The FDA’s Medical Device Innovation Challenge: A New Approach to Combat the Opioid Epidemic

On May 30, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched an innovation challenge as a way to combat the fight against opioid addiction. The challenge was issued to “spur the development of medical devices, including digital health technologies and diagnostic tests that could provide novel solutions to detecting, treating and preventing addiction, addressing diversion and treating pain.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated that “[m]edical devices, including digital health devices like mobile medical apps, have the potential to play a unique and important role in tackling the opioid crisis.” Medical devices can be used to address opioid addiction by, for example, effectively addressing local pain syndromes in order to supplant the use of systemic opioids and reduce the use of opioids. “New digital technology products and diagnostic tests could help in the opioid addiction fight by detecting, treating, and preventing addiction; addressing diversion of the opioid supply chain to illicit use; and treating pain,” the FDA said.

According to Bloomberg, “accepted companies will get to work more closely with the FDA’s review offices than usual to help get their products approved. Products that qualify as breakthrough devices under food and drug law will receive that designation without the sponsor needing to submit an application, the agency said. A breakthrough device designation can reduce the time and cost to get a product to market that addresses life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases.”

The innovation challenge is open to any product in any stage of development. The challenge also is open to developers of currently marketed devices who can show that their devices have an improved benefit-risk profile compared to opioid use in pain management. The FDA anticipates “that applicants will eventually submit one or more formal applications to the FDA, such as an investigational device exemption, De Novo, premarket clearance (510(k)) or premarket approval application.”

This innovation challenge is part of the FDA’s plan to aid in the opioid crisis and supports several overarching goals of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Five-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioid Crisis. On April 20, 2018, the agency also released the first of two new draft guidances intended to aid industry in developing new medications for use in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid dependence.

Alexander Zeng
Alexander D. Zeng practices intellectual property law, with a focus on patent prosecution and litigation in medical device technologies. Prior to joining the firm, he worked as a research scientist for Dr. Hussein Yasine at USC where he was involved with research on the effect of APOE e4 on brain lipids. He graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with his B.S. in Bioengineering and the University of Southern California with his M.S. in Medical Device and Diagnostic Engineering. During law school at the University of California Irvine, Alexander was a Research Editor on Law Review and was a member of the UCI Intellectual Property, Art, and Technology clinic where he worked on start-up counseling, trademark prosecution, and fair use analysis for documentary film makers.
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