Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Navigating The FDA Advisory Committee Road To Success … Or Not

On the eve of FDA’s Antiviral Drugs Advisory Committee reviews of the first protease inhibitors for hepatitis C, the drugs’ sponsors – Merck (boceprevir) and Vertex Pharmaceuticals (telaprevir) – are no doubt scrambling to make sure everything is in order.

Presumably, the companies have already locked down their slide decks, put the finishing touches on their presentations, researched the backgrounds of the committee’s standing members and shipped their AdComm teams off to hotels near FDA’s White Oak headquarters, where the meetings will take place.

Boceprevir and telaprevir are viewed as therapeutic breakthroughs in the treatment of HCV, both having shown improved cure rates when added to the current standard of care. However, the drugs have complicated and differing dosing regimens, which are likely to be an area of AdComm discussion.

Merck, which will present its case on April 27, is an old hand at the AdComm process, having most recently gone before a panel in December when it unsuccessfully sought to add prostate cancer risk reduction language to the label of its BPH drug Proscar. Vertex, on the other hand, is making its maiden voyage on the USS AdComm. The company will present its case on April 28 and should benefit from hearing panelists’ questions and concerns in their review of boceprevir the day before.

No matter how well prepared the sponsors think they might be, the AdComm road is littered with landmines. That, in a nutshell, was the message conveyed by AdComm meeting veterans at the Center for Business Intelligence’s Second Annual Forum on Effective Preparation for FDA Advisory Committees in Washington, D.C. last month.

At the two-day conference, battle-hardened veterans of the AdComm process – including pharma employees and consultants who make their living preparing drug companies for meetings – shared experiences from the trenches and offered some best practices to consider when tackling what has become a significant hurdle in drug development.

Some suggestions fall in the common sense category. It's imperative not only to have good communications with FDA leading up to an AdComm, but also to begin the meeting planning process early. Practicing presentations and Q&A is not surprisingly also considered good AdComm hygiene. But the CBI speakers voiced some additional pearls of wisdom that sponsors appearing before FDA committees might want to keep in mind, starting with…

Know Your AdComm
Pete Taft, founder and CEO of PharmApprove, a company that provides AdComm meeting preparation services, said sponsors should be ready to deal with four general types of personalities on FDA panels:

  • the expert – someone who knows a lot about your field and possibly your product, and is going to be well prepared for the meeting;

  • the judge – an individual who is swift to make judgments about your product or argument;

  • the thoughtful one – a quiet panel member; and,

  • the naysayer – the “Simon Cowell of AdComs” who you can either fight or forget about securing their vote.

  • PharmApprove has interviewed former AdComm members to find out how they prepare and what they expect from sponsors. At the top of their list is this nugget of wisdom...

    Keep It Simple, And Don’t Be Irritating
    The importance of clarity and simplicity in a sponsor’s presentation was echoed by FDA Director of Advisory Committee Oversight Michael Ortwerth, the lone agency presenter at the CBI conference. “That’s a really important thing, that the message is clear … and slides are very well put together,” Ortwerth said. “When you have slides that are so busy and so ladened and heavy, then you can’t focus on what the actual issue is.”

    If AdComm members don’t like busy slides, they’re also not thrilled with sponsors or presenters who come off as cocky or overconfident. “I’ve always had this intuitive sense that if we press the committee or cause them to feel irritated, that some of that emotion will be transferred to their rational thinking,” said Taft, whose suspicion has now been confirmed. He noted the comments of a former AdComm chairman, who said: “You don’t want to make me angry about you, because then I transfer that from you onto the data and onto the drug.”

    AdComm prep needs to be heavy on practice, planning and contingency planning, the speakers said. In the course of advance planning, it’s important that sponsors …

    Don’t Let Belly Dancers Get In The Way
    Don Cilla, vice president and product development team lead at AstraZeneca’s MedImmune division, led the company’s AdComm team for the June 2010 review of motavizumab for prophylaxis of respiratory syncytial virus. He recommends conducting AdComm team practice sessions and holding pre-meeting preparations in the same hotel ballroom that FDA will use for the meeting (when they’re not being held at White Oak). At the time of the motavizumab meeting “there was a convention of belly dancers that had that room booked for the three days leading up to it, so we couldn’t get in there to practice.”

    If the company's AdComm team is all staying, and eating, together as a group for two or three days before a meeting, they should …

    Avoid Eating The Mayonnaise
    One of the speakers at the CBI conference recounted how a consultant, upon seeing open mayonnaise sitting at a buffet, banned all condiments at future meals so as to avoid the risk that team members would come down with a debilitating case of food poisoning on the day of the big meeting. “We had backups for everybody,” Cilla said of his team for the motavizumab meeting. “We didn’t know if they were going to get the bad mayonnaise or the Mexican food the night before or if they just couldn’t get there.”

