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Biosimilars Update: Keys for the Next Year and Beyond

Friday, June 22nd, 2012


The biosimilars market in the U.S. will not grow large overnight. However, over the next 4 to 10 years, a lot of companies are going to become players. During this same period, health plans, pharmacy benefit managers, Medicare, and Medicaid are going to start reaping savings by buying less expensive biosimilars. By a decade from now, sales of biosimilars will be creating new winners and losers in the overall biopharmaceutical marketplace.

In light of this, I was recently asked: what should a developer or investor be looking to achieve over the next year in the area of biosimilars? What should they be looking to achieve in the years after that?

Over the next year: Assuming the U.S. biosimilar law survives the upcoming Supreme Court decision (concerning the constitutionality of the President Obama’s health reform program), then the last roadblock to creating a biosimilar marketplace in the U.S. will have been eliminated.

The key, then, becomes: how quickly can FDA complete the multiple steps  necessary to establishing a viable system for evaluating and approving biosimilars. Here are some key indicators to watch in judging the agency’s progress:

  • the number of investigational new drug applications (IND's) being issued for biosimilars, which would be a “leading indicator” of slowdown or snags in FDA’s initial intake process;
  • publication of draft policy guidances dealing with critical details such as nomenclature, label warnings, unique names, etc. (until these issues are settled, FDA will be reluctant to approve anything);
  • revised estimates of how many fees the FDA expects to collect each year under the new biosimilars user fee program (a rough gauge of FDA’s view of its timeframe for approvals).

For those looking to be active in the biosimilars market, the next year provides an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with payers (especially purchasing groups). Payers are going to be focused on the strength of clinical, animal and laboratory data comparing the biosimilar to the original biologic product. There will be a need for biosimilars to be offered at a discount to the cost of the original, but high-quality biosimilars with a 15%-20% discount will dominate the market over biosimilars of questionable quality with 30% to 40% discounts.

Similarly, it is not too soon for companies developing biosimilars to start working with practicing physicians—to calm their fears that they will be forced to use inferior biosimilar products that will result in treatment failures. While payers, not physicians, will drive this market—payers will avoid products likely to generate criticisms and resistance from physicians.  

Finally, for those interested in the biosimilars market–stay cool over the next year. Biosimilars are a sure bet for the long-term. However, it will (quite legitimately) take FDA some time to create the new complex approval pathway that is required.

Looking beyond one year. Stay cool is still good advice. Some companies are going to slip behind or drop their investments because of corporate pressures for short-term return on investment (ROI). The biosimilars market is a battle for the long-haul and will belong to those who are prepared to stay the course through the several years it will take for FDA to develop policies and implement them consistently.

Another potential restraint on developers’ and investors’ commitments over the next several years is the persistent allegation that the U.S. biosimilars market will be limited unless FDA makes a determination that a biosimilar is interchangeable with the original product. However, FDA has placed a low priority on establishing a pathway for determining that an approved biosimilar is also interchangeable with the original biologic product.   

This “controversy” is a throwback to the implementation of Hatch-Waxman in the 1980’s. At that time, substituting copies for originals was a new concept, quality was low, purchasing was decentralized, and doctors had no incentive to prescribe generics.  Allowing forced substitution of FDA-approved generic drugs because they were “interchangeable” was an important dynamic in the growth of the generic drug industry.

However, none of these same underlying conditions are present at the beginning of the U.S. biosimilars market—substitution is widely accepted, quality biosimilars will be available, purchasing is far more centralized, and physicians will have incentives to prescribe biosimilars. FDA designation of "interchangeability," key to generic drugs, is almost irrelevant to biosimilars.

As a final thought: the rise of generic drugs made it necessary for innovators to work harder to develop new, patent-protected products that were better than drugs available generically. The same dynamic is going to play out over the next 10 years for biologic products. The biosimilars pathway adds further urgency for innovator companies to be refilling their pipelines with products that are better than ones currently available.  

Biosimilars and the U.S. Supreme Court: FDA Program Could Be Nullified

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012


The U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (also known as ObamaCare) no later than early July. One of the possible results is nullification of the entire Act, although FDA Matters thinks this is the least likely outcome.

