Food and Drug Administration Chief Scott Gottlieb, MD, received a great deal of coverage for his recent remarks on providing better access to biosimilars. He seems intent on finding solutions to the underlying problems in delayed biosimilar launches.
He discussed in the interview with CNBC perhaps the most intractable problem: The US biosimilar industry has been severely affected by the reference drug manufacturers filing multiple patent filings and extending their market exclusivity well past the 12 years provided by law. For example, it was hoped that an adalimumab biosimilar would already be marketed, but it now seems that 2022/2023 may be the earliest in US launch because of this “patent maze.”
Dr. Gottlieb agreed that patents filed to protect “small changes in how you manufacturer the drugs” shouldn’t convey an additional 12 years of market exclusivity, and he thinks we’ll see less of these actions in the biologic space going forward. However, “there’s no silver bullet here in terms of trying to really make this market go gangbusters. I think this is going to be a slow build. But we’re going to be coming out with…about a dozen policies that I think incrementally will each move the ball in the direction of trying to create more avenues of biosimilar competition.”
One of the underlying challenges is that market exclusivity is described by two components: (1) regulatory (defined by Congress and FDA) and (2) patent law outlined in the US Constitution (and governed by the courts). The first is typified by the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA), which specifies 12 years of market exclusivity for the biologic manufacturer.
Originally, the Obama Administration wanted 7 years of market exclusivity but settled for 12 in order to pass the BPCIA. Based on Dr. Gottlieb’s remarks, it seems to be a question of what the FDA can do on its own to effect change. Perhaps the only leverage the agency has today over biologic manufacturers is at the time of approval. I really can’t envision what power it can wield in this fight; does the agency have the authority to cut deals with manufacturers to limit patent applications in exchange for drug approval? It may be that Dr. Gottlieb will try to work with Congress to circumvent the problem through amendments to BPCIA.
Another potential area may be to help biosimilar manufacturers take on the risk of launching before patent disputes are settled. Technically, any biosimilar manufacturer is allowed to launch after its 180-day exclusivity period expires postapproval. Pfizer (and its partner Celltrion) was the first to launch “at-risk.” Although biosimilars have been approved for drugs other than infliximab and filgrastim, manufacturers have been reluctant because of the financial penalties, including profits, which may be awarded by a court to the manufacturer of an originator product. This is why Sandoz has not launched Erelzi® (etanercept-szzs), which gained approval in 2016.