FDA and Social Media: Much Ado About Nothing

Posted in Social Media, Uncategorized

Since the inception of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms, many life sciences companies, mainly big pharma, have been anxiously awaiting regulatory guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration on how to use them. Interestingly, FDA did issue some guidance in 2012 on it use last year but many drugmakers felt that it was insufficient and not detailed enough.  Despite the lack of clearly defined regulatory guidance, many companies took the social media plunge anyway. And according to a recent survey of regulatory actions and letters conducted by Mark Senak author of the fabulous EyeonFDA Blog the agency has done very little to thwart the social media strategies implemented by drug companies. In fact, there has been no obvious increase in the number of warning letters or violation letters regarding the use of digital or social media as compared with traditional media violations.

Senak drew this conclusion after analyzing 173 warning and notice of violation letters (advertising and media related) that were issued by the agency from 2008 to 2012.  Of the 173 regulatory letters that were issued, 675 violations were cited and only 43% involved digital media.  And, for the most part, most of the cited violation had little to do with the digital or social media vehicle used but more to do with the message being delivered. For the full report click here.

What does this all mean? While it is difficult to draw any firm conclusion, I believe that the bottom line is that the importance and significant of the long awaited FDA guidance on the use of social media has been overstated. Put simply, if you follow the existing rules guiding advertising and print media, companies ought to be able to craft a regulatory-compliant social media communication strategy without the fear of running afoul of the agency.  Those who violate the existing rules will likely be caught and have to clean up their acts.

The bottom line. Many drug companies have been able to mount very effective social media campaigns without getting into trouble with FDA.  The key to success is following the rules and implementing a digital/social media campaign that has passed internal regulatory muster to insure that everything is in order and regulatory compliant. Companies that have made the investment into digital/social media will be successful whereas others that jump into the game without taking the time to understand the rules of engagement will fail.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!



Regulatory Affairs Update; FDA 483 and Warning Letters Trends for 2012

Posted in BioEducation

Those of you who manufacture products approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are well aware of the importance of complying with Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) during FDA mandated inspections of your manufacturing facilities. Failure to comply with cGMP requirements during an inspections results in the issuance of 483s. And if you fail to adequately address the concerns of the agency outlined in 483s, it may ultimately result in issuance of warning letter to your company.

FDA is more vigilant and aggressive than ever before with its 483 and warning letter enforcement procedures. In the words of Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, FDA is quick, visible and vigilant.  With this in mind, it may be worthwhile to participate in a webinar offered by Expert Briefings.com entitled “Top Compliance Trends for 483 and Warning Letters for 2012—Based on Rare FDA Data.”

The webinar will be held on March 8, 2012 from 2:00-3:30 PM EST and Dennis Moore, Managing Partner, AUK Technical Services and a 28 year veteran FDA investigator will lead it. 

Topics to be covered include:

  • Top warning letter trends for 2012, such as more 806 enforcement
  • The Top 10 QS 483 Observations for 2010 and 2011
  • Most common quality system failures for drugs for 2010
  • Top drug and device citations in 483s for 2010
  • Top drug and device warning letter citations for 2010
  • Total 2010 BIMO inspections for CDER, CBER, CDRH, and CVM
  • Details on clinical investigator, sponsor/monitor and IRB audits for 2010
  • Most common sponsor deficiencies for 2010
  • The rising trend of ‘cease to market’ letters, one of which hit a NY pharma company in 2011
  • The total number of 483s issued in 2010 and 2011 – an all time high
  • Total CAPA 483 observations in 2010
  • How long to receive a warning letter, based upon which offices issues it
  • 483 inspection targets for drugs and devices for 2010, 2011, and 2012
  • Total warning letters issued by drug and device category in 2010
  • Which district offices write the most warning letters
  • How long to receive a warning letter, based upon issuing office
  • Warning letters issued by QS system for 2010
  • 483s broken down by QS subsystem for 2010
  • Warning letters by CFR section
  • Top device 483 observations for 2010
  • Details on process validation observations for 2010
  • Design control 483 observations by category for 2010
  • Click here to visit Expertbriefings.com.

Click here to visit Expertbriefings.com.

I hope to see (hear ?) you at the webinar!


FDA Inspections: Insights into Responding to FDA Inspectional Observations

Posted in BioBusiness

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of drug and devices manufacturing facilities are typically anxiety ridden exercises that can strike fear into even the most seasoned quality and regulatory affairs professionals. And, most manufacturing facilities do not escape these inspections unscathed and are routinely cited, in many cases, for minor infractions.

