On August 4, 2014, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released its latest guidance in a series of guidance documents issued as part of its ongoing effort toward implementing a biosimilar approval pathway under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (BPCI Act). In contrast to previously released guidance which dealt with the scientific and regulatory considerations involved in reviewing biosimilar applications, such as the clinical pharmacology data required to demonstrate biosimilarity to a licensed biologic, this latest guidance outlines the FDA’s current thinking with respect to determining whether a licensed biologic is entitled to the exclusivity provided for in Section 351(k)(7)(C) of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act), as amended by the BPCI Act.
To spur the development of innovative and lifesaving biologic medicines, the BPCI Act amended the PHS Act to award periods of exclusivity to certain licensed biologics during which the FDA is prohibited from taking certain actions with respect to an application for a biosimilar version of those licensed biologics. The Act provides two relevant exclusivity periods which are both calculated from the date on which a licensed biologic was first licensed. The guidance refers to this date as the date of “first licensure.” Section 351(k)(7)(C) provides that licensure of an application for a biosimilar or interchangeable product under the BPCI Act may not be made effective until 12 years after, or submitted to the FDA for review until 4 years after, the date of first licensure of the licensed biologic referenced in the biosimilar application. Thus, establishing the date a licensed biologic was first licensed is critical to determining when the licensed biologic’s exclusivity ends and thus when biosimilar and interchangeable products may enter the market.
Typically, the date of first licensure is the initial date a given biologic product is licensed under 351(a). Not every licensure of a biological product under 351(a), however, is considered a “first licensure” that gives rise to its own exclusivity period. To assist stakeholders and reviewers at the FDA in determining whether licensure of a biologic product under 351(a) gives rise to its own exclusivity period, the guidance outlines circumstances in which a licensure would not be considered a “first licensure.” For example, the date of first licensure does not include the date of licensure for a supplement for the biological product that is the reference product, or a subsequent application by a biologic manufacturer or sponsor (or related entity) for a change to a licensed biologic that results in a new indication, route of administration, dosing schedule, dosage form, delivery system, delivery device, or strength, or a modification to the structure of the biological product that does not result in a change in safety, purity, or potency. In other words, for the date of licensure of a modified version of a biologic licensed under 351(a) to be considered the date of first licensure, there must be a modification to the structure of the biologic that results in a change in safety, purity, or potency.
The guidance notes that the FDA intends to determine on a case-by-case basis, based on data submitted by the sponsor, whether a structural modification to a licensed biologic results in a change in safety, purity, or potency that is sufficient to trigger its own exclusivity period. However, the guidance does not elaborate on how significant those changes must be for the modified biologic to obtain its own exclusivity period. In this manner, the guidance falls short of providing much needed certainty on the topic. It is important to remember, however, the guidance has not yet been finalized by the FDA and is subject to change. Moreover, in releasing the guidance that the FDA passed another major milestone toward implementing the biosimilar approval pathway created by the BPCI Act and shed some light on the topic of biologic exclusivity.