alexa A comparative analysis of risk management strategies in European Union and United States pharmaceutical regulation
Pharmaceutical Sciences

Pharmaceutical Sciences

Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs: Open Access

Author(s): Courtney Davis, John Abraham

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Analyses of risk management within prescription pharmaceutical regulation are rare. We present the first comparison of pharmaceutical risk regulation between the EU's centralised supranational ‘state’ and another country, the US. Drawing on documentary and interview-based research on case-study drugs and risk management, we argue that ‘risk colonisation’, neo-liberal governmentality, and pressure from powerful industry interests have combined to produce permissive, rather than precautionary, risk management within pharmaceutical regulation, though more so in the US than Europe. Product labelling is central to pharmaceutical risk management by communicating risks to doctors and patients, but can also legitimate permissive regulatory approval, especially when new drugs offer no therapeutic advance. Such neo-liberal risk management was practised by both the American and European regulatory agencies. However, the FDA, more willingly than EU regulators, used risk communication, warnings, and patient monitoring to maintain on the market pharmaceuticals with severe/life-threatening risks, such as liver and cardiac toxicity, despite growing evidence of their incapacity to prevent harm. Senior EU regulators were sceptical about risk-managing toxic drugs during post-marketing, rather than simply removing them from the market. EU regulators’ more precautionary application of pharmaceutical risk management than the FDA offers some support for the ‘flip-flop’ hypothesis, which asserts that US environmental and consumer product risk regulation was more precautionary during the 1970s and early 1980s, but since then Europe has become more precautionary. However, such support does not necessarily apply to drug regulation overall. The supranational EU regulatory system has been more resistant to neo-liberal governmentality, ‘risk colonisation’, and the pressure of industry interests. We suggest that this is because EU regulators’ practice of regulatory science has greater autonomy from political ideology and institutional interests than its American counterpart.

This article was published in Health Risk Soc and referenced in Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs: Open Access

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