Truth in biosimilar labeling
By Peter J. Pitts
Recently the FDA issued draft guidance on labeling for biosimilar products. In two words, no surprises – which for some is better news than for others.
The top of Page 8 will get a lot of attention:
FDA recommends that biosimilar product labeling incorporate relevant data and information from the reference product labeling, with appropriate product-specific modifications. The relevant data and information from the reference product labeling that should be incorporated into the biosimilar product labeling will depend on whether the applicant is seeking approval for all conditions of use (e.g., indication(s), dosing regimen(s)) or fewer than all conditions of use of the reference product for the biosimilar product.
In sections of the biosimilar product labeling that are based on the reference product labeling, it is anticipated that the text will be similar. Text based on the reference product labeling need not be identical and should reflect currently available information necessary for the safe and effective use of the biosimilar product. Certain differences between the biosimilar and reference product labeling may be appropriate. For example, biosimilar product labeling conforming to PLR and/or PLLR may differ from reference product labeling because the reference product labeling may not be required to conform to those requirements at the time of licensure of the biosimilar product. In addition, biosimilar product labeling may include information specific to the biosimilar product necessary to inform safe and effective use of the product, which could include differences such as administration, preparation, storage, or safety information that do not otherwise preclude a demonstration of biosimilarity.
To “inform safe and effective use.” Sounds good on paper – but what does it mean? Always? Sometimes? What are the parameters? If there’s information available, why not share it all the time? Or not at all? Who’s to judge? Can we rely on regulatory predictability – and this early in the biosimilar experience? Isn't more information better?
Of course, in order to maintain maximum regulatory, um, flexibility --
FDA acknowledges that there will be variations on the general concepts outlined in this section because the approach to product identification will depend on the specific statements.
(Note – author highlights, not FDA’s.)
An update article in Modern Healthcare makes an interesting point, “Federal regulators are likely trying to simplify physicians' understanding of the products' efficacy and safety. By definition, a biosimilar product has no clinically meaningful difference in terms of safety, purity and potency.”
If what practicing physicians understand about biosimilars is anything akin to the knowledge scale of the FDA’s Arthritis Advisory Committee -- as demonstrated during the meeting that considered the biologics license application for a proposed biosimilar to Remicade (infliximab) – then the agency’s attempt at “simplification” may result in some very serious unintended consequences. From the very beginning of the adcomm, it was clear the expert members of the committee didn’t understand what biosimilars really are, nor the pathway the agency uses to review them. Not good.
Per being upfront that the product is a biosimilar, the agency is unambiguous:
FDA recommends inclusion of a statement, on the line immediately beneath the initial U.S. approval date in Highlights, that the product is biosimilar to the reference product.
Although the FDA notes that the labeling does not need to be identical to information based on the reference product, it’s a pretty safe bet that manufacturers of biologics will likely take issue with competitors using their data for a product that is not exactly the same.
But from a straightforward public health standpoint, why omit truthful and accurate information from the information available to physicians and patients?
Shouldn’t labeling transparency be a key tenet in the Era of Biosimilars?