On Thursday, July 13, 2017, FDA’s Oncological Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) unanimously recommended approval of biosimilars of two blockbuster cancer drugs. The first, Amgen and Allergan’s ABP-215, is a proposed biosimilar of Roche/Genentech’s Avastin (bevacizumab), a monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of a number of different cancers. The second, Mylan and Biocon’s MYL-1401O, is a proposed biosimilar of Roche/Genentech’s monoclonal antibody Herceptin (trastuzumab), a drug used in the treatment of HER2+ breast and gastric cancer. If, as expected, the drugs receive final FDA approval, each of these drugs will be the first U.S. biosimilar for its respective reference product.
Pfizer’s proposed biosimilar of Amgen’s Epogen® and Johnson & Johnson’s Procrit® (epoetin alfa) is poised to be the first erythropoietin (EPO) biosimilar in the U.S. FDA staff recommended approval of Pfizer’s product as a biosimilar for the four indications of Epogen/Procrit. On May 25, 2017, FDA’s advisory committee agreed with that assessment, but FDA did not approve Pfizer’s product following the meeting. Instead, in a first for biosimilar products, FDA issued a complete response letter in June rejecting Pfizer’s EPO biosimilar application for a second time. Pfizer revealed that FDA did not approve the application after the advisory committee meeting due to FDA’s concerns with a manufacturing site for the EPO biosimilar. Pfizer’s product may not be approved, much less launched, this year due to outstanding manufacturing issues.
Supreme Court Decides Amgen v. Sandoz: Patent Dance Cannot Be Enforced by Federal Injunction, Notice of Commercial Marketing Can Be Given at Any Time
On June 12, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Amgen v. Sandoz, the landmark case about the meaning of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA). First, the Supreme Court held that no federal injunction is available to force biosimilar applicants to participate in the BPCIA’s patent dispute resolution procedures (a/k/a the patent dance); but it remanded to the Federal Circuit to address whether such an injunction is available under state law. Second, the Court held that under the BPCIA, a biosimilar applicant may provide 180-day notice of commercial marketing before the biosimilar product is licensed, meaning that as a practical matter, the 180-day notice period need not affect the timing of the biosimilar product’s launch.
This post, Part III, of a three-part series (Part I and Part II) on FDA’s interchangeability draft guidance highlights a number of open issues that stakeholders have identified in their comments to FDA. These include the naming and labeling for interchangeable products as well as the relationship between multiple interchangeable products for the same reference product. Biosimilar makers also wanted FDA to make clear that physician-mediated switching is possible for non-interchangeable biosimilar products even if pharmacy-level substitution is not. A number of patient groups, by contrast, expressed concern that payers were in effect mandating pharmacy-level substitution for non-interchangeable biosimilars by taking innovator products off formularies.
This post, Part II, of a three-part series (Part I) on FDA’s interchangeability draft guidance, highlights the key issues that were raised in the stakeholder comments provided to FDA. FDA received 52 comments in total from a variety of stakeholders, including patients, physicians, insurers, innovators and biosimilar makers. The stakeholders were divided in their views in a number of areas. Patient and physician groups and innovators urged FDA to adopt more stringent requirements for interchangeability assessments. Biosimilar makers and insurers, by contrast, generally pressed for a loosening of the guidance provided by FDA as well as clarification that interchangeable biosimilar products were not more similar to the innovator product than the non-interchangeable ones. The comments also raised a number of issues not addressed by the guidance, which will be discussed in the third post in this series.
The comment period for FDA’s draft guidance Considerations in Demonstrating Interchangeability With a Reference Product closed on Friday, May 19, 2017. Innovators, biosimilar makers, patients, healthcare providers and other stakeholders have weighed in on the long-awaited guidance. Interchangeable biosimilars, unlike other biosimilars, may be substituted for the innovator product without the intervention of the healthcare provider who prescribed the innovator product. FDA’s guidance for interchangeable biosimilars is thus particularly important to stakeholders. This post, Part I of a three-part series, provides an overview of the key provisions of the guidance. Parts II and III will focus on the comments from stakeholders and open issues.
