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Archive for the ‘Drug Approval and Access’ Category

FDA’s Indifferent Attitude Towards the First Amendment

Monday, April 1st, 2013

The FDA doesn’t care about the First Amendment rights of the companies it regulates. It cares even less about the “free speech” rights of those companies’ sales and marketing representatives.

And why should the agency care? One of FDA’s primary missions is to protect the public health and safety of the American people from illegal, adulterated and misbranded products. Doing so involves restraining food, drug, device and cosmetics companies from committing fraudulent and deceptive acts that are not protected by companies’ commercial free speech rights.  

Nonetheless, FDA Matters envisions opportunities for FDA and industry to broaden permissible product communications. The key is understanding history, not constitutional law.


I recently participated in a forum at American University Washington College of Law on “Evolving First Amendment Protection of Commercial Speech” and offered up my mantra that constitutional analysis is largely irrelevant from FDA’s perspective. I said “largely” because FDA is still part of the federal government and can’t act arbitrarily. On the other hand, the agency mostly operates within the zone in which government is given the most leeway: where public health and safety is at stake and the threat is from commercial (as opposed to individual) speech.

History, not constitutional law, provides the best explanation. The sale of bad food and drugs—often accompanied by slick, deceptive pitches—goes back millennia and was even addressed as a problem in most ancient legal codes.

FDA’s own birth comes from a time when state regulation and inspection of food and drugs was minimal, inconsistent and often corrupt. It is hard for any of us to imagine what an unregulated market in food and drugs is like.  Yet, it is not so long ago.

The 1938 Amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act gained popular support in part because of a traveling exhibit that portrayed the death and disability that resulted from patent medicines, counterfeit products, false medical and scientific claims, and adulterated and misbranded products. Lax to non-existent cosmetics standards were particularly singled out for their role in causing burns and blindness, as well as some deaths.

It is nice to imagine that this world is behind us, just an interesting piece of history. But it isn’t.

No industry regulated by FDA is immune from shoddy products, false claims, unscrupulous behavior and greed-induced threats to public health and safety.  I am sure that none of my readers count themselves among these “bad guys,” but they exist in the U.S., as well as globally.

Further, even the great and innovative companies—household names that we view with great trust—have often proven to be quite fallible. A certain amount of informal off-label promotion of drugs and devices is rightfully ignored–when good studies have been published, when the off-label indication is very close to an approved use, when assertions are made with great care about the extent of proven scientific knowledge.

In contrast, most of the off-label promotions that have resulted in billion dollar settlements with big-name drug companies have not been based on such close questions. Nor have they been the result of an individual salesperson crossing the line in some excess of enthusiasm.

Rather, the off-label promotions have been the product of marketing departments and sales managers who encouraged, empowered, or authorized the off-label promotion. There never seems to be a good answer as to who was supervising marketing and sales, which is why so many drug companies are now operating under government-negotiated corporate integrity agreements.

From FDA’s perspective, there are legitimate, well-documented reasons to scrutinize all companies: none are immune from the impulse to over-hype products to expand markets and sales beyond what FDA has approved. This is not a matter of FDA being over-fussy. It is the inevitable conclusion from about 4000 years of human commerce in food and drugs.

In the face of this, the First Amendment really has very little place. Commercial free speech does not extend to misleading statements, blatant fraud, or deception. FDA sees too much of this to ignore. 

FDA Matters believes the agency still has an obligation—but not a constitutional one–to clarify its standards, provide published guidance, and demonstrate acceptance that the Internet has fundamentally changed the nature of product promotion. The lack of FDA guidance on social media (first raised at an agency hearing 15 years ago) is particularly outrageous and the agency’s tendency to create de facto policy with enforcement letters is an abdication of responsibility.

The drug and device industry can also improve the situation. They need to stop looking at the current controversies in product promotion as noble causes involving sacred constitutional rights. If these industries have a claim to better treatment and clearer policies, it needs to be grounded in the contributions they make to improve public health and evidence of serious efforts to rid their companies of unscrupulous promotional practices.


I have written previously on some of the issues in drug and device promotion, as well as about opportunities for FDA and industry to reach accommodation:


Off-Label Promotion: Best Resolved by Congress, Not Courts     December 2012

On December 3, a federal appeals court ruled against one of the FDA’s untouchable restrictions on industry—thou shalt not promote the off-label use of pharmaceutical products. An industry that is little interested in constitutional law suddenly finds itself talking about the First Amendment. At stake: permitting off-label promotion undercuts the incentive for companies to thoroughly investigate the safety and efficacy of a drug for a second or third use.


Off-Label Uses Need to Become On-Label Indications  December 19, 2009

A friend asked: what advice would you give a pharmaceutical company in the late stages of developing a new product that will be widely used off-label? The company’s concern was that FDA might hold the first use to a very high, perhaps unrealistic standard to protect patients that might receive the drug off-label after approval.


