F.D.A. Warns Patients About Some Prenatal Genetic Tests

F.D.A. Warns Sufferers About Some Prenatal Genetic Checks

The Meals and Drug Administration warned expectant parents on Tuesday concerning the danger of false constructive outcomes from a booming line of prenatal blood checks that display fetuses for uncommon genetic circumstances.

The discover adopted a New York Times examination in January that reported on the incidence of false constructive leads to a few of these checks, often known as noninvasive prenatal screening checks, or NIPTs. That article quoted girls who obtained false constructive screening outcomes for very uncommon circumstances; highlighted examples of deceptive advertising by corporations promoting the checks; and described some studies of pregnancies that have been terminated based mostly on a screening and not using a confirmatory check.

The company warned medical doctors to not diagnose genetic issues based mostly on these outcomes alone and pressured the necessity to observe constructive screenings with extra dependable “diagnostic” testing. It stated it was “conscious of studies” that some girls “have ended pregnancies based mostly solely on the outcomes” of those genetic screening checks.

“Whereas genetic noninvasive prenatal screening checks are broadly used immediately, these checks haven’t been reviewed by the F.D.A. and could also be making claims about their efficiency and use that aren’t based mostly on sound science,” Dr. Jeff Shuren, the director of the company’s Heart for Units and Radiological Well being, stated in a press release.

The checks are taken by over a 3rd of pregnant girls in the USA. However they fall right into a class known as lab-developed checks, which aren’t regulated or authorised by the F.D.A. In its security discover, the company stated it was working with Congress “on laws to ascertain a contemporary regulatory framework for all checks,” together with the class that covers these screenings.

The company’s warning comes after quite a few accounts, dating back years, of misinterpretations of the screenings as being definitive. However the criticism has intensified in latest months, with 97 Republican legislators sending a letter to the F.D.A. in January, prompted by the Instances article.

“That is an space that has involved the company for a very long time,” stated Alberto Gutierrez, the previous director of the F.D.A. workplace that oversees many medical checks.

The dearth of regulation of lab-developed checks “has led to many instances the place the laboratories have claimed greater than they need to based mostly on the info that’s out there,” he added.

The warning doesn’t include any consequence for prenatal check producers. But it surely urged them to submit their merchandise for voluntary approval. A spokeswoman for the company declined to say whether or not it was at present working with any producers on this entrance.

In simply over a decade, the checks have gone from laboratory experiments to a serious business, with corporations like Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics coming into the enterprise, alongside many start-ups.

One giant check maker, Natera, stated that in 2020 it carried out greater than 400,000 screenings for one kind of situation, known as microdeletions — the equal of testing roughly 10 p.c of pregnant girls in America. On a convention name with buyers in 2021, it revealed that 75 p.c to 80 p.c of its core prenatal testing enterprise included microdeletion screenings.

Instantly after the F.D.A. warning was launched on Tuesday, Natera’s inventory dropped greater than 7 p.c, nevertheless it had regained a lot of its worth by midmorning Wednesday.

“Natera absolutely helps the F.D.A.’s communication relating to NIPT and has lengthy believed that educating sufferers and well being care suppliers on the strengths and limitations is important to affected person care,” the corporate stated in a press release.

Myriad, one other check maker, stated it could assist an F.D.A. function in regulating lab-developed checks. Labcorp stated that it appreciated the F.D.A.’s steerage on this topic, and that “screening checks ought to be adopted with diagnostic testing when acceptable.”

Different giant check makers, together with Quest and BioReference Laboratories, didn’t instantly return requests for remark.

The Instances examination included a evaluation of 17 brochures from corporations that promote prenatal screenings. On the time, 10 of the brochures didn’t point out {that a} false constructive might occur. Mr. Gutierrez reviewed among the supplies and described them as “problematic” and “deceptive.”

“Many laboratories that provide these checks declare the checks are ‘dependable’ and ‘extremely correct,’ providing ‘peace of thoughts’ for sufferers,” the company wrote, quoting examples The Instances printed in January. “The F.D.A. is anxious that these claims is probably not supported with sound scientific proof.”

After reviewing the scientific literature, the company stated that whereas prenatal screening checks “typically carry out properly for ruling out issues,” they’re much less dependable when delivering constructive outcomes. Probably the most dependable constructive outcomes are for Down syndrome. For extra uncommon genetic issues, attributable to small lacking snippets of chromosomes often known as microdeletions, the company discovered {that a} constructive screening end result could also be a false constructive between 70 p.c to 98 p.c of the time.

Their findings align with the Instances article, which recognized 5 microdeletion screenings for which about 85 p.c of the constructive outcomes are false positives.

“This can be a robust response,” stated Liz Richardson, who directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ well being care merchandise challenge and has been an creator of reports calling for regulation of prenatal testing. “It nonetheless does put numerous the burden, in my view, on the shoppers and the well being care suppliers to know how you can interpret these checks, when actually the burden ought to be on the corporate to speak in a truthful and non-misleading approach,” she added.

“Whereas this can be a useful first step, I believe what’s wanted is extra complete reform of F.D.A.’s oversight of those checks, in addition to different laboratory-developed checks.”

A invoice looking for to offer further oversight is at present in Congress. The VALID Act is a bipartisan invoice in each chambers that might give the F.D.A. the authority to manage lab-developed checks in the identical approach that it regulates diagnostic checks. The invoice is headed to committee this spring.

In a press release, Consultant Chip Roy of Texas, one of many authors of the congressional letter and an opponent of abortion, applauded the F.D.A.’s discover as “one other step in direction of defending life.”

“Mother and father deserve full data when making difficult medical selections for his or her youngsters — particularly when these checks generally is a matter of life or dying,” he stated.

Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.