Approvals of biosimilar products in Europe continue to outpace those in the United States. 28 biosimilars are currently approved in Europe and five in the U.S. In 2017, the European Medical Agency has approved six biosimilar applications, including applications for biosimilars to two of the best-selling complex biologics, Humira (adalimumab) and MabThera (rituximab). EMA is likely to approve seven more biosimilar applications in the coming months. The Food and Drug Administration in turn has approved one biosimilar this year, and has scheduled an advisory committee meeting for later this month for Pfizer’s proposed biosimilar of Amgen’s EPO (epoetin alfa), which the agency previously rejected. Proposed biosimilars of complex biologics in a number of new classes are pending before both agencies at the same time.
When a small pharmaceutical company discovers a new medicine, it’s not uncommon for the company – which may not itself have the resources or infrastructure to get that medicine to patients – to seek a distribution partner early in development. If the partners make a deal – say the distributor pays for the right to sell the drug (if it gets approved) – and the partners publicize the existence of the deal (but not the full details of the medicine), does the deal bar a patent filed more than one year later? In Helsinn Healthcare S.A v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc. (May 1, 2017), a unanimous panel of the Federal Circuit ruled that the on-sale bar of the America Invents Act (AIA) precludes such a patent, just as the pre-AIA on-sale bar would. But, in a decision with the potential to chill deals between small bio/pharma companies and potential commercialization partners, the court left unresolved some important questions about the meaning of the AIA’s on-sale bar.
President Donald J. Trump has now been in office for just over one hundred days. Observers have been quick to mark this milestone and assess the new administration’s performance, especially on headline-grabbing issues like immigration and foreign policy. Amidst the hubbub, however, few have commented on how President Trump’s opening moves could affect the multi-billion-dollar biologics industry. President Trump’s actions during his first hundred days on issues like trade, judges, and healthcare have the potential to shape the biologics industry for innovators and biosimilar makers alike for years to come.
A number of biosimilar makers have tried to obtain approval for proposed biosimilar versions of Amgen’s Neulasta (pegfilgrastim), a long-acting version of Amgen’s Neupogen (filgrastim), but have encountered hurdles so far both in the U.S. and Europe.
Despite nearly universal opposition from both biosimilar makers and innovator companies, FDA has issued final guidance adopting its controversial August 2015 proposal for naming biologics. Under the guidance adopted by FDA, the nonproprietary name of a biologic will consist of the core nonproprietary name of the originator product plus a meaningless but distinguishable suffix of four lowercase letters unique to each product.
Europe’s biosimilar market continues to develop, with biosimilars in new classes approved and pending in applications before the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA has approved four additional biosimilars in 2016, including three biosimilars in two new classes: a biosimilar of Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept) and two biosimilars of Sanofi’s Clexane (enoxaparin sodium). In addition to the now 22 approved biosimilars, 16 additional biosimilar applications are under evaluation by the EMA with 12 of the 16 falling in four new product classes: biosimilars of Amgen’s Neulasta (pegfilgrastim), Genentech’s Herceptin (trastuzumab), Roche’s MabThera (rituximab) and AbbVie’s Humira (adalimumab). While Europe’s biosimilar pathway offers important lessons for the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is setting its own path. Two of the four biosimilars approved in the U.S., Sandoz’s biosimilar of Amgen’s Enbrel and Amgen’s biosimilar of AbbVie’s Humira, were approved in the U.S. without any prior approval in Europe. The FDA has also rejected applications for proposed biosimilars with authorization and marketing experience in Europe, making clear that approval in Europe will not necessarily result in approval in the U.S.