Nonetheless, the U.S. biosimilars law—passed as a separate section of ACA—could be rendered void if the Supreme Court overturns the entire ACA. Where would that leave FDA? What about those companies that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to be part of the emerging U.S. biosimilars marketplace?

Controversy over The Affordable Care Act. The ACA, passed in March 2010, creates a comprehensive national approach to the problems of access and affordability of health care.  While not a pure “national health insurance” program that would be recognizable in most of the world, it is more far-reaching than any prior U.S. health legislation since the creation of Medicare (for the over-65 population) and Medicaid (a federal-state program for the poor) in the mid-1960’s. Numerous cost-containment provisions are also included in the ACA.

The ACA nearly didn’t pass Congress at all….and heated opposition has not lessened since its passage. A number of lawsuits have attacked the constitutionality of the law—with the leading case being led by the attorneys general of about 20 states. The US Supreme Court listened to oral arguments earlier this year and will decide the case before it adjourns in early July.

Biosimilars at Risk.   The Supreme Court may uphold the entire law as constitutional. Or they might decide only specific parts of the law are unconstitutional, none of which relate to biosimilars.  In either scenario, FDA will proceed with its current plans to implement the biosimilars law.

However, the Supreme Court might decide that a constitutional problem with one part of the law (e.g. mandating that individuals buy health insurance) is so far-reaching that the entire law is unconstitutional. In this last situation, FDA might be stripped of its authority to implement the biosimilars program enacted into law as part of ACA.

Little Precedent on What Comes Next. The Supreme Court rarely rules that Congressional actions are unconstitutional. When it does so, the Court usually looks for the narrowest Constitutional grounds possible—trying to preserve as much of the legislation as it can. This makes it most likely that biosimilars will survive the Court’s review. It also means there is little precedent as to what would happen to the biosimilars program if the ACA is invalidated in its entirety.  

One possibility is that FDA has innate authority to create and regulate a category of biosimilar drugs and does not need a legislative grant of authority.  This was discussed when Congress was first considering biosimilars legislation seriously in 2007 and 2008. At the time, FDA wisely deferred on the question, stating that it wanted Congressional guidance (meaning legislation). 

Should the law be overturned, the “innate authority” question might be re-raised, allowing FDA to continue with little or no change in its plan. The agency might even argue that Congress has given the agency guidance—treating the language of the 2010 law as a directive rather than a mandate.*

There is no hint as to whether FDA is thinking along these lines. When I asked FDA, I was told: we are confident that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.

Failing a decision by FDA that it has the innate authority to approve biosimilars, it would fall to Congress to find a way to restore the program by legislation.  According to the trade publication, FDA Week, biosimilars’ leader, Hospira, is gearing up to pursue a legislative re-enactment should the Supreme Court overturn the biosimilars program. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and Congress would also want to assure there is a biosimilars pathway.**

The problem: legislative re-enactment might not be so easy. While Congress is generally happy with the current biosimilars law, it was the product of a series of compromises and political maneuvering that left winners and losers. Merely re-adopting current law might prove surprisingly difficult.

Meantime, we all await the Supreme Court’s decision. And it’s safe to say that no one in the bio-pharma community is looking forward to the possibility of a new fight over biosimilars.


* There is no lack of support in Congress for the biosimilars program. Both the House and Senate versions of the user fee reauthorization legislation contain a new user fee to cover part of FDA’s costs for reviewing applications for biosimilar products approvals.

** For those with subscriptions to FDA Week, the article can be found at: http://insidehealthpolicy.com/FDA-Week/FDA-Week-05/11/2012/hospira-to-pursue-biosimilars-bill-if-scotus-strikes-down-health-care-law/menu-id-721.html

The FDA Matters “Guide to the User Fee Reauthorization Process”

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The prescription drug (PDUFA) and medical device (MDUFA) user fee programs, which run for 5 years, must be renewed by September 30 of this year (last day of the current fiscal year).  House committee staff has just released a 205-page first draft of reauthorization legislation. The Senate has starting releasing drafts on specific issues and has a March 29 hearing scheduled.

