Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes from BIO: Getting Comfortable with REMS

No one wanted to use the word ‘albatross’ in the same sentence when describing REMS, or Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, at a panel session this week at BIO about the FDA Amendments Act of 2007. But the implication was hard to miss from the tone of some of the comments and the body language of some speakers.

A REMS, for those who may not recall, is the newly upgraded program to ensure a company has a strategy in place to manage and communicate a potentially serious risk with its medicine. And the implications are being gauged closely by industry, which is assessing whether REMS will wind up conferring a greater probability of approval or result in commercial dead-ends.

Drug makers, for instance, would like more guidance, according to Jeff Francer, assistant general counsel at PhRMA, who said REMS is the key issue to watch as a result of the FDAAA. “I would say it’s the effects of REMS on the approval process and post-marketing…We should continue to study how REMS and the implementation are affecting patient care. We, in industry, would like more formal guidance…For most of industry, it’s about REMS.”

A few feet away sat Jarilyn Dupont, director of regulatory policy in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of the Commissioner, who said that “there’s always going to be tension” over the push and pull between industry and regulators over the requirements and implications. But she noted that the REMS program, which gives FDA some enforcement powers, is still new and that guidance will be forthcoming. “It’s really only out since September, so over time, you will see more guidance. But guidance development doesn’t happen over night.”

Another industry rep, Andrew Emmett, director of science and regulatory affairs for BIO, tried a more optimistic line by saying that, as “comfort levels are built and guidance” emerges, the REMS process should become smoother. Still, his comments about forthcoming REMS evaluations suggested an air of anxiety. The FDAAA requires that all REMS must include a timetable for assessments at 18 months, 3 years and 7 years after approval of a REMS. “There are a lot of questions in industry,” he said, “about what those are going to look like.”

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