FDA Says BPCIA Poses No Fifth Amendment Taking for Innovator Biologics Submitted Prior to Its Enactment
On the same day that FDA approved the first biosimilar of Humira, the fourth biosimilar to be approved in the U.S., it also denied a citizen petition filed by Abbott Laboratories (now AbbVie) requesting that FDA not accept any filing or approve any application for a biosimilar version of Humira® (adalimubab), AbbVie’s best-selling biologic, or any other product for which a biologics license application (BLA) was submitted to FDA prior to March 23, 2010, the date on which the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) was signed into law. AbbVie argued that to accept or approve any such biosimilar filing would constitute an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment. AbbVie filed its petition in April 2012, long before any biosimilar was approved in the U.S. and before Amgen filed its biosimilar application for Humira with FDA. All four of the U.S. biosimilars approved to date have relied on BLAs submitted to FDA prior to March 23, 2010.
The FDA on Friday approved the first U.S. biosimilar of Humira (adalimumab), AbbVie’s best-selling biologic for treatment of inflammatory conditions. The biosimilar, Amgen’s Amjevita (adalimumab-atto), received approval for all of the indications requested by Amgen: in adults, moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis, active psoriatic arthritis, active ankylosing spondylitis, moderately to severely active Crohn’s disease, moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis, and moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, and in patients four years of age and older, moderately to severely active polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Amjevita is the fourth FDA-approved biosimilar in the U.S. As noted by the FDA, Amjevita has been approved as a biosimilar of Humira, not an interchangeable product. Amgen also submitted its Humira biosimilar for review by the European Medicines Agency in December 2015, but the EMA has yet to issue a decision.
Six years after the biosimilar pathway was enacted into law, FDA has approved three biosimilars for marketing in the US. Sandoz’s Zarxio, a biosimilar of Amgen’s Neupogen, was the first biosimilar to be approved. Zarxio, a relatively simple biologic, was approved in March 2015 under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA). This year, FDA approved two complex biologics, Celltrion and Pfizer’s Inflectra, a biosimilar of Janssen’s Remicade, and Sandoz’s Erelzi, a biosimilar of Amgen’s Enbrel. FDA staff and its arthritis advisory committee also recommended approval of Amgen’s proposed biosimilar of AbbVie’s Humira. On the other hand, Sandoz revealed in July that its biosimilar application for Amgen’s Neulasta, a long-acting version of Neupogen, had been rejected by FDA and Hospira did the same last year for its biosimilar application for Amgen’s EPO. Although the approvals (and rejections) provide significant insights as to FDA’s requirements, there are no simple lessons to be drawn.
On August 30 FDA approved Sandoz Inc.’s biosimilar of Enbrel (etanercept), Amgen Inc.’s blockbuster biologic for treatment of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis and a number of other autoimmune conditions. The biosimilar, Erelzi (etanercept-szzs), is the third biosimilar approved for marketing in the US under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA). Erelzi has been approved for all of Enbrel’s indications and is the first U.S. biosimilar of etanercept.
Last year, FDA published a draft guidance recommending that the nonproprietary names of biologics, including biosimilars, should consist of “core names” along with unique suffixes that are “devoid of meaning.” In a recent notice in the Federal Register, FDA stated that it will allow biologics sponsors to submit ten suggested suffixes for their products under FDA’s proposed naming scheme. This new recommendation represents a change from last year’s guidance, which invited sponsors to submit three suggested suffixes.
A 70-group coalition of healthcare stakeholders urged the FDA to incorporate meaningful and therefore memorable suffixes into its distinguishable naming system for biological medicines to provide strong patient protections and provider confidence. The coalition emphasized that “meaningful suffixes are easier for patients, providers and pharmacists to both recognize and remember, thus facilitating accurate association between adverse effects and specific products.” The coalition explained that meaningful suffixes based on the name of the manufacturer, such as the “sndz” suffix used for the first approved biosimilar, Sandoz’s Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), instead of the random suffixes proposed in FDA’s most recent draft guidance and used for the first time in FDA’s recent approval of a second biosimilar, Celltrion and Pfizer’s Inflectra (infliximab-dyyb), would promote manufacturer accountability. Notably, FDA used a random suffix for the nonproprietary name of Inflectra despite widespread criticism by innovators and biosimilar makers alike of FDA’s naming approach.
