New drugs - is working in a “new way” a better way?

Unlike the latest iPhone, with drugs we cannot assume that newer is better.  At least not when it comes to prescription drugs.  Most people know that drug companies must perform studies to make sure a new drug is safe before FDA approval.  However, these studies – known as clinical trials – typically only last between a few months to a year.  In addition, most of these trials usually involve small numbers of subjects.  The median number of patients in these trials is 450, which is relatively small compared to the number of people that will eventually take most medications. Because the studies involve small numbers of people over a relatively short period of time, important side effects may not be reported until large numbers of people use the drug for a longer period of time.   


In reality, the newer a drug is to the market, the less we know about its potential harms and benefits.  So, in fact, the newer a drug is, the more uncertainty about its potential impact upon real-world patients.  A clear picture of the possible side effects do not emerge until long after the FDA approves a medicine, when more people have taken the drug over a longer period of time.


It’s especially important to pay attention to track record when a drug comes on the market that works in a “new” way. “Newness” is often used as a way of promoting these drugs in advertisements - but this kind of “newness” also means there is extra uncertainty.   Exciting new drugs may not end up working as well as drugs that have been in use for years - and their side effects may even be worse.  


An older drug, on the other hand, one that has been on the market for more than 5-7 years, has a long track record.  There has been more time for the public and their health-care providers to report side effects.  Thus, an older drug that has the same benefits as a newer one may be a better choice in some cases.  The truth is that we simply cannot know for certain until the new drug has proven itself over time.

With the DrugFactsBox, you can easily find out how long a medicine has been on the market, together with other crucial data about the drug.   You'll have access to the same information regarding clinical trials that is available to the FDA.  With reliable facts at your fingertips, you can work with your doctor to make the best choice for you and your family.

Want to learn more on how to use the DrugFactsBox™? Read on or subscribe to be invited to our beta trial when we launch the DrugFactsBox™.

For more on new drugs that work in a new way, check out our DrugFactsBox in Consumer Reports' latest piece on BELSOMRA for insomnia


Karen Lubell

Karen Lubell is a writer living in the Hanover, NH area. She holds degrees from Dartmouth College as well as New York University, where she taught writing while pursuing doctoral work in English Literature. She has worked as a writer and researcher in many different fields, including a stint at the New York Times as the language researcher for William Safire. Her special interest in the health sciences began four years ago with a health scare, which led her to the work of Drs. Schwartz and Woloshin. She is very excited to be a part of the Informulary team, and help with their mission to make data about prescription accessible to all. She lives in Norwich, Vermont with her husband, two children, and one very old cat.