This post was also written by Frederick H. Branding, R.Ph., JD..

After just passing her eighth week as FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg announced on August 6, 2009, six new enforcement procedures to a group of industry representatives, attorneys, consumers, and others attending a speech sponsored by the Food and Drug Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

“The FDA must be vigilant, the FDA must be strategic, the FDA must be quick, and the FDA must be visible,” according to Commissioner Hamburg. She stated that vigilance means regular inspections and follow-up to ensure problems are resolved; identifying and resolving problems early; a “greater emphasis on significant risk and violations”; rapidly responding to egregious violations or violations that jeopardize public health; and using “meaningful penalties to send a strong message” to discourage future offenses. The Commissioner also said that the agency must be visible and publicize its enforcement actions (and the rationale for those actions) widely and effectively. Commissioner Hamburg described six new policy changes to meet these goals.

1. 15 Day Post-Inspection Deadline

FDA will now set post-inspection deadlines. When FDA finds that a firm is significantly out of compliance and issues inspectional observations on Form FDA-483, it will expect a prompt response, generally no more than 15 days. Failing to respond in 15 days will trigger FDA to move forward with a warning letter or enforcement action.

2. Streamlined Warning Letter Process – Chief Counsel Pre-Review Policy Abandoned

Abandoning a policy implemented in 2002, FDA’s Chief Counsel Office will no longer review every warning letter issued by the agency. The Chief Counsel will limit warning letter review to significant legal issues only. In other words regional offices will now be permitted to issue warning letters.

3. Closer Collaboration with Regional Partners

FDA will continue to seek to work more closely with regulatory partners (e.g., state, local, and international officials) to develop risk control and enforcement strategies, as these entities have more authority to take action quickly than FDA. “When the public health is at risk, the FDA will reach out to our partners to take rapid action while we alert the public and prepare longer-term responses.”

4. Prioritize Enforcement Follow-Up

FDA will prioritize its follow-up with non-compliant firms. After a warning letter is issued or a product recall occurs, FDA will “make it a priority to follow up promptly with appropriate action.” This may include an inspection or investigation to ensure the problem has been resolved.

5. Swift and Aggressive Action Without a Warning Letter

FDA is prepared to take swift aggressive action to protect the public. The agency will no longer issue multiple warning letters. In addition, FDA will consider immediate action, such as action before it issues a warning letter, to address significant health concerns or egregious violations. Although FDA has had the authority to take enforcement action without issuing a warning letter, the agency generally reserves use of enforcement actions such as seizure or injunction for serious public safety situations requiring immediate action to stop manufacturing or distribution to prevent harm.

6. Warning Letter “Close-Out” Process

FDA is developing a formal warning letter close-out process. For example, after FDA reinspects a facility to ensure that a firm has fully corrected violations identified in a warning letter, FDA may provide to the firm a formal “close-out” letter, indicating that the issues have been successfully addressed. This letter will then be posted on FDA’s website. However, not every warning letter will be eligible for a formal close-out letter. Such letters will likely be sent to companies with a history of ongoing violations.

Commissioner Hamburg expects these new policies will ensure violative inspection results are taken seriously, warning letters and enforcement actions occur in a timely manner, and steps are taken promptly to protect consumers.