On April 5, the FDA announced the approval of Inflectra, Celltrion and Pfizer’s biosimilar of Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade (infliximab). Inflectra is now the second biosimilar approved for sale in the United States, after Sandoz’s Zarxio. Inflectra’s label and naming reflect the latest FDA guidance.
Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept), a blockbuster biologic treatment for a number of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, has been an attractive target for biosimilar makers. Sandoz, the maker of Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), the only biosimilar launched in the US to date, is also first in line with an Enbrel biosimilar in the US. Last October, Sandoz announced that FDA accepted its regulatory application for a proposed Enbrel biosimilar for review. Sandoz is seeking marketing approval for all of Enbrel’s medical indications. But Sandoz’s proposed Enbrel biosimilar brought litigation under the US biosimilars statute, the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA).
On Thursday, FDA released draft guidance clarifying its position on labeling biosimilar products. While the guidance addresses some of the concerns raised by physicians and innovator companies, FDA’s guidance largely continues to treat biosimilars like generics for purposes of labeling.
Despite mixed results, biosimilar makers continue to turn to inter partes review (IPR) proceedings in order to challenge innovator patents protecting some of the most important biologics.
In the latest skirmish between Amgen and Sandoz under the U.S. biosimilars statute, the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA), Amgen has filed a new declaratory judgment claim alleging violations of the BPCIA. As described in Amgen’s March 4 complaint, after filing an application for a biosimilar version of Amgen’s cancer drug Neulasta, Sandoz cut short the BPCIA patent dance and demanded that Amgen file an immediate patent infringement suit, claiming that Amgen would otherwise lose its rights to seek lost profits and injunctive relief. Amgen responded with a suit for a declaration that it had no obligation to go forward with the immediate litigation phase of the BPCIA after Sandoz cut off the pre-suit procedures.
AbbVie, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company, has submitted a citizen petition to the FDA regarding determinations of interchangeability under the BPCIA. An interchangeable biological product is biosimilar to a reference product and meets additional, heightened standards for interchangeability. While biosimilars are required to be highly similar to an FDA-approved reference product, an interchangeable biological product is expected to produce the same clinical result as the reference product in any given patient. A determination of interchangeability is significant because an interchangeable biological product may be substituted for a reference product by a pharmacist without requiring permission from the physician who prescribed the reference product. While the FDA approved the first biosimilar biological product in early 2015, it has yet to issue a decision that one biological product is “interchangeable” with another.
In 2015, FDA issued a number of final guidance documents for biosimilars but many fundamental questions remain unsettled, including the requirements for labeling of biosimilars, interchangeability, and naming. There is much ahead for the US biosimilars pathway in 2016.
2015 was a landmark year for biosimilars. It began with the approval of the first US biosimilar, Sandoz’s Zarxio, in March 2015 under the biosimilars pathway. Zarxio entered the US market in September. Many expected the floodgates to open after Zarxio’s approval but Zarxio remains the only approved US biosimilar to this day, although that is expected to change this year. Seven other biosimilar applications were filed in 2014/2015 and are either being reviewed by FDA or have to be refiled. Most of these applications are to complex biologics. 2016 should provide significant insights into how FDA determines biosimilarity and extrapolation for these complex products.
On January 26, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled the final version of its proposal for a worldwide biosimilar naming convention. The WHO proposes to add a “biologic qualifier” (BQ), which consists of four random consonants and an optional two-digit checksum, as an identifier that follows the nonproprietary name of each biologic and biosimilar product. This proposal resembles FDA’s biosimilar naming proposal, which adds four random consonants as a suffix to nonproprietary names. Industry and healthcare stakeholders have criticized FDA’s proposal to use random suffixes, instead of meaningful—and therefore memorable—ones, due to a greater likelihood of reporting and prescription errors with meaningless names. The WHO proposal, which uses a randomly generated separate identifier, is likely to draw similar criticism.
