FDA Guides the Way to Biosimilars in the US

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Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-03-02-2012, Volume 36, Issue 3

Has the long-awaited guidance answered all of the industry's questions?

Almost two years to the date after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, introducing a regulatory pathway for biosimilar approval in the United States, FDA has released draft guidance for industry about how to get such a product into the marketplace.

Angie Drakulich

Industry has been at a pivotal standstill since the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCI Act) was passed in 2010, as part of the government's overall healthcare act, but biologics developers and manufacturers seem ready to pounce. According to a press briefing given by FDA's Rachel Sherman in early February, there have been 35 pre-investigational new drug (IND) meeting requests for proposed biosimilars to 11 reference products, 21 pre-IND sponsor meetings held, and 9 INDs received. Sherman is the associate director for Medical Policy within FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. With the doors to FDA's biosimilar review desk widened, those numbers are likely to skyrocket in the coming months.

The draft guidance—three documents to be exact—includes Scientific Considerations in Demonstrating Biosimilarity to a Reference Product; Quality Considerations in Demonstrating Biosimilarity to a Reference Protein Product; and Biosimilars: Questions and Answers Regarding Implementation of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009. FDA seems to have gone out of its way to anticipate and respond to key concerns in the documents, the first being whether animal and clinical data from a non-US licensed comparator drug can be used to demonstrate biosimilarity. The answer is yes, according to the Scientific draft guidance, although justification and adequate bridging data to a US-licensed reference product will be required in these cases.


Another question addressed is which studies a sponsor needs to perform and submit as part of its 351(k) application—the route to be taken for biosimilar approval. The BPCI Act set the stage for these requirements, and the draft Scientific guidance states that companies must include "analytical studies that demonstrate that the biological product is highly similar to the reference product notwithstanding minor differences in clinically inactive components; animal studies (including the assessment of toxicity); and a clinical study or studies (including the assessment of immunogenicity and pharmacokinetics or pharmacodynamics) that are sufficient to demonstrate safety, purity, and potency in one or more appropriate conditions of use for which the reference product is licensed and intended to be used and for which licensure is sought for the biological product."

Other items provided in the guidance documents are clear definitions for "protein" and "chemically synthesized polypeptides." These definitions are crucial because the pathway legislation added "protein" to the definition of a biological product for the first time.

Also noted are pediatric assessments, which the draft guidance states are required for a biosimilar product that is not deemed "interchangeable." Pediatric study plans should therefore be part of IND applications.

Overall, FDA is focusing on a step-wise approach for manufacturers and a "totality-of-the-evidence" approach for regulatory assessment for biosimilars. Essentially, the manufacturer needs to look at each step of biosimilarity demonstration, starting with extensive structural and functional characterization of both the proposed product and the reference product, to evaluate "the extent to which there is residual uncertainty about the biosimilarity of the proposed product" and then "identify next steps to try to address that uncertainty." For FDA's part, the agency will be reviewing the "totality of data and information submitted in the application...."

Looking ahead, Sherman noted during the February press briefing that FDA still plans to address naming and tracking standards for biosimilars as well as additional exclusivity issues, which are addressed only briefly in the Q&A draft guidance.

Also on the docket for the future: standards for "interchangeability." Once a product is proved to be biosimilar, a sponsor can work to demonstrate interchangeability, meaning that the biosimilar product produces the same clinical result as the reference product in any given patient, explained Sherman.

Public comments on the draft guidance documents are due to FDA through the Federal Register and will be used to shape the final guidance—hopefully sooner rather than later. The European Union has been ahead of the US in the biosimilar game for years, with approximately 14 approved products under its regional belt. It will be interesting to watch how the global market reacts to FDA's long-anticipated movement forward in this area.

Angie Drakulich is editorial director of Pharmaceutical Technology. Send your thoughts and story ideas to adrakulich@advanstar.com.