Pfizer purchased Hospira in 2015, and one of its prizes was a biosimilar version of Epogen® and Procrit® that was already being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA rejected that 351(k) application and issued a complete response letter. Pfizer’s Hospira unit resubmitted its application for its Retacrit™ version of epoetin alpha in 2016. They received good news this week from the agency.
According to the FDA’s staffers’ summary released ahead of the May 25th Oncology Advisory Committee review, Retacrit fulfilled the requirements for biosimilarity. Today, the Advisory Committee added further support to this conclusion by voting 14-1 to recommend approval for all extrapolated indications, despite some safety concerns expressed by committee members.
According to the staff review, “The totality of analytical data support the determination that ‘Epoetin Hospira’ is highly similar to US-licensed Epogen/Procrit notwithstanding minor differences in clinically inactive components.” Nor were any clinically meaningful differences in immunogenicity risk found. The FDA staff review documents also concluded that Retacrit’s biosimilarity evidence supports extrapolation across its intended indications.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration removed the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) on the originator product, indicating that it is no longer necessary to “ensure that the benefits of Epogen/Procrit and Aranesp® outweigh the risks of shortened overall survival and/or increased risk of tumor progression or recurrence, for the treatment of anemia associated with myelosuppressive chemotherapy.” The originator agent has been linked with cardiovascular safety concerns, which has affected utilization of epoetin alpha over the years.
The first epoetin biosimilars were approved for use in Europe in 2007; a tremendous amount of real-world data have accumulated on their use. However, the FDA Oncology Advisory Committee cannot consider this in their decision.
Members of the FDA Committee expressed “residual concerns with immunogenicity and safety.” For example, patients with chronic kidney disease who require hemodialysis may have a reduced response to Retacrit.
The rather unique “dual” originator products (Epogen/Procrit) resulted from a duel in the 1990s between Amgen and Johnson & Johnson. Amgen originally manufactured the product in the late 1980s and licensed it to J&J’s Ortho Biotech unit. A stormy relationship developed, with lawsuits passed back and forth. The result was a licensing agreement that the drug would be manufactured under license (sounds a bit like a biosimilar, doesn’t it?) by each company for different indications.