Reducing the number of unapproved drugs while working to prevent drug shortages: a job that calls for strong collaboration in FDA

By: CAPT Val Jensen and Cynthia Schnedar

Val Jensen

CAPT Valerie Jensen R.Ph., Associate Director of the Drug Shortage Staff, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA

Several of FDA’s recent drug approvals highlight how different parts of FDA work together to achieve the same goal: ensuring an adequate supply of FDA-approved drugs for U.S. consumers. Our drug shortages team partners with many groups within the agency to achieve this goal. One of these partnerships is with our unapproved prescription drugs staff.

Patients and doctors alike may be unaware that some prescription drugs are not FDA-approved, because versions of some of these products have been marketed for decades, often with little data to demonstrate whether these drugs are safe and effective. At FDA, one task of our unapproved prescription drugs team is to identify these products, and encourage companies to remove unapproved versions from the market, and begin the application process to obtain FDA approval.

A growing number of manufacturers have successfully obtained approval for formerly unapproved products. For example:

  • Bloxiverz (neostigmine methylsulfate injection), marketed by Éclat Pharmaceuticals and approved to reverse the effects of certain neuromuscular blocking agents after surgery, was approved in 2013, and,
  • Vasostrict (vasopressin), marketed by Par Sterile and approved to increase blood pressure in adults in vasodilatory shock whose blood pressure remains low despite administration of fluids and other efforts to raise it, was approved in 2014.
Cynthia Schnedar

Cynthia Schnedar, J.D., Director of the Office of Compliance at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research

Such approvals highlight the strength of collaborations between FDA’s shortages staff, our unapproved drugs team, and the Office of New Drugs. These approvals are crucial for FDA: once a drug is approved, we know what ingredients are in the drug, how it is made, and that it has been shown to be safe and effective for its labeled use. Approval of formerly unapproved products also helps alleviate FDA’s concerns about a potential market disruption or shortage of these drugs, because the manufacturers of approved drugs have invested in a manufacturing process that helps to ensure the drug is produced the same way every single time, lowering the risk for shortage.

However, prescribers and their patients may sometimes think there is a shortage of product because once the manufacturer can produce an approved drug in sufficient quantities to meet market demand, the unapproved versions transition out of the market. To help allay such concerns, FDA’s unapproved drugs team works closely with the drug shortages staff to share information about the availability of the newly-approved product from the manufacturer, information that is then conveyed to patients and providers. This strong relationship between the different parts of the Agency facilitates adequate supply of safe and effective, FDA-approved drugs.

FDA is aware of another access-related issue as well when unapproved drugs are approved. If a single manufacturer is the sole maker of a newly-approved product, the price of the drug may be higher than what patients and prescribers paid for the unapproved drug. FDA welcomes manufacturers’ sensitivity to pricing of these newly approved versions. However, FDA is charged by Congress to ensure that drugs are safe, effective and properly labeled and does not factor costs into its drug approvals or safety related decisions. While approved drugs may cost more, patients are assured a safe and effective product.

FDA encourages companies to apply for approval of generic versions of newly-approved drugs since this would be anticipated to foster competition and promote price reductions. For example, neostigmine, a formerly unapproved drug, now has two approved manufacturers. FDA expects to receive more applications for approvals in the future.

Making safe and effective medicines available to patients is our number one goal. While working to bring FDA-approved drugs to market frequently involves exceptional challenges and complications, we believe that in the long run, our efforts enhance public health for all Americans.

CAPT Valerie Jensen R.Ph., is Associate Director of the Drug Shortage Staff, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA

Cynthia Schnedar, J.D., is Director of the Office of Compliance, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA

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