Pharmacovigilance: Trust but Verify

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  • 05/30/2014

It seems that every day there’s another headline about a serious issue involving generic drug quality. And how to improve the agency’s evaluation of these products drugs was a top priority when the agency recently compiled its regulatory science goals.

In a new Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), the FDA has announced a roadmap that will be funded from a pot of up to $50 million, and it reveals some of the difficulties facing the agency as it works to get a handle on an industry riddled with unanswered questions as companies start to produce more-and-more complex products.

In the BAA, the FDA lays out five broad areas (Post-market Evaluation of Generic Drugs; Equivalence of Complex Products; Equivalence of Locally Acting Products; Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluation and Standards; Computational and Analytical Tools) in which it wants to improve its generic evaluation capabilities and invites organizations to submit proposals detailing how they can help. Many of the specific goals focus on the equivalence between generics and their innovator forbearers. The FDA is particularly interested in methods to compare the bioavailability of complex and locally-acting products. Questions about the bioavailability of generic drugs and its impact on therapeutic effects are as old as the industry itself, but the industry's expansion into new dosage forms--such as sustained release injections and inhaled products--throws up fresh concerns.

Per a report in Fierce Pharma, the FDA is also looking at more human aspects of switching from innovative to generic drugs, with the agency keen to know what patients think about the quality and effectiveness of copycats and how tablet size affects substitution. High-profile quality failings at Ranbaxy, Sun Pharma and Wockhardt could have tainted the public's perception of generics, a possibility the FDA wants to understand while also working to get better at spotting problems early.

Other, less generic-focused aspects of the roadmap also deal with this goal. The FDA wants to develop sensitive, rapid, high-throughput methods to spot microbes, and assess ways other than sterilization to remove such contaminants. The technology is one of several ways the FDA wants to retool its capabilities and those of the industry, with the document also calling for investigations into continuous manufacturing, process analytical technologies and Quality-by-Design.

21st century pharmacovigilance must also include tighter and more regularly monitored post-approval bioequivalence measures. Recent recalls of products such as Budeprion (Wellbutrin) and Metoprolol (Toprol) offer vivid examples. "We are losing control over what people are swallowing," said Dr. Harry Lever, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. It’s a new and difficult task and calls for better validated methodologies for both data collection and signal prioritization.

Another key regulatory question is the appropriate role of regulators in coordinating input from crucial partners such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, disease organizations, patients, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. “Real World” event monitoring must become as specific and informing as in a clinical trial environment. To borrow a term from the nuclear disarmament discussion, 21st century pharmacovigilance must work with its various colleagues to “trust, but verify.”


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.

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