Margaret Foster Riley

An Unfulfilled Promise: Changes Needed to the Drug Approval Process to Make Personalized Medicine a Reality

Food & Drug Law Journal

UVA Law Faculty Affiliations


The widespread availability of drugs for personalized medicine has been an aspiration since before the human genome was sequenced. Recently, there is renewed interest; personalized medicine is much in the news. Legislation has been considered with the goal of smoothing, shortening and incentivizing the approval process for therapeutic products. President Obama mentioned the need for new initiatives to achieve such goals in the State of the Union address. But most of these initiatives do not consider the fundamental changes that personalized medicine demands. It requires a statutory structure designed for the development of products applicable for small subpopulations that is very different from our current model which is designed for the development of products for large populations. The current approval process is purposely not designed to consider individual efficacy. It is designed to incentivize reduced variation in clinical trials rather than embracing variation. In addition, it is based on twentieth-century notions of disease focused on phenotype rather than on pathophysiologic pathways. Current foci on the development of companion diagnostics, orphan drugs and post-approval study are important but insufficient. FDA does not have the authority to require the type of standardization, clinical trial design and extensive data reporting and sharing that. is needed to achieve the goals for personalized medicine. In addition, FDA's current drug approval process is too lengthy and cumbersome to deal with the iterative responses personalized medicine entails. If we are serious about wanting to achieve these goals, we will need to entertain such fundamental changes in authority.


Margaret Foster Riley, An Unfulfilled Promise: Changes Needed to the Drug Approval Process to Make Personalized Medicine a Reality, 70 Food & Drug Law Journal 289–314 (2015).

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