The Role of Predicate Devices in 510(k) Submissions

The Role of Predicate Devices in 510(k) Submissions

Introduction to Approval Pathways

In the world of medical device regulation, the FDA offers several pathways for introducing new non-low risk products to the market. (Premarket Approval (PMA), the 510(k) Premarket Notification, and the De Novo classification request). Over 50% of the FDA product codes are classified as Class II, and, while some product codes may be exempt, that makes the 510(k) pathway applicable the most device types. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand that predicate devices play a significant role in 510(k) submissions. This article will explore how understanding the role of predicate devices can help you confidently navigate the regulatory landscape, ensuring a smoother and more assured clearance for your device.

Overview of the 510(k) Pathway

The 510(k) regulatory pathway is a submission process that manufacturers use to get clearance from the FDA to market a Class II product in the U.S. Under the 510(k) pathway, a medical device manufacturer submits a premarket notification to the FDA, which includes information about the device’s intended use, design, and performance characteristics compared to a predicate device.

The goal of the 510(k) submission is to demonstrate that the device is “substantially equivalent” to a legally marketed device that has already been cleared by the FDA and is in commercial distribution (the “predicate device”). To make this determination, the FDA reviews the 510(k) submission to ensure that the device has the same intended use and similar technological characteristics to the predicate and does not raise any new questions of risk or safety.

Once the FDA determines that the device is substantially equivalent to a predicate device, the agency will issue a clearance letter that allows the manufacturer to market the device. It’s important to note that clearance under the 510(k) pathway does not indicate that the FDA has “approved” the device but rather that the FDA has determined the device is equivalent to a similar device already on the market.

Predicate Devices and Substantial Equivalence

A predicate device is an existing “legally marketed device” in the United States to which a new device can be compared for a 510(k) submission. A predicate meets any of the following criteria:

  • it was legally marketed before May 28, 1976 (a pre amendments device),
  • has been reclassified from Class III to Class II or I,
  • has been found substantially equivalent through the 510(k) process, or has been granted marketing authorization via the De Novo classification process, and
  • is not exempt from premarket notification requirements.

The predicate device must not have been subject to a post-market safety alert or recall that could undermine its suitability as a benchmark for new devices. The FDA maintains a database of cleared devices that manufacturers can use to identify potential predicates.

The FDA’s substantial equivalence determination involves a detailed comparison of the proposed device and the predicate. This evaluation includes a side-by-side analysis of design specifications, performance data, and safety profiles. When a proposed device closely matches a predicate regarding technology and intended use, the FDA review can be quicker and more straightforward. However, substantial deviations from the predicate’s characteristics may trigger additional scrutiny and testing requirements. They must be adequately justified to ensure they do not adversely affect the new device’s safety and effectiveness. If the differences bring up new questions of risk or safety, then it is likely that the FDA will not consider the proposed device substantially equivalent to the predicate, resulting in either a rejected 510(k) submission or a transfer to De Novo submission.

Selecting a predicate with appropriate characteristics is critical for a successful 510(k) submission, as it directly impacts the comparison of safety and effectiveness between the new device and the predicate. Predicate devices must have similar intended uses and technological characteristics to the proposed device. This includes design, materials, chemical composition, energy source, and other features relevant to the device’s functionality and safety. Manufacturers must conduct a comprehensive analysis of these factors of potential predicate devices. This analysis involves reviewing publicly available information, consulting with regulatory experts, and, if necessary, seeking pre-submission guidance from the FDA to ensure the chosen predicate is appropriate.

How Do You Choose a Predicate Device?

Criteria for Selecting a Predicate Device

The selection of a predicate device can significantly impact the strategy for development and commercialization. A well-selected predicate can streamline the 510(k) submission process by providing a clear benchmark for demonstrating substantial equivalence, reducing the need for extensive additional testing and clinical trials. This can accelerate time-to-market and lower development expenses.

Choosing a suitable predicate device involves several critical considerations. The FDA recommends focusing on indications for use and technological characteristics. Indications for use refer to the general purpose of the device and the specific conditions it is intended to treat or diagnose. The most critical technological characteristic criteria include the device’s design, materials, chemical composition, and performance characteristics.

In addition to criteria mentioned previously, the FDA recommends selecting a valid predicate device that was cleared using well-established methods. These methods include those from a currently FDA-recognized voluntary consensus standard, an FDA guidance document, a qualified medical device development tool (MDDT), or a widely available and accepted method published in the public domain or scientific literature for the context of use or found acceptable through the submitter’s own previous premarket submission. Furthermore, priority selection of the predicate device should be given to those without (or fewest) unmitigated use-related or design-related safety issues.

Manufacturers should provide a robust justification for the relevance of the chosen predicate’s substantial equivalence to the new device. This involves a detailed comparison of the devices’ technological characteristics and a thorough explanation of any differences and their potential impact on safety and risk. A well-documented rationale will help streamline the FDA review process and increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Challenges in Finding an Appropriate Predicate Device

Finding an appropriate predicate device can be fraught with challenges. Common obstacles include identifying a predicate that closely matches the proposed device’s characteristics and navigating the complexities of the FDA databases to find suitable candidates. Manufacturers often face questions about the adequacy of potential predicates and the implications of choosing one predicate over another. Differences in technology, materials, and intended use can complicate the selection process, requiring careful analysis and strategic decision-making.

One common challenge is the availability of detailed information about potential predicates. While the FDA’s databases provide some information, they may include only some necessary details to make an informed decision. Manufacturers may need to conduct additional research, such as reviewing scientific literature, consulting with industry experts, and obtaining feedback from users of the predicate device. Engaging with regulatory consultants and utilizing FDA resources can help identify the most suitable predicate devices and streamline the submission process.

Manufacturers should also consider using pre-submission meetings with the FDA to discuss potential predicate devices and seek feedback on their suitability. These meetings offer valuable insights and help clarify any uncertainties about the chosen predicate. By engaging in these discussions, manufacturers can address potential issues early in the process and reduce the risk of submission delays or rejections. This proactive approach facilitates a smoother review process, enhancing the likelihood of a successful 510(k) submission and timely market entry for the new device.


Predicate devices are vital in the 510(k) process, offering a pathway to demonstrate substantial equivalence and achieve FDA clearance. Manufacturers must remain vigilant, innovative, and strategic to navigate the complexities of the 510(k) process and bring safe, effective devices to market.


  1. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/device-advice-comprehensive-regulatory-assistance/how-study-and-market-your-device#step2
  2. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/premarket-submissions-selecting-and-preparing-correct-submission/premarket-notification-510k
  3. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfpmn/pmn.cfm
  4. https://www.fda.gov/media/171838/download
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