Association between FDA and EMA expedited approval programs and therapeutic value of new medicines: retrospective cohort study

Thomas J Hwang, Joseph S Ross, Kerstin N Vokinger, Aaron S Kesselheim
BMJ: British Medical Journal 2020 October 7, 371: m3434

OBJECTIVE: To characterize the therapeutic value of new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the association between these ratings and regulatory approval through expedited programs.

DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.

SETTING: New drugs approved by the FDA and EMA between 2007 and 2017, with follow-up through 1 April 2020.

DATA SOURCES: Therapeutic value was measured using ratings of new drugs by five independent organizations (Prescrire and health authorities of Canada, France, Germany, and Italy).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Proportion of new drugs rated as having high therapeutic value; association between high therapeutic value rating and expedited status.

RESULTS: From 2007 through 2017, the FDA and EMA approved 320 and 268 new drugs, respectively, of which 181 (57%) and 39 (15%) qualified for least one expedited program. Among 267 new drugs with a therapeutic value rating, 84 (31%) were rated as having high therapeutic value by at least one organization. Compared with non-expedited drugs, a greater proportion of expedited drugs were rated as having high therapeutic value among both FDA approvals (45% (69/153) v 13% (15/114); P<0.001) and EMA approvals (67% (18/27) v 27% (65/240); P<0.001). The sensitivity and specificity of expedited program for a drug being independently rated as having high therapeutic value were 82% (95% confidence interval 72% to 90%) and 54% (47% to 62%), respectively, for the FDA, compared with 25.3% (16.4% to 36.0%) and 90.2% (85.0% to 94.1%) for the EMA.

CONCLUSIONS: Less than a third of new drugs approved by the FDA and EMA over the past decade were rated as having high therapeutic value by at least one of five independent organizations. Although expedited drugs were more likely than non-expedited drugs to be highly rated, most expedited drugs approved by the FDA but not the EMA were rated as having low therapeutic value.

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