Monday, June 22, 2009

Wacky World of Generics: REMS Edition

Here's a "Catch-22": If the Food & Drug Administration prohibits sale of a drug outside of a tightly controlled restricted distribution program, how on earth is a generic company supposed to obtain supplies of the product to use as a comparator in bioequivalence trials?

If you are Dr. Reddy's, hoping to be first to challenge the patents on the anti-cancer agent Revlimid, you ask nicely. And if you are Celgene, apparently, you answer "no way." That, at least, is how Dr. Reddy's describes the situation in a citizen petition filed with the Food & Drug Administration earlier this month. (We have the full story in "The Pink Sheet" DAILY.)

This petition has all the markings of a test case. The goal is not so much to accelerate a generic challenge to Revlimid (the earliest a generic launch could possibly come is three years from now) but rather to define a process to assure that the new Risk Evaluation & Mitigation Strategies authority given to FDA in 2007 doesn't become a perpetual exclusivity award for sponsors.

The law (known as FDAAA) states unequivocally that restricted distribution programs are not to be used to block or delay generic competition. It's just that, well, it's one thing to say that, another thing to make it so.

Certainly, George Horner--the former CEO of Prestwick Pharmaceuticals--doesn't see any realistic way for generics to compete against products covered by REMS. He told us that in a story on the fascinating development program--and flurry of business development activity--for the Huntington's chorea therapy Xenazine. (You can read all about it in The RPM Report.)

In the petition, Dr. Reddy's is proposing a process that would essentially allow generic manufactures to obtain an authorization from FDA for studies, and then compel manufacturers to provide samples (at market prices) for use in bioequivalence trials. That certainly seems reasonable enough--and we bet (after much regulatory machination) FDA ends up setting a policy along those lines to eliminate the Catch-22 facing Dr. Reddy's.

But that still doesn't address the bigger issue: While it is presumably simple enough to create a bioequivalent version of the active ingredient in Revlimid, is it really possible to create a generic equivalent to the restricted distribution program for the drug? Celgene would argue no. In fact, the company has argued no in the context of the predecessor product--the notorious thalidomide. (Read more about that case here.)

Put another way: does FDA really want to make it simple for dozens of sponsors to launch versions of drugs like thalidomide, when the agency has already determined that the risks of inappropriate use are high enough to merit costly, burdensome post-marketing restrictions? Our hunch: products covered by restricted distribution programs will end up looking more like biotech therapies facing follow-on competition than they will like conventional generic drugs.

And, for now, there isn't even a clear-cut way for generics to begin the process of proving bioequivalence.

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