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Understanding 510(k), De Novo, and PMA for Medical Device FDA Compliance

Navigating the FDA’s regulatory pathways for medical devices is critical for manufacturers aiming to enter the U.S. market. The FDA provides three main routes for medical device approval: the 510(k) notification, the De Novo classification request, and the Pre-Market Approval (PMA). Each pathway serves a unique purpose and comes with specific requirements. This blog will explore the key differences and considerations for choosing the right submission type for your medical device.

What is the 510(k) Process?

The 510(k) process, named after Section 510(k) of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, is intended for devices that are substantially equivalent to a device already on the market (known as a predicate device). Key aspects include:

  • Target Devices: Best suited for devices similar to existing products.

  • Review Time: Typically around 90 days.

  • Cost and Complexity: Less costly and less complex compared to PMA.

  • Examples: Many non-invasive tools and some diagnostic devices.

What is the De Novo Process?

The De Novo pathway offers a route to market for new, low to moderate-risk devices that do not have a readily identifiable predicate. This process was designed to ensure that novel devices, which may have been automatically classified as Class III (high risk), can be appropriately reclassified as Class I or II based on risk, without requiring the rigorous PMA pathway. Here’s what you should know about De Novo:

  • Target Devices: Suitable for novel devices where no predicate exists but whose risk does not warrant a PMA.

  • Review Time: Generally longer than 510(k), usually about 120 to 150 days.

  • Cost and Complexity: More involved than 510(k) due to the need to establish new risk and control benchmarks.

  • Examples: New types of digital health devices, and innovative diagnostic technologies.

What is the PMA Process?

Pre-market approval (PMA) is the most stringent of the FDA regulatory pathways, designed for high-risk Class III devices. PMA requirements include:

  • Target Devices: Required for devices that support or sustain human life, are of substantial importance in preventing impairment of human health, or present a potentially unreasonable risk.

  • Review Time: Extensive, can take several years.

  • Cost and Complexity: Most expensive and complex due to the necessity of clinical trial data.

  • Examples: Implantable pacemakers and new, high-risk implantable devices.

510(k) vs. De Novo vs. PMA: Key Differences

  • Risk Level: 510(k) for lower-risk devices with predicates, De Novo for low to moderate risk without predicates, and PMA for high-risk devices.

  • Data Requirements: Increasing from 510(k) to PMA, with De Novo often requiring new and specific data to justify the classification.

  • Time and Cost: 510(k) is generally quicker and cheaper, De Novo is moderate in both, and PMA is the most time-consuming and costly.

Choosing the Right Path

The choice between 510(k), De Novo, and PMA largely depends on the novelty, risk level, and availability of a predicate device. Understanding the nuances of each pathway can help manufacturers strategically navigate FDA compliance, ensuring a smoother approval process and faster time to market.


Manufacturers must carefully evaluate their devices to choose the most appropriate FDA regulatory pathway. While 510(k) and PMA are well-known, the De Novo pathway provides a critical route for novel devices that are lower risk but lack a clear predicate. Engaging with regulatory experts can provide invaluable guidance and support throughout this complex process.


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