Tuesday, February 05, 2008

White House Tries to Jump-Start Follow-On Biologics

The Bush Administration seems to think it’s time for FDA and Congress to get back to work on developing a follow-on biologics approval pathway.

The president’s $2.4 billion fiscal year 2009 budget request for FDA lays out an agenda for an abbreviated approval process on follow-on, or “generic,” biologics. “The budget proposes a new authority for FDA to approve follow-on protein products through a new regulatory pathway that protects patient safety, promotes innovation, and includes a financing structure to cover the costs of this activity through user fees,” the request says.

During a conference call, FDA deputy commissioner for operations Jim Dyer said the agency would work with Congress to submit legislation authorizing an abbreviated pathway for follow-on biologics. That’s not really news; the agency has been in discussions with Capitol Hill and industry stakeholders for some time, and has testified in congressional hearings that it has the scientific expertise to support an approval process.

Legislation authorizing a follow-on biologics pathway came close to being attached to the drug safety/user fee bill last year, but was pulled at the 11th hour. For more coverage on the bipartisan negotiations—and what the final deal looked like—click here and here. Subscribers to The RPM Report can read the content for free, or you can sign up for a 30-day free trial.

Practically speaking, the mention of follow-on biologics in the budget request won’t result in much. Finalizing something as controversial as an abbreviated approval process for follow-on biologics during an election year is more than a little optimistic; any real work probably won’t get underway until there is a new president in the White House in 2009.

But the budget request does set the president’s agenda for FDA for the next fiscal year, and lays out what the White House hopes to see the agency accomplish. At the very least, the mention of follow-on biologic user fees will trigger a score from the Congressional Budget Office, which, should it demonstrate savings to the health care system, would be handy during the next round of negotiations.

The request also includes a call to revive user fees for pre-reviews of direct-to-consumer advertising television commercials. A program was enacted as part of the FDA Amendments Act, but Congress killed it off by refusing to fund it in the omnibus appropriations bill. (For more analysis of that story, click here.)

So the Administration, at least, hasn’t given up on that program. Of course, we already knew FDA and industry were eager to make it work—it is Congress that has been of two minds on the DTC program—enacting it in September and killing it in December.

So don’t get too excited about follow-on biologics or DTC user fees. The President’s budget keeps hope alive for action on each this year. But it doesn’t change the basic truth that both issues depend primarily on the priorities of a Democratic Congress in an election year—not the final budget from the outgoing Administration.


Ben Seager-Scott said...

I think it's a good thing that plans continue to roll forward on approving a route for biosimiliars. However, it should be stressed that there's a big difference between copying a small molecule drug (where essentially the generic version is identical) and a biologic, since no two cell lines are exactly the same.

Given the complexity of the process and difficulty in fully characterising the product, I suspect any abbreviated approval route for a biosimilar will still require a significant amount of clinical trialling to confirm safety and efficacy. The complexity of production is likely to limit the number of follow-on companies that are able to compete in the biologics arena, and enhanced testing is going to add significantly to the R&D costs for these follow-ons, which will have to be accounted for in the price.

I think there’s going to be a notable difference between current generic competitors and biosimilar competitors.

Kate Rawson said...

Thanks for your comment -- I'd certainly agree with everything you said. Until Congress settles on a pathway, FDA will continue to approve "follow-on" biologics on a case-by-case basis -- we saw it with Omnitrope, hyaluronidase and salmon calcitonin.

One update from that post -- it looks like Jim Dyer misspoke when he said FDA would submit legislation to Congress authorizing a pathway. The real significance behind the the FOB inclusion in the budget request, was, as we pointed out, an expression of the Administration's agenda on this issue.