Internet Communications: FDA Needs to Divide the Issues to Conquer the Problem  Dec. 2nd, 2009.

Creating an Internet communications policy for regulated medical product companies is so daunting that FDA has largely ignored the responsibility. November’s FDA hearing on social media was an important step, but offered no sign that new policy will be announced anytime soon. FDA needs a different approach. This is not a matter of a large, complicated problem with many facets. Rather, it is a number of smaller problems that can be addressed separately. 


Off-Label Promotion and Whistleblowing    September 9th, 2009

Whistleblowing and off-label promotion of drugs and devices have become hot topics because of the September 2 Pfizer settlement with the federal government. While none of my views are specific to Pfizer, the company’s settlement provides an opportunity to comment on off-label promotion….and to encourage bio-pharma and medical device companies to engage in deeper soul-searching. 

FDA Funding: Agency Mission “At Risk”, Says Alliance President

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

FDA’s mission is “at risk” because of inadequate funding. So says Alliance for a Stronger FDA President Diane Dorman, testifying before the FDA Science Board. Her remarks come 5 years after the Science Board made a similar declaration, concluding that decades of underfunding had left FDA without the resources to fulfill its mandate and make science-based decisions.

Congress responded with more monies for the agency, but since then the FDA’s workload has increased even faster. The current threat to FDA comes from two sources: four major new laws to implement since 2009; and changes in the environment in which FDA operates, notably acceleration of globalization and increasing scientific complexity.


Ms. Dorman’s remarks are reprinted below. If you care about FDA, FDA Matters urges you to read her testimony, go to the Alliance’s site (www.StrengthenFDA.org) and join.


Testimony of Diane E. Dorman

President, Alliance for a Stronger FDA

Before the

Science Board of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

February 27, 2013


Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to address the FDA Science Board.


My name is Diane Dorman and I am President of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, as well as Vice President for Policy at the National Organization for Rare Disorders. The Alliance is a 200-member coalition of all FDA’s stakeholders—consumers, patients, health professionals, trade groups and industry. Our sole purpose is to advocate for increased appropriated resources for the FDA.


When we started in 2006, FDA appropriations stood at slightly less than $1.5 billion for an agency tasked with overseeing 100% of drugs, vaccines, medical devices, and personal care products and 80% of our nation’s food supply. Altogether, the products and industries regulated by FDA account for nearly 25% of all consumer spending in the United States.

In short, FDA was the victim of decades of underfunding. It was quite small, despite its vital, complex world-wide responsibilities. Presidents weren’t asking for nearly enough money for FDA and Members of Congress were responding by giving the bare appropriations that had been asked for.

The Alliance’s goal was to change this situation by galvanizing the FDA’s broad stakeholder community to focus attention on the consequences of underfunding. We never doubted the accuracy of our analysis or the importance of our cause.

Nonetheless, it was immensely helpful when–18 months after our founding–the FDA Science Board released its own report in November 2007. As the media described it—the FDA’s own Science Board evaluated the agency’s capacities and responsibilities and declared that the agency’s mission was “at risk.”  The word “crisis” was often used and was an appropriate description of the situation.

Subsequently—and with the Alliance’s broad stakeholder advocacy—the prospects for FDA improved. Policymakers acknowledged the underfunding and acted aggressively to reverse it.


Today, in FY 13, the FDA receives slightly more than $2.5 billion in appropriated funding. This amount, might have met the FDA’s funding needs in late 2007 when the Science Board report was issued…BUT NOT NOW.


Today, $2.5 billion is dramatically less than the amount the FDA needs. For reasons I will describe in my testimony, the agency’s mission is again “at risk.” Even without the possibility of funding cutbacks, the American people will lose if FDA does not receive increased funding.


FDA Responsibilities Grow Each Year Because Congress Enacts New Laws


Two months before the Science Board declared FDA to be “an agency at risk,” the FDA Amendments Act of 2007 was signed into law, renewing the prescription drug and medical device user fee programs. It added a slew of new responsibilities, notably in food and drug safety, regulatory science, clinical trial registries, and establishment of a program for risk evaluation and mitigation strategies for new drugs.


The new responsibilities–combined with delays in funding of existing and new programming–had severe consequences. For example, FDA’s efforts in the critical area of drug reviews and approvals were slowed substantially for nearly two years, as demonstrated by this CDER chart.

The message from this experience is clear, albeit not surprising: new laws take enormous resources to implement. Once implemented, they permanently increase agency responsibilities.


Since 2007, Congress has identified a number of new needs that fall within FDA’s jurisdiction. At least six new laws have been passed in the intervening five years:

  • Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009)
  • Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (2010)
  • Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act (2010)
  • Combat Methamphetamine Enhancement Act (2010)
  • Food Safety Modernization Act (2011), and
  • FDA Safety and Innovation Act (2012), including re-authorization of the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act and the Pediatric Research Equity Act

This is hardly the end of it. Congress is already looking at a number of legislative initiatives for 2013, covering topics such as:

  • Bio-security
  • Track and trace/counterfeit products,
  • Drug compounding, and
  • Drug shortages.

