Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lilly's Prasugrel Widens the Gap

The gap just got wider.

No, we’re not talking about the income inequality gap, or the gender gap, or the generation gap. We’re talking about the approval gap for new drugs and biologics between Europe and the United States.

Some critics of the Food & Drug Administration argue that FDA is more conservative than its counterparts in Europe. (This is what we think of as the “too slow” contingent. FDA is also criticized from other stakeholders—like Sid Wolfe and Chuck Grassley—of being too fast.)

FDA disagrees with both sides. As Office of New Drugs director John Jenkins said at FDC-Windhover’s FDA/CMS Summit for BioPharma Executives, “We review each application on its own merits—not against some goal that we will approve 25 applications this year. Those that meet the standards under the statute get approved; those that don’t, don’t get approved.”

But with last Thursday’s news that prasugrel—Eli Lilly and Daiichi Sankyo’s beleaguered blood thinner candidate that is still sitting at FDA—received a positive recommendation from the European Union’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, the noise from the “too slow” contingent is likely to get louder.

In an effort to discredit those critics, Jenkins presented data at the FDA/CMS Summit from a preliminary analysis of new molecular entities reviewed by FDA and the European Medicines Agency between January 2006 and October 2008. What Jenkins found was that EMEA approved slightly more novel products than FDA, but that the agencies had a similar approval rate.

Jenkins then looked at new molecular entities that were reviewed by both the Food & Drug Administration. Of those 29 products, FDA approved two that the European Medicines Agency has not, and EMEA approved seven that FDA has not. (Once Lilly and Daiichi receive final approval from the European Commission—which should come in two or three months—prasugrel would make that eight.)

Jenkins argued that the numbers are too small to support any conclusions that FDA is more conservative than its counterparts in Europe—especially given that one of the EMEA-approved drugs (Sanofi-Aventis’ weight loss drug rimonabant) has already been withdrawn from the market.

Pointing to the list, Jenkins said: “Here’s where all the statements about the EMEA being faster are coming from.” But some investors still see the data as a troubling trend. The prasugrel approval in Europe is only likely to feed those beliefs. (You can read all about that debate in the latest issue of The RPM Report.)

So what's up with prasugrel at FDA?

As we’ve reported, FDA is looking at February 2009 for an advisory committee meeting. Assuming that happens, an answer isn’t likely much before March 2009—which would double prasugrel's review time to 12 months. The user fee deadline was initially set for March 2008, but on two occasions was pushed back three months—most recently to September. Since then, it has become just one of a number of missed deadlines at FDA.

Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steve Nissen, who has accused FDA of being both too fast and too slow, thinks Lilly and Daiichi deserve an answer one way or the other. What do you think? Is FDA more conservative than EMEA? Or is the difference too small to draw any conclusions?

Photo courtesy of flickr user StevenBulman44.

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