Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wolfe vs. Rappaport: A Standoff Between FDA and One of Its Advisory Committee Members

There was some disharmony at Jazz Pharmaceuticals’ FDA panel review of its drug Rekinla for fibromyalgia.

FDA’s Arthritis Drugs Advisory Committee and Drug Safety & Risk Management Advisory Committee voted 20-2 against recommending Rekinla (sodium oxybate) for a supplemental indication for treatment of fibromyalgia on August 20; sodium oxybate is currently approved for the reduction of daytime sleepiness and cataplexy in patients with narcolepsy under the trade name Xyrem. (See our coverage in "The Pink Sheet" DAILY, here.)

Anyone that has been to an FDA panel meeting knows there are ebbs and flows that contribute to the final outcome.

One of those critical points came in the late morning during the FDA question and answer session, following the agency’s formal presentations.

Enter Drugs Safety & Risk Management committee member and outspoken drug industry critic Sidney Wolfe (director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group). Wolfe explained that he had obtained publicly available documents that cast negative light on the trustworthiness of the sponsor to responsibly market Rekinla if the panel delivered a positive recommendation and FDA approved the drug.

To resolve parallel criminal and civil allegations of off-label marketing for Xyrem by their Orphan Medical division, Jazz entered a guilty plea and paid $20 million in monetary penalties as part of a settlement with the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. (To view the press release, click here).

Committee Chair Kathleen O’Neill (University of Oklahoma College of Medicine) tried to cut Wolfe off, saying the session was only for questions to FDA and could only address the material in front of the panel on that day.

Wolfe continued to read a summary of the off-label marketing settlement and said he eventually would have a question.

With Wolfe unwilling to stop reading, FDA took the seemingly unprecedented action of cutting off Wolfe’s microphone. That step has become routine during the open public hearing where there is a time limit but this was one of their own advisory committee members.

Wolfe turned the microphone back on and finally got to his question: Why, he asked, did FDA not mention the Xyrem off-label settlement in its presentations to the committee? After all, he argued, it was relevant to the decision at hand: could the sponsor be trusted to market Xyrem—also known as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)—to a much broader indication than it was already approved for?

FDA Division of Anesthesia & Analgesia Products Bob Rappaport stepped in and first instructed Wolfe to stop talking when the panel chair requests that he stop talking, explaining that it was her prerogative.

Rappaport continued that Wolfe’s reading of the documents were the first time he had ever heard of the off-label case and that it was not relevant to the Rekinla review despite the fact that both Xyrem and Rekinla are the same drug (sodium oxybate). Rappaport then admonished Wolfe for not providing the documents to FDA earlier, noting that he had called FDA's advisory committee management staff earlier in the week to raise an issue, but not provided the information he was reading at the meeting.

[UPDATE: Wolfe tells us "I had never previously told FDA officials that I had obtained these documents since I assumed, as it turned out incorrectly, that they were aware of them because FDA's Office of Criminal Investigation had been involved in the criminal prosecution. Why they were unaware, as Rappaport said, is another issue."]

The drama appeared to have come to a close with Rappaport’s comments; however, the FDA official returned after the lunch break and the open public hearing with a prepared statement:

“The issue that Dr. Wolfe raised this morning is a matter related to compliance and is not related to the topic under discussion today, unless there has been an accusation of data integrity problems with this application – and I’m not aware of any data integrity concerns. The only other way that the case referred to by Dr. Wolfe could be pertinent to this application would be if it was brought up to impugn the sponsor in the hopes that the committee would be punitive towards them in your deliberations and recommendations regarding this application. However it is important for you to recognize that that would not really be punitive to the sponsor but would really be punitive to the patients.”
At that point, Jazz Pharmaceuticals' Chief Compliance Officer Janne Wissel added a few remarks.

"We do have a corporate integrity agreement because we assumed responsibility for the acts of Orphan Medical at the time we purchased the company. The Department of Justice, as well as the OIG concluded at the end of their investigation that the behaviors of Jazz Pharmaceutical were not the same as those of Orphan Medical. However, we assumed responsibility for those actions.

"We have completed three years under our corporate integrity agreement where we have reports that are based on information and an audit conducted by an independent review organization with respect to our compliance for promoting our product within our labeling. All of those reports have concluded that we are promoting our product within labeling and that we are compliant with respect to the aspects of our corporate integrity agreement."

Wolfe was not given an opportunity to respond at the meeting, so we asked him if he would care to after the fact. He emailed us the following statement:

The previous RiskMap program and the Xyrem Success Program, that were agreed upon in 2002 by Orphan as a condition of approval of Xyrem for narcolepsy, included extremely restricted distribution through one pharmacy, education of doctors and patients and a registry of patients getting the drug.

One of the questions our advisory committee was being asked to respond to was the adequacy of the new REMS program for the expanded use of oxybate for treating fibromyalgia .

Xyrem’s manufacturer, Orphan, violated the above mentioned restrictions on distribution by illegal, criminal off-label marketing and was successfully prosecuted for this. When I discovered this, a week before the hearing, I assumed that the reason why it was not included in the Advisory Committee’s briefing materials was that for some reason the FDA did not want us to know about it. This seemed peculiar, since the prosecution of the company seemed quite relevant to our evaluation of whether the new REMS program could be expected to be effective.

As I asked in my question to FDA, following the material I read from the US Attorney’s prosecution of Orphan, Why didn’t the agency provide the material to us?

Dr. Rappaport’s surprising answer was that they were not aware of the criminal prosecution. He later added that this was really a matter involving FDA compliance and that it was not “related” to the issues being discussed by the committee because it did not involve data integrity.

Although it is the compliance part of FDA that was involved in investigating this (the FDA Office of Criminal investigation was also involved), the idea that the details of this criminal prosecution involving violations of the agreed-upon restricted marketing of this dangerous drug were not relevant to our deliberations seems irrational.

Dr. Rappaport went on to say that since it was not relevant to our discussion, the only reason I brought it up was to “impugn the sponsor” and thereby turn the vote against them. This would, he said, “not really be punitive to the sponsor but would
really be punitive to the patients.”

Following Dr. Rappaport’s after-lunch statement, Jazz Pharmaceutical, the owner of Orphan since June, 2005—including, according to the US Attorney, for at least seven months while the illegal activities were occurring--stated to the Advisory committee that the company had been essentially exonerated by the US Attorney’s office and was under a corporate integrity agreement with the HHS Inspector General. This statement, like Dr. Rappaport’s, is also incorrect since, in its non-prosecution agreement with Jazz, the US attorney stated on July 13, 2007:

“Based on the evidence gathered during this investigation, the government maintains that it would be able to prove that JPI [Jazz Pharmaceutical Incorporated], as a consequence of the criminal conduct committed by its subsidiary Orphan ("the Unlawful Conduct"), is likewise guilty of introducing and causing the introduction of a misbranded drug into interstate commerce, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 331(a) and 333(a)(2).”
It’s unclear how much of an impact the Wolfe-Rappaport discussion had on the final 20-2 negative vote for Jazz. But it’s clear the public disagreement was a notable turning point in the panel deliberations.

The agency later said “the issue raised this morning by Dr. Sidney Wolfe related to Jazz Pharmaceuticals marketing practices and compliance activities for sodium oxybate is not related to the topic (that was) under discussion. The FDA weighs all of the comments made by committee members equally but will only be considering the safety and efficacy information discussed today as it evaluates sodium oxybate to treat patients with fibromyalgia.”

--Ramsey Baghdadi

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