The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website states that "American consumers benefit from having access to the safest and most advanced pharmaceutical system in the world." The main consumer watchdog in this system is FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).
The center's best-known job is to evaluate new drugs before they can be sold. CDER's evaluation not only prevents quackery, but also provides doctors and patients the information they need to use medicines wisely. The center ensures that drugs, both brand-name and generic, work correctly and that their health benefits outweigh their known risks.
Drug companies seeking to sell a drug in the United States must first test it. The company then sends CDER the evidence from these tests to prove the drug is safe and effective for its intended use. A team of CDER physicians, statisticians, chemists, pharmacologists, and other scientists reviews the company's data and proposed labeling. If this independent and unbiased review establishes that a drug's health benefits outweigh its known risks, the drug is approved for sale. The center doesn't actually test drugs itself, although it does conduct limited research in the areas of drug quality, safety, and effectiveness standards.
In some cases, the approval of a new drug is expedited. Accelerated Approval can be applied to promising therapies that treat a serious or life-threatening condition and provide therapeutic benefit over available therapies. Since the Accelerated Approval pathway was established in 1992, many drugs that treat life-threatening diseases have successfully been brought to market this way and have made a significant impact on disease course. For example, many antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS entered the market via accelerated approval, and subsequently altered the treatment paradigm. A number of targeted cancer-fighting drugs also have come onto the market through this pathway.
Updated 22 December, 2018 by Sheila Buchert