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Original Scholarship Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Policy
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Context: Regulatory agencies are increasingly required to make market approval decisions for new drugs on the basis of limited clinical evidence, a situation commonly encountered in cancer. We aimed to investigate how regulators manage uncertainty in the benefit-risk profiles of new cancer drugs by comparing decisions for the world’s two largest regulatory bodies—the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA)—over a 5-year period.
Methods: We systematically identified a set of cancer drug-indication pairs for which data on efficacy and safety was less complete than that required for regular approval at time of market entry from 2009 to 2013, as determined by the FDA’s use of Accelerated Approval (AA) or the EMA’s use of Conditional Marketing Authorization (CMA) pathways, and matched these across the two agencies. Using publicly available information, we compared regulatory pathways and outcomes, final approved indications, and postmarketing obligations imposed by the agencies.
Findings: We identified 21 cancer drug-indication pairs that received FDA AA,EMACMA, or both. Although most applications relied on identical pivotal trials across the FDA and the EMA, regulatory pathways often differed; 57% of indications received either FDA AA or EMA CMA, and regular approval by the other agency. After approval, the EMA more often accepted single-arm studies to confirm clinical benefit compared to the FDA (75% vs. 29% of indications), and the FDA more commonly requested randomized controlled trials (85% vs. 50%). Forty-one percent of confirmatory trials after FDA AA were conducted in different populations than the approved indication, compared to 13% after EMA CMA. Both agencies relied primarily on surrogate measures of patient benefit for postmarketing obligations. After a median follow-up of 7.25 years, 40% of FDA and 61% of EMA postmarketing obligations after AA and CMA, respectively, were delayed.
Conclusions: US and European regulators often deemed early and less complete evidence on benefit-risk profiles of cancer drugs sufficient to grant regular approval, raising questions over regulatory standards for the approval of new medicines. Even when imposing confirmatory studies in the postmarketing period through special approval pathways, meaningful evidence may not materialize due to shortcomings in study design and delays in conducting required studies with due diligence.
Keywords: pharmaceutical regulation, US Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency, cancer.
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