Food and Drug Administration:

Effect of User Fees on Drug Approval Times, Withdrawals, and Other Agency Activities

GAO-02-958: Published: Sep 17, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2002.

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Janet Heinrich
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Ten years ago, Congress passed the Prescription Drug User Fee Act to speed up the review process used to ensure that new drugs and biological products are safe and effective. GAO found that the act has provided the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the funding needed to hire more drug reviewers, which has led to faster availability of new drugs to the United States. Approval times have shortened both for priority drugs--those that FDA expects to offer significant therapeutic benefits beyond drugs already on the market--and standard drugs, which are not thought to have significant therapeutic benefits beyond available drugs. Although the act has increased the funds available for FDA's drug and biological reviews, funds for other activities, such as the regulation of foods and medical devices, have shrunk as a share of FDA's overall budget. The 1997 amendments to the act, which shortened review schedules and set new performance goals to reduce overall drug development time, have increased reviewer workload at FDA. GAO found that some drug reviewers may have forgone training and professional development opportunities to ensure that the new goals were met. FDA officials said that the agency continues to experience high turnover rates among these employees. GAO found that a higher percentage of drugs has been withdrawn from the market for safety reasons since the act was enacted but the that the size of the increase in withdrawal rates differs depending on the period examined. The higher rate of drug withdrawals suggests that FDA needs to strengthen its postmarket surveillance efforts. FDA plans to spend $71 million in user fees during the next 5 years to improve the monitoring of new drugs on the market and to track any harmful effects of these products.

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