For those of you who may not be familiar with FDA inspections, manufacturing facilities that produce approved drugs and devices must be inspected every two years for insure regulatory compliance with Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). During the inspection, FDA inspectors document “significant objectionable conditions, relating to products and/or processes or other violations of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act” that they observe. These are known in the industry as Form FDA 483 Inspectional Observations or simply 483. Companies that receive 483s must correct the so-called objections conditions to remain CGMP compliant.

While receiving 483s during an inspection may be routine, it can be overwhelming to inexperienced companies and their representatives. With this in mind, I found a great blog post by Bruce McDuffee, Global Marketing Manager, Veriteq that provides insights on interacting with the agency to manage 483s. He offers the following advice:

“One thing that you should be clear about is that this is not a ‘warning letter’; it is an offer to help you resolve issues and improve your quality system. The FDA may or may not issue a warning letter next if you have not addressed the conditions of the 483 to its satisfaction. Receiving a 483 does not necessarily mean you are out of compliance.

In responding to a 483, your objectives should include these three things; establish credibility, demonstrate acknowledgement and understanding of the observations and the associated requirements and show commitment to corrective actions."

Bruce recommends that you take the following actions when dealing with 483s:

  1. Get your response in on time or even early if possible. The FDA wants to see the response within 15 days, so plan your review and internal processes accordingly.
  2. In the first paragraph, demonstrate your understanding of and desire to comply with FDA regulations.
  3. Respond individually to each item addressed on the form. Give a corrective action and time-frame for implementing.
  4. Prioritize by first addressing the conditions that will most likely affect product quality.
  5. Outline how and when each deficiency will be corrected.
  6. Avoid talking about whose fault the issue is or how it came to be. For example, keep a positive tone and indicate how the quality system will be improved.
  7. Include any reference documents, such as purchase agreements for a new monitoring system or employment agreement for a new quality manager.
  8. Keep in mind that there is a formal process available for you to dispute the findings.
  9. Be proactive in addressing the conditions. For example, address why the deficiencies were not detected internally and what will be done to correct this condition.
  10. Seek clarification with the inspector when you receive the 483 on the spot. Be sure you understand each objectionable condition before the inspector leaves the site. It may behoove you and your firm to seek out an industry expert if the matters seem complex or if the issues are not able to be resolved by your own personnel.”

While CGMP and regulatory compliance may seem like arcane concepts, they are vitally important and must be clearly understood by companies that are manufacturing FDA-approved drugs and devices. Failure to comply can result in penalties, monetary fines and revocation of a license to manufacture a drug or device.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (try regulatory affairs or quality assurance and control)


FDA Enters the Digital Age by Issuing 22 Warning Letters to Web Site Operators

Posted in Social Media

The public hearing held by FDA last week in Washington DC to address social media and promotional advertising in the pharmaceutical seems to have altered the agency’s perspective on all things digital. Today, according to a press release, marked the agency’s completion of a coordinated week long international effort called the International Week of Action (IIWA) that was intended to curb illegal actions involving medical and pharmaceutical products.

During the effort, the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), in conjunction with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and the Office of Regulatory Affairs, Office of Enforcement, targeted 136 Web sites that appeared to be engaged in the illegal sale of unapproved or misbranded drugs to U.S. consumers. None of the Web sites are for pharmacies in the United States or Canada.

The agency issued 22 warning letters to the operators of these Web sites and notified Internet service providers and domain name registrars that the Web sites were selling products in violation of U.S. law. In many cases, because of these violations, Internet service providers and domain name registrars may have grounds to terminate the Web sites and suspend the use of domain names. Apparently, FDA has taken to sending warning letter en masse—it previously sent identical warning letters to 14 different pharmaceutical companies for improprieties associated with Google search ads.

Is there really a sea change taking place at FDA? Will a carefully and thoughtfully- crafted guidance document on the use of social media be next; now that the agency is no longer afraid to navigate the Internet? Only time will tell….hopefully sooner, rather than later!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Surfing!!!!!!!!!


Social Media and the Pharmaceutical Industry: A Historical Perspective and Commentary

Posted in Social Media

In today’s edition of the incisive EyeonFDA blog, Mark Senak, provides a historical perspective on events leading to the US Food and Drug Administration public hearing on the use of social media and medical promotion that will be held on Thursday and Friday, November 12 and 13, 2009. As Mark points out, registration for the meeting was closed because of an overwhelming response and the number of people who wanted to offer testimony on the topic. Many social media enthusiasts view the public hearing as something of a “game changer” that may influence the future direction of social media in the life sciences industry. But, as Mark, astutely points out, only four pharmaceutical companies and one or two trade organizations will be participating at the hearing. 

