In January 2020, the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) published Advancing Health through Innovation: New Drug Therapy Approvals 2019. This report provides a summary of a number of approvals and highlights the “game-changers” approved in 2019, solidifying the upward trend in approval volume initially seen in 2017. Compared to 2017 and 2018, in which CDER approved 46 and 59 new drugs, respectively, 48 novel agents were approved in 2019. This number does not include new and expanded uses of already approved drugs, new formulations, new dosage forms, vaccines, blood products, cellular or gene therapy, or the 10 biosimilar approvals. This far exceeds the average of 38 novel approvals per year in the past 10 years. Figure 1 outlines approvals over the past 10 years.

In 2019, the FDA continued its strategic initiatives, with additional approvals of biosimilars and generics (both first-time agents and those off-patent with limited competition), as well as a focus on the expedited approval process, particularly for rare diseases and agents supported by positive patient-reported outcomes. Notably, the FDA hosted a public meeting in April 2019 to receive input on how to tackle barriers associated with the development of treatments for rare diseases, and held another meeting to celebrate “Rare Disease Day” in February 2020. Moreover, this trend is likely to continue, with the FDA releasing several guidances on gene therapy. The new pathway for insulin approval under biologic license applications planned for March 2020 and the launch of internet-based repositories or apps to improve access to information for both providers and patients (e.g., CURE ID in 2019, antiretrovirals in 2020) also highlight strategic initiatives of the FDA.

Last year, all 48 novel drug approvals met their Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) goal dates, cementing this as a priority for the Agency. In 2019, 42% were considered first-in-class, and 44% were approved for rare diseases (Orphan Drugs). Priority Review was granted to 58% of novel drugs, 19% received Accelerated Approval (more than doubling the rate of 7% last year), 27% were designated as Breakthrough Therapy, and 35% garnered Fast Track designation. Overall, 60% of all drug approvals in 2019 used expedited development and review methods. In addition, 90% were approved in the first review cycle, and 69% were approved in the US prior to receiving approval in other countries. A breakdown of the types of drugs approved in 2019 is illustrated in Figure 2, with approvals once again dominated by drugs in the expansive oncology spectrum.

Some of the notable 2019 approvals included new advances for the treatment of cystic fibrosis (CF), with the first triple combination therapy and expanded indications of existing CF therapy available to younger patients, and the first new medications in several years for sickle cell disease. Additionally, several approvals targeted rare conditions, such as erythropoietic protoporphyria, neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, tenosynovial giant cell tumor, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and systemic sclerosis-associated interstitial lung disease. Beyond treatments for rare disease and cancer, the FDA also approved agents for more common disorders, including multiple sclerosis, novel treatments for depression, migraine and cluster headaches, epilepsy, several autoimmune conditions, age expansions for diabetes therapy, and a drug-sparing regimen and new prophylaxis option for human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1). Although down slightly from 2018, the large number of approvals from 2019 represent a continued trend by the FDA to expedite and increase the quantity of annual approvals.