By: Brenda Stodart, Pharm.D., and Renu Lal, Pharm. D.
It is well known that small business is vital to the success of the American economy. Less known, though, is how instrumental it has been to the growth and innovation in drug development.
We may think of the pharmaceutical industry in terms of giant corporations, but the fact is that there are hundreds of small firms – with very few employees – that are developing many of the important drugs that we use every day. FDA defines a small business as one with fewer than 500 employees (including employees of affiliates), but many are much smaller.
Industry sources indicate that, over the past decade or so, more than half of the novel drugs (i.e., those not previously marketed in the United States) developed in this country and approved by FDA, have been developed by small companies. Small companies also impact the generic drug industry creating market choice, competition, and increased access. According to FDA data, of the 2,176 new and generic drug applications submitted to the agency in 2014-2015, at least 639, or about 29 percent, were submitted by firms with fewer than 500 employees.
Small companies have certain advantages. They can be nimble with decision-making and can quickly progress with new ideas. A smaller drug development pipeline allows them to focus on a single or few products. But they also have unique challenges. A small workforce tends to require employees to wear multiple hats, as opposed to their larger counterparts who typically employ teams of specialists. And because many small companies are focused on developing one drug at a time, they often operate on a “high reward-high risk” model. There is a smaller margin for error for a small company that has invested all its resources in developing one drug than for a large company that is able to spread its risk across several products it is developing simultaneously.
For many years, to help level the playing field, FDA has been assisting small pharmaceutical companies to maximize their opportunities for success. The Generic Drug Forum on April 4-5, 2017, is one example of the work we do to support small businesses. Organized by FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Small Business and Industry Assistance (SBIA) staff, representatives from a wide range of pharmaceutical companies will gather to learn about the development, testing, review, and approval of generic drugs. CDER SBIA holds at least four meetings a year as part of a series called the Regulatory Education for Industry (REdI) conferences.
REdI conferences typically attract significant international attendance (in-person or via webcast). This global reach is important, as about 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients used in U.S-manufactured drugs come from more than 150 different countries. The map below shows the geographic distribution of our most recent REdI conference registrants. Thirty percent of registrants were from outside the U.S., representing 55 countries worldwide.Many of these companies have never submitted an application for approval to FDA. Whether new or experienced, many are very early in the drug development process. In CDER’s SBIA program, 43 percent of the companies we work with have fewer than 100 employees, and 17 percent have fewer than 10 employees.
Although the mission of CDER SBIA is to help small business, our educational products are available to the entire pharmaceutical industry. In addition to REdI conferences, SBIA also offers webinars with live question and answer sessions by FDA subject matter experts on timely topics of interest to small companies.
SBIA recently held a half-day live webinar, which featured CDER experts from the Office of Pharmaceutical Quality (OPQ) discussing specific microbiology issues. CDER SBIA also provides a variety of helpful resources including a bimonthly electronic newsletter, CDER SBIA Chronicles, an audio podcast, CDERLearn, and online tutorials developed by CDER subject matter experts. We also interact with our constituents through our presentations and exhibits at conferences, and we are always available to help out via phone and e-mail. All slides, webcasts, and documents that we develop to help small companies are posted on the CDER SBIA Learn webpage after the event. REdI conferences and all other SBIA services are available at no cost to all who wish to attend and participate, which is particularly helpful to smaller companies with limited resources.
At a time when quality manufacturing and the safety and effectiveness of drugs in development is as important as ever, CDER understands that providing support to small businesses through education and resources is vital to advancing innovation and protecting public health.
Brenda Stodart, Pharm.D., Captain, United States Public Health Service, is a Program Director at FDA’s CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance Program, Division of Drug Information
Renu Lal, Pharm.D., is a pharmacist at FDA’s Division of Drug Information, CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance Program