Devices & Diagnostics

FDA tests Innovation Pathway proposal on bionic arm project

The Food & Drug Administration, aiming to blaze trail on a so-called “Innovation Pathway” designed to speed innovative medical technology to market, tapped a military project to create a prosthetic arm controlled by a brain-implanted microchip as its first speedy review candidate.

The Food & Drug Administration gives priority review to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project aiming to create a bionic arm as the watchdog agency’s first step on its “Innovation Pathway” proposal.

The Food & Drug Administration, aiming to blaze trail on a so-called “Innovation Pathway” designed to speed innovative medical technology to market, tapped a military project to create a prosthetic arm controlled by a brain-implanted microchip as its first speedy review candidate.

The federal watchdog agency granted priority review to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project to create a “brain-controlled, upper-extremity prosthetic” as the pilot for its new program. The DARPA team is looking to “restore near-natural arm, hand and finger function to patients suffering from spinal cord injury, stroke or amputation,” according to an FDA press release.

“The arm system uses a microchip implanted on the surface of the brain to record neuronal activity and decode the signals to actuate motor neurons that control the prosthesis,” according to the release.

The Innovation Pathway, which is slated to undergo public review before more projects are selected, is the FDA’s Center for Devices & Radiological Health’s push to boost the development of “pioneering medical devices” that’s “designed to encourage cutting-edge technologies among medical device manufacturers.”

“Each year, millions of American patients benefit from innovative medical devices that reduce suffering and treat previously untreatable conditions,” CDRH head Dr. Jeffrey Shuren said in prepared remarks. “CDRH’s Innovation Initiative will help accelerate the development of and patient access to innovative medical devices, which often fulfill unmet public health needs.”

The agency is also looking to shore up the infrastructure behind the development of breakthrough technologies. Proposed actions for the program include:

  • “Establishing a voluntary, third-party certification program for U.S. medical device test centers designed to promote rapid improvements to new technologies during a product’s development and clinical testing stages.”
  • “Creating a publicly-available core curriculum for medical device development and testing to train the next generation of innovators.”
  • “Using more device experience and data collected outside the U.S.”

CDRH said it also plans to “engage in formal horizon scanning” by keeping tabs on medical literature and scientific funding. Projects tapped for the innovation program would have to be “truly pioneering” and capable of “revolutionizing patient care or healthcare delivery” to be eligible. Those tapped would receive roadmap and timeline from the CDRH for the development, testing and review of the device. An FDA “case manager” would be assigned to each project, to help identify and address “important scientific issues” early on. The projects could also qualify for “flexible” clinical trial protocols, according to the agency.

The proposal is aimed at halving the time it takes for “high-risk or novel products” to win pre-market approval, with a target of 150 days. A public hearing on the initiative is scheduled for March 15 in White Oak, Md.

The Massachusetts Medical Devices Journal is the online journal of the medical devices industry in the Commonwealth and New England, providing day-to-day coverage of the devices that save lives, the people behind them, and the burgeoning trends and developments within the industry.

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