 In addition, this year’s legislative requirement–renewal of two Animal Drug User Fees–is widely seen as a vehicle for other legislative mandates that FDA will need to implement.


The problem is not solely Congress’ urge to legislate. While some of our Alliance members may quibble with some of the new programs and requirements, overall I believe there is strong public and stakeholder support for Congress addressing unmet needs and emerging challenges. We all want safe foods and safe and effective medical products.


Ultimately, the real problem is Congress’ failure to acknowledge FDA as a funding priority despite the austere budget environment. Transforming FDA’s mission and responsibilities needs to be met by the necessary resources to do the job well. The current appropriations level is totally inadequate to make up for decades of underfunding AND all of the new laws enacted since 2007.


FDA Responsibilities Grow Each Year Because of Globalization and Scientific Complexity


Even were Congress not active in legislating new mandates for FDA, the agency’s mission and responsibilities would grow enormously each year for reasons unrelated to new laws. While the list is long, my remarks will concentrate on two: globalization and increasing scientific complexity.


One of FDA’s highest priorities since the Science Board report has been to re-align to adjust for the accelerating globalization in all product categories overseen by the agency. While there is no one way to fully convey the enormity of this shift and the resources required, I offer the following sample of key facts:

      Food Imports are growing 10% annually. Altogether, 10-15% of all food consumed in the U.S. is imported. This includes nearly 2/3 of fruits and vegetables and 80% of seafood.

      Device Imports are also growing about 10% annually.  Currently, about 50% of all medical devices used in the US are imported.

      Drug Imports are growing even more quickly, about 13% annually.  Approximately 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) are manufactured abroad, as are 40% of finished drugs.


Inspections at U.S. ports-of-entry are critical, but ultimately less than 2% of shipments can be inspected. The better alternative–the one encouraged by Congress and chosen by FDA–is to increase foreign inspections and to establish foreign offices to work globally to improve the standards and quality of products entering the U.S.


The value of this approach cannot really be quantified. We know that the cost of illness, death and lost markets–from just a single bad actor in a single food category–can cost as much or more than the entire investment we put into FDA’s food safety activities. Drugs and devices are harder to track for a variety of reasons, but there is no reason to doubt a similar effect.


In contrast to globalization, greater scientific complexity is diffused into every part of the agency and its mission. That makes dealing with it less visible, but doesn’t make it any less costly.


FDA has adopted several approaches, many from the FDA Science Board Report. These include creation of a commissioner-level science office, investment in regulatory science, expanded and more intensive training, changes in time and manpower allotments for complex assignments, and significant reworking of the drug and medical device approval pathways.


Specifically, we have identified five areas that FDA is working on to improve the review process and respond to more complex science. Each comes at a cost in additional dollars and manpower:

      Sponsors Need More Meeting Time and Other Feedback from FDA

      Product Applications Require More Patients, Study Sites and Analysis

      Enhanced Timeliness and Consistency of Product Review is Paramount

      Expansion of Pre-and Post-Market Safety is Essential

      Sustain and Increase Core Programs That Enhance Innovation, Speed Approvals


Further, safety inspections have also become more complex—requiring more scientific training, more preparation and, often, more time during the inspection itself.


FDA: An Agency Still Very Much “At-Risk” for Lack of Adequate Funding


It is important to recollect that FDA is a staff-intensive organization. More than 80% of its budget is devoted to staff-related costs. Of the remainder, rent and utilities are fixed costs that must be paid first. There is little grant and contracting to cut.


Sequestration is the most immediate threat to the FDA’s already-inadequate funding. Just a few days from now, the agency faces a loss of 5.1% of its FY 13 (current year) budget. This is the nominal rate. The Alliance’s analysis, confirmed by OMB testimony, is that the actual impact will be close to 9%.


Even if sequestration is avoided, FDA faces challenging funding battles in FY 14 and beyond.

If cuts occur now or in FY 14—or even if the agency budget stalls and fails to grow over the next few years:

      food will be less safe and consumers put at risk,

      drug and device reviews will be slower, conflicting with promises made to consumers and companies,

      problems with imports and globalization will become more numerous, and  

      critical efforts to modernize the agency and improve its support for innovation will stall.


Is FDA’s mission again at risk? Absolutely, yes.


And those who have the most to lose are the American people.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.StrengthenFDA.org or contact Steven Grossman of the Alliance staff at (301) 539-9660, sgrossman@strengthenfda.org.

The State of the FDA—February 2013

Thursday, February 7th, 2013


FDA is the only federal agency that touches the lives of every American several times every day. Despite this, FDA will probably not be mentioned when President Obama delivers his State of the Union (SOTU) address to Congress on February 12.


