Thursday, January 24, 2008

J&J Tests FDA's Pain Threshold with Tapentadol

One line in Johnson & Johnson’s press release yesterday announcing the submission of a New Drug Application for the pain therapy tapentadol caught our eye:

"More than 1,800 patients have been treated with tapentadol IR tablets in clinical trials to date."

Which got us thinking: what makes J&J think they can get a new-ingredient product approved as a pain killer at today's FDA with data on only 1,800 patients? Haven't they noticed how tough it is to get new drugs through FDA, especially in the pain category?

Here are some possible answers:

(1) They are self-absorbed egotists with unfounded views of their own power and infallibility. But that can't be it, can it?

(2) J&J thinks that FDA will relent on pain products in the next year or so. It never hurts to be optimistic, but we haven't seen any signs of that yet.

(3) The product is for limited indications; J&J has a risk management program that will assure that it will stay in that population and they will sell the program to FDA as well as the drug’s safety.

Well, the press release says the product is for "moderate to severe pain" supported by studies in "patients undergoing bunionectomy surgery or for patients with degenerative, end-stage joint disease of the hip or knee," supported by a third study in "outpatients with low back pain or pain from osteoarthritis of the hip or knee." So it sure sounds like J&J is going after a big market based on relatively small studies. Not exactly a recipe for success by cautiously selecting a sub-population.

(4) There is something different about the way this product works which means that it will have no safety or abuse issues.

It surely doesn’t sound that way in the press release. J&J says it has "a unique profile with two mechanisms of action, combining mu-opioid receptor agonism and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition in a single molecule." That may be a great profile, but from a safety perspective it suggests a higher burden on J&J to show that the drug is free of two different potential risk profiles.

As for efficacy? According to J&J "data from these clinical trials suggest that tapentadol has efficacy comparable to strong opioids."

Is this a winning profile at today's FDA? We'll all find out later this year.


Anonymous said...

Data exist from the clinical trials presented in Europe and the US, as well as published peer-reviewed papers (see Tzchentke et al, 2007 in JPET), that indicate that tapentadol is an 'improved' tramadol (both Grunenthal drugs, btw). It lacks the active metabolite problem, as well as the 5-HT effects that drag tramadol down.

My question is, where are the preclinical or human lab studies on abuse potential (e.g. self-administration, or even subjective effects)? That's a topic that has been lacking in the published reports, to the best of my knowledge!

Anonymous said...

Looks like the drug got approved......