The Federal Circuit Will Hear Apotex’s Appeal from a Preliminary Injunction Under the BPCIA in Early 2016
In early 2016, the Federal Circuit will hear Apotex’s appeal from a preliminary injunction barring Apotex from selling its proposed Neulasta biosimilar for 180 days after FDA approval. Briefing will be complete on February 12, 2016, and the Federal Circuit agreed to place the case on the oral argument calendar soon thereafter. Apotex had asked for a more expedited schedule but was not able to provide any specific evidence of when its proposed biosimilar product will be approved.
On November 19, 2015, the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) gave a positive opinion, recommending marketing authorization of Samsung Bioepis’s Benepali, the first biosimilar of Enbrel (etanercept), in Europe. Enbrel is a blockbuster treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and a number of other autoimmune conditions associated with elevated levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), a protein that plays an important role in promoting inflammation. The CHMP recommended approval of Benepali for these conditions. In the US, FDA recently accepted Sandoz’s regulatory application for its proposed biosimilar of Enbrel for review. Sandoz is seeking approval for all of Enbrel’s indications. FDA’s review of Sandoz’s proposed biosimilar will provide important information on the requirements for biosimilarity and extrapolation for complex biologic products.
FDA has received comments from more than 170 groups on its proposal for naming biosimilars. Biosimilar makers, insurers and pharmacies largely oppose distinct nonproprietary names (also known as proper names) for biosimilars. By contrast, innovators (including those that develop biosimilars), healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups view them as critical to ensuring patient safety. However, most stakeholders in both camps urged FDA to use meaningful suffixes to distinguish biosimilars from originator products rather than suffixes “devoid of meaning.” FDA proposed to add meaningless suffixes to the nonproprietary names of originator products to address concerns of biosimilar makers that distinct names would discourage adoption of biosimilar products. But biosimilar makers expressed concern that such meaningless suffixes will lead to a variety of errors and ultimately endanger public safety. FDA may now revisit its proposal given the largely uniform preference of innovators and biosimilar makers alike for meaningful and memorable nonproprietary names, such as those that identify the manufacturer of the biologic.
In its draft guidance, FDA proposed distinguishable nonproprietary names for biosimilars to promote the safety of patients receiving biologic medicines and minimize inadvertent substitution of biologics that have not been determined to be interchangeable. FDA did not make a proposal for naming interchangeable biological products. Instead, FDA requested comments on how to name such products in addition to seeking comments on its approach to naming biosimilars. Stakeholders’ comments are now in. Innovator companies (including those that also develop biosimilars), healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups favor distinguishable nonproprietary names for biosimilars. Biosimilar makers, insurers, pharmacies, and the FTC, by contrast, largely fall into a different camp; they argue that distinct names are unnecessary for monitoring biosimilars and will likely bias providers against prescribing them. Notably, the two camps came together on the naming of interchangeable products. Since interchangeable products will likely first be approved as biosimilars, both camps advocated keeping the initial biosimilar name rather than changing it after approval as an interchangeable product. As a result of this unified view, FDA is likely to expand the naming approach it ultimately adopts for biosimilars to interchangeable products.
After the FDA approved the first U.S. biosimilar, Sandoz’s Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), earlier this year, many predicted that the floodgates would open for biosimilar products. That has not been the case. No other U.S. biosimilar product has been approved. And, as FDA’s recent rejection of Hospira’s EPO biosimilar application suggests, Zarxio’s approval may ultimately provide little guidance for more complex products.
The first biosimilar makers to file regulatory applications with FDA attempted to bypass all or a subset of the patent litigation provisions of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA). Apotex, the third biosimilar maker to file an application for approval of a biosimilar product with FDA, chose a different course. Apotex participated in and completed the BPCIA’s pre-suit information exchanges (also known as the “patent dance”) for its proposed biosimilar of Amgen’s Neulasta (pegfilgrastim). As Amgen’s recent lawsuit shows, Apotex followed the patent dance again for its proposed biosimilar of Amgen’s Neupogen (filgrastim).
