Court records show the FDA failed at reviewing submitted PMTA data as required and only looked for specific studies.
By Timothy S. Donahue
The term “fatal flaw” was used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) submissions that didn’t have specific studies. The term has been at the center of nearly all lawsuits filed against the FDA for its handling of the PMTA process.
In court records reviewed by Voice Voice submitted in the Triton Distribution v. U.S. FDA case requesting a stay of the marketing denial order (MDO) the e-liquid manufacturer received from the FDA, the regulatory agency submitted an administrative record for the review of Triton’s PMTA that shows the agency did not fully review all PMTA data submitted, as required by law, but instead only looked for specific studies relating to flavors and youth use.
A memo dated July 9, 2021, written by Anne Radway, the associate director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products’ Office of Science, states that “based on the information available to date, FDA has determined this evaluation requires evidence that can demonstrate whether an applicant’s new non-tobacco flavored product(s) will provide an incremental benefit to adult smokers relative to the applicant’s tobacco-flavored product(s). In particular, the evidence necessary for this evaluation would be provided by either a randomized controlled trial (RCT) or a longitudinal cohort study. The absence of these types of studies is considered a fatal flaw, meaning any application lacking this evidence will likely receive a marketing denial order.”
Radway goes onto explain that due to the large number of PMTAs received, the agency would only conduct a Fatal Flaw review of PMTAs for non-tobacco flavored ENDS products.
“The Fatal Flaw review is a simple review in which the reviewer examines the submission to identify whether or not it contains the necessary type of studies. The Fatal Flaw review will be limited to determining presence or absence of such studies; it will not evaluate the merits of the studies,” Radway states. “To decrease the number of PMTAs without final action by September 9, 2021, [Office of Science] used a database query to identify the top twelve manufacturers with the largest number of pending PMTAs [in the substantive review stage of the process] … Following completion of filing those applications that are filed will immediately initiate Fatal Flaw review.”
Radway also states that for the remaining PMTAs not in [substantive review] for non-tobacco flavored e-liquid products, FDA will send a “General Correspondence letter requesting the applicant to confirm if their PMTA contains such evidence and, if so, to direct FDA to the location in the application where the studies can be found.”
During the first day of TMA’s “From Chance to Change” webinar on Nov. 17, panelists were disturbed by the findings that the agency, rather than reviewing a submission on its merits, simply searched for the presence or absence of certain studies.
Brittani Cushman, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Turning Point Brands said that the “idea that so many of the applications were reviewed with an eye toward this so-called fatal flaw analysis” didn’t “feel like the right direction” for the PMTA review process.
The FDA admitted it made an error in TPB’s PMTA review and TPB did in fact submit studies that the agency decided during the PMTA process were needed, after saying for years the studies were not required. The FDA then rescinded TPB’s MDO and placed its applications back into substantive review. The agency has since rescinded or a court has stayed MDO’s for 10 companies and the agency is currently facing at least 45 lawsuits for it handling of the PMTA process. This is in addition to the dozens of requests for supervisory review.
“The way the review process has played out this far, really, feels like the incentive structure in the nicotine industry has been placed on its head,” explained Cushman. “It seems that the lower-risk products are receiving heightened scrutiny, kind of an opaque direction as to what’s sufficient. And it just doesn’t feel like these products are getting a kind of equitable treatment in the space.“
Triton Distribution had their MDO stayed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals with the court holding that Triton is likely to succeed on the merits of its case because the FDA “changed its regulatory requirements” and that this “switcheroo” to now require a randomized controlled trial and/or a longitudinal cohort study – which the Agency previously stated on numerous occasions would not be required – was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The court stated that the FDA failed to “reasonably consider the relevant issues and reasonably explain” the MDO.
The Court further noted that FDA failed to consider Triton’s marketing plan, surveys, and evidence of potential benefits of flavored e-cigarettes. FDA also “failed to consider the company’s legitimate reliance interests, as Triton relied on FDA’s statements made in numerous public meetings, guidance documents and rulemakings” that it did not expect applicants would need to conduct long-term studies to support their PMTAs.
Cushman told webinar watchers that, at the end of the day, the FDA’s regulatory treatment of the various product categories is to the detriment of the adult smoker.
“We’re all down in the weeds of this. But it’s difficult to see how we ended up at this point. And it certainly can’t be where anyone wanted this process to play out,” she said. “I think this has led to a lot of detrimental outcomes. You have adults seeing a large number of vapor products being deemed as not appropriate for the protection of public health while seeing no change in [combustible] cigarette offerings in their local C-store … This is being celebrated not only by those who are ignorant to the science, but more perversely, those [who understand the science and should] know better.”
For more on this session from TMA 2021 read the next issue of Vapor Voice coming in mid-December.