Instead, FDA Matters provides its third annual “State of the FDA.” As reflected in last week’s column, I think that FDA did well in 2012. And 2013 is very promising. Potential funding cutbacks are the primary impediment to future successes.


Strengths. Once again, FDA’s most important strength is the dedication of the agency’s staff.   Last year, I viewed staff’s efforts as invisible and largely unappreciated. I believe that more recognition is being given to the staff—driven by a banner year for drug approvals, progress on implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and the narrowing of the FDA-industry chasm on medical devices.


Another key strength is a growing self-confidence within the agency that it can solve problems and not just tread water to survive. Over the years, FDA has often spent extended periods in a bunker posture—harassed, defensive, waiting to be forced to act, speaking too softly for fear of unleashing criticism.


Over the last year or so, there appear to be many more instances where the agency has taken the initiative. To be sure, they have talked to stakeholders and checked in with experts first, but then they have acted by making an announcement, releasing guidelines, creating new policies or intervening to solve a problem. 


Both of these strengths have been heightened by continuity of leadership. In May, Commissioner Hamburg will have held the job for four years, the longest tenure of a commissioner since the mid-1990’s. It also feels like there have been fewer top-level personnel changes. In the past, constant changes have undercut achievement and sapped morale and self-confidence.


Weaknesses. Congress has given FDA an ever larger role without providing the funds to do the job. As a result, and despite the agency’s best efforts, important initiatives and activities are not getting the resources they need. Inadequate funding is the most pressing weakness of FDA.


There are really three parts to the problem:

  • three new laws over the last three years need to be implemented: food safety (FSMA), biosimilars (BPCIA) and user fee amendments (FDASIA).
  • Congressional pressure to do more in complex, expensive areas, such as medical innovation, safety, medical countermeasures, track and trace/counterfeit products, drug shortages and compounding.
  • FDA’s job is getting bigger, tougher and more resource-needy each year independent of whether Congress gives them new responsibilities. This emanates from greater scientific complexity, industry globalization, and increased workload (meetings, NDA’s, etc).  

 As will be discussed further under “threats,” there is a strong potential for cuts in funding that would take FDA far below even the current inadequate level.


Opportunities. Dr. Hamburg has made it a priority to improve the agency’s scientific bench strength—better credentials, better training and better tools. The next step—still very much a work in progress—is to integrate patients and human concerns into FDA decisionmaking.  


The agency understands the importance of this opportunity, but underestimates the tension between patient viewpoints and the scientific process. The task is more nuanced than current efforts suggest….and the risk is that patient-input becomes a box that gets checked, rather than a meaningful improvement to the agency’s science-based decisionmaking. 


In a different vein, FSMA is a well-conceived solution to achieving a safe food supply in the 21st century. The opportunity is enormous, the blueprint largely drawn, and only the inadequacy of funding a substantial barrier to success. I don’t know if the American people will ever properly appreciate the effort required by FSMA or the value its implementation adds to protecting the food supply. Without that public feedback and support, the challenge for FDA will be to continue to see FSMA as the transformative opportunity it is.


Threats. The largest threat to FDA is the potential for immediate and long-term cuts to the resources available to the agency. On March 1, FDA may lose more than 5% of its current-year funding. Even if that cut is averted, funding for domestic discretionary programs is going to be under pressure for the next decade.  


The increasing reliance of user fees for agency funding is also a threat. Including tobacco and the new generic drug user fees, the FDA is now 40% funded by industry. Those fees are put to good use and are not, by themselves, a problem. Rather, American taxpayers need to preserve–if not actually increase–their stake in funding FDA. There are philosophic reasons for this (the integrity of the agency) and practical ones (a large part of FDA’s mission cannot appropriately be funded by industry).


Conclusion. FDA’s strengths and opportunities are immediate and powerful…perhaps more so than in many years. The challenge is to preserve and expand the funding, particularly taxpayer funding, to support the agency. Trying to “do FDA on the cheap” is both a weakness and a threat to the agency and the American people.


FDA Post-Election: Continuity and Progress Likely to Mark 2013

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Looking back over the last 40 years at FDA (as I have), there are three characteristics that create a more progressive environment at the agency: continuity of leadership, presidential support, and increased funding. For FDA in 2013 (as the saying goes): 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

In particular, medical innovation seems poised to flourish in an FDA environment where there is continuity of policy and leadership, instead of a new team learning the ropes. I explore this and other themes in the latest issue of Pharmaphorum.com. You can read my thoughts at: http://www.pharmaphorum.com/2013/01/29/fda-post-election-continuity-and-progress-likely-to-mark-2013/.


Off-Label Promotion: Best Resolved by Congress, Not Courts

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012


On December 3, a federal appeals court ruled against one of the FDA’s untouchable restrictions on industry—thou shalt not promote the off-label use of pharmaceutical products. An industry that is little interested in constitutional law suddenly finds itself talking about the First Amendment and whether, and on what grounds, the case will be appealed. 