Sandoz Inc. announced on October 2, 2015 that FDA accepted its regulatory application for a proposed biosimilar of Amgen Inc.’s biologic arthritis drug Enbrel for review. The acceptance comes years after Sandoz attempted to bypass the litigation provisions of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA). It remains to be seen whether Sandoz now will follow the BPCIA and provide its regulatory application and other manufacturing information to Amgen since the Federal Circuit has recently held that doing so is optional in Amgen v. Sandoz, another case involving the same parties and the Federal Circuit’s first decision to interpret the BPCIA. Amgen is currently seeking en banc review of this ruling.
The FDA approved label for the first U.S. biosimilar, Sandoz’s Zarxio, has raised concerns. Zarxio was launched on September 3, 2015 with a label that does not state that the product was approved as a biosimilar to Amgen’s Neupogen and that it has not been determined to be interchangeable to Neupogen. Instead, Zarxio’s label is nearly identical to that of Amgen’s Neupogen and does not identify the information provided by Sandoz to FDA to obtain Zarxio’s approval, including information on immunogenicity specific to Zarxio. AbbVie has supplemented its citizen petition urging FDA not to allow biosimilars to be labeled like generic drugs since biosimilars, unlike generic drugs, are not identical to the originator product and requesting distinct labeling for biosimilars. In briefing U.S. senators on September 17, FDA promised to issue guidance on labeling of biosimilars.
On September 18, 2015, Amgen sued Hospira in a fourth lawsuit under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA). The lawsuit concerns Hospira’s proposed biosimilar of Amgen’s Epogen (epoetin alfa). Amgen filed the case in Delaware and it has been assigned to Judge Andrews. In addition to its claims for patent infringement, Amgen sued Hospira for failing to comply with the patent litigation provisions of the BPCIA. Hospira’s proposed biosimilar has not been licensed by FDA. FDA also has not announced plans for an advisory committee meeting for Hospira’s product.
The FDA has issued a long-awaited draft guidance document and proposed rule on the nonproprietary names for biosimilar medicines. FDA proposes to give biosimilars a “core name” shared with all related biological products and a four-letter suffix, unique to each product. The four-letter suffix, unlike the placeholder name for the first US biosimilar, Sandoz’s Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), does not identify the product’s manufacturer. Instead, it is a random collection of four letters, “devoid of meaning.” Patient groups and physicians have applauded FDA’s use of unique suffixes to differentiate biological products but innovator companies prefer meaningful suffixes, such as the one for Zarxio, and biosimilar manufacturers argue for no distinguishing names at all.
In the first skirmishes between biosimilar makers and innovator companies, biosimilar makers attempted to bypass the litigation provisions of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA) through the filing of declaratory judgment actions, or by not participating in all or a subset of the BPCIA’s pre-suit information exchanges (also known as the “patent dance”). Apotex, the third biosimilar maker to file an application for approval of a biosimilar product with FDA, chose a different path. As Amgen’s recent lawsuit against Apotex reveals, Apotex is the first biosimilar applicant to participate in and complete the carefully orchestrated pre-suit information exchanges of the BPCIA.
A number of biosimilar makers have turned to inter partes review (IPR) proceedings to challenge innovator patents prior to submitting their biosimilar applications to FDA. IPRs have been attractive to biosimilar makers because in addition to offering procedural and substantive advantages for challenging patents they do not require the filing of a biosimilar application. As a result, they make it possible for biosimilar makers to obtain patent certainty at a time when litigation under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA) is premature and, depending on the results of the IPRs, may be avoided entirely. The first such IPRs, however, are yielding mixed results, leaving potential patent disputes for later BPCIA litigation.
