Clinical Trials / Drug Approvals / Regulatory Guidance

The surge in cancer drug approvals — By the numbers

A new report shows that the number of FDA approvals for cancer drugs has shot up in the last few decades. What’s behind the rise?

By Meagan Parrish, Senior Editor

A new report shows that the number of FDA approvals for cancer drugs has shot up in the last few decades. What’s behind the rise?

According to the new report from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, improvements in R&D and FDA processes have helped get more cancer treatments delivered to patients.

“New approaches to development helped to drive the surge in new oncology products, including improvements in clinical trial design, novel drug formats, and a focus on new and validated targets,” said Joseph A. DiMasi, research associate professor and director of economic analysis and at Tufts CSDD, who conducted the analysis. “Those efforts appear to have paid off, as cancer patients today have many more effective treatment options." 

Here's a look at the surge in cancer drug approvals, by the numbers.

27 percent = The share of cancer drug approvals among all new approvals since 2010. In the 80s, cancer drug approvals accounted for just 4 percent of the share.

126 = Approvals between 1980 and 2018 for drugs that treat solid and hematologic tumors.

9 percent longer = The average time it took to develop a cancer drug compared to other treatments between 1999-2018. But the FDA approval for cancer drugs during the same time was 48 percent shorter than other treatments because cancer drugs were often given special designations to speed up the regulatory process.

$3 billion = The cost, estimated by Tufts, to develop any new prescription drug.

$42.1 billion = Annual U.S. spending on cancer treatments between 2011 and 2016.

21.3 percent = The percentage of deaths in the U.S. caused by cancer. Although heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in America, a recent study published in The Lancet showed that cancer has become the No. 1 cause of death in many wealthy countries where heart disease has become better controlled with medicines. The same researchers predicted that cancer could soon become the No. 1 cause of death worldwide.