The 21st Century Cures Act, enacted in December 2016, amended the definition of “medical device” in section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) to exclude five distinct categories of software or digital health products. In response, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new digital health guidance and revised several

In response to the rapid pace of innovation in the health and life sciences arena, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a proactive, risk-based approach to regulating digital health products. Software applications and other transformative technologies, such as artificial intelligence and 3D printing, are reshaping how medical devices are developed, and FDA is seeking to align its mission and regulatory obligations with those changes.

FDA’s digital health software precertification program is a prime example of this approach. Once fully implemented, this voluntary program should expedite the path to market for software as a medical device (SaMD), and promote greater transparency between FDA and regulated entities.

Under the program, FDA will conduct a holistic review of the company producing the SaMD, taking into account aspects such as management culture, quality systems and cybersecurity protocols, to ascertain whether the company has developed sufficient infrastructure to ensure that its products will comply with FDA requirements and function safely as intended. Companies that fulfill the requirements of the excellence appraisal and related reviews will receive precertification that may provide for faster premarket reviews and more flexible approaches to data submissions at the outset.


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In April 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a white paper, “Proposed Regulatory Framework for Modifications to Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML)-Based Software as a Medical Device,” announcing steps to consider a new regulatory framework to promote the development of safe and effective medical devices that use advanced AI algorithms. AI, and specifically ML, are “techniques used to design and train software algorithms to learn from and act on data.” FDA’s proposed approach would allow modifications to algorithms to be made from real-world learning and adaptation that accommodates the iterative nature of AI products while ensuring FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness are maintained.

Under the existing framework, a premarket submission (i.e., a 510(k)) would be required if the AI/ML software modification significantly affects device performance or the device’s safety and effectiveness; the modification is to the device’s intended use; or the modification introduces a major change to the software as a medical device (SaMD) algorithm. In the case of a PMA-approved SaMD, a PMA supplement would be required for changes that affect safety or effectiveness. FDA noted that adaptive AI/ML technologies require a new total product lifecycle (TPLC) regulatory approach and focuses on three types of modifications to AI/ML-based SaMD:


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As part of the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to establish a Breakthrough Devices Program intended to expedite the development and prioritize the review of certain medical devices that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating disease or conditions. In December 2018, FDA issued a guidance document describing policies FDA intends to use to implement the Program.

There are two criteria for inclusion in the Breakthrough Device Program:

  1. The device must provide for a more effective treatment or diagnosis of a life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating human disease or condition; and
  2. The device must (i) represent breakthrough technology, (ii) have no approved or cleared alternatives, (iii) offer significant advantages over existing approved or cleared alternatives, or (iv) demonstrate that its availability is in the best interest of patients.


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Digital health companies face a complicated regulatory landscape. While the opportunities for innovation and dynamic partnerships are abundant, so are the potential compliance pitfalls. In 2018 and in 2019, several digital health companies faced intense scrutiny—not only from regulatory agencies, but in some cases from their own investors. While the regulatory framework for digital technology in health care and life sciences will continue to evolve, digital health enterprises can take key steps now to mitigate risk, ensure compliance and position themselves for success.

  1. Be accurate about quality.

Ensuring that you have a high-quality product or service is only the first step; you should also be exactingly accurate in the way that you speak about your product’s quality or efficacy. Even if a product or service does not require US Food and Drug Administration clearance for making claims, you still may face substantial regulatory risk and liability if the product does not perform at the level described. As demonstrated in several recent public cases, an inaccurate statement of quality or efficacy can draw state and federal regulatory scrutiny, and carries consequences for selling your product in the marketplace and securing reimbursement.

Tech companies and non-traditional health industry players should take careful stock of the health sector’s unique requirements and liabilities in this area, as the risk is much higher in this arena than in other industries.


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Join us on November 8, 2018, for the third installment of McDermott’s live webinar series on digital health. In this installment, partners Bernadette M. Broccolo, Jiayan Chen and Vernessa T. Pollard will explore opportunities for accelerating biomedical research, development and commercialization through digital health tools and solutions, such as end-user license agreements (EULAs), wearables

The digitization of health care and the proliferation of electronic medical records is happening rapidly, generating large quantities of data with potential to provide valuable insights into disease and wellness and help solve challenging public health problems.

There is tremendous enthusiasm over the possibilities of leveraging this data for secondary use–i.e., a use

Throughout 2017, the health care and life sciences industries experienced a widespread proliferation of digital health innovation that presents challenges to traditional notions of health care delivery and payment as well as product research, development and commercialization for both long-standing and new stakeholders. At the same time, lawmakers and regulators made meaningful progress toward modernizing

Last Tuesday afternoon, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a webinar to outline a recently-published Digital Health Innovation Action Plan (Plan). In the Plan, the agency recognized that the traditional regulatory approach toward moderate and high risk medical devices is not well suited for the fast-paced, iterative design, development and type of validation used for digital health software products today. Going forward, the agency plans to explore an innovative approach to regulating these types of products. The approach contains three primary prongs: (1) the issuance of new guidance, (2) the Digital Health Software Precertification Program and (3) an internal expansion of FDA’s digital health capabilities.

The webinar was presented by Bakul Patel, Associate Director for Digital Health at FDA. At least 905 attendees logged in to the webinar.
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On March 23, 2017, the New York Attorney General’s office announced that it has settled with the developers of three mobile health (mHealth) applications (apps) for, among other things, alleged misleading commercial claims. This settlement highlights for mHealth app developers the importance of systematically gathering sufficient evidence to support their commercial claims.

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