Life Science Compliance Update

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April 18, 2017

Will There Be an Uptick in FDA NDA Approvals This Year?


Late last year, John Jenkins, director of the FDA’s Office of New Drugs told attendees at an event that the decline in new drug approvals (NDAs) was not due to a shift in FDA standards or policies. The number in 2016 (22) is remarkably lower than the total in 2015 (45). Could there be changes in 2017?

Report from event: Uptick in 2017?

Regulatory Focus reported from the Prevision Policy conference, quoting Jenkins directly: “There are fewer applications in front of us to act upon,” Jenkins said, noting that although he cannot discuss individual applications, a handful of the complete response letters (CRLs) issued in 2016 were due to good manufacturing practice (GMP) deficiencies and the need for FDA to conduct inspections. But Jenkins did say that there has been an uptick recently in the number of applications received, meaning the number of approvals could increase in 2017.

Recent news of an FDA approved drug to treat Parkinson’s disease lends some evidence to that claim. The drug, Xadago (safinamide), is an add-on treatment for patients with Parkinson’s disease who are currently taking levodopa/carbidopa and experiencing “off” episodes. An “off” episode is a time when a patient’s medications are not working well, causing an increase in Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremor and difficulty walking.


Introduced by Rep. Larry Loudermilk (R., Ga.), the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement, and Transformation (MERIT) Act, H.R. 559, would make it easier to “drain the swamp” by removing federal employees for poor performance or misconduct. The MERIT Act allows for due process: It requires notice in writing to the employee in question from the head of an agency and provides an opportunity to respond with an appeal. The Merit Systems Protection Board is required to issue a decision within 30 days of the appeal. 

The National Review suggests this Act could be quickly applied to the FDA. They argue: “In recent years, in both the formulation of policy and the evaluation of individual products, the FDA has made egregious errors and arbitrarily expanded its authority in extra-statutory ways that have had important consequences. Most of these missteps have been in the direction of excessive risk-aversion or heavy-handed regulation, although a few, such as oversight of herbal dietary supplements and compounding pharmacies, have been marked by laxity, timidity, or outright incompetence.”

It is unclear if this would increase the success rates of NDAs, but indicates the close intersection between the political environment, FDA policy, drug pricing, and even the regulators themselves.

Scott Gottlieb’s Impact?

President Trump’s nomination for FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, could result in faster approval of drugs as reported by the Hill. Gottlieb could introduce a new regulatory paradigm focused on competition to accelerate innovation, dramatically shorten the time from development to patient access, and sharply reduce the prices for new drugs. Rather than settling for the status quo that rewards delayed access and excessive caution, he can promote early access and fast learning.

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