What They Said – Looking Back the First 6-Months of FDA Communications

Periodically I write a posting to look back at what FDA is talking about to get some perspective. Each individual press release tells us something, but looking back at the aggregate can also provide insights. Not long ago, a retrospective look that compared the ratio and trend of COVID versus non-COVID related news out of FDA suggested that not only was COVID becoming less of a topic for the agency, but also presented the possibility that there was increasing room for other topics. Soon, we may have a new dominating topic in Monkeypox. So let’s take a look:

  1. Volume – Let’s look first at the numbers of releases issued by FDA for the first six months of the year. It is down – mum has been the word. Below is an annual comparison looking back the past few years, compared to where the agency was at mid-year. You can see early in the chart, FDA maintained a very low volume of communications, and at mid-year in 2017 had issued only 52 releases, rising to 166 for the year. This year at 128 mid-year, the agency is at the lowest level since then. You can also see that the numbers rose significantly starting mid-year 2017 through 2019 which coincides with the tenure of FDA Commissioner Gottlieb, reflecting his outgoing communications style. Then the agency began quite commonly issuing Statements from the Commissioner. Prior to that time, such statements were rare. The current downturn in volume could also be attributable in part to the fact that FDA has once again altered somewhat a past communications practice. For many years the agency conveyed news that was not exactly press-release worthy by issuing a separate communication called “FDA in Brief“. This year, the agency stopped issuing news via this mode, and instead began issuing regular releases under Press Releases called “FDA Roundup” that similar bundles news together. One might expect the addition of another regular release from FDA to inflate the volume of releases, but one could also make the case that the bundling of such news created less of a need for individual releases.
  2. Content – Next up – what did FDA talk about? In a February blog posting I noted that by January 2022, the proportion of press releases that were issued by the agency regarding COVID was decreasing in proportion, meaning that there was more oxygen available for other topics. The trend is even more stark today and clearly FDA has moved on to talking about other things. So first observation, volume is down, but volume of COVID news (represented in red below) coming out of the agency appears way down. Some COVID-related developments are covered in the newly launched FDA Roundups, but as stated earlier, that tends to group items together that are not quite newsworthy enough for stand alone releases. During the first half of the year, the agency issued 20 COVID-related releases, compared to 93 during the first half of 2021.

Apart from COVID, of the 145 releases issued during the first half of the year, over one-third were the FDA Roundups. Only 20 were about product approvals or label expansions, compared to 46 the year before (the drop in NME approvals was covered here not long ago).

All in all, it would appear that less talk about COVID and with fewer new approvals, the overall output from FDA has gone down with respect to major announcements. One thing that appeared to get a good deal of attention by FDA involved updating the public with regard to developments around the shortage of baby formula experienced in the U.S. this year. We’ll report back after year-end to look at the year and see if there are any changes.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

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