Food and Drug Administration:

Approval and Oversight of the Drug Mifeprex

GAO-08-751: Published: Aug 7, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2008.

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In September 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), approved the drug Mifeprex for use in terminating early term pregnancy. FDA approved the drug under a provision of its Subpart H regulations, allowing it to restrict the drug's distribution to assure its safe use. Critics have questioned aspects of the Mifeprex approval process, including the reliance on historically-controlled clinical trials that compare a drug's effects on a condition to the known course of the condition rather than to another drug or placebo. Critics argued that Mifeprex does not fit within the scope of Subpart H, which applies to drugs that treat serious or life-threatening illnesses. Concerns have also been raised about FDA's oversight of the drug since approval, including the agency's response to deaths in U.S. women who had taken the drug. In this report GAO (1) describes FDA's approval of Mifeprex, including the evidence considered and the restrictions placed on its distribution; (2) compares the Mifeprex approval process to the approval processes for other Subpart H restricted drugs; and (3) compares FDA's postmarket oversight of Mifeprex to its oversight of other Subpart H restricted drugs. GAO reviewed FDA regulations, policies, and records pertaining to its approval and oversight of Mifeprex and the eight other Subpart H restricted drugs. In addition, GAO interviewed FDA officials and external stakeholders.

FDA approved Mifeprex after evaluating the sponsor's initial and revised new drug application through three review cycles. In the first cycle, FDA concluded that the available data supported the safety and efficacy of Mifeprex and that, because the course of pregnancy was well-documented and the effects of the drug were self-evident, the use of historical controls was consistent with FDA regulations. FDA also concluded that before the drug could be approved, the sponsor needed to provide final data from an ongoing U.S. trial, and more detail on restricting the drug's distribution. In the second cycle, FDA concluded that while the U.S. trial data confirmed the drug's safety and efficacy, the sponsor needed to revise its distribution plan and address labeling and manufacturing deficiencies. In the final review, FDA concluded that termination of unwanted pregnancy is a serious condition and imposing restrictions under Subpart H was necessary. FDA approved Mifeprex, but required that the sponsor commit to conduct two postmarketing studies, imposed several distribution restrictions intended to ensure that only qualified physicians prescribe the drug, and required that patients attest to understanding the treatment's potential complications. The approval process for Mifeprex was consistent with the processes for the other Subpart H restricted drugs, although the details of FDA's approval depended on the unique risks and benefits of each drug. Common elements of the approval processes included that FDA needed to evaluate potential limitations in key clinical data (Mifeprex and six of the other drugs), did not approve the drugs in the first review cycle (Mifeprex and five others), and imposed similar types of distribution restrictions on Mifeprex and the other drugs, though the specific details of the restrictions varied across the drugs. FDA's postmarket oversight of Mifeprex has been consistent with its oversight of other Subpart H restricted drugs. To oversee compliance with distribution restrictions, FDA has reviewed data from all sponsors and conducted inspections for Mifeprex and two other drugs. To oversee compliance with postmarketing study commitments, FDA has relied on required updates from sponsors and found unfulfilled commitments for most drugs, including Mifeprex. To oversee compliance with adverse event reporting requirements, FDA has evaluated data in sponsors' reports and, for Mifeprex and seven other drugs, has conducted inspections that revealed deficiencies for most of these drugs, including Mifeprex. Lastly, FDA has taken similar steps to oversee postmarket safety across the drugs, such as analyzing adverse events. For Mifeprex, FDA investigated the deaths of six U.S. women who developed a severe infection after taking the drug and concluded that the evidence did not establish a causal relationship between Mifeprex and the infections. Finally, FDA has taken similar actions to address emerging safety concerns across the drugs, such as changing labeling. HHS reviewed a draft of this report and informed GAO that it did not have comments.

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