Thoracic Cancer Approvals Differ at FDA, EMA

A comparison of Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency approvals of immune checkpoint inhibitors in the field of thoracic cancer found significantly longer approval times at the European agency, as well as some examples of different perspectives on biomarkers.

The findings of this new study suggest that patients in Europe may face delayed access to new therapies, the authors wrote in a poster presentation at the European Lung Cancer Congress 2023.

They also noted that some FDA approvals occurred before pivotal trial data became available, which can leave doubt about efficacy.

“Effective cancer management relies on availability of therapies which improve patient outcomes, such as immunotherapy. The two largest regulators involved in approving immunotherapies are the FDA and the EMA and therefore we aimed to compare the approval timings between both to see if a difference in approval timings was present,” coauthor Aakash Desai, MD, said in an interview.

Previously, the researchers conducted a study of cancer approval patterns at the FDA and EMA between 2010 and 2019, and found U.S. patients gain access to new cancer therapeutics more quickly than do European patients. Of 89 new therapies approved in that time span, the FDA approval occurred first in 85 cases (95%), though just 72% were submitted to FDA first. The median increased time it took for EMA approval compared with the FDA was 241 days. Thirty-nine percent of U.S. approvals came before the publication of the pivotal clinical trial, versus 9% of EMA approvals.

The new study focuses on thoracic oncology, where lung cancer is the leading cause of death. “As such, prompt approval timings for immunotherapies are crucial for effective treatment. Furthermore, lung cancer immunotherapies target certain biomarkers, of which, PD1 and PD-L1 are key,” said Dr. Desai, a fellow at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

Still, Dr. Desai sounded a note of caution. “Just because a therapy is approved more quickly does not necessarily mean it is efficacious, as the clinical trials involving these drugs may not have been completed or fully reported at the time of authorization. [Drug developers] need to have a more global and coordinated approach to evaluating evidence and approval of drugs so the care received by a particular patient is not a factor of where they live,” he said.

The researchers surveyed approvals of seven immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) approved by both the FDA and the EMA for thoracic malignancies, including non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and mesothelioma. The FDA approved 22 indications for the novel ICIs in thoracic malignancies, compared with 16 indications at the EMA. The difference in median approval times was larger for SCLC (179 versus 308 days) and mesothelioma (39 versus 280 days) than for NSCLC (242 versus 272 days).

“There are two discrepancies in biomarker requirements between the FDA and EMA, whereby the FDA has a broader requirement, despite these being ranked fairly consistently in terms of evidence of benefit by [European Society for Medical Oncology Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale and National Comprehensive Cancer Network] frameworks,” said Dr. Desai. In the case of atezolizumab for adjuvant NSCLC, the FDA required PDL1 levels of 1% or higher, while the EMA required 50% or higher. For durvalumab in unresectable NSCLC, the FDA had no PDL1 requirement, while the EMA required 1% or higher.

Dr. Desai suggested a need for further investigation into the differences between the two agencies. Asked why the two agencies might have different views on the biomarkers, Dr. Desai responded: “That is the million-dollar question. My guess is [the] EMA weighs subgroup data more than [the] FDA.”

Dr. Desai has no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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