Because the PDUFA and MDUFA provisions are pre-negotiated by FDA with industry and patient groups, they are likely to change little. Congress’ focus will be on the backlog of FDA-related legislative proposals that have accumulated while awaiting a “must pass” FDA legislative vehicle. This is FDA Matters’ guide to the process and likely amendments.

To understand the unfolding process for user fee reauthorization in 2012, it is useful to think in terms of four levels of legislative proposals that Congress will consider.

Level One: Renewal of Existing Legislation and Uncontroversial New User Fees. In addition to PDUFA and MDUFA, there are two other programs on the same 5-year reauthorization cycle. The Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act (BPCA) and the Pediatric Research Equity Act (PREA) are certain to be reauthorized and may be made permanent.

In this same level are two proposed new user fee programs: the Generic Drug User Fee Act (GDUFA) and the Biosimilars User Fee Act (BSUFA).  These have gone through an abbreviated version of the PDUFA and MDUFA negotiation process, meaning that the FDA proposals reflect input from industry, patient groups and other stakeholders.

Level Two:  Areas of Strong Consensus to Act; Specific Provisions Not Yet Agreed Upon. Despite Congress’ deep partisan differences, there are several areas in which both political parties appear to be in general agreement about adding programs or strengthening authorities at FDA. 

In this level are proposals dealing with drug shortages, incentives for antibiotic drug development, import safety, a core set of medical device process reforms, and some adjustment in the FDA “accelerated approval” pathway for drug and biological products. There is also consensus for dealing with drug supply chain integrity (e.g. anti-counterfeiting), which may be advanced as a separate bill this spring or be folded into the reauthorization legislation.

For the most part, the consensus to act in these areas does not yet include specific legislative language that has bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate. So negotiations are certain, may even be testy at times…but final agreements are near-certain.

Level Three: Areas of Disagreement Where Compromises Are Possible. Ultimately, committee leadership will have to deal with FDA amendments where there are sharp disagreements or a lack of consensus that action is needed.

The two most prominent such issues are the extent of medical device reform and the amount of change needed or appropriate for the drug approval process. In both areas, there is a more limited, core set of proposals that are in level 2.

As with all such areas of disagreement, compromises may ultimately develop. Unlike the issues in level two, these proposals start with disagreements that may lead to negotiations, but with no assurance of inclusion in final legislation.

Beyond those mentioned, the list of issues and amendments that might be offered (and controversial) is limitless, but it is possible that we will see Congress again debating drug re-importation, re-opening the 2010 biosimilars legislation or even considering amendments to Hatch-Waxman. There may also be food safety amendments.

Level Four: Proposals to Dramatically Re-shape FDA and Likely to Be Rejected. A small number of Members of Congress think FDA’s role should be significantly smaller. They see radical surgery on the agency mission as the necessary response to the restraints they feel the agency imposes on industry and on patient access to new therapies.

The possibility exists for amendments that might substantially reduce the agency’s jurisdiction over medical devices or significantly roll back the 1962 Kefauver Amendments that require drugs to demonstrate efficacy (not just safety) before entering the market. There is no reason to think there is a majority in either the Senate or the House for such radical reform or substantial reduction in FDA’s mission. Nonetheless, such proposals may be offered.

Conclusion.  In enacting a timely reauthorization of the user fee programs, Congress will need to consider a range of legislative proposals. As these are offered and discussed, this FDA Matters analysis provides a guide to understanding Congressional activities.


This blog column is a much-shortened version of an article I wrote that appears in the March 2012 issue of Scrip Regulatory Affairs, entitled “Reauthorizing US FDA User Fees: A Slow-Moving Train Wreck?” Readers interested in a copy of the longer article should contact me at sgrossman@fdamatters.com.

FDA Matters Mailbag: Hatch-Waxman, Biosimilars, User Fees and More

Sunday, February 19th, 2012


Over the last month, FDA Matters has covered a wide-range of FDA-related topics: the agency, industry, and Congress, as well as medical innovation, user fee reauthorization legislation, food safety and post-market surveillance. The response has been great: FDA Matters has many new readers and I received a number of interesting questions.