    While sponsors should plan for anything and everything to go wrong logistically, there are some factors they may have no control over. This includes the possibility that committee members will be suffering from …

    An Avandia Hangover
    Back-to-back scrutiny of different drugs on consecutive days can have a detrimental effect on those coming at the end of a multi-day meeting, suggested Alexander Fleming, president and CEO of the consulting firm Kinexum.

    Case in point is Vivus’ obesity drug Qnexa. At a July 15 meeting, FDA's Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 10-6 against approval due to safety concerns. The negative vote took some FDA officials by surprise, but Fleming believes timing was a crucial factor. The Qnexa review marked the third consecutive day of work for the committee, its two previous days having been spent on an extensive and intensive review of the cardiovascular safety of GlaxoSmithKline’s diabetes drug Avandia.

    “If nothing else, the advisors had to be exhausted” by the time they got to Qnexa, Fleming said. Calling the AdComm timing “pure bad luck” for Vivus, Fleming said the company knew “this was going to be a real disadvantage to them ... and only in retrospect do you see how it really had a major effect.”

    Sponsors also may have no control over an AdComm’s walk down the path of …

    Comparative Effectiveness And Cost
    Disease background presentations by the sponsor are a hallmark of any product-specific AdComm. A good presentation will include a comparison of products that are on the market, including mechanism of action and limitations, said Mary Rofael, COO of scientific and regulatory communications at ProEd Communications, a firm that provides AdCom prep services.

    “Many of you will say we’re here at an advisory committee, the committee should focus on evaluating the benefit/risk of a particular product,” Rofael said. “In this day and age you can’t stop people from thinking about comparing it to what they’re using currently or what’s on the market. It’s just a discussion that’s going to take place. Whether or not you engage in it, that’s a different story, but it’s important to anticipate it because these kinds of questions are being asked more and more today.

    “It’s almost like the question of cost,” Rofael continued, venturing down a road that almost no sponsor wants to travel during an AdComm. “The advisory committee room is the only room where cost is not discussed … but eventually I think it’s going to make its way in. People are starting to ask about the cost of products and what the burden of cost is on the health care system.”

    Aside from the detour down the cost path, what’s a sponsor to do when an AdComm’s discussion of the data starts …

    Spiraling Out Of Control?
    If the panel’s conversation has gone awry at some point after the sponsor’s presentation, the best a company can hope for is that the meeting agenda includes an upcoming break, said PharmApprove principal Martha Arnold. “If there’s a situation where things just are spiraling out of control, and … you think perhaps the committee is dealing with information that is just plain wrong, that there’s been a misinterpretation either of your data or FDA’s data, if there’s a break you have an opportunity to at least approach the chair” and express concern, she said.

    If there are no further scheduled breaks, the sponsor could pass a note to the panel’s industry representative “or tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, can you help us out here,’” said Bruce Burlington of DB Burlington Consulting, who often serves as the industry rep on AdComms. “Alternatively, if it’s really outrageous, just stand up and say, ‘Mr. Chairman, I request your permission to insert a correction in the discussion at this point.’”
    It may be more problematic, however, for sponsors to insert themselves into the process of …

    Anyone who has sat through at least a handful of AdComms can confirm that panelist confusion over the wording of FDA’s questions is a fact of life, often leading to discussions as to whether and how the questions should be re-written on the fly. While these question-writing “audibles” can be disconcerting for sponsors, so can the initial questions themselves.

    CBI conference attendees cited tremendous variability among review divisions in the types of questions posed at AdComs, ranging from straightforward questions on risk/benefit to queries that run multiple pages and “in essence make the FDA case in the form of a question,” one conference attendee said.

    FDA’s Ortwerth acknowledged room for improvement in how review divisions ask questions. “It is important that there be consistency in the way we try to communicate. … There needs to be the right way to communicate something and a clear way to communicate something and not to drive the direction of the answer.”

    Even if sponsors are able to navigate all the trouble spots outlined above, they need to keep in mind that they can …

    Spend Big Money, But Still Lose Big
    Preparing for an AdComm involves shelling out big bucks, all of which can be for naught if a drug is decimated when it comes to the panel’s vote. MedImmune’s Cilla said his company spent approximately $900,000 on AdCom preparations for motavazimub, which included the cost of consultants, meeting space and four mock panel meetings at approximately $60,000 each. The investment resulted in a 14-3 AdComm vote against approval, which was followed by an FDA “complete response” letter and the company’s decision to withdraw the BLA.

    Sanofi-Aventis Associate Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs Kevin Malobisky said his company spent about $1.3 million preparing for one meeting that resulted in a 14-0 vote against approval – an apparent reference to the unsuccessful June 2007 AdComm for the obesity drug Zimulti (rimonabant).

    Were IN VIVO Blog writing an AdComms for Dummies manual, we might put it this way: it's expensive and a lot of work to prep for an AdComm, but you have to do it. Even so, there's no money-back guarantee.

    Maybe we should start consulting--at least we've got a sense of humor.

    -- By Sue Sutter (

    No comments: