Regulators in the USA gave the green light to 26 new drugs last year, one more than in 2008, though have come under fire for missing too many deadlines for other potential therapies.

The figures come from the investment research group Washington Analysis, which noted that the number of the drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration is higher than the previous four years. High-profile treatments that got the thumbs-up include two drugs for advanced kidney cancer – GlaxoSmithKline's Votrient (pazopanib) and Novartis’ Afinitor (everolimus) – as well as Eli Lilly/Daiichi Sankyo’s blood thinner Effient (prasugrel) and Sanofi-Aventis’ antiarrhythmic agent Multaq (dronedarone).

However Ira Loss, a senior healthcare analyst at Washington Analysis, told Dow Jones Newswires that the FDA needs to continue tightening its drug approval process. He had particular sympathy for Novo Nordisk’s liraglutide for diabetes, which has faced several delays.

Mr Loss said that post-marketing programmes to monitor a drug's safety, ie risk evaluation and mitigation strategies, were originally created to help speed up the process, allowing the FDA to approve a drug even if it still had questions. However they are actually slowing things down but he believes that will change once the FDA and drugmakers get more comfortable with how to design them.

The agency would not confirm the numbers from the analysis and is expected to give an official figure shortly. Washington Analysis also noted that 31 new or updated warning labels were added to drugs already on the market, down from 56 in 2008.