recommendations for how to communicate SIUU in a “truthful, non-misleading, factual, and unbiased” manner. FDA explains that HCPs can prescribe medical products for unapproved uses when they determine that an unapproved use is medically appropriate for a given patient, but it is critical that company communications about unapproved uses include all of the information necessary for HCPs to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, validity, and utility of the information about the unapproved use to make these determinations.
The revised draft guidance is organized in a question and answer format and addresses: (1) what firms should consider when determining whether a source publication is appropriate to be the basis for an SIUU communication; (2) what information should be included as part of an SIUU communication; (3) how SIUU communications should be presented (e.g., the format and accompanying disclosures); and (4) recommendations for specific types of materials (including reprints, clinical reference resources, and firm-generated presentations of scientific information from an accompanying reprint).
For industry stakeholders looking to understand what is new and/or different about these recommendations relative to the 2014 draft guidance, we note that the agency continues to recommend providing disclosures about how the information in these communications compares with the FDA-approved labeling, and that such communications be non-promotional in nature. However, the revised draft guidance provides more insight into what studies or analyses are “scientifically sound” and provide “clinically relevant information,” such that they could be the basis for SIUU communications. Scientifically sound studies or analyses should “meet generally accepted design and other methodological standards for the particular type of study or analysis performed, taking into account established scientific principles and existing scientific knowledge.” Clinically relevant information is information that is pertinent to HCPs when making clinical practice decisions for an individual patient. FDA notes that while randomized, double-blind, controlled trials are the most likely to provide scientifically sound and clinically relevant information, other types of well-designed and well-conducted trials, or even analyses of real-world data, could also generate this type of information. In contrast, studies that lack detail to permit scientific evaluation, communications that “distort” studies, and data from early stages of development that are not borne out in later studies are examples of information that may not be appropriate as the basis of SIUU communications.
Another clear theme in the revised draft guidance is the need to separate SIUU communications from promotional communications. FDA explains that the use of “persuasive marketing techniques” (such as celebrity endorsers, premium offers, and gifts) suggests a firm may be trying to convince an HCP to prescribe or use a product for an unapproved use, not merely presenting scientific content to help an HCP make an informed clinical practice decision, and thus would fall outside the scope of the enforcement policy outlined in the revised draft guidance. FDA also recommends several ways to separate SIUU communications from promotional communications, including using “dedicated vehicles, channels, and venues” for SIUU communications that are separate from those used for promotional communications—such as distinct web pages that do not directly link to each other, sharing the types of information via separate email messages, and dividing booth space to separate the presentation of these types of information at medical and scientific meetings. In addition, FDA advises that if a media platform has features (such as character limits) that do not allow a company to provide the disclosures recommended for an SIUU communication, then that platform should not be used to disseminate SIUU, but could be used to direct HCPs to an SIUU communication (e.g., via a link to a website).
Companies may already be following many of the recommendations in the revised draft guidance, but the updates and clarifications throughout reflect FDA’s continued emphasis on ways to appropriately share accurate, scientifically sound data with HCPs to inform clinical practice decisions. In line with the agency’s 2018 guidances on communicating information that is consistent with product labeling and communicating with payors, formulary committees and similar entities, this draft guidance acknowledges the evolving realities of medical product communications and provides guardrails for companies to assess whether and how to communicate product information that is not included in its FDA-required labeling, while at the same time reminding the industry that there are “multiple important government interests” served by statutory requirements for premarket review and the prohibition on introducing a misbranded product into interstate commerce.
Comments on the draft guidance are due December 24, 2023, and can be submitted to the docket available here. Please contact any of the authors or your Goodwin attorney if you have any questions about this revised draft guidance.