Last week, the American College of Physicians (ACP), a 129,000-member group of internal medicine physicians, and second-largest doctors group in the US, called for increased FDA authority and  funding to help protect  consumers from the risks of newly-approved prescription drugs.  Their six recommendations were:

1) increased funding for FDA staff and technological capability to keep pace with the increased workload due to the number and scientific complexity of new products submitted for pre-approval, globalization, and emerging safety challenges.

2) increased FDA authority and capacity to regulate drugs manufactured outside the US;

3) expanded FDA authority and involvement in the design of clinical trials to better evaluate safety and efficacy, through longer trials with larger, more representative target populations;

4) a ban on clinical studies of ‘bundled’ drug products that reduce access to drugs;

5) Improvements that increase  reporting of adverse events by doctors and others; and

6) limits on direct-to-consumer advertising in the first 2 years a drug is on the market.  

Increased FDA funding:

The ACP report notes that FDA’s “ability to approve and monitor new drugs has been compromised by chronic underfunding, limited regulatory authority, and insufficient organizational structure.” ACP recommends that FDA funding is increased, to improve their “ability to approve and monitor prescription drugs….”

 Regulating drug manufacturing overseas:

The ACP should be praised for bringing attention to severe under resourcing at FDA, particularly as it affects the Agency’s ability to ensure the safety of drugs manufactured overseas. Today’s globalized pharmaceutical supply chain has rapidly outgrown FDAs capacity, and FDA is not able to inspect foreign sites with any meaningful frequency. A 2008 GAO study found it would take FDA 13 years to inspect each foreign manufacturing establishment once, while domestic sites are inspected on average every 2.7 years.

 ACP points out that a provision for increased foreign inspections were included in a bill (H.R.759) introduced by Reps. Dingell, Pallone and Stupak in January this year. A similar bill (S.882) championed by the late Senator Kennedy and Senator Grassley also seeks to increase foreign site inspections by FDA. Both bills establish new industry user fees to pay for this expanded oversight, but also require annual increases in other appropriations to ensure sustainability. ACP importantly indicates that both types of financial support are needed, and mentions a number of other key provisions in the House bill, including a requirement for dedicated foreign inspection staff.

Facilitating increased physician reporting of adverse events:

The ACP also recommends FDA pursue efforts to “educate physicians on how and when to report an event that is potentially drug-related.” They also proposed streamlining the reporting systems and ensuring anonymity to “facilitate reporting by health professionals.”

DTC advertising of new drugs:

The report acknowledges that direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising can “dramatically increase [use] of a new drug and … may expose large numbers of people to a drug with undocumented safety concerns.”

The best example of this concerns was seen in the  rapid use of the  pain-killer Vioxx upon hitting the market. The aggressive DTC advertising and other promotional activities  by manufacturer Merck lead to Vioxx’s use by over 20 million consumers, which then lead to  88,000-139,000 cardiac events, and  an estimated 35,000-55,000 deaths.  Adverse reactions and safety concerns arose with the  drugs Zyprexa and Bextra, among many others 

To address this concern, ACP recommended that FDA ‘limit’ the DTC advertising of newly approved prescription drugs, and require that labels and ads indicate that data related to the new drug’s “risks and benefits … are less extensive than those [for older] products…”

 Prohibiting clinical trials of ‘bundled’ products:

In addition, ACP also makes a recommendation that would help FDA avoid placing itself in the position of helping drug manufacturers introduce ‘bundled’ or combination drug products designed to protect a drug from generic competitors. 

For example, the report describes how, in 2005, the drug manufacturer “Pfizer submitted plans to the FDA to begin conducting large trials to test the cholesterol drug torcetrapib in combination with the popular and widely used statin Lipitor.”  By allowing clinical trials of the ‘combination drug’ rather than just torcetrapib alone, approval of the new combination drug product would insulate Lipitor from competition. This then puts FDA, in approving the study design, in the awkward position of helping the drug manufacturer avoid anti-trust prohibitions, the report said.

This concern is similar to the claims in the PAL member lawsuit on the drug Norvir, where drug manufacturer Abbott Labs bundle their HIV protease inhibitor cocktail drug Norvir in a new bundled-product-drug Kaletra, in order to increase market share.

ACP recommends that FDA not approve clinical trials which seem to be designed to ‘bundle’ a new drug with an existing brand name drug, and thus perpetuate the patent-protected sales of the new combination product.

To read the full report, visit