New Biosimilar Guidances From the FDA Announced by Commissioner Gottlieb

On December 11, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, MD, issued a far-ranging statement on actions to be taken by the federal government to improve access to biosimilars and to begin the transition of insulins, growth hormones, and other selected drugs to biologic status, under section 351 of the Public Health Service Act.

“Today, we’re taking additional actions to advance this framework,” stated Dr. Gottlieb. “Among them, we’re issuing four new draft guidance documents today. The first two guidance documents provide greater clarity on scientific and regulatory considerations for the development of biosimilar and interchangeable products. We intend to update these new guidance documents regularly, to address development issues as they evolve.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb

These actions were first signaled by the announcement of the Biosimilars Action Plan earlier this year.

Hiding Behind REMS to Deter Access to Samples

These guidance documents, created in question-and-answer format, address specific issues, some of which get to the heart of biosimilar development and access. For example, one section speaks to abuse of limited distribution systems requirements, in connection with Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) programs. These programs have been used as a way to “delay or derail access to reference product samples that biosimilar sponsors need for testing to support their applications for a biosimilar product.” Dr. Gottlieb said, “While the limited distribution programs can have a role in promoting patient safety, too many branded products are still misusing these programs as rhetorical smokescreens to hide anti-competitive behavior.”

Dr. Gottlieb said that FDA will, upon request only, “review study protocols submitted by biosimilar applicants to assess whether their protocols contain comparable safety protections to those in the REMS for the reference product they’re trying to reference.” The FDA will be willing to state in a letter to the reference manufacturer “that comparable protections exist, and that the FDA won’t consider it to be a violation of the branded drug company’s REMS to provide the biosimilar sponsor with a sufficient quantity of the reference product to perform testing necessary to support its biosimilar application.”

He also reiterated that it may be possible for biosimilar developers to obtain EU-licensed samples for use in comparative studies. Dr. Gottlieb indicated that the FDA was still evaluating this option.

New Routes of Administration for Biosimilars not Allowed

Another Q&A would put to rest the notion that a biosimilar maker can produce a new formulation or route of administration for an approved biosimilar product under the 351(k) pathway. The guidance states, “An applicant may not seek approval, in a 351(k) application or a supplement to an approved 351(k) application, for a route of administration, a dosage form, or a strength that is not the same as that of the reference product.” This would mean development of a subcutaneous form of infliximab, for example, would not be possible under the biosimilar regulatory pathway, because Remicade® is only available as an intravenous infusion.

On the Road Toward Interchangeable Insulins

One of the key provisions of the BPCIA is that insulins, growth hormones, and other agents for which reference products were not available under the FD&C Act, will be transitioned to the biologic regulatory pathway (under the Public Health Services Act) by 2020. The FDA has begun to consider just how this will occur.

Transition drugs

Starting in March 2020, this transition will take place. “Today, we’re laying out our policy on how these products will transition from the drug pathway to the biologics pathway, and in so doing, how we intend to use this new framework to promote competition,” said Dr. Gottlieb.

Under the “Deemed to be a License” Provision of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009,” the final guidance from the FDA specifies that these newly deemed biologics will be subject to the same regulations as today’s biosimilars. “Anti-evergreening provisions under the biosimilars legislation—meant to prevent sponsors from being able to game the exclusivity provisions to forestall biosimilar entry—will apply to these newly deemed products, including insulin.”

Furthermore, these agents will not gain any additional exclusivities because of the transition (they will not get any additional exclusivity). It is assumed that once they are transitioned, and if their patents have expired, biosimilar competition can begin at once. This could mean far greater pricing pressure on insulin products (not simply glargine), and potentially even interchangeable designations that can be automatically substituted at the pharmacy.

As part of this transition, Dr. Gottlieb explained, biological products that have been approved under section 505 of the FD&C Act will be removed from the FDA’s Orange Book on March 23, 2020, based on the agency’s position that these products are no longer ‘listed drugs.’ That means that a follow-on applicant won’t be able to rely upon these NDAs for approval. They have to go down the biosimilars path after the transition.”

