In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected Amgen’s oral arguments—a biosimilar manufacturer can meet the 180-day notification period requirement by notifying the originator’s manufacturer before receiving approval. In other words, biosimilar launches can occur immediately after approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The 180-day notification period was seen as giving the originator a further 6 months of exclusivity, not allowing newly approved products to reach the market until after the period had expired. The argument by biosimilar manufacturers has been that notification of its intention to commercialize the drug can be given prior to approval (e.g., at the time the application is sent to the FDA), without any disadvantage in terms of an examination of whether patents had been infringed.
Sandoz v. Amgen involved Sandoz’s filgrastim biosimilar Zarxio®, which has since launched, but this decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, will clear one barrier out of the way to faster access to biosimilars.
The justices decided to punt on a ruling of whether the patent dance is necessary to the states, where unfair business conduct laws may take precedence. The patent dance involves a protocol where the biosimilar applicant must provide to the reference drug maker information on how it plans to manufacture the agent and its actual 351(k) application. The reference drug manufacturer can then evaluate which of its patents it believes will be infringed, and must respond (and counter) within a specific timetable. According to Justice Thomas’ opinion, “There is no dispute about how the federal scheme actually works, and thus nothing for us to decide as a matter of federal law. The mandatory or conditional nature of the [Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act] requirements matters only for purposes of California’s unfair competition law, which penalizes ‘unlawful’ conduct. Whether Sandoz’s conduct was ‘unlawful’ under the unfair competition law is a state-law question, and the court below erred in attempting to answer that question by referring to the BPCIA alone.
“We decline to resolve this particular dispute definitively because it does not present a question of federal law. The BPCIA, standing alone, does not require a court to decide whether §262(l)(2)(A) is mandatory or conditional; the court need only determine whether the applicant supplied the sponsor with the information required under §262(l)(2)(A).”
Justice Stephen Breyer suggested, in a concurring opinion, that the FDA may play a greater role in deciding the outcome of the patent dance. He stated, “[If FDA], after greater experience administering this statute, determines that a different interpretation would better serve the statute’s objectives, it may well have authority to depart from, or to modify, today’s interpretation.”