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FDA Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Medical Device Amendments
June 24, 2016
In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple and a gallon of gas was $.59. And in another action that has had long term impact, President Ford signed the Medical Device Amendments that closed the dangerous gap between what he called FDA’s “horse and buggy authority” and “laser age problems.”
Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, which was born from large chemical companies that discovered medical uses for the products they made, the device industry sprung to life as a scrappy sibling—mostly mom-and-pop businesses addressing the needs of individual patients and physicians through invention.
Although Congress had first given FDA explicit authority over medical devices in the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the focus was on fraudulent products. Efforts to extend FDA’s oversight on medical devices failed in 1962 and again in 1970.
Then in 1975, reports emerged that thousands of women had been harmed, some even died, from pelvic inflammatory disease, as the result of using the Dalkon Shield, an intrauterine device for contraception. Congress responded the following year by enacting the Medical Device Amendments, which authorized FDA to classify all medical devices based on risk into one of three classifications, to require premarket approval for Class III devices, and for devices to comply with reporting and GMP requirements.
The law ushered in a new era for medical technology innovation, patient access, and patient safety, but also created a tension, contributing to a political environment where the pendulum continues to swing between these objectives, defining and driving the medical device ecosystem ever since.
In signing the legislation, President Ford noted that, when “well designed and well-made and properly used” medical devices “support and lengthen life.” But when medical devices are “poorly designed, poorly made, and improperly used” they can “threaten and impair” life.” His words still ring true today.
By: Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D.