Today’s column touches on biosimilars, Hatch-Waxman, user fees and FDA management. Keep the questions coming!


Is FDA becoming too large for food, drugs and medical devices to be in the same agency?


Last summer, the Commissioner re-organized her office to better manage the growing responsibilities and complexity of the agency’s work. She divided the agency’s work into four parts:

  • food and veterinary medicine
  • medical products
  • global outreach and inspection, and
  • administrative matters overseen by a chief operating officer 

The key is that each of these individuals has line authority to manage their part of the agency, rather than being a staff advisor to the Commissioner.  


With specific regard to foods, there are proposals to move the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) out of FDA. I believe the Center is best served by being part of the public health focus of FDA.


How do Europe and the US compare in their approaches to biosimilars?


Both the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and FDA are acting cautiously, but in different ways. Europe has focused on a limited number of reference products, building their knowledge and experience one therapeutic category at a time.


In contrast, FDA has already met with sponsors to discuss 11 reference products, presumably covering a number of therapeutic categories. Given FDA’s broader approach, proceeding case-by-case with strong scientific requirements is the best way for FDA to acquire knowledge and experience.


A different comparison was also posed to me: an eager EMA versus a reluctant FDA.  In less than two years, FDA has produced multiple policy speeches and articles, three guidances, held multiple sponsor meetings and allowed several sponsors to begin work. I assure you: FDA is fully committed to biosimilars!


As an aside, anyone familiar with the lack of FDA guidance on product-related social media can tell you how FDA behaves when it is reluctant to act. It looks quite different.


If the user fee reauthorization legislation has the potential to be a vehicle for any FDA-related provision, might Congress re-open Hatch-Waxman?


I shudder at the possibility, but can’t rule it out. I asked a knowledgeable friend what he would propose if given the chance to amend Hatch-Waxman. His reply: get FDA out of the patent enforcement business, yet assure generics the equivalent of the 180-day exclusivity if they win in court.


Since this would benefit generics, a trade-off for innovators could be longer exclusivity for new molecular entity (NME) compounds that lack intellectual property (IP) protection. It might be the same 10 years they receive in the EU or the 12 years for biologics. Similarly, a stronger incentive than 5 to 7 years is needed to generate interest in 505 (b)(2) drug applications in the absence of IP protection. 


I’m not suggesting this, but thought it interesting enough to give his ideas some visibility.


Companies are telling me: it’s hard to justify investing in the US biosimilars market because of the resources it will require. Why is FDA Matters so optimistic?


I hear some of this, too. Certainly, the first generation of biosimilar applicants (and there seem to be plenty of them) are going to pay more–and live with more uncertainty for a longer period of time– than those that start 5 years from now when costs have dropped.


However, those who are successful are going to be rewarded, as I explored more fully in How Biosimilars Will Transform the Marketplace. Put simply:


  • If the first biosimilar approvals from FDA are for solid products with good data and fair pricing, then hospital purchasing groups, pharmaceutical benefit managers and formulary committees are going to move significant market share away from the reference products.

  • In multi-product categories, the market shift may be even greater because there will be therapeutic substitution, not just substitution of the biosimilar for the reference drug.

 I look forward to more reader questions!



FDA Guidance on Biosimilars: The Two Minute Version

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

If you are in the business of developing biosimilar products—or thinking about it—then you have to read all three guidance documents published by FDA on February 9, 2012. They provide essential (but not complete) instructions for how to construct and implement a biosimilar development plan.


For everyone else, FDA Matters is providing the short version. Why take an interest? Because over the next 5 to 15 years, biosimilars are going to dramatically transform the marketplacefor biological products, creating new winners and losers. Also, these new rules are going to lead to new, groundbreaking medicines…and not just less expensive versions of old ones.


Nearly two years ago, Congress passed the “Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act” (BPCIA) to create an abbreviated approval pathway for biosimilars, which are highly-similar copies of already marketed, complex, large molecule biological products. This is a distinct from making exact copies (generics) of relatively simple, small molecule drug products, whose abbreviated pathway to market was created in 1984 (under the Hatch-Waxman legislation).