Meantime, the court’s decision left FDA Matters torn between cheering and booing. Patients are poorly served if their doctor is prescribing drugs without being able to tap into all sources of relevant knowledge. However, permitting off-label promotion undercuts the incentive for companies to thoroughly investigate the safety and efficacy of a drug for a second or third use.


Benefits and abuses of off-label use. Off-label use is a medical necessity–an acknowledgement that the current inventory of approved drug indications is woefully inadequate to deal with the breadth, complexity and individual idiosyncrasies of human disease. All patients—but particularly those with rare diseases—would suffer grievously if physicians did not have flexibility with regard to the off-label use of pharmaceutical products.


Some off-label uses are supported by extensive published scientific studies, but no corporate entity or individual has the financial incentive to underwrite the FDA approval process. Many other off-label uses are in the evidence-thin realm of “we tried it for lack of alternatives and the patient seemed to be better.” The benefits of specific off-label uses are evaluated by published collections of expert opinions (known as compendia). The practice of prescribing off-label is monitored and approved (inconsistently) by payers.


If doctors can legally prescribe a particular drug for a specific use (albeit off-label), then companies ought to be able to provide “truthful and not misleading” information that they possess. Arguably, they can do so now (via reprints of scientific articles), but only in response to a physician’s request. This is a very limited means of disseminating information.*


The Struggle to Incentivize Approval of Second and Third Uses of Approved Drugs.  As I have written previously, it is in the public interest for off-label uses to become on-label indications. The agency is remarkably positive about deferring to the professional judgment of physicians, but would like to see every off-label use get the scrutiny necessary to assure it is safe and effective.

One of FDA’s great fears is that off-label prescribing will become dominant in clinical medicine (as I am told it has in certain areas of oncology). FDA is concerned that companies will receive approval for a first use, then (directly or subtly) encourage doctors to prescribe off-label. If this strategy is profitable, FDA worries that fewer and fewer companies will commit the time and money to gain approval for additional indications. If a company can’t promote off-label, then it is more likely to invest in clinical trials to gain approval of the additional indications.

Unrestricted promotion of off-label use would definitely undercut FDA. In such an environment, I believe that many companies will “game” the system by finding a comparatively easier first use for approval, then let sales for other uses build off-label. Nor do I think companies are universally concerned about “litigation commenced under states’ product liability laws for ineffective products and the resulting reputational harm from such lawsuits.”**


Congress, Not the Courts, Should Set the Ground Rules. By their nature, courts pick winners in these situations; they don’t create rules that maximize two competing public goods. I have been taught (and believe) that litigation is almost always the worst and most inefficient way to solve a problem. I consider this an example.


To achieve appropriate policy, Congressional action is needed.***  For many reasons, this may never happen. However, it is the only way to reconcile the competing and valid positions held by industry and FDA. I encourage Congress to try to bring peace to this area of contention.



*   Even without permissive policies, company sales and marketing practices are a source of constant problems, as discussed in Off-Label Promotion and Whistleblowing.


**  For those seeking a more legal and enforcement-oriented perspective on the court’s decision, including a number of critical nuances not covered here, I recommend  the FDA Law blog’s current analysis. The paragraph and the quote are based on that article’s description of why some commentators argue that off-label promotion is not a threat to FDA’s drug approval process.


***  A thorough and forthright FDA administrative proceeding (followed by guidelines or regulations) could also clear the air. This is unlikely because the agency generally lacks objectivity on a topic it feels so strongly about, plus the agency tends to respond to court directives, not act to break judicial deadlocks.  On a similarly thorny issue, the agency’s failure, after more than 15 years, to articulate sound policy (or any policy) on social media is indicative of why I don’t think the agency can resolve the “off-label promotion” issue by itself.

Drug Product Pricing 101: A Fundamental Issue Revisited

Friday, September 7th, 2012


Eighteen months ago, FDA Matters wrote about the firestorm created by KV Pharmaceuticals’ decision to “charge $1500 per dose for Makena, a drug that reduces the risk of pre-term delivery in pregnant women. The same therapy has been compounded in pharmacies for years at a cost of $10 to $30 per dose.”


Three months ago, K-V Pharmaceuticals filed for bankruptcy protection. This week, a federal judge rejected the company’s last-ditch effort to save itself by ruling that FDA had discretion to permit continued compounding of the drug.  


No one knows the “right price” for this or any other drug, but there are ways to rationally evaluate and guide product pricing decisions. Apparently, not everyone in industry knows this.


Value/pricing analysis helps companies determine an appropriate and defensible price. Some large pharmaceutical and biotech companies have the in-house capacity. Generally, small and medium-sized companies will use external consultants or consulting firms to assure a professional, unbiased process. However, it seems clear that some companies don’t bother to undertake a sophisticated analysis prior to setting prices.


