The FDA Unapproved Drugs Initiative: An Observational Study of the Consequences for Drug Prices and Shortages in the United States

J Manag Care Spec Pharm. 2017 Oct;23(10):1066-1076. doi: 10.18553/jmcp.2017.23.10.1066.


Background: Hundreds of drug products are currently marketed in the United States without approval from the FDA. The 2006 Unapproved Drugs Initiative (UDI) requires manufacturers to remove these drug products from the market or obtain FDA approval by demonstrating evidence of safety and efficacy. Once the FDA acts against an unapproved drug, fewer manufacturers remain in the market, potentially enabling drug price increases and greater susceptibility to drug shortages. There is a need for systematic study of the UDI's effect on prices and shortages of all targeted drugs.

Objective: To examine the clinical evidence for approval and association with prices and shortages of previously unapproved prescription drugs after being addressed by the UDI.

Methods: Previously unapproved prescription drugs that faced UDI regulatory action or with at least 1 product that received FDA approval through manufacturers' voluntary compliance with the UDI between 2006 and 2015 were identified. The clinical evidence was categorized as either newly conducted clinical trials or use of previously published literature and/or bioequivalence studies to demonstrate safety and efficacy. We determined the change in average wholesale price, presence of shortage, and duration of shortage for each drug during the 2 years before and after UDI regulatory action or approval through voluntary compliance.

Results: Between 2006 and 2015, 34 previously unapproved prescription drugs were addressed by the UDI. Nearly 90% of those with a drug product that received FDA approval were supported by literature reviews or bioequivalence studies, not new clinical trial evidence. Among the 26 drugs with available pricing data, average wholesale price during the 2 years before and after voluntary approval or UDI action increased by a median of 37% (interquartile range [IQR] = 23%-204%; P < 0.001). The number of drugs in shortage increased from 17 (50.0%) to 25 (73.5%) during the 2 years before and after, respectively (P = 0.046). The median shortage duration in the 2 years before and after voluntary approval or UDI action increased from 31 days (IQR = 0-339) to 217 days (IQR = 0-406; P = 0.053).

Conclusions: The UDI was associated with higher drug prices and more frequent drug shortages when compared with the period before UDI action, while the approval process for these drugs did not necessarily require new clinical evidence to establish safety or efficacy.

Disclosures: This project was not supported by any external grants or funds. Gupta was supported by the Yale University School of Medicine Office of Student Research at the time of this study. Dhruva is supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program. Ross reports receiving research support through Yale University from Johnson and Johnson to develop methods of clinical trial data sharing; from Medtronic and the FDA to develop methods for postmarket surveillance of medical devices; from the FDA to establish the Yale-Mayo Clinic Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation; from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to better understand medical technology evidence generation; from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to develop and maintain performance measures that are used for public reporting; and from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to support the Collaboration on Research Integrity and Transparency at Yale. Fox reports travel support from Oklahoma Society of Health System Pharmacists, Premier Oncology Hematology Management Society, and SEHA-United Arab Emirates. Vizient provides some financial support to the University of Utah Drug Information Service to provide summaries of drug shortage information. Gupta and Ross were responsible for the conception and design of this work, drafted the manuscript, and conducted the statistical analysis. Gupta and Fox were responsible for acquisition of data. Ross provided supervision. All authors participated in the analysis and interpretation of the data and critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / economics*
  • Drug Approval / economics
  • Drug Industry / economics
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / economics*
  • Prescription Drugs / economics
  • Therapeutic Equivalency
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Prescription Drugs