The history and contemporary challenges of the US food and drug administration

Andrea T. Borchers, Frank Hagie, Carl L Keen, M. Eric Gershwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Background: The year 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of the regulatory agency now known as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the first consumer protection agency of the federal government and arguably the most influential regulatory agency in the world. The FDA thus plays an integral role in the use of pharmaceuticals, not only in the United States but worldwide. Objective: The goal of this review was to present an overview of the FDA and place its current role in the perspectives of history and contemporary needs. Methods: Relevant materials for this review were identified through a search of the English-language literature indexed on MEDLINE (through 2006) using the main search terms United States Food and Drug Administration, FDA, history of the FDA, drug approvals, drug legislation, and FDA legislation. Results from the initial searches were then explored further. Results: The statute that created the bureau which later became the FDA established this agency to prohibit interstate commerce of adulterated foods, drinks, and drugs. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that replaced it in 1938, and subsequent food and drug laws and amendments, expanded the FDA's responsibilities to cosmetics, medical devices, biological products, and radiation-emitting products. These amendments have also established the FDA as a mainly preventive regulatory agency that relies chiefly on premarket control. As such, the FDA has played an important role in shaping the modern pharmaceutical industry by making the scientific approach and the clinical trial process the standard for establishing safety and efficacy and by making rigorous scientific analysis the predominant component of the process for pharmaceutical regulation. Conclusions: As shown in this review, the evolution of the FDA can be described as a series of "crisis-legislation-adaptation" cycles: a public health crisis promoted the passage of congressional legislation, which was then followed by implementation of the law by the FDA. However, the crises the FDA faces currently are likely to be overcome only under strong and permanent leadership willing to redefine the role and procedures of the FDA with an open mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalClinical Therapeutics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • adulteration
  • Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
  • pharmaceutical industry
  • regulatory agencies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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