In recommending a particular price or a range of prices, the consultant or consulting firm will look at three or more approaches…and then work with the company to make judgments about “best fit” or achieving consensus among a range of possible prices. Here are three examples of the approaches a consulting firm might use:


·         “Value-added” pricing. This values the company’s product (and supports a price) based on replacement or enhancement of current treatments in the same clinical category. In the case of an asthma drug, a value-added pricing approach would look at “savings” achieved by the reduction in hospital days, emergency room visits, and disability. Other system savings might be considered, such as the benefit of added compliance, the reduction in concomitant drugs, fewer side effects, etc. Any system “costs” (e.g. loss of productivity, treatment of adverse events) are also included in the model.


·         “Cost plus” pricing. This values the company’s product based on the development costs and achieving a reasonable return on investment (ROI).  This may include real, imputed and opportunity costs. Thus, the “cost” component is likely to be greater than the company’s actual expenditures. Pricing in this approach is highly dependent on the ROI variable and the likely timeframe before newer products or generics cut deeply into sales.   


·         “Comparable value” pricing. This looks at the pricing of products that have comparable characteristics or benefits, but may be in different clinical categories than the company’s product. For example, a new recombinant vaccine might be compared to the pricing increment when another vaccine was “upgraded” to a recombinant version. In the case of a unique therapy or breakthrough (e.g. a new drug for Huntington’s disease), an analogy is drawn to the most relevant situations in other treatment areas.


The analytic models are adjusted for a host of variables, such as the size of the potential market, the degree and rate of market penetration, and the likely product lifecycle. As noted, there is usually a consensus-building process where the consultant works with the company to determine a price that factors in the results of the different analyses.


Each consulting firm has its own approach, a proprietary model to distinguish their services from competing firms. These models add value and reach far beyond the basics I have described above.


Now you have an idea of how it’s done….or should be done. This analytic process should reduce objections to the pricing of a product and also prepare a company to defend its pricing decision. Controversy cannot always be avoided, but shareholders, patients, and payers are always going to respond better to companies who have backed their pricing with sound reasoning.




Disclosure: I am not affiliated with any consulting firm that does pricing analysis, nor is this a service I provide. However, if you are interested in the names of a few firms that are in this business, please contact me by e-mail at sgrossman@fdamatters.com.

FDA and the Republican Platform: Harsh Words, Unclear Intent

Monday, September 3rd, 2012


Between “the FDA today” and the “FDA in 2013” stands a U.S. presidential election—one that appears to offer Americans a choice of philosophy about the size of government and the role of regulatory agencies.  FDA Mattersprevious blog laid out some very early comparisons between the candidates on regulatory policy and the role of Commissioner.

Along with nominating Mitt Romney as its Presidential candidate, this past week’s Republican Party convention produced the party’s 2012 Platform –a series of policy positions to guide the campaign. FDA reform commands about 180 words—laying out the case for aggressive (although unspecified) changes.

Campaigning vs. Governing. Before looking at the specific words and thoughts in the Republican Platform, it is worth providing some context. One of the enduring lessons of my 50 years watching American politics is that there is often a profound difference between campaigning and governing. The Platform is put together by party delegates from every state, working with subject-matter experts and overseen by the Presidential nominee’s team.

Mitt Romney would not allow a party platform with which he disagreed. However, should he be elected, he will not feel bound by the positions taken in it. That said, the Platform’s words on FDA reform appear to generally reflect other things that Mr. Romney (and his surrogates) have said on other occasions.  What he will want to do about FDA if elected (or even what he will be able to do) is unknown.

The 2012 Republican Platform on FDA Reform. The  platform report states:

America’s leadership in life sciences R&D and medical innovation is being threatened. As a country, we must work together now or lose our leadership position in medical innovation, U.S. job creation, and access to life-saving treatments for U.S. patients. The United States has led the global medical device and pharmaceutical industries for decades. This leadership has made the U.S. the medical innovation capital of the world, bringing millions of high-paying jobs to our country and life-saving devices and drugs to our nation’s patients. But that leadership position is at risk; patients, innovators, and job creators point to the lack of predictability, consistency, transparency and efficiency at the Food and Drug Administration that is driving innovation overseas, benefiting foreign, not U.S., patients.

We pledge to reform the FDA so we can ensure that the U.S. remains the world leader in medical innovation, that device and drug jobs stay in the U.S., that U.S. patients benefit first from new devices and drugs, and that the FDA no longer wastes U.S. taxpayer and innovators’ resources because of bureaucratic red tape and legal uncertainty.

While the rhetoric expressed in the platform is not new to FDA Matters—it has a certain menacing quality when it is “the voice” of an American political party as opposed to a “government is bad” Tea Party leader or a frustrated medical device executive.

It begs the question: didn’t America’s global leadership in the life sciences come in part from the FDA’s competence and high standards and not despite them? I would emphatically say “yes,” but there certainly seem to be others that would answer “no.”