Today, FDA published notice of Janssen’s lawsuit against Celltrion and Hospira on March 6, 2015 under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCIA) in the Federal Register. Although Janssen’s lawsuit is not the first action under the BPCIA, today marks the first time the FDA published notice of any BPCIA lawsuit.
The BPCIA created an abbreviated pathway for FDA approval of biological medicinal products that are “biosimilar” to an already FDA-approved product. The FDA recently approved the first U.S. biosimilar – Sandoz’s biosimilar of Amgen’s Neupogen – and is currently reviewing at least four other proposed biosimilars. Many innovators and biosimilars manufacturers are responding to the changing landscape for biologics by developing “biobetters”: new and improved versions of biologic medicinal products. While biobetters require discovery and an original Biologics License Application (BLA) with a full complement of pre-clinical and clinical data for marketing approval, they also offer many advantages. By offering superior and longer-acting medicine, biobetters provide a competitive advantage over biosimilar products. In addition, unlike biosimilars, they generally would be entitled to patent protection and 12 years of non-patent exclusivity under the BPCIA.
A recent FDA guidance document eliminated biosimilar labeling information that FDA previously viewed as “necessary” for physicians to make prescribing decisions, including whether the biologic is biosimilar to or interchangeable with the reference product. The FDA also approved a label for the first approved US biosimilar that omits this information. The FDA’s actions have drawn criticism from associations of physicians who routinely prescribe biologic medicines and the innovator companies that develop them.
On May 13, the FDA released additional draft question-and-answer guidance on the implementation of the BPCIA. The draft document resurrects a number of the questions from FDA’s original 2012 draft guidance that were omitted from last month’s final version of the 2012 document. As a result, FDA’s final answers to important questions from three years ago may not be forthcoming for some time.
A number of biosimilar makers have turned to inter partes review (IPR) proceedings in order to litigate the validity of patents that cover their proposed products in advance of submitting their regulatory applications to FDA. Since IPRs, unlike district court proceedings, do not require a case or controversy, they allow biosimilar applicants to resolve potential patent disputes long prior to being able to litigate these disputes in district court and to potentially avoid the patent dispute resolution procedures of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) of 2009 entirely.
On March 6, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first biosimilar in U.S. history—Sandoz’s biosimilar of Amgen’s blockbuster drug used to prevent infections in cancer patients, Neupogen. Sandoz, a Novartis company, reaped tremendous savings in cost and time by taking advantage of the new biosimilar pathway rather than submitting a full biologics license application (BLA) to the FDA and undertaking all the studies that Amgen had to perform to obtain approval for Neupogen. The extent to which these savings will be passed on to the U.S. health care system as envisioned by the Obama administration, however, is less clear.
On March 25, 2015, FDA denied Amgen’s Citizen Petition asking the FDA to require biosimilar applicants to certify compliance with the information disclosure provisions of the BPCIA before the FDA formally accepts the biosimilar application for review. FDA did not decide whether the disclosure provisions were mandatory, deferring to ongoing litigation on that issue.
Zarxio is the first biosimilar approved under the 351(k) pathway, but it is not the first “biosimilar” to be approved in the U.S. For a small category of follow-on biologics, there is another pathway for marketing approval -- and it is only available for the next five years.
Today the FDA announced approval of the first ever biosimilar in the United States, Sandoz’s Zarxio, a biosimilar of Amgen’s Neupogen (filgrastim) product. Although Sandoz has cleared FDA obstacles, when Zarxio reaches the market depends on the outcome of Amgen’s lawsuit under the BPCIA.
The exclusivity period for biologic drugs has recently become a hot topic in both domestic and foreign policy. At home, the Obama administration’s latest budget proposes reducing the exclusivity period to seven years, down from its current 12. Abroad, the exclusivity period for biologics has developed into a sticking point in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In the first reported cases on the BPCIA patent provisions, biosimilar makers have sought to bring declaratory judgment actions before engaging in the statutory “patent dance.” The courts have unanimously dismissed these actions as non-justiciable.
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