Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wacky World of Generics: Timing Is Everything Edition

The best fighters learn from their opponents, and whatever else you may think about generic drug firms, there is no denying they are accomplished bruisers.

So it should come as little surprise that after years of being in the crosshairs of citizen petitions filed by brand firms, generic companies are starting to pull the trigger on some petitions themselves.

Some things haven’t changed, though: the targets of petitions are still generic companies and the beneficiaries are still brand firms, since delays always help them.

The most recent example of generic-on-generic petitioning resolved by FDA is Cobalt’s failed attempt to become the only generic of acarbose (Bayer’s diabetes treatment Precose). Cobalt had made regulatory arguments that it deserved 180-day exclusivity and scientific arguments that other ANDAs needed additional tests. FDA rejected them both, and Cobalt has now launched alongside a generic from Roxane.

Cobalt was the first-to-file ANDA applicant and so had the inside track to get generic exclusivity, but it forfeited the prize in part because it failed to gain approval within 30 months. First-to-file exclusivity is critical to the profit stream for generic firms and it is no small penalty for an applicant to lose it. In this case, Cobalt did not get approval in time, perhaps due to shortcomings in its application, which FDA had initially refused to accept.

Any instance where a first filer loses the all-important exclusivity is big news for the generic industry, so the Precose fight is an important precedent for other applicants. Given the negative outcome for Cobalt, the incident raises the question of how much haste firms should use in submitting their ANDAs to FDA. Usually there is an all-out race to be first-to-file to claim exclusivity. In this case, second-to-file turned out to be good enough. (Subscribers to the Pink Sheet can read the full story here.)

The episode also shows how a generic firm – in this case Roxane – can use knowledge of FDA’s regulatory clock to get to market as soon as possible.

Among the provisions of the massive FDA bill passed last year is one designed to curb abusive citizen petitions. The new law says petitions cannot delay approvals unless FDA determines there’s a public health justification, and even then, the agency only has 180 days to decide the issue in question.

Roxane correctly predicted how FDA would apply the law in this case at least. Roxane’s lawyer, Zuckerman Spaeder partner Bill Schultz, explains that, “because there was a very good chance that” six months after Cobalt filed its petition would be “exactly when FDA was going to approve the product … Roxane, anyway, was completely ready to go on the day the 180 day deadline expired.”

Schultz clearly doesn’t think much of Cobalt’s bioequivalency arguments. The case, he says, “raises issues the citizen’s petition provisions can work." The question, Schultz says, is "whether FDA is implementing this public health provision" of the new law "responsibly, or whether they’re just invoking it every time.”

But that is a fight for another day.

M. Nielsen Hobbs

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