The Food and Drug Administration has been portrayed by many critics as slow and inefficient compared with the regulatory agencies of other countries.
This criticism is of particular concern in the field of cancer, where severely ill patients have few effective treatment options.
But a new study conducted by Friends of Cancer Research and released in Health Affairs last week reveals that the FDA is approving anti-cancer drugs in a more timely fashion than its overseas counterpart, the European Medicines Agency.
Our study reveals that from 2003 to 2010 the FDA approved 32 new cancer drugs versus 26 by the EMA.
The FDA not only approved more cancer drugs, but it did so at a significantly faster rate; FDA approval averaged 182 days while the EMA averaged 350 days.
Access to new medicines five and a half months sooner has undoubtedly improved the lives of many of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year.
While the FDA should be praised for this, it is important to note that strong public support and additional Congressional appropriations are needed for the FDA to be able to continue this trend and strengthen its scientific foundation.
Each year billions of dollars are invested in biomedical research through the federal government, philanthropic foundations and the private sector. This investment has and continues to create tens of thousands of jobs and generates incredible new understanding of how to battle cancer and other diseases.
However, that research, and the promise and hope it brings to patients, will not be able to be translated into medical solutions at a fast enough rate if the resources and science at the FDA cannot keep pace with discovery.
A weakened and underfunded FDA will cause companies to take their research overseas, creating a loss in jobs and investment and threatening our standing as the global leader of science and innovation.
Most importantly, an underresourced agency will mean delays in getting potentially lifesaving treatments to patients battling disease and illness.
Ellen Sigal is chairwoman and founder of Friends of Cancer Research, a think tank and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.