By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
The FDA launched its Drug Competition Action Plan more than a year ago, with the aim of advancing policies that would promote robust generic drug entry as a way to foster competition and lower drug prices. Access to drugs is a matter of public health. And among the best ways to help consumers get broader access to medicines is through policies that help ensure branded drugs are subject to timely generic competition.
Our work is far from finished. But the policies we’ve advanced are already showing benefits toward these goals. The benefits we’ve seen reinforce the fact that policy can be used as a vehicle to advance these purposes.
New resources have also helped advance our work. Owing in large measure to the FDA’s implementation of the Generic Drug User Fee Amendments of 2012 (GDUFA), which funded critical enhancements to FDA’s generic drugs program, our staff eliminated the backlog of generic drug applications. In 2017, we also approved the largest number of generic drugs in the FDA’s history.
As part of GDUFA, as well as through our own new efforts, the FDA also has put policies in place to promote generic drug development in areas where there’s inadequate competition. This includes a focus on developing new guidance aimed at promoting development of generic versions of complex drugs. These are drugs that are often harder to copy. By advancing clear, objective, science-based guidance for developing generic copies of complex drugs, we hope to foster more competition.
And the FDA also has improved the efficiency and predictability of the generic drug review process to help promote more robust generic drug competition. For example, we’re prioritizing the review of generic drug applications for which there are no blocking patents or exclusivities. The aim is to promote competition so that there are at least four approved applications for each product (including the brand drug). Our data shows that there are significant price decreases once there are at least three generic drugs on the market. Our new policy will help ensure that there is robust competition across the market that will drive down drug costs to consumers.
In addition, we’re taking other new steps to curtail various forms of “gaming” by brand companies, where some sponsors sometimes adopt tactics that seek to delay entry of generic competition.
But we know that we need to do even more to promote access and competition. And so we’ve put forward a broader plan, as part of the President’s Budget, to achieve these aims.
Toward these goals, the President’s fiscal year 2019 Budget Request included $37.6 million to fund two initiatives that will help modernize aspects of our generic drug review process.
The first initiative will create a new review platform — the Knowledge-aided Assessment & Structured Application (KASA) platform — to modernize generic drug review from a text-based to a data-based assessment. The KASA will enable a structured review that will make the application review process more efficient, and allow deficiencies to be spotted earlier. This will allow the FDA to provide earlier feedback to generic drug makers that will, in turn, help to reduce multiple cycles of application review, one of our key aims and a primary focus of our overall efforts to speed market access to new generic medicines. Going through multiple review cycles is one of the primary reasons why the approval of generic drug applications is sometimes delayed many years. The new KASA system will help sponsors submit high-quality and more complete applications on the first submission. It will decrease the risk that applications will be refused for receipt and reduce the number of review cycles that applications undergo.
We anticipate that the new platform will allow more generic applications to be approved after the first cycle. This will promote timely generic entry and increase overall competition.
The new platform will also enable more efficient and robust knowledge management across different aspects of the FDA’s review process, helping reviewers capture and manage all of the information about products allowing for more seamless and effective product surveillance based upon quality and risk. This system will benefit both the agency and generic drug sponsors by increasing overall speed and efficiency of the pre- and post-market processes.
Having a structured template that completely replaces the current largely narrative-based review will allow for more consistent and predictable entry and analysis of data. Current assessments require manual review of the entire application. KASA will enable automated analysis of some portions of the application, which will save time, and ensure consistency.
The second initiative is aimed at promoting the more widespread use of existing generic drugs by looking for ways to keep generic drug labeling up-to-date with the latest information about each medicine’s risks and benefits. Generic drugs are generally required to have the same labeling as the brand drug they reference. And the burden to update the labeling with new safety and effectiveness information is typically born by the brand company.
However, when brand reference drug companies voluntarily withdraw their marketing applications, they also stop updating their labeling. When this happens, the FDA loses a key mechanism that the agency relies on as a way to update generic labeling. This can stymie the ability to modernize generic labels. In turn, when labels become out-of-date, providers may not have complete information about the full range of benefits and risks of the product. This can serve to diminish the use of these lower cost alternatives.
Consistent with our current authorities, which allow for certain types of labeling changes to continue to be made for generic drugs after the brand drug is withdrawn, this budget request will provide the funding to allow the FDA to assume more responsibility to help bring these drug labels up to date. We intend to launch this initiative initially for oncology products.
Our goal is to help ensure that doctors and patients have up-to-date information for these products. This will better inform clinical decisions regarding these medicines, and help promote more widespread use of low-cost, generic alternatives. By ensuring generic product labels are up to date, we’ll promote wider and more clinically optimal use of these drugs, which can save patients money.
We appreciate that the appropriations committees of both chambers of Congress supported this budget request in their appropriations bills. Congress has long recognized the need for — and importance of – investments in our generic drug program and efforts to promote generic drug use. The benefits of these initiatives are significant to the FDA’s modernization and efficiency. They’ll help advance a robust generic drug market that drives product competition and lowers drug prices.
Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA