FDA Offers Free, Continuing Education Course to Help Health Care Providers Understand ‘Biosimilars’

By: Leah Christl, Ph.D.

You may have heard about a new category of products called “biosimilars.” What are biosimilars and how do they relate to biological products already widely in use?

Leah ChristlBiological products derived from living organisms can treat patients with cancer, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other serious conditions. Biological products that are “biosimilar” to, or “interchangeable” with, an already-approved FDA biological product (an FDA-licensed reference product) are one way to improve access and increase treatment options at potentially lower cost for our nation’s health care system.

These products are licensed through a new pathway created in the United States in 2009. FDA is well aware that health care professionals–including prescribers, the nurses who will administer them, and the pharmacists who will dispense them–need to understand how these drugs work and how they are intended to be used.

To that end, FDA has developed a free, Continuing Education Course for health care professionals – titled, FDA Overview of Biosimilar Products – to help them strengthen their knowledge and understanding of biosimilars and interchangeable products. Biosimilars and interchangeable products, for instance, are not generic products, and this education course will help health care professionals fully appreciate the distinction.

There’s a growing interest in biosimilars and interchangeable products in the pharmaceutical industry. The first biosimilar in the U.S. was approved in 2015. It boosts the production of white blood cells and helps to ward off infection in patients receiving strong chemotherapy for some tumors. FDA is reviewing several other marketing applications for proposed biosimilar products.

This course also will help health care professionals understand how a biosimilar can be prescribed and dispensed, and how and when an interchangeable product can be substituted for another biological product.

The program will inform healthcare professionals about the development process and approval pathway for biosimilars and interchangeable products. It also includes information about FDA’s general review process for these products that will help attendees gain a better understanding of the relationships between biosimilars and interchangeable products.

The course is available to health professionals on FDA’s CDERLearn Website, and can be completed on a tablet for those on the go and not at their desktop computer.

Leah Christl, Ph.D., is the Associate Director for Therapeutic Biologics in the Office of New Drugs, at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at FDA

FDA 2015: A Look Back (and Ahead) – Part 1: Medical Product Innovation

By: Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D.

As the year draws to a close, I want to reflect on FDA’s many accomplishments in these previous 12 months, the last nine of which it has been my pleasure to serve as Acting Commissioner. FDA has broad responsibilities – indeed, we are tasked with overseeing products that account for about 20 cents of the consumer dollar — so we work on a wide range of topics in any given year. In this and two additional blog posts over the coming days I’ll cover some of our key accomplishments in 2015. Each blog will examine a different area of FDA’s work. This first post will focus on medical product innovation – our role in making safe, effective and innovative products available to patients who need them.

Acting FDA Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, M.D.Scientific advances and unprecedented innovation in the sectors we regulate make it an exciting time to work at and lead FDA. To protect and promote the public health our regulatory decision-making must be nimble and current, adapted to the forward march of science.

One measure of our success is revealed in a study released in September by FDA’s independent Science Board. Mission Possible: How FDA Can Move at the Speed of Science documents the Agency’s progress and transformation over the last eight years, dating from a time when FDA had been increasingly unable to meet its scientific responsibilities due to chronic underfunding, a loss of scientific expertise, and the need to implement new legislative mandates without the resources to do so. In stark contrast, today FDA’s regulatory science enterprise is much stronger, which better allows us to effectively fulfill our commitment to protect the public health. The report also provides recommendations for future investments in regulatory science to assure FDA keeps pace with emerging trends in science and technology.

Medical Product Approvals

For many years now, we’ve strived to modernize and streamline the regulatory process along the entire development, review, and product oversight continuum.

The success of these changes is shown by the large number and wide variety of medical products we’ve approved across our medical product centers. So far this year, we have approved more than 40 novel drugs, including four new treatments for patients with multiple myeloma, two new drugs for patients with heart failure, and another robust year of approvals of drugs for rare or “orphan” diseases. We’ve approved several important vaccines, including one for serogroup B meningococcal disease, the first seasonal influenza vaccine to contain an adjuvant (intended for people 65 years and older), and a new indication for anthrax vaccine to prevent disease following exposure to anthrax – the first vaccine to receive an approved indication based on the Animal Rule (which provides for testing certain products on animals alone). And we saw the approval of several innovative devices that will make a positive difference in the lives of patients, including a device that extends the survival time of patients with brain cancer, and a transcatheter pulmonary valve that can be placed in certain patients with congenital heart disease, without requiring open heart surgery.

Our success is also measured in our speed and efficiency of approvals. The U.S. continues to lead the world in approving novel drugs first. And we’ve seen important progress in our device review program. Our average time to reach decisions on PMAs has dropped 36 percent since 2009. And not since 2001 FDA has approved as many medical devices under the original premarket approval pathway and the panel track supplement pathway (for significant changes to a PMA device) as we did this year – 58 as of December 14th.

The number of approvals, and the agency’s ability to review products efficiently, continue to be buoyed by FDA’s expedited development and review programs. When we talk to drug and device makers at the early stages of development, and apply better regulatory science to our ultimate review of their applications, products that are likely to fail are weeded out, allowing manufacturers to focus on those more likely to attain approval.

Most importantly, enhanced flexibility and an efficient approval process have come without lowering our gold standard of safety and efficacy. At the end of the day, innovative therapies are only helpful to patients if they work and are demonstrated to be safe. So it is imperative that we ensure the right balances among patient access, sound science, and safe and effective products.

Amplifying the Patient Voice

Enhancing the patient’s voice in the medical product approval and evaluation process is an important emerging area of product development, which we have embraced in a number of ways.

Those living with a disease are in a unique position to provide essential insights about life with their condition, its severity, and the adequacy of treatment options. We also recognize patients and caregivers have their own perspectives on benefits and risks of medical products, and we believe this input should be considered during regulatory decision-making.

Our Patient-Focused Drug Development initiative is a five-year effort that includes holding at least 20 public meetings in different disease areas. Seventeen of those meetings have occurred and seven more are being scheduled. After receiving patient input during each meeting and in the agency docket, FDA develops a Voice of the Patient report that is then posted on our website. In a complementary effort, our medical device program launched the Patient Preference Initiative. It includes studies to evaluate patient preferences in medical devices, and publishing of a draft guidance that describes how patient tolerance for risk and perspective on benefit, in addition to clinical data and other information, may be considered in FDA’s benefit-risk assessments for certain medical devices. This year FDA approved a weight loss device treatment, and our decision was informed in part by data from a patient preference study funded and co-designed by the Agency.

In September 2015, FDA announced our first-ever Patient Engagement Advisory Committee, which will provide advice on complex issues related to the regulation of medical devices and their use by patients. This Advisory Committee will help ensure the needs, experiences, and perspectives of patients are considered in our work and incorporated in our decision-making.

Biosimilars

Five years ago Congress authorized an abbreviated licensure pathway for biological products that are demonstrated to be “biosimilar” to or “interchangeable” with an FDA-licensed biological product. The intent was to create greater competition in the medical marketplace that would not only increase treatment options for patients, but also lead to less expensive alternatives to comparable products. FDA has been developing its biosimilar program since then, an effort which led to the approval of the first biosimilar in March. And there are more applications in the pipeline. To prepare, FDA has produced a variety of guidances in this area, including the recent draft guidance on how these biosimilars should be named.

Advancing the Development of Next Generation Sequencing Tests and Strengthening Clinical Trials

Our strengthened focus on regulatory science is helping to drive innovation. One illuminating example is our growing ability to apply the sophisticated technologies of next generation sequencing and precision medicine.

FDA today is better prepared and more engaged than ever in facilitating the development of these new technologies (as well as new uses for older technologies), while assuring they are safe and effective. These efforts help to achieve more precise diagnosis or treatment, through the development and review of state of the art diagnostics that use genetic information to make therapies more targeted.

We continue to move forward on the White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative to advance biomedical understanding by leveraging genomic advances, health information technologies, and new methods of analyzing large volumes of data. Just this month, we launched FDA’s precisionFDA web platform, a cloud-based portal that will allow scientists from industry, academia, government and other partners to come together to foster innovation and develop the science behind next-generation sequencing and help us design treatments tailored to a person’s individual genetic blueprint.

And we also are working to refine clinical trial design and statistical methods of analysis to create more efficient studies with smaller patient populations, more focused therapies, and better outcomes. For instance, we continue to support collaborative efforts in clinical trials, such as the I-SPY trials (for breast cancer) and the Lung-MAP protocol (for lung cancer).

It’s impossible to capture in one blog post the many ways that FDA’s focus on regulatory science is helping drive innovation and speed the discovery, development, and delivery of medical products to prevent and cure disease and improve health. We are immeasurably proud of these accomplishments, which provide a strong foundation for continuing success.

Stephen M. Ostroff, M.D., is Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs

Naming and Biological Products

By: Janet Woodcock, M.D. and Karen Midthun, M.D.

To create market competition among biological products and lower costs, the Affordable Care Act created a new approval pathway for products that are biosimilar to and interchangeable with FDA-licensed biological products. The FDA is committed to encouraging the development of these biosimilar and interchangeable products. Biological products derived from living organisms can treat patients with cancer, chronic kidney diseases and auto‐immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Janet Woodcock

Janet Woodcock, M.D.

Earlier this year, the agency approved the first biosimilar, and other products are in development. But one key issue is how to name biological products to ensure safe use and foster acceptance of these new products.

So today we are releasing a draft guidance that details the FDA’s proposal on the nonproprietary naming of biological products.

Our draft guidance proposes that reference products and biosimilars have nonproprietary names (also called proper names) that share a core drug substance name and, in order to better identify each product, an FDA-designated suffix that is unique for each product. This suffix would be composed of four lowercase letters, and not carry any meaning. For example, the nonproprietary name of a reference product could be replicamab-cznm, and a biosimilar to that product could be replicamab-hixf.

For interchangeable biological products, our proposal requests feedback from the public about whether the nonproprietary name for such a product should include a distinct suffix, or should share the same suffix as its reference product (e.g., the nonproprietary name of both the reference product and the interchangeable product could be replicamab-cznm).

The proposed naming convention seeks to address two main issues:

  • To help prevent inadvertent substitution (which could lead to medication errors) of biological products that are not determined to be interchangeable by the FDA; and,
  • To support safety monitoring of all biological products after they are on the market, by making it easier to accurately track usage of biological products in all settings of care, such as outpatient, hospital, and pharmacy settings.
Dr. Karen Midthun

Karen Midthun, M.D.

FDA is also considering, and has requested public input on, the benefits and challenges of other naming approaches, such as a suffix derived from the name of the license holder.

In addition to thinking ahead, we must also consider what we need to do to address previously approved biological products that have nonproprietary names without a suffix. Applying the naming convention to these products would encourage routine use of designated suffixes in ordering, prescribing, dispensing, and recordkeeping practices and avoid inaccurate perceptions of the safety and effectiveness of biological products based on their licensure pathway.

Along those lines, FDA is seeking comment on the best approach to implement this naming convention for previously licensed products. FDA also is issuing a proposed rule to designate nonproprietary names that contain a suffix for six previously licensed biological products. Each of the six products is either a reference product for an approved or publicly disclosed biosimilar product application or a biological product that is either biosimilar to or related to one of these reference products.

We encourage the public to provide input on the FDA draft guidance and proposed rule by making comments to the appropriate dockets. We will consider all comments as we finalize the guidance and the rule. We also invite the public to respond to the questions posed by FDA in the notice announcing the availability of the draft guidance and will consider these responses in finalizing the guidance and the rule.

For more information: www.fda.gov/biosimilars

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

Karen Midthun, M.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research

Biosimilars: New guidance from FDA to help manufacturers develop more treatment options

By: Leah Christl, Ph.D.

FDA has taken important new steps to continue to help manufacturers develop biologic products called biosimilars. Biosimilars are highly similar to, and have no clinically meaningful differences from, an already approved biological product. Biosimilars can provide more treatment options for patients, and possibly lower treatment costs.

Leah ChristlIn early March, FDA approved the first biosimilar, Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz), a biosimilar to Neupogen (filgrastim), used to help stimulate growth of white blood cells in patients with cancer and help them fight infection.

That’s a great start and we are pleased to see the progress. Manufacturers are working hard to develop more biosimilars for the U.S. market. By nature, biologic products are highly complex molecules, so developing biosimilar versions of these products is challenging. FDA is also working hard to help those manufacturers bring more biosimilars to the market.

Over the past few weeks, we have released four guidances for industry — useful tools to help manufacturers navigate the new terrain of biosimilar development.

  • One assists companies in demonstrating that a proposed product is indeed biosimilar to an existing biologic product, and is intended to provide clarity to manufacturers about the expectations for a biosimilar development program.
  • A second focuses on the analytical studies that demonstrate that the product is “highly similar” to an existing biological product, which supports the demonstration of biosimilarity.
  • A third guidance answers common questions about the biosimilar development and application process and contains information intended to provide a better understanding of the law that allows biosimilars development. 
  • A fourth, still in draft form — which means we are accepting public comment — answers a variety of additional questions that have arisen regarding the biosimilars development process.

Each of these guidances was developed to help industry more efficiently and effectively develop new biosimilars for patients in need.

Many of our most important, but also expensive, drugs are biological products. These products are used to treat patients who have a variety of serious and life-threatening medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes, and cancer.

Having more approved biosimilars is good for public health. FDA looks forward to continuing to help manufacturers develop these important products.

Leah Christl, Ph.D., is FDA’s Associate Director for Biosimilars, Office of New Drugs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research