From Discretion to Regulation: FDA's New Path for LDTs

May 07, 2024

Earlier this year, we reported on the expected U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling concerning Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs). The FDA has consistently shown a commitment to regulating LDTs. On May 6, 2024, the new rule that now classifies LDTs as medical devices under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) was published. This significant shift from the FDA’s previous policy of enforcement discretion marks a move toward a more standardized regulatory framework for in vitro diagnostics (IVDs), regardless of their place of manufacture.

Historically, the FDA practiced enforcement discretion with LDTs, meaning it did not apply the same regulatory standards to LDTs as it did to other medical devices. Historically, LDTs started as simpler tests conducted on a small scale by local laboratories. However, as LDTs have become more complex and integral to critical healthcare decisions, their regulatory status is being reassessed.

Under the new rule, which goes into effect on July 5, 2024, laboratories must adhere to the same regulatory standards as other IVD manufacturers. This includes device registration and listing, adverse event reporting, and compliance with good manufacturing practices. The FDA will phase out its enforcement discretion over four years, providing a transition period for laboratories to align with the new requirements. This gradual approach is intended to ensure the reliability and safety of LDTs, while still providing access to vital tests for patient care.

Key Details of the Phased Compliance Approach:

  • Phase 1 (Year 1): Introduction of mandatory adverse event reporting and basic quality system requirements.
  • Phase 2 (Year 2): Compliance with registration, listing, and comprehensive labeling requirements.
  • Phase 3 (Year 3): Full implementation of quality system regulations.
  • Phase 4 (Year 3.5): Commencement of premarket review requirements for high-risk IVDs.
  • Phase 5 (Year 4): Expansion of premarket review requirements to include moderate and low-risk IVDs.

The FDA, together with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), has expressed a need for stringent oversight of LDTs. The increasing complexity of LDTs used in diagnosing serious conditions—from heart disease to rare genetic disorders—has heightened safety concerns, highlighting the need for an updated regulatory framework.

While the FDA's resolve to regulate LDTs as medical devices is evident, the implementation of these regulations may encounter obstacles. The profound impact on the diagnostic industry and the extensive resistance indicated by over 6,000 public comments suggest that legal challenges are likely following the adoption of the final rule. Industry stakeholders may contest the FDA's authority or specific provisions of the rule, potentially leading to judicial reviews that could delay or alter the implementation of these regulations.

Impacts of the New FDA Rule: What the Industry Can Expect

This change is poised to significantly impact the healthcare industry. From increased compliance costs and operational changes that may challenge smaller labs and startups, to potential market consolidation, the landscape is set to change. We summarize some potential impacts below.

  1.  Increased Regulatory Compliance: Laboratories will need to comply with the FDA’s traditional medical device requirements, including registration, quality system regulation (“QSR”), and adverse event reporting, among others. This will require significant adjustments in how laboratories operate, likely increasing their operational costs and necessitating comprehensive staff training on compliance.
  2. Improved Patient Safety: By bringing LDTs under more stringent regulatory oversight, the rule aims to enhance the safety and reliability of these tests. This could lead to fewer false positives and negatives, improving patient outcomes by ensuring that diagnoses and subsequent treatments are based on more accurate information.
  3. Innovation and Development: While increased regulation could initially slow down the pace of innovation due to the new regulatory requirements, in the long run, it may spur innovation by raising the standards for test development. This could lead to higher-quality, more innovative diagnostic tools entering the market.
  4. Market Restructuring: Smaller laboratories and startups might find it challenging to meet the new regulatory requirements due to the associated costs and administrative burdens. This could lead to market consolidation, where larger entities with more resources dominate, or it could drive partnerships and collaborations as smaller labs seek support.
  5. Legal and Financial Implications: The industry could see an increase in legal challenges as stakeholders might contest the FDA’s authority to regulate LDTs in this manner. Financially, the diagnostic industry might experience shifts in investment patterns, with potential increases in funding for those able to comply with the new regulations and decreases for entities that struggle.
  6. Impact on Healthcare Delivery: The regulation could delay the availability of new tests as they undergo the FDA's approval process. However, over time, the standardization could lead to broader access to high-quality diagnostic tests across different healthcare settings.
  7. Insurance and Reimbursement: Changes in regulation may affect how insurance companies cover and reimburse LDTs. More rigorous standards might lead insurers to adjust coverage policies, which could impact how quickly patients can access new tests and how much they pay out of pocket.
  8. International Competitiveness: The U.S. diagnostic market might see changes in its international competitive stance. Stricter regulations could make it a leader in high-quality diagnostics, but they could also slow the introduction of new tests compared to countries with less stringent regulations.

As the regulatory landscape for LDTs undergoes changes, industry stakeholders will need to navigate the new regulatory environment with strategic foresight. For guidance on compliance strategies or to understand more about how these changes might affect your operations, contact Gardner Law.