The lack of industry participation at the meeting is curious given that 14 companies received warning letters several months ago about their misuse of ad associated with the results obtain by Google search. Further, pharmaceutical companies have consistently and publicly stated that their aversion to social media is contingent upon the lack of FDA’s regulatory guidance for its use. By not actively participating in the public hearings later this week, many pharma companies have chosen to remain silent and will likely allow FDA to craft social media policies that guide the promotional activities of drug makers on its own. This begs the question: why would drug makers allow a federal regulatory agency to unilaterally dictate policy, when the policy will likely affect their bottom lines, i.e. sales and profits? The industry’s refusal to actively participate in these hearings is another example of the cat and mouse game that drug makers like to play with FDA. Put simply, drug makers expect and want FDA to commit (in writing) to certain policies and guidelines and once established, company regulators and lawyers are instructed to find loopholes and work-arounds. I liken the drug industry’s refusal to actively participate in the upcoming public hearings to the now infamous rope-ad-dope strategy Mohammed Ali used to knock out George Foreman in the now infamous Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. This is how wikipedia defines the rope-a-dope: “The rope-a-dope is performed by a boxer assuming a protected stance, in Ali’s classic pose, lying against the ropes, and allowing his opponent to hit him, in the hope that the opponent will become tired and make mistakes which the boxer can exploit in a counterattack.” I hope that I am wrong about the drug industry’s strategy and motives.

Without active industry participation it isn’t clear how effective the FDA public hearing on social media will be. As Mark adroitly points out in today’s post, “The bulk of the other presentations are tertiary stakeholders perhaps sensing a vehicle for free self-promotion such as advertising and public relations firms and bloggers, but they aren’t the real stakeholders in this issue.  The real stakeholders are those who are referred to in the meeting notice – the medical products industry.” I would also add the American public to the stakeholder list who also has considerable “skin in the game.”

Pharma’s active participation at many of the social media conferences that I recently attended indicates that something must be in it for pharma; otherwise they wouldn’t attend. There is no question that social media isn’t a passing fad and is now an integral part of the Web 2.0 experience. That said, for the first time in many years, drug makers have a unique opportunity to actively voice their ideas and concerns and collaboratively work with FDA to craft meaningful social media regulatory guidance. As many of us “outside observers” know, the agency doesn’t have all the answers and we would like to think that drug makers would extend a helping hand to avoid confusion and misunderstandings about the use of social media to promote their products and services. While only 4 companies are scheduled to speak at the hearings, I suspect that there will be many life science company representatives in attendance. Nevertheless, despite what may happen at this week’s hearings, I hope that, going forward, drug makers and device manufacturers will begin to view FDA as a partner rather than an adversary!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!


FDA Update: A Sleeping Giant Is Showing Signs of Life

Posted in Social Media

Mark Senak, who writes the outstanding Eye on FDA blog, posted an interesting article today that tracks the number of warning letters issued by DDMAC (the center that oversees life sciences marketing and advertising) over the past 12 years. Not surprisingly, the number of warning letters issued by DDMAC fell precipitously during the Bush Administration, after reaching a high during the waning years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. In fact, the number of warning letters issued by DDMAC during the first two quarters of 2009 exceeds the yearly total of warning letters issued in the past 4 of five years. However, as Mark clearly points out, the 2009 year to date number of warning letters may be artificially inflated because of 14 identical ones issued on the same day (April 2) to 14 different companies regarding internet search engine advertising. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the agency is beginning to emerge from a long slumber and that US regulatory oversight may be entering a new, more scrutinizing era. 

While increasing regulatory scrutiny may be appropriate after 8 years of no regulation at all, it is important that FDA doesn’t overreact and unnecessarily stifle new drug and product development. To that end, I believe that the agency needs to be reorganized, revamped and revitalized to replace its traditionally “reactive” way of doing business with a more “proactive” one.  For example, there is a burgeoning need for regulatory guidance on the use of social media by companies in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical devices and diagnostics industries. Unfortunately, FDA has been unwilling or unable to enunciate a cogent regulatory strategy or any meaningful guidance on this topic. Consequently, many life sciences companies have refrained from using social media because they simply don’t know how to implement it in the current regulatory environment. I believe that FDA, not the companies it regulates, should take the lead on this issue.

Finally, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many companies will continue to refrain from using social media and other Web 2.0 tools until FDA crafts some useful guidance on these topics. Sadly, Web 3.0 is just around the corner and the agency is still struggling with regulatory guidance for corporate websites. Maybe Congress needs to craft some new FDA modernization legislation—it has been 12 years since the last modernization bill was passed!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!

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Pharma Flocking to Social Media?

Posted in Social Media

Mark Sendak, a social media enthusiast and author of the Eye on FDA blog, wrote a great post today about an article he saw in the Washington Post entitled “Drug Firms Jockey for Space Online.”

