News from the FDA/CDC

FDA tightens requirements for COVID-19 antibody tests


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is tightening requirements for companies that develop COVID-19 antibody tests in an effort to combat fraud and better regulate the frenzy of tests coming to market.

FDA icon Wikimedia Commons/FitzColinGerald/ Creative Commons License

The updated policy, announced May 4, requires commercial antibody test developers to apply for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA under a tight time frame and also provides specific performance threshold recommendations for test specificity and sensitivity. The revised requirements follow a March 16 policy that allowed developers to validate their own tests and bring them to market without an agency review. More than 100 coronavirus antibody tests have since entered the market, fueling a congressional investigation into the accuracy of tests.

When the March policy was issued, FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, said it was critical for the FDA to provide regulatory flexibility for serology test developers, given the nature of the COVID-19 public health emergency and an understanding that the tests were not meant to be used as the sole basis for COVID-19 diagnosis.

“As FDA has authorized more antibody tests and validation data has become available, including through the capability at [the National Cancer Institute] the careful balancing of risks and benefits has shifted to the approach we have outlined today and our policy update,” Dr. Hahn said during a May 4 press conference.

The new approach requires all commercial manufacturers to submit EUA requests with their validation data within 10 business days from the date they notified the FDA of their validation testing or from the date of the May 4 policy, whichever is later. Additionally, the FDA has provided specific performance threshold recommendations for specificity and sensitivity for all serology test developers.

In a statement released May 4, FDA leaders acknowledged the widespread fraud that is occurring in connection to antibody tests entering the market.

“We unfortunately see unscrupulous actors marketing fraudulent test kits and using the pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of Americans’ anxiety,” wrote Anand Shah, MD, FDA deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs in a joint statement with Jeff E. Shuren, MD, director for the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Some test developers have falsely claimed their serological tests are FDA approved or authorized. Others have falsely claimed that their tests can diagnose COVID-19 or that they are for at-home testing, which would fall outside of the policies outlined in our March 16 guidance, as well as the updated guidance.”

At the same time, FDA officials said they are aware of a “concerning number” of commercial serology tests that are being inappropriately marketed, including for diagnostic use, or that are performing poorly based on an independent evaluation by the National Institutes of Health, according to the May 4 statement.

In addition to tightening its requirements for test developers, the FDA also is introducing a more streamlined process to support EUA submissions and review. Two voluntary EUA templates for antibody tests are now available – one for commercial manufacturers and one for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified high-complexity labs seeking FDA authorization. The templates will facilitate the preparation and submission of EUA requests and can be used by any interested developer, according to the FDA.

To date, 12 antibody tests have been authorized under an individual EUA, and more than 200 antibody tests are currently the subject of a pre-EUA or EUA review, according to the FDA.

Many unknowns remain about antibody tests and how they might help researchers and clinicians understand and/or potentially treat COVID-19. Antibody tests may be able to provide information on disease prevalence and frequency of asymptomatic infection, as well as identify potential donors of “convalescent plasma,” an approach in which blood plasma containing antibodies from a recovered individual serves as a therapy for an infected patient with severe disease, Dr. Shah wrote in the May 4 statement.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions about this particular issue,” Dr. Hahn said during the press conference. “We need the data because we need to understand this particular aspect of the disease and put it as part of the puzzle around COVID-19.”

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