Attendees at a public meeting on Nov. 4 gave the US Food and Drug Administration conflicting views on whether the agency should continue to allow a relatively loose regulatory environment for fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) – debating the limits of “enforcement discretion” the FDA now has in place.
The question is especially relevant as use of the procedure is growing, while safety data are not being rigorously collected in all cases. The death of anFMT patient earlier in 2018 from an invasive bacterial infection caused by drug-resistant Escherichia coli, Medscape Medical News, is seen by some as an example of the consequences of a loose policy.
Still, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) presented new, unpublished follow-up data at the meeting that showed that the majority of FMT patients in a national registry had no adverse events.
Some companies developing FMT-based products argued at the meeting that the agency should impose stricter requirements, while stool banks and clinicians offering the therapy outside of clinical trials said that the current policy – in place since 2013 – in which the FDA has exercised “enforcement discretion,” should be allowed to continue.
“Enforcement discretion has been successful in enabling and overcoming key barriers to access to treatment,” said Majdi Osman, MD, clinical program director at OpenBiome, a nonprofit stool bank based in Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Osman said that 98% of the U.S. population now lives within a 2-hour drive of an FMT provider.
Amanda Kabage, a researcher and donor program coordinator for the Microbiota Therapeutics program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and herself a former recipient of FMT, said she was in favor of continuing the FDA policy.
“If enforcement discretion were to go away, patients far sicker than I was will not have access. They’ll get sicker and they will die,” Ms. Kabage said.
But, she added, the FDA had missed an opportunity by not insisting on collecting outcomes and safety data. Minnesota has established a patient registry to do just that, and physicians cannot administer FMT unless they agree to participate, she said. In response, FDA panelists noted that the agency cannot mandate data collection under an enforcement policy.
Lee Jones, founder and chief executive officer of Rebiotix/Ferring, a biotech company focused on the development of microbiome-based therapeutics, argued for tighter restrictions, however, claiming that increased access – and the FDA policy – had led to a fourfold decrease in enrollment since the company began study of its lead FMT product, RBX2660, in 2013.
“We’re dealing with an orphan indication and the patients were hard to come by to begin with,” she said at the meeting. “Enforcement discretion has slowed our clinical development and delayed patient access to FDA-approved therapies by over 2 years.”
An investigator at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Herbert DuPont, MD, who has administered FMT and is conducting a trial for Rebiotix, said his center wanted the FDA policy to continue “allowing multiple groups to perform FMT for recurrent [Clostridium difficile], because of the incredible public health need.”
But, he added, “We’re very concerned about industry and ability to do clinical trials.”
Those trials are important, Dr. DuPont said. “I think we have to address very actively how industry can move these products through,” he said, “because all of us want to remove the F from FMT,” by isolating the necessary elements of the process while not having the risk sometimes associated with human stool.