Even without FDA formal guidance, companies have begun the process of entering the biosimilars market in the US. Thus far, FDA has received early-stage meeting requests for 35 proposed biosimilars that would relate to 11 reference products (innovator biologic products that are already on the market). About 60% of those meetings have been held and 9 investigational new drug (IND) applications have been received.


The three FDA guidance documents, described in this FDA Fact Sheet, are:

• Scientific Considerations in Demonstrating Biosimilarity to a Reference Product

• Quality Considerations in Demonstrating Biosimilarity to a Reference Protein Product

• Biosimilars: Questions and Answers Regarding Implementation of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009


As FDA Matters envisioned when the BPCIA was passed, FDA will handle every biosimilar application on a product-specific basis. Two major concepts embody this approach:

  • The agency expects sponsors to take a “step-wise approach,” starting with the structural and functional characterization of the biosimilar and reference molecules, then determine “the residual uncertainty about the biosimilarity of the proposed product and identify next steps to try to address that uncertainty.” The strength of the analytic proof of similarity and the degree of uncertainty will determine the required amount and type of animal and human testing.
  • The agency plans to look at the “totality of the evidence” presented by each sponsor.  Every application must include certain elements–structural and functional characterization of the molecule, nonclinical evaluation, human PK and PD data, clinical immunogenicity data, and clinical safety and effectiveness data—but they will be weighed by the overall degree to which they support similarity, rather than by any pre-determined formula.

The law also allows for biosimilars to be deemed “interchangeable” with the reference product. In these guidance documents, FDA has effectively said that sponsors must establish biosimilarity first, and then present additional evidence of interchangeability.


In sum, the guidance documents lay out a daunting, but still feasible pathway for approval of a biosimilar. The first approvals will come slowly over the next 2 or 3 years, and then accelerate after FDA and sponsor companies have more experience.


What about the part where the FDA guidance documents on biosimilars eventually result in new, groundbreaking medicines? The key to approval of a biosimilar is to be able to characterize the structure and function of specific biological molecules and, also, to define the conditions under which the human body is likely to reject a large molecule biologic as a foreign substance (immunogenicity).  


These requirements are forcing companies to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in order to better understand human biology and therapeutic biological products. That knowledge is going to make it possible to find and create wholly new therapies, as well as develop significantly better versions of existing medicines.


We are likely to have biosimilars approved long before this impact hits. However, in about six to ten years, we should see the start of a wave of groundbreaking new medicines that emerge from knowledge that was gained as a by-product of creating biosimilars.   



For a longer commentary on the new biosimilar guidances, I recommend: First Bio-Similars Guidance Issued by FDA by James Czaban at the Wiley, Rein law firm.

FDA’s Busy Summer of 2011

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Once upon a time, Washington slowed a little over the summer. Those days are long gone…and this was a particularly busy summer. Congress went down to the deadline on the debt limit/deficit reduction legislation, then left town for August. There was a continuous stream of FDA headlines in June, July and August.

FDA Matters focused on a number of the most pressing issues: post-market safety and surveillance; barriers and opportunities for increased drug discovery and approvals; the rising tide of imports; prospects for biosimilars and medical devices; FDA funding; and various crises facing the agency.

Here is a recap of the summer’s stories:

FAQ: How Biosimilars Will Transform the Marketplace      August 21st, 2011

Biosimilars will be a huge success–used by most prescribers at least some of the time. Much of the current negativity about the market for biosimilars is fed by a mismatch of expectations: the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) is barely 18 months old, while the transformation of the marketplace will take a decade or longer. FDA Matters explores the likely evolution of the marketplace in a set of FAQs.  Read the rest of this entry

FDA Funding Prospects Altered by the Budget Control Act     August 14th, 2011

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) will have a heavy impact on FDA’s future. Under this new law, most discretionary spending programs will shrink—not merely cease to grow. Yet, FDA’s growing responsibilities and resource needs are not diminished because federal spending is being reduced. Our nation is less safe and less healthy if FDA cannot excel at its mission. Read the rest of this entry

