July 15, 2019

Association Between Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee Recommendations and Agency Actions, 2008–2015

July 2019 | Audrey D. Zhang, Jason L. Schwartz, Joseph S. Ross | Early View, Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee recommendations and the agency’s final actions exhibit high rates of agreement, with cases of disagreement tending to reflect the proposed action type and degree of advisory committee consensus.
  • In the case of disagreements, the FDA tended to be less likely than its advisory committees to approve new products, approve new supplemental indications, or enact new safety changes.
  • These findings raise important issues regarding the factors that differentially shape decision making by advisory committees and the FDA as an agency, including institutional or reputational concerns.

Context: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) convenes advisory committees to provide external scientific counsel on potential agency actions and to inform regulatory decision making. The degree to which advisory committees and their respective agency divisions disagree on recommendations has not been well characterized across product and action types.

Methods: We examined public documents from FDA advisory committee meetings and medical product databases for all FDA advisory committee meetings from 2008 through 2015. We classified the 376 voting meetings in that period by medical product, regulatory, and advisory committee meeting characteristics. We used multivariable logistic regression to determine the associations between these characteristics and discordance between the advisory committee’s recommendations and the FDA’s final actions.

Findings: Twenty-two percent of the FDA’s final actions were discordant with the advisory committee’s recommendations. Of these, 75% resulted in the FDA making more restrictive decisions after favorable committee recommendations, and 25% resulted in the agency making less restrictive decisions after unfavorable committee recommendations. Discordance was associated with lower degrees of advisory committee consensus and was more likely for agency actions focused on medical product safety than for novel approvals or supplemental indications. Statements by public speakers, advisory committee conflicts of interest, and media coverage were not associated with discordance between the committee and the agency.

Conclusions: The FDA disagrees with the recommendation of its advisory committees a minority of the time, and in these cases it tends to be less likely to approve new products or supplemental indications and take safety actions. Deviations from recommendations thus offer an opportunity to understand the factors influencing decisions made by both the agency and its expert advisory groups.

Keywords: US Food and Drug Administration, advisory committees, drug approval, device approval, consumer product safety.

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Published in 2019
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12403