Important questions remain about the Food and Drug Administration, despite the aggressive approach its new commissioner, Dr. David A. Kessler, has taken on truth-in-promotions. The first has to do with efficiency, a buzzword during the Reagan-Bush years.
It has been well documented that approval of new pharmaceuticals drags. In the competitive environment in which American manufacturers find themselves, that means new products often get introduced abroad before U.S. approval can be won, even if the drugs were developed by domestic firms. That's not all bad; Thalidomide and other products were found to be harmful long before they went into wide use here.
Still, a regulatory process that slows introduction of useful products so badly that it diminishes the practical benefits of patenting them cannot be much of a boon, either. It could inhibit development of some products long enough to make them uneconomic propositions. In desperate situations such as the AIDS epidemic, the FDA has had to come up with accelerated programs to bypass its own cumbersome drug-approval process.