Wanted: Clarity on Biosimilarity

  • by: |
  • 04/16/2012

The official comment period is over and it's pretty clear that FDA’s February 9th biosimilar draft guidance has sparked resistance among some industry players – specifically over certain definitions and requirements. No surprises there.

Stakeholders sent criticisms over the suggested protocols as well as several recommendations for change. The draft guidance, contained in three documents, represent FDA’s interpretation of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation (BPCI) Act of 2009.


Two drug developers said that the agency should tighten its proposed biosimilarity standards. While commending FDA for “an excellent job drafting guidance on quality considerations for demonstrating biosimilarity to a reference product,” Genentech took issue with FDA’s proposed wording that manufacturers “should” thoroughly assess the analytical similarity of their biosimilars to their reference products, and  “should” perform in-depth chemical, physical, and bioactivity comparisons with side-by-side analyses of “an appropriate number of lots of the proposed biosimilar product and the reference product.” FDA also suggested that “where available and appropriate,” manufacturers compare their products with the reference standard for specific suitable attributes such as potency.

The assessment of the analytical similarity of a biosimilar product and the robustness of these methods are fundamental requirements for a biosimilarity assessment, and use of the word “should” implies that it does not necessarily need to be done, Genentech noted. “Please replace ‘should’ with ‘is expected to’ or ‘needs to,’” Genentech stated in a letter transmitted to the agency by Earl Dye, director of technical regulatory policy and strategy.

Novo Nordisk urged FDA to define biosimilars as products that are as similar as scientifically possible to their reference products, at least through sharing the same amino acid sequence, without exception, as their reference products. The company cited FDA’s emphasis on the importance the 3-D structures of proteins play in their biological functions and the ability of post-translational modifications to alter the proteins’ functions.

“FDA should never permit biosimilar applications for products that cannot be adequately characterized,” Novo Nordisk stated in its letter, signed by James C. Shehan, Novo Nordisk’s corporate vp, legal, government, and quality affairs.

Biosimilar producer Biocon counter-suggested that FDA should expect that the expression construct and/or the processing of a proposed product would result in the same primary amino acid sequence as the reference product. Some expression constructs may give a precursor protein that only after modification in the process will yield the same amino acid sequence as that of the reference product, Biocon noted in its letter, submitted by Siriam Akundi Ph.D., associate vp, quality, and regulatory.

Demonstrating Safety

Novo Nordisk also believes that biosimilar applicants “should always submit the results of comparative animal toxicity studies.” It added, “In the current state of science, some form of comparative safety and effectiveness testing will be necessary for almost all biosimilars.

“All biosimilar applicants should conduct at least one comparative clinical pharmacokinetic study and, where there is a relevant pharmacodynamic marker, at least one comparative clinical PD study,” Novo Nordisk added. “Similarly, a biosimilar applicant should always conduct at least one comparative clinical immunogenicity study.”

Two patient groups also called for FDA to promote greater safety. The Colon Cancer Alliance asked FDA to require “extensive” clinical testing of biosimilars, with a system capable of rigorously tracking and tracing them back to their product of origin. “It is critical to the safety of patients that these drugs be submitted to open and robust clinical studies and are marked with a unique and transparent product labeling system that will facilitate robust pharmacovigilance,” Global Healthy Living Foundation (GHLF) president Seth Ginsberg wrote in GHLF’s letter.


Ginsberg noted that it is difficult to designate a biosimilar as interchangeable with their innovator products unless there is sufficient data. He expressed concern that decisions on interchangeability could be made by pharmacists or insurers through states’ automatic substitution policies. “We believe that the choice of product should be decided only by patients and physicians, who are ultimately responsible for patient care and have the full spectrum of a patient’s medical history,” Ginsberg added.

Novo Nordisk urged FDA to confirm that it would not designate a new biosimilar delivery device or container closure system as interchangeable with its reference product “where additional training on the new device or system is necessary to guide safe use, or where the proposed delivery device or container closure has inequivalent performance or critical design features.”

And miles to go before …

“The keys to success for the biosimilar pathway are informing and educating patients and physicians on the benefits and safety challenges of replicating biologic drugs, providing a unique and distinctive naming and labeling system, and understanding that the FDA’s approval of a biosimilar as a standalone therapy does not mean that it is interchangeable with its biologic counterpart,” the Colon Cancer Alliance stated in its letter to FDA written by CEO Andrew Spiegel.

The alliance urged FDA to adopt a system that uses individual nonproprietary names for biologics and biosimilars, enabling physicians, patients, and regulators to differentiate between products easily—a suggestion also made by Novo Nordisk and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Biocon took issue with FDA’s requirement that sponsors provide “sufficient scientific justification” for extrapolating clinical data to support biosimilarity determinations for each condition of use for which a license is sought. “Once biosimilarity is established, and product is approved for one indication, no additional clinical studies should be expected for obtaining approval for other approved indications,” Biocon stated. “If the route of administration, dosing frequency, and dosage amount of the proposed biosimilar is identical to the reference product for each indication, any additional clinical studies should not be expected.”

Novo Nordisk also urged FDA to publish product-class specific guidance for biosimilar and bioequivalent applications for complex proteins, like the EMA has done. With all the discord that FDA’s draft biosimilar guidance has created, the agency will have to work to balance the interests of innovators, biosimilar developers, and patient groups. The agency will have to ensure that it does not tilt its final guidance toward developers of new drugs by rules that unduly impede biosimilars. Nor should it tilt its requirements toward biosimilar makers seeking less rigorous review. It won’t be easy, but balancing competing interests will ultimately benefit companies, researchers, and especially patients, by finally providing a biosimilar pathway in the U.S. 

And that's assuming the law that makes biosimilars possible remains on the books after the Supreme Court ruling.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog