On June 4, FDA announced in the Federal Register that they were considering release of de-identified data sets in an effort to provide greater access to clinical and preclinical study data for researchers. This collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) would presumably work like other public databases NIH has supported over the years to provide access to medical data for research purposes. As a researcher, I (Eric) used NIH databases like the Lung Image Database Consortium (“LIDC”) and Reference Image Database to Evaluate Response (“RIDER”) sets of Lung computer tomography (“CT”) scans to gather anatomic information about the potential patient population to make product design choices. FDA’s proposal offers both potential benefits and harms to consider.
FDA recognizes that clinical study data sets are underutilized for the scientific understanding that they can provide. As a rule, preclinical and clinical studies are very expensive propositions that produce high quality data but receive limited publication, granting few in the research community with access to the raw data. This is understandable, in part, because sponsors wish to both protect their clinical data from competitors who may copy or undermine it, as well for protection of their intellectual property. This limited access prevents that data from being included in certain meta analyses studies. Meta analysis provides the numbers needed to identify lower frequency events and weaker correlations in the data. If a correlation does not reach the widely recognized p-value of 0.05 or lower, the scientific community is hard pressed to consider it a proven hypothesis. Meta analysis combines several studies and can produce “significant” results based on the increased size of the dataset. FDA has access to the raw data from clinical studies submitted with new product applications as well as other databases, however, it does not have the resources or mandate to perform this type of research.
FDA notes that there are potential hazards to this disclosure. FDA’s call for comments states that FDA is not a covered entity for the purposes of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”). However, patients who have signed up for clinical trials generally have agreed to have their information used for certain purposes, often including publication. For the most part, patients understand that such data may be reported in the aggregate.