Mark wrote: “Flock?  Flock?  FLOCK?  The only way you could use the term "flock" in connection with pharmaceutical firms and social media is to say that companies are a scared flock of geese.” He goes on to castigate FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC) for a lack of a coherent regulatory framework and guidance for the use of social media in the life sciences industry.

Mark aptly describes DDMAC’s guidance surrounding social media and the pharmaceutical industry this way. “No one knows, and DDMAC apparently makes this stuff up as they go along. That is the kind of Whack-a-Mole game DDMAC plays.  We won’t tell you what is off limits, until you do it and then WHACK! Is this anyway to run a pharmaceutical industry?

I am in total agreement with Mark on this issue. Despite the rapid adoption of social media by other industries, FDA has consistently been reluctant to issue any regulatory guidance what so ever on the topic despite assertions to the contrary. Unfortunately, when it comes to social media and the pharmaceutical industry, FDA’s usual approach to regulatory guidance—reactive rather than proactive—is still alive and well. As you may recall FDA previously sent warning letters to no fewer than 14 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies admonishing them on their placement of product ads on search engine results pages. The fact that 14 different companies received warning letters on this issue reflects the confusion and lack of guidance offered by FDA on social media and the use of Web 2.0 technologies to promote or support the sale pharmaceutical products.

The growing popularity and inevitability of social media suggests that DDMAC officials along with industry representatives must begin to consider crafting a preliminary regulatory framework for its use in the life sciences industry. Like it or not, social media is here to stay!

Hat tip to EyeonFDA!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting

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Social Media, FDA and the Life Sciences Industry

Posted in Career Advice

Earlier this week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to 14 different pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to advise them that their approach to Internet advertising is violating federal pharmaceutical advertising and marketing guidelines and regulations. While the agency’s attempt to regulate Internet-based drug advertising is laudable, the fact that warning letters were sent to 14 different life sciences companies means that there is a poor understanding of the regulations regarding use of Internet—and more recently, social media—to market and advertise drugs, medical devices and diagnostics. This isn’t surprising because FDA has yet to issue any meaningful guidance on the use of the Internet and social media to market life sciences industry products. The reluctance of the agency to issue guidance is very puzzling—the use of web based-advertising and social media by life sciences companies has exploded in the past few years.

In a post today on the EyeOnFDA blog, Mark Sendak pointed out that Twitter is fast becoming the medium of choice for life sciences messaging, branding and product promotion. Despite FDA’s lack of guidance on the use of social media, an increasing number of life sciences companies and organizations are using it to stay in touch with their stakeholders and constituents. For example, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Lancet, the New Scientist, Roche, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Boehringer, Cell Therapeutics and Novartis and others have Twitter accounts. Many of these companies also have fan pages or accounts on Facebook. 

It is becoming increasingly evident that the agency will have to issue guidance on social media sooner rather than later. The wide reach, immediacy and highly interactive nature of social media suggest that the current wait-and-see attitude of FDA is no longer feasible. To jump start the discussion, Social Pharmer, a group of life sciences social media enthusiasts are holding an “unconference” in Boston on April 21, 2009. I hope that FDA sends representatives to this grassroots meeting!!!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!

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FDA Chides 14 Drug Makers for Misleading Internet Ads

Posted in Social Media

Today’s New York Times reported that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters and ordered 14 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to stop running what it calls misleading ads on internet search pages displayed by search engines like Google. The agency faulted the companies for failing to identify product names (brand) and not listing potential side effects (only benefits) for the drugs. In other words, the ads lacked “fair balance” something that FDA stresses and that all drug makers are very familiar with. 

Drug makers and other interest groups pay search engines like Google to place ads on search result pages after someone types in a related search word. The sidebar ads typically contain a eye-catching headline about a relevant medical condition or product and links to websites promoting certain products. The companies receiving warning letters included: Bayer, Biogen Idec, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cephalon, Eli Lilly, Forrest Laboratories, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, and Sanofi-Aventis. Not surprisingly, most of the world’s largest and most profitable were guilty of running misleading Internet search engine ads.

Historically, drug companies and FDA have engaged in a cat and mouse approach when it comes to advertising and marketing drug and medical devices and diagnostics. This is because FDA’s existing regulations that guide marketing and advertising practices are relatively lax and it provides drug makers with the opportunity to see how far they can push the agency before “they get caught.” While this practice may have been acceptable for print and television advertising, it may no longer be appropriate for Internet advertising— which potentially has a much broader and larger reach than traditional media because there are not national borders on the Web. Unfortunately, FDA has been slow (reluctant?) to react to digital media and is even more perplexed about social media and the drug industry. Rather than continue to play cat and mouse, I think it would be in the best interest of consumers if FDA and drug makers would sit down and craft new guidance on regulating Internet advertising and marketing practices. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the old rules are no longer sufficient as digital and social media continue to evolve.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!! 

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