People, Not Science, Make Decisions  August 8th, 2011

To FDA Matters, the people making the decisions at FDA are its strength. They are smart, conscientious and committed. Yet, when asked about bottlenecks at FDA, I have to admit that people slow the process down. There are good reasons why this is so. Read the rest of this entry

Medical Device Melodrama: A Great Story With a New Plot Twist  August 1st, 2011

Two years ago, FDA Matters urged FDA and Congress to review the 510(k) approval process for moderate-risk medical devices and predicted meaningful changes that would work for FDA, industry and consumers. FDA and industry have been proceeding along these lines (albeit with some tough negotiating and lots of rhetoric)…until the Institute of Medicine (IOM) declared that the current system is so flawed that a new regulatory framework is needed.  Read the rest of this entry

FDA, Reorganization and the Four Crises    July 24th, 2011

Dr. Hamburg’s reorganization plan addresses four crises that beset the agency: industry discontent with the medical product review process; public concern about import safety; implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act; and Congressional concerns that the agency is inefficient in its use of resources. The new structure should drive better decisonmaking and greater productivity…. at a time when the agency is struggling to fulfill its growing mission and faces the potential for budget cuts.  Read the rest of this entry

Complexity, Uncertainty, Unpredictability: Not Necessarily Bars to FDA Approvals      July 17th, 2011

In most discussions of science and medicine, there is an implicit assumption that the human body is a complex biological machine. “The human body as a machine” is a metaphor, not a fact. Once we accept this, FDA Matters believes we can become liberated from unrealistic expectations about medical discovery and FDA’s role as a gatekeeper for new products that benefit patients. Read the rest of this entry

Should FDA Have an Independence Day?     July 4th, 2011

FDA Matters thinks that making FDA an independent agency will not make FDA more effective or more efficient. Although the idea is not truly harmful, proposing independent agency status is a seductive distraction from the tough job of improving FDA. Read the rest of this entry

Imports: FDA Issues a Cry for Help   June 26th, 2011

 No challenge to FDA’s mission looms larger than the rapid globalization of the world markets for food, drugs, medical devices and other FDA-regulated products. By way of making this point, the FDA released a special report, entitled “Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality.”  FDA Matters read the report carefully and heard a cry for help, if not an actual primal scream. Read the rest of this entry

Post-Market Safety: Getting the Most Out of Inferences That Aren’t Proofs   June 21st, 2011

FDA has expanded its post-market efforts, including development of a monitoring system (called Sentinel) that will be able to track drug usage and medical history information on tens of millions of patients. Although such information will be useful, it can only provide post-hoc inferences, not proof of causation. Even with this limitation, FDA Matters thinks developing the system is worthwhile and may provide multiple benefits.  Read the rest of this entry




FAQ: How Biosimilars Will Transform the Marketplace

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

FDA Matters thinks biosimilars will be a huge success. FDA-approved products similar to off-patent biologics (“biosimilars”) will be available in the US by 2014 or 2015, with more added each year. There will eventually be price competition in the range of 20% to 40% discounts. Biosimilars will be used in most health care settings with most prescribers using them at least some of the time.

Much of the current negativity about biosimilars is fed by a mismatch of expectations: the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) is barely 18 months old, while the transformation of the marketplace will take a decade or longer.

Will the biosimilar market be similar to the generic drug market? Over the last 25 years, generic drugs have grown from 12% of all prescriptions to nearly 75%. Discounts can be as great as 80% off the original innovator price. Because of their greater complexity and higher production costs, biosimilars will never achieve similar market penetration nor sell at such a steep discount.

However, generic drugs and biosimilars share a common premise: the willingness of physicians and pharmacists to use alternative products (generic and biosimilars) instead of the innovator (or reference) product with which they are most familiar. As generic drugs have become accepted by prescribers, so too will biosimilars.

