Celebrating 30 years of easier access to cost-saving generic drugs

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Thirty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, better known today as the Hatch-Waxman Amendments. This law, championed by Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Henry A. Waxman, made it easier for generic drugs to enter the market, and has greatly expanded access to important—often life-saving—drugs. Over the 10-year period 2003 through 2012, generic drug use is estimated to have generated more than $1.2 trillion in savings to the health care system and to have benefitted the health and well-being of innumerable lives.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.Thanks to the insight of its creators, one of the strengths of this law is the fact that it provided financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies that develop and manufacture new and innovative trade name products. Under the law, sponsors of qualifying trade name drugs are provided an opportunity to extend a patent to make up for patent life lost during the process of testing and approval of the product.

The law also, however, provided a clear pathway to market for generic drugs. Before Hatch-Waxman, little more than a third of branded prescription drug products even had a generic available, and those that were available were not as widely used. Today, most drugs that go off patent face competition from cost-saving generic drugs. As a result, about 85 percent of all prescriptions filled are for generic versions.

Importantly, while Hatch-Waxman has provided powerful cost savings for American consumers, its value in providing greater access to medication cannot be overlooked. For over 30 years, millions of consumers who otherwise would not have been able to afford needed medication now have access to lower-cost, quality, generic drugs that are just as safe and effective as their brand-name counterparts.

Despite the enormous success of Hatch-Waxman, FDA faces challenges as we continue efforts to ensure access to affordable and quality generic drugs.

FDA is working to reduce the current backlog of generic drug applications for new generic drug products. Fortunately, the Generic Drug User Fee Amendments of 2012, GDUFA for short, provides additional funding for FDA’s generic drug program. We’re allocating significant time and money towards reducing the backlog.

As our world economy experiences greater globalization, it has becoming increasingly important for FDA to allocate its resources based on potential risk around the globe. More than 80 percent of the ingredients used to make our drugs now come from overseas suppliers. FDA is committed to working to ensure that, no matter where the ingredients are from or where the drugs are made, the American public can be assured their products are safe. GDUFA funding also helps FDA address global inspections, and we are diligently working to monitor production across the globe.

FDA salutes the vision of Senator Hatch and Representative Waxman. Their landmark legislation has improved the health of generations of Americans. And we’re proud of the role FDA has had in implementing Hatch-Waxman and helping to assure its success. We look forward to continuing to enhance Americans’ access to safe, effective, and affordable generic prescription drugs.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Working to improve the communication of important drug safety information about generic drugs

By: Janet Woodcock, M.D. 

FDA is taking a step today that is intended to improve the communication of important drug safety information about generic drugs to both prescribers and patients. 

All drug manufacturers are required to keep close tabs on their drugs once they go to market, reviewing all reports of adverse events involving their drug and reporting these findings to FDA. 

But currently, only brand name manufacturers are able to independently update and promptly distribute revised drug safety information, also called labeling, and they can distribute that information before FDA has reviewed or approved the change. These updates, which are submitted in changes being effected supplements, ensure that this important safety information gets to the public as quickly as possible. 

Right now generic companies, who are responsible for over 80% of the prescription drugs dispensed to patients, aren’t able to revise their drug safety information as quickly as the brand name. They must provide supporting information to FDA, which then determines whether safety information for both the brand and generic drugs should be revised before updates can occur. 

Today, FDA is issuing a proposed rule that would allow generic drug manufacturers to independently update and promptly distribute revised product labeling — just like brand name manufacturers – before FDA reviews or approves the change. 

Empowering generic drug companies to update their own drug safety information is intended to provide them the incentive to more actively participate with FDA in ensuring the timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of this information. 

The brand manufacturer would be expected to consider the information provided by the generic drug manufacturer as part of its review and evaluation of adverse drug experience information for its drug. 

And to make sure that the drug safety information updates from both generic and brand name companies are readily available to health care professionals and the public, FDA plans to post these updates on its website. 

Faster safety updates and easier access to this information should be a win–win for all involved. 

Janet Woodcock, M.D., is director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research