Congressional Hearing Fuels Debate on Follow-On Biologics

March 30, 2007
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors
ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

Washington, DC (Mar. 26)-The congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to evaluate the cost of biotech drugs as well as strategies for establishing an approval process for the US Food and Drug Administration approval of generic versions of these drugs.

Washington, DC (Mar. 26)-The congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (www.oversight.house.gov), chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) held a hearing to evaluate the cost of biotech drugs as well as strategies for establishing an approval process for the US Food and Drug Administration's approval of generic versions of these drugs. Janet Woodcock, MD, deputy commissioner for operations and chief medical officer at FDA was among those making a statement at the hearing entitled “Safe and Affordable Biotech Drugs-The Need for a Generic Pathway.”

Woodcock attributed part of the increasing interest in follow-on versions of approved protein products to “advances in manufacturing technology, process control, and characterization” of these products. She acknowledged that the nature of protein products makes comparisons of one protein to another and establishing safety and efficacy “more scientifically challenging” than for small-molecule drugs. Nonetheless, Woodcock also stated that the agency has “considerable experience with reviewing some protein products, including cases where the agency has considered the extent to which existing conclusions about safety and effectiveness of a protein product could be applicable to another protein product based on data and information showing the similarity of the products.”  

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO, www.bio.org) continues to voice strong opposition to the “Access to Life-Saving Medicine Act” (H.R. 1038), stating that the bill is “deeply flawed” because it “raises numerous patient safety concerns…It would eviscerate incentives to develop life-saving new medicines…[and] lacks data exclusivity for innovative biologics.” In its letter to the committee, BIO also states that the potential savings in healthcare costs resulting from the establishment of a pathway for regulatory approval of follow-on biologics is “substantially overestimated.”

Emphasizing a “vast difference” between generic pharmaceuticals and follow-on biologics, Jim Greenwood, BIO president and CEO, stated that “high manufacturing costs, the need for additional safety and efficacy in trials to test these products, and augmented efforts directed at doctors to encourage the use of similar, but not identical, drugs are expected to add to the prices associated with the follow-on product.”

Meanwhile, Kathleen Jaeger, president and CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA, www.gphaonline.org) released a statement emphasizing Woodcock’s statement that FDA “has the scientific expertise to review” generic biologics and the “same scientific principles that apply to the review of changes made to brand products after approval would also be underpinning the review of biogenerics.”

“[The] hearing also proved that the claim by PhRMA and BIO that the legislation will restrict FDA’s ability to require testing is simply false,” said Jaeger, claiming the organizations are “playing the scare-tactics card.”