The Conversation: Why is the FDA funded in part by the companies it regulates?

3 July 2021
Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash


The most powerful and influential drug regulator in the world is the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA). Today, close to 45% of its budget comes from user fees that Big Phrama companies pay when they apply for approval of a medical device or drug.

Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut, C Michael White, explores a systemic conflict of interest which threatens patient safety in the US and far beyond.

The Food and Drug Administration has moved from an entirely taxpayer-funded entity to one increasingly funded by user fees paid by manufacturers that are being regulated. Today, close to 45% of its budget comes from these user fees that companies pay when they apply for approval of a medical device or drug.

In 1987, it took 29 months from the time a new drug application was filed by the manufacturer for the FDA to decide whether to approve a medication in the U.S. In 2014, it only took 13 months and by 2018, it was down to 10 months.

Changes in more recent years have also increased the number of standard new drug applications approved the first time around by the FDA from 38% in 2005 to 61% in 2018. In diseases where there are not many medication options for patients, the FDA has a priority review process, where 89% of new drug applications were approved the first time around and the approvals were completed in eight months in 2018. All this occurred while the number of new drug applications have been increasing over time.

… without careful consideration of what is being negotiated, the FDA can become weak and ineffective, unable to protect its citizens from the next thalidomide. There are some signs that the pendulum may be swinging too far in the direction of the manufacturers.

Professor c michael white

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the FDA provide emergency use authorization for potential treatments in a matter of weeks, not months. The infrastructure and capacity to review the available information so rapidly is due in large part to the funding from user fees.

While the number and speed of drug approvals have been increasing over time, so have the number of drugs that end up having serious safety issues coming to light after FDA approval. In one assessment, investigators looked at the number of newly approved medications that were subsequently removed from the market or had to include a new black box warning over 16 years from the year of approval. These black box warnings are the highest level of safety alert that the FDA can employ, warning users that a very serious adverse event could occur…..

Read the full article ‘Why is the FDA funded in part by the companies it regulates?’ on The Conversation website

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