Will biosimilars fail if they don’t generate substantial discounts?  Biological products are more expensive than drugs and at the extreme end may cost $100,000 to $300,000 in a year. In order to gain market share, biosimilar manufacturers will have to provide discounts to purchasing groups, wholesalers and benefits managers of at least 20% off the originator’s prices. Deeper discounts are likely if there is more than one biosimilar competing for sales. To payers and purchasers, saving $20,000 on a $100,000 medication is both substantial and significant.  

If physicians and pharmacists don’t accept biosimilars, how will the market grow? It took more than 25 years for generic drugs to reach 75% of all prescriptions. As with generics, physicians will gain experience with biosimilars as they become available. Meantime, powerful forces of change–led by payers, purchasing groups and formulary committees–will start to narrow the choice of products easily available to physicians and pharmacists. This will become evident by 2015, although it may take as long as a decade for the pace of new biosimilars to transform the marketplace.

Why is therapeutic substitution important in understanding the market for biosimilars?  Increasingly, payers and purchasing groups have treated drugs within a therapeutic class (e.g. statins) as interchangeable and insisted on use of the least expensive one or two. Similarly, biosimilars are eventually going to be judged in the marketplace by safety and efficacy within a therapeutic class, rather than the degree of similarity to the reference product. FDA will create the basis for this approach by looking at the totality of the evidence before deciding the testing requirements for a biosimilar….but has already made clear that some clinical trials (i.e. more concrete proof of safety and efficacy) will be needed as part of the first generation of biosimilar applications.

Why does the success of biosimilars seem so certain to FDA Matters, even in the face of their slow evolution and the many unanswered questions about details? Knowing that it may be months before the first guidance is issued, key FDA leaders are making clear that they are active and serious. Agency leaders recently authored a “perspectives” article, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that explains their approach.  In June 2011, the head of CDER’s Office of New Drugs indicated that FDA had already held 15 drug development meetings with representatives of 21 companies interested in nine different biosimilar products.

Bio-pharmaceutical companies are not just asking for meetings with FDA. Large sums of money are being invested in the belief that a substantial and profitable biosimilars market will evolve. For example, a large pharmaceutical company recently closed a deal worth up to $720 million for the rights to a biosimilar version of another company’s blockbuster biologic product.

Biosimilars will transform the drug marketplace. We are just in the early stages, which makes it hard for some to see the degree of change that is coming.  


The FDA’s August 3, 2011 article on biosimilars in the New England Journal of Medicine is at: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1107285.

Forget the Hype: Change Takes Time

Monday, March 21st, 2011

FDA Matters is always impressed by how much FDA does. The everyday tasks are overwhelming: reviewing, approving, monitoring and inspecting the products and facilities responsible for 80% of our food supply and 100% of drugs, biologics, medical devices, vaccines, and animal drugs. Then there are the policy issues, big and small, that must be tended to.

These are largely functional tasks—someone has a job (or several) and does them. Yet, FDA has another life, as the bridge to the future of foods, drugs and devices. This responsibility is vitally important to our nation. It also takes time to bear fruit. (more…)

“Must-Pass Legislation” Key to FDA’s Future

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

This is the fifth straight column looking at FDA and Congress. This reflects FDA Matters‘ belief that the 2010 election will profoundly affect the agency’s mission, priorities, funding, standards and work flow. Eighteen months from now, FDA’s leadership team will probably be the same, but the agency won’t be.

Identifying and understanding the likely changes to FDA requires examining the meaning of "must-pass legislation" and its escalating importance as a quarrelsome Congress turns into a divided Congress. At the moment, there is only one "must-pass" item on Congress’ FDA agenda: the next round of user fee renewals that will come before Congress in the Spring of 2012.  (more…)

Two Strategies for FDA Legislation in 2011

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

The current Congress will be remembered for its 15-month battle to enact health reform legislation. The FDA-related accomplishments have been less visible: an abbreviated approval pathway for bio-similar drugs included in the health reform law; and a food safety bill that may be enacted before Congress adjourns later this month.

In both cases, unanimity was never possible, but working majorities formed and prevailed. FDA Matters believes that any FDA-related legislation will falter in 2011 if it does not follow the strategy behind one or the other of these efforts.  (more…)

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