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Before approving a new drug, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)--an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)--assesses a drug's effectiveness. To do so, it examines information contained in a new drug application (NDA), including data from clinical trials in humans. Several types of trials may be used to gather this evidence. For example, superiority trials may show that a new drug is more effective than an active control--a drug known to be effective. Non-inferiority trials aim to demonstrate that the difference between the effectiveness of a new drug and an active control is small--small enough to show that the new drug is also effective. Drugs approved on this basis may provide important benefits, such as improved safety. Because non-inferiority trials are difficult to design and interpret, they have received attention within the research community and FDA. FDA has issued guidance on these trials. GAO was asked to examine FDA's use of non-inferiority trial evidence. This report (1) identifies NDAs for new molecular entities--potentially innovative new drugs not FDA-approved in any form--that included evidence from non-inferiority trials, (2) examines the characteristics of these trials, and (3) describes FDA's guidance on these trials. GAO reviewed NDAs submitted to FDA between fiscal year 2002 (the first full year that FDA documentation was available electronically) and fiscal year 2009 (the last full year of submissions), examined FDA's guidance, and interviewed agency officials.

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