November 8, 2020

Drug approval and geographic differences

 Approval of Cancer Drugs With Uncertain Therapeutic Value: A Comparison of Regulatory Decisions in Europe and the United States

We know that the regulation of medical devices is quite different between US and Europe, and with COVID tests we have experienced such divide. In drugs, one could expect a closer approach to approval. However, this is not the case. 

Regulatory agencies may have limited evidence on the clinical benefits and harms of new drugs when deciding whether new therapeutic agents are allowed to enter the market and under which conditions, including whether approval is granted under special regulatory pathways and obligations to address knowledge gaps through postmarketing studies are imposed.

In a matched comparison of marketing applications for cancer drugs of uncertain therapeutic value reviewed by both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), we found frequent discordance between the two agencies on regulatory outcomes and the use of special regulatory pathways. Both agencies often granted regular approval, even when the other agency judged there to be substantial uncertainty about drug benefits and risks that needed to be resolved through additional studies in the postmarketing period.

Postmarketing studies imposed by regulators under special approval pathways to address remaining questions of efficacy and safety may not be suited to deliver timely, confirmatory evidence due to shortcomings in study design and delays, raising questions over the suitability of the FDA’s Accelerated Approval and the EMA’s Conditional Marketing Authorization as tools for allowing early market access for cancer drugs while maintaining rigorous regulatory standards.


 Hockney