Breathing Room but Hefty Fines: NIH’s Final Rule for Study Registration

The National Institutes of Health has finalized the rule for registration of drug and device trials at clinicaltrials.gov, one of the most commercially important documents the agency has published in decades. While the NIH did relent on a couple of points essential to industry, it appears that the requirements will be retroactive, thus exposing device makers to a fine of $10,000 per day per violation for any studies that are not up to date regardless of when those studies first appeared at the clinical studies website.

The NIH notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) came to light in 2014, and the docket for this proposal drew more than 900 comments, some of which was reflective of a considerable amount of consternation by those in the life science industries. Among the concerns expressed by industry early on was that the draft rule would have forced the disclosure of confidential information that could compromise a drug or device maker’s competitive position. However, industry was not the only target of the rule. By some accounts, most of the failures to register a study are accounted for by researchers working on studies not sponsored by industry. In any case, members of the NIH team said in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that only about 10% of the studies registered at clinicaltrials.gov include results data from the registered study.

The retroactive nature of the mandate suggests the FDA will be on the look-out for violations of the final rule by drug and device makers. There does seem to be a split on the question of Section 522 post-market surveillance studies, however. The NIH flowchart regarding clinical trial compliance under the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 – the law that gave rise to the NIH rule – suggests that Section 522 studies are only required to register at the NIH site if those studies are of devices in pediatric populations

Nonetheless, any laggardly performance in these non-pediatric Section 522 studies might show up on the FDA radar screen if the agency starts hearing from the public, or from Capitol Hill, about clinical trial compliance generally.

Makers of combination drug-device products were none too happy to see that the NIH draft had stated that trials of combination products would be treated as pharmaceutical agents for the purposes of trial registration. The NIH heard from a number of entities that the final rule ought to reflect the designation applied to the product by the FDA’s Office of Combination Products, which itself has come under a barrage of criticism of late. The final NIH rule conceded the point

On the point of disclosure of trade information, the NIH opted to give sponsors of clinical studies of unapproved drugs and devices a year after the study’s primary completion date to register the results of the study, although sponsors can avail themselves of an additional two years if they certify that they intend to continue development of the product in question. Disclosure of dead-end studies would be required upon the sponsor’s notification of abandonment of the study.

As for timelines, the NIH said the final rule goes into effect on Jan. 18, 2017, and that compliance will turn into enforcement three months later, on April 18, 2017. That leaves sponsors less than six months to determine which of their studies are subject to the final rule and get those studies’ data updated. After all, $10,000 per violation per day can add up quickly.

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