FDA on Gene-Edited Plants and Animals: “We’ve Got This”

November 25, 2018By Ricardo Carvajal

To the possible chagrin of those who think that FDA lacks jurisdiction over gene-editing of plants and animals, the Agency announced a Plant and Animal Biotechnology Innovation Action Plan that lays out actions the Agency is taking to help harness the potential benefits of the technology while guarding against its potential risks (for a primer on gene editing and FDA’s regulatory framework, see here). Although additional guidance on regulation of plant biotechnology products is under development, the thrust of the Action Plan appears geared toward animal biotechnology products – a category potentially at risk of withering in the face of uncertainty as to how FDA can apply its new animal drug framework without imposing unnecessarily onerous regulatory burdens.

The Action Plan promises to address that uncertainty in part through the issuance of guidance documents. One document is expected to lay out a regulatory approach “characterized by risk-based categories that include: an FDA decision not to enforce approval requirements with no prior review, an FDA decision not to enforce approval requirements following a review of data that address specific risk questions, and an FDA decision to review for approval with data requirements proportionate to the risk associated with the particular product.” A second document is expected to lay out a regulatory approach for animals used in research that is also premised on risk-based categorization. A third document is expected to address an alternative to an INAD file that can serve to facilitate the exchange of information with CVM for early-stage products or those intended only for research.

In addition, FDA is piloting a Veterinary Innovation Program (VIP) intended to provide “intensive assistance” to product developers. The VIP’s stated goal is “to facilitate advancements in development of innovative animal products by providing greater certainty in the regulatory process, encouraging development and research, and supporting an efficient and predictable pathway to approval….” The VIP promises intensive interaction with FDA staff; “hands-on assistance” consisting of helpful materials, early discussion of post-approval requirements, and advice on identification and assay methods; and “review process benefits” that include stopping the review clock, and consideration of alternative approaches for generating data needed for approval.

FDA’s announcement of its Action Plan should not come as a surprise, given Commissioner Gottlieb’s remarks at the FDLI Annual Conference in May. While the Agency’s stated commitment to a flexible, risk-based approach will be welcomed by many in industry, the actual impact of that approach will rest on the details – and those might not be made public until well into 2019.