2014 Drug Approvals: Speeding Novel Drugs to the Patients Who Need Them

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Preliminary data announced earlier today shows that 2014 is shaping up to be another strong year for novel drug approvals, which is certainly good news for many patients and their families.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.With a few weeks left in December, our Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has so far approved 35 novel new drugs in 2014 compared to 27 in 2013. These numbers include both new molecular entities (NMEs), submitted to CDER in New Drug Applications (NDAs) and new therapeutic biologics submitted to CDER in Biologics License Applications (BLAs).

But the numbers don’t tell the full story. What really matters is that many of these new products offer significant clinical value to the care of thousands of patients with serious and life-threatening diseases. That’s certainly the case for patients with rare diseases that affect 200,000 or fewer Americans. So far this year we’ve reached a milestone with a record 15 approvals for rare diseases. The previous high was 13 drugs in 2012. These results are all the more significant because patients with rare diseases often have few or no drugs available to treat their conditions.

And here’s another point of interest – to date, 15 of the approvals have been first in their class drugs, another indicator of their potentially strong clinical impact.

To ensure that 2014’s novel drugs get to patients as quickly as possible, CDER effectively employed a variety of regulatory tools including FDA’s expedited development and review programs – fast track, priority review, accelerated approval and our new breakthrough therapy designation. Early and repeated communications with sponsors have also been helpful in speeding these products to market.

Consider for example, Blincyto, approved just last week to treat Philadelphia chromosome-negative precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. CDER employed all of its expedited review programs to help get this drug to market as early as possible, five months ahead of its review goal date. The sponsor also benefited from incentives for drugs that treat rare diseases.

Another example is Harvoni, the first combination pill approved to treat chronic hepatitis C virus genotype 1 infection and the first approved regimen that does not require administration with interferon or ribavirin. With this and other recent approvals, we are helping to change the treatment paradigm for patients living with hepatitis C. Harvoni received breakthrough therapy designation and was assigned priority review.

One of the more challenging areas of drug development has been the rather barren field of antibacterial drugs. Among our 2014 approvals to date are three new antibacterial drugs – Dalvance, Sivextro and Orbactiv—to treat skin infections, specifically acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections (ABSSSI). These drug approvals represent a welcome but modest increase in activity in this product area. Prior to 2014, only five new systemic antibacterial drugs were approved during the period from 2004 – 2013.

I want to congratulate the management and review staff at CDER for these very impressive preliminary numbers. Thanks in large part to CDER’s hard work and dedication, 34 of the 35 drugs approved so far in 2014 were approved before or on their Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) review goal date and 23 of the 35 drugs were available to patients in the United States before they were available to patients in Europe.

In this holiday season of joy and reflection, we have much to be grateful for in the work that CDER does every day on behalf of patients.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration

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