State Biosimilar Laws Need Clarity and Consistency

Although 41 states currently have passed legislation to enable plans to substitute interchangeable biosimilars, these state biosimilar laws seem an attempt to put the cart in front of the horse. Reginia Benjamin, JD, Director of Legislative Affairs, at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, explained that the first state legislation to optimize the use of biosimilars was signed in 2013, before any were approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Biosimilars Review Biosimilar ReportsMs. Benjamin’s presentation last week at the annual meeting of the AMCP in Boston highlighted the fact that by the time Zarxio®, the first biosimilar was approved, 10 states had similar laws on the books.

The individual state biosimilar laws do vary quite a bit. Some of them specified that notification must be given to the provider (via phone, fax, or notation in the EMR) that a reference product is being substituted. She added that these requirements are generally above and beyond what is mandated for the dispensing of other medications.

At the time the majority of these laws were enacted, the FDA had not yet defined the criteria for an interchangeable biosimilar.
As a result, the medications’ definition of interchangeability varies in some states’ legislation. For example, they may rely on the way the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) framed interchangeability, which is less specific than the FDA’s current guidelines.

To complicate matters, said Ms. Benjamin, states may also refer to a level of therapeutic equivalence as defined by the FDA’s Orange Book. However, the Orange Book does not address biologics, only small molecules. The Purple Book would be the appropriate reference, but this was only introduced in 2014.

Additional state legislative language, which is not uniform, includes the following:

  • Patients must be notified before receiving the biosimilar medicine (and varying timeframes for such notification)
  • Receipt of patient approval of the interchanged biosimilar before dispensing
  • Requirements to state boards of pharmacy produce a website with information on FDA-approved interchangeable biosimilars
  • Limits on liability for pharmacists who substitute a biosimilar for a reference product (ie, no greater liability exists than for filling any other prescription)

Ms. Benjamin stated that “state laws are inconsistent with the intent of the BPCIA,” for instance, pharmacists do not have independent authority to substitute a biosimilar agent for the originator product without the approval of the health provider. They fail to recognize the Purple Book as the FDA’s reference source for information about the interchangeability of biosimilars.

She concluded that education is key in providing stakeholders to better inform them of the potential for these drugs, “to provide increased access to safe and more cost-effective drugs.”

Analyzing FDA Chief Gottlieb’s Remarks—Part 2: FDA and Marketing Exclusivity

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 Food and Drug Administrationthis 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.

The Week in Biosimilar News

You know it’s been a pretty desperate week in the biosimilar blogosphere when twitter feeds relate back to articles published in January, rehashes of the US Supreme Court decision in June, or yet another estimate of the savings potentially ascribed to biosimilar use (based on erroneous assumptions). However, there were a few significant tidbits announced last week that are worth reviewing.

First, Biocon announced that the decision to approve its trastuzumab biosimilar (with partner Mylan) has been delayed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 3 months (until December 3, 2017). According to Biocon, this delay was required so that the FDA could “review some of the clarificatory information submitted as part of the application review process.” Clarificatory? Really? Maybe the extra time was needed to translate the application itself.

Second, a survey of 103 US gastroenterologists raised a couple of questions as to how well information about Inflectra®, the biosimilar to Remicade®, is sinking in on the practice level. According to a press release from Spherix Global Insights, cross-category prescribing may be interfering with the uptake of the biosimilar. They state, “not only is the decline [in Remicade prescriptions] attributed to the adoption of infliximab biosimilars, but use of Humira® has also significantly increased, potentially indicating that more ulcerative colitis patients are being placed on Humira to avoid insurance mandates for infliximab biosimilar use.” This limited survey found that more than one-third of gastroenterologists “agree that if a pharmacy or managed care plan advises them to use Inflectra over Remicade, that they are more likely to choose a different TNF-inhibitor altogether.” This is a weird finding, perhaps indicating nothing more than spite for the health plan’s benefit design. Clearly, if the physicians fully considered the evidence, they would be less likely to prescribe in this way. Admittedly, as notable numbers of managed care organizations have not actually mandated Inflectra use at this point in time, we would have to wait to see if this opinion is validated in actual practice.

Finally, Sanofi announced that it had received tentative approval on a follow-on biologic form of insulin lispro (the originator product was Lilly’s Humalog®). Patent issues will have to be resolved before Sanofi can receive final approval and bring this product to the market. The insulin biosimilars are not regulated under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, but rather under the Hatch–Waxman Act—the application was filed as a 505(b)2 rather than a 351(k) variety. They are transitional products, which will considered under the newer regulations after March 23, 2020. We will detail these lesser-known transitional drug categories in a future post.