Harsh Words for FDA: Consistent with the Overall Tone of the Platform. FDA definitely needs some improving—as past FDA Matters’ columns have made clear. I try to stay constructive and be mindful that complex problems rarely have simple solutions.

Perhaps more to the point, FDA—by itself and working with Congress—seems to have made enormous strides over the last few years. One could even argue that FDA is already working hard on implementing a “pro-innovation” and “create more predictability” agenda that Republicans should like.

This, perhaps, brings us full circle around to our prior warning not to read too much into campaign rhetoric.

FDA reform is two paragraphs in a 50 page document—one that stridently and broadly promotes smaller government and fiscal prudence, almost regardless of consequences. For example, on budget issues, the Platform calls for “Reining in Out-of-Control Spending, Balancing the Budget, and Ensuring Sound Monetary Policy.”

When government is cast as incompetent and out-of-control, it leaves little space to say good things about federal agencies, such as FDA, that work hard, are underfunded, and are committed to improving their performance. When it comes to FDA, we can be hopeful that Republican candidates are more judicious while campaigning…..and, if elected, more restrained in their actions than their rhetoric suggests.


Why Orphan Drugs are a Key Part of Pharma’s Future

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012


I was recently interviewed about orphan drugs for the British website, “pharmaphorum” and thought my readers might be interested. Here is a sample:


HB: How has the orphan drug space changed since the introduction of the Orphan Drug Act 1983?

SG: There is really no way to compare the situation. When we passed the Act, we hoped to stimulate the development of a few drugs that would make a difference in people’s lives. No one foresaw that we were creating what would become a multi-billion dollar market segment in which companies might compete fiercely to be first. The timing was also fortuitous — in that the Act was adopted just as our capabilities in biotechnology began to grow and the two movements are closely intertwined.


The full interview is as at: http://www.pharmaphorum.com/2012/08/22/fda-matters-orphan-drugs-key-part-pharmas-future/.



2012 Mid-Year Report on FDA: Opportunities, Threats and Accomplishments

Monday, July 9th, 2012


So much is going on at FDA right now, that it is difficult to pick just one topic for this week’s FDA Matters. Instead, we are going to take a quick tour of some “hot spots” at FDA and how they might affect the agency over the remainder of the year and beyond.

Please read on…there is something for everyone in the topics covered.

The “Lost” FSMA Regulations. At the very end of 2010, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The law was intended to fundamentally re-set the term under which FDA acts to assure a safe food supply. It focuses on preventing problems, rather than fixing or limiting them afterward. FSMA provides the agency with new authorities and additional resources consistent with FDA’s role of overseeing a global food supply.

The first provisions of FSMA went into effect in January 2012 and additional requirements become effective this month. To guide implementation of these requirements, FDA has produced four draft regulations. None have been published; all are stuck in the review process at OMB.

The mystery of the “lost” FSMA regulations prompted two reporters to call me this past week and ask: is OMB holding back these (and other) regulations until after the election, presumably for political reasons. I couldn’t see an electoral connection, plus the first of the proposed regulations was submitted to OMB in December 2011, a very long time before the election.

The “lost” FSMA draft regulations are worrisome by themselves, but especially with so much else going on at FDA that may require OMB review.  

FDA’s Drug Safety Monitoring Program Hits Target, Will Expand. We don’t read often enough about the successes that come from cooperation and hard-work at FDA. In the 2007 user fee reauthorization legislation, Congress directed FDA to construct a nationwide electronic post-market safety monitoring system that would allow FDA to examine tens of millions of patient records to discover or refute possible safety concerns about FDA-approved products.

In a recent edition of FDA Voice, the FDA’s own blog site, the agency reported that the monitoring system, called “Sentinel,” now has access to the de-identified medical and/or insurance records of about 126 million Americans, collected through 17 data sources (e.g. VA, Kaiser). Sentinel is definitely still a “work in progress” on a number of levels, but it will be of increasing value as medical products become even more complex and even more integral to medical care.  

Funding Ups and Downs. Despite Congressional reauthorization of the prescription drug and medical device user fee programs, the budget authority (BA) (taxpayer-funded) portion of FDA’s budget is still the bulk of the dollars. The Senate has included a small increase in BA funding for FDA for FY 13; the House has proposed a small decrease.

Of compelling concern is the strong potential that FDA (along with all federal discretionary funding programs) will be hit with a 7% to 10% “sequestration”—an across-the-board cut–on January 2, 2013. This would reduce the agency’s budget  by between $175 million and $250 million in FY 13. This is FDA’s “contribution” to saving the federal budget more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years. 

If sequestration occurs, FDA will try to avoid lay-offs by shifting more employees from taxpayer funding to user fees. In that case, increases in user fee income will be backfilling the BA cuts, rather than contributing to real agency growth. Yet, FDA will be obligated to undertake the user fee-driven activities and meet the law’s performance measures as if the new user fee money was paying for additional staff.

