Despite a determination by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) that laboratory developed tests (“LDTs”) do not require premarket approval, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has asserted that the at-home collection kit portion of a COVID-19 LDT does require FDA pre-market approval.
Testing by clinical laboratories is regulated by the FDA and by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (“CLIA”), as administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”). The FDA regulates medical devices, including in vitro diagnostic products (“IVDs”). The FDA considers LDTs to be IVDs that are intended for clinical use and are designed, manufactured, and used within a single laboratory. CLIA, on the other hand, regulates the laboratory itself and classifies LDTs as “high complexity tests,” with corresponding standards imposed on the laboratory. Importantly, regarding the LDT itself, CLIA requires only analytical validation, which can occur after testing has already begun. LDTs may also be subject to more stringent state and private sector oversight.
Historically, the FDA had exercised enforcement discretion and not regulated LTDs, but this began to change in recent decades. However, in August 2020, HHS directed that, absent rule and commenting and at least during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the FDA would not require premarket review and approval of LDTs. This allowed clinical laboratories to develop and begin using LDTs to test for COVID-19 without delaying for an FDA Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”) or other approval. Some of these LDTs included at-home collection kits wherein the patient collected the sample at home, sometimes under the telemedicine supervision of a health care professional, and shipped it to the laboratory for testing.