United States: Guest Post – Observations On FDA 3D Printing Guidance

Last Updated: December 7 2017
Article by James Beck

This guest post is by Reed Smith's Matthew Jacobson. It discusses the FDA's recent guidance on the hot topic of 3D printing as a manufacturing practice for regulated drugs and medical devices, but not biologics (at least not yet). As always with our guest posts the author is 100% responsible for the content.

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A lot has happened over the past 19 months, some good, some bad, and some just unbelievable. To name a few, and without sounding like a remake of We Didn't' Start the Fire, a total solar eclipse, a new human organ was discovered, Brexit, another royal engagement, the Patriots had the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, fourteen top-level people have "left" the presidential administration (not counting the entire Obama administration), Tim Tam's became available in the U.S., and Bexis and I wrote the most comprehensive law review article to date on the product liability implications of 3D printing.

And as we prepare to head into 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave us another headline releasing its guidance for Technical Considerations for Additive Manufactured Medical Devices and issuing a statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb M.D. on a "new era of 3D printing of medical products." For those daily readers, you may remember that we first reported on the guidance when it was in its draft form in May 2016—19 months ago. In that time, FDA has been evaluating comments and feedback provided by entities in the 3D printing industry. The final guidance is, as you may expect, substantively similar to its draft form. As we see it, that is good news, that the new administration's approach on 3D printing of medical devices is the same as the old—which is rare these days.

The FDA Commissioner says the agency has reviewed more than 100 medical devices and one drug that are currently on the market, which are being manufactured by 3D printers. He goes on to say that the "FDA is now preparing for a significant wave of new technologies" and that the FDA is "working to provide a more comprehensive regulatory pathway that keeps pace with those advances, and helps facilitate efficient access to safe and effective innovations that are based on these technologies." That regulatory framework will need to adjust how "existing laws and regulations that govern device manufacturing [apply] to non-traditional manufacturers like medical facilities and academic institutions that create 3D-printed personalized devices for specific patients they are treating"—in other words, point of treatment device fabrication. The FDA is also researching the technology itself, has its own 3D printing labs and is providing opportunities for "innovative approaches to pharmaceutical product design or manufacturing, including additive manufacturing of pharmaceuticals." In fact, according to the statement "[m]ore than a dozen pharmaceutical manufacturers have formally or informally been in contact with [the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research] regarding the use of 3D printing to manufacture drugs."

The guidance, according to the FDA, is intended to provide FDA's thoughts on 3D printing and is meant to evolve as the technology grows. As was its draft version, it is still split up into two categories of considerations: 1) design and manufacturing and 2) device testing. Both sections overlap in substance, and the device testing section in particular provides strong, detailed recommendations for what a device manufacturer should include in a premarket submission for a device that uses additive manufacturing as a manufacturing technique.

Some noteworthy additions to the draft guidance (we are not repeating what we said then) that us non-technical folks noticed in the latest guidance are:

  • The final guidance adds that patient-matched devices (devices that are based on or "matched" to a specific patient's anatomy, usually based on medical imaging data) are especially vulnerable to file conversion errors because "anatomic curves are typically geometrically or mathematically complex, which can create difficulties when calculating conversions."
  • The guidance also adds a section on cybersecurity and privacy related to protecting personally identifiable information and protected health information, which can be an issue for patient-matched devices.
  • Establishing control limits to make sure that a product meets all predetermined requirements when it is "printed."
  • Pointing out that use of workflow that automates one or more software steps should be considered.
  • Adding to the "Material Controls" section materials of animal origin and composite materials

For the most part it appears the guidance's changes, some of which we noted above, focused on the different types of 3D printers that are available and each printer's unique characteristics, which may vary from brand to brand and with the type of material used. The guidance also seems to focus more on providing examples rather than trying to be all inclusive, which will allow for the technology to develop, without the need for the guidance to be updated.

We have been waiting a while for this final guidance to be released. Unfortunately, we may have to wait even longer for the FDA to release a guidance on the truly novel medical devices, which are 3D printed with biomaterials, such as stem-cells. Dr. Gottlieb says that the FDA "envision[s] that burn patients in the near future will be treated with their own new skin cells that are 3D printed directly onto their burn wounds" and "the potential for this same technology to eventually be used to develop replacement organs." However, based on the timing of the FDA's past communications with 3D printing, it may be longer than 19 months this time. Who knows, by then we may be dealing with the FDA's position on 3D printing under the Rock's presidency.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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