User Fee Reauthorization Will Drive, Not Disrupt, the Agency Agenda. Five years ago, the user fee reauthorization (PDUFA 4) didn’t become law until late September, a few days before fiscal year 2008. The combination of immediate deadlines, delays in collecting user fees, and insufficient trained personnel set off a series of problems that took three years to fully overcome.

This time, Congress finished the reauthorization in late June and FDA has been planning the law’s smooth implementation for months. Instead of panic, CDER in particular, seems to be feeling good about the path forward and the many changes called for in PDUFA 5. 

Dr. Janet Woodcock, head of CDER, has listed her priorities as, among other things: timely transition to new user fee requirements (including start-up of new generic drug and biosimilars user fees); dealing with drug shortages, moving forward on data standards and new IT support systems, and advancing regulatory science.

Results are still what matters and there are always critics….but a sense of optimism at CDER is always welcome.


User Fee Reauthorization—Critics Come Out Before the Ink Is Dry

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012


The House passed the final user fee reauthorization legislation last week and (as of this evening) the Senate has also passed the bill. It will now go to the President for signature. FDA Matters says: well done, Congress! Despite my fear of delays and bickering, you completed this process on time and with broad bipartisan support.


However, critics are already emerging, "before the ink is dry.” The advocacy group, Public Citizen, is complaining that drugs and devices will be less safe as a result of the legislation. At the same time, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA official, has published an essay arguing the legislation doesn’t go far enough to expedite review of drugs for serious medical conditions.


The Public Citizen Health Research Group’s critique is to be expected. They were founded 40 years ago and have consistently been critical of the agency’s handling of drug and medical device approvals. Their continued opposition rests on three primary points:


  1. User fees created by PDFUA have created a conflict of interest because the agency is funded in part by the industry it is supposed to be regulating.
  2. This has led to poor quality reviews of drugs and thus the release of dangerous products. Since PDUFA, more drugs have been approved and then banned, causing needless deaths/injuries.
  3. Working conditions at the FDA have plummeted since PDUFA, resulting in high staff turnover and sweatshop-like conditions.

I, too, wish that FDA were 100% taxpayer funded, but user fees are reality, a compromise that makes it possible for FDA to have the funds to operate. There is no evidence of bias generated by the fees, plus Americans would be far worse off if a quarter of FDA’s budget (user fees) were to suddenly disappear.


With regard to the quality of drug reviews, I see no evidence they’ve declined and the methodology of the PDUFA/drug approval study is suspect. Working conditions and staff turnover are definitely a matter of “compared to what?” I don’t think FDA does badly when you look at it that way.


Far more of a surprise is the essay by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs at FDA.  Using primarily examples of orphan drugs, he argues that FDA is over-focused on long-term safety and on reining in physician prescribing practices. As a result, the agency is stifling medical innovation and disregarding the needs of patients with serious medical conditions. I don’t agree with him on a number of points, but you can hit the link and judge for yourself.


His argument might be more compelling if he referenced large-market products, such as pain killers and obesity drugs. However, by using orphan drug examples, Dr. Gottlieb winds up attacking the new user fee reauthorization legislation as insufficient to expedite review of drugs that target serious medical conditions.


FDA Matters has already praised changes affecting orphan drugs and accelerated approval. My view is shared by much of FDA and the FDA stakeholder communities; for example: FDA and other leaders, BIO, the National Health Council and the National Organization for Rare Disorders.


So, why attack PDUFA’s bold new efforts on behalf of orphan drugs and patients with serious medical conditions? 


To Dr. Gottlieb, these “legislative fixes” are inadequate because “the agency’s staff will still have wide discretion in determining when to employ these [new] tools.” If overcautious, reluctant reviewers are still in charge, then even Congressional changes in the FDA law will not improve the review process to benefit patients with serious medical conditions.


His proposed solution is to remove the approval of drugs from the review divisions and give that authority to a panel of senior scientists with the “experience and stature to exercise the policy judgment required to make careful decisions about how to weigh risk and benefits…” An even better solution, in his mind, would be to follow the European Medicine Agency’s model in which staff does analysis and evaluation, but the final approval decisions are made by politically-appointed individuals.


I think both of these approaches would severely weaken—if not outright undermine—the existing FDA approval process. This would be particularly unfortunate now, when the new legislation empowers agency leadership to lower the barriers, so that review staff can be more flexible and apply new approaches to evaluating therapies for serious medical conditions.


Conclusions. Before more drastic actions are considered, let’s give the new user fee reauthorization legislation time to work. The ink isn’t even dry!





Many readers were out of town this past Friday and may have missed:


Biosimilars Update: Keys for the Next Year and Beyond   June 22nd, 2012

The biosimilars market in the U.S. will not grow large overnight. 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?  Read the rest of this entry


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