DC District Court Denies Ferring Motion to Enforce Judgment After FDA’s Surprise Change on NCE Exclusivity for PREPOPIK

February 20, 2018By Kurt R. Karst

The years-long battle over 5-year New Chemical Entity (“NCE”) exclusivity for Ferring Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s (“Ferring’s”) colonoscopy preparation, PREPOPIK (sodium picosulfate, magnesium oxide, and citric acid) for Oral Solution (NDA 202535; approved on July 16, 2012), may finally be at an end (pardon the pun). Last week, the U. S. District Court of the District of Columbia issued a Memorandum Opinion denying Ferring’s July 2018 Motion to Enforce Judgment (opposition and reply briefs available here and here) filed after FDA reversed course and issued a 9-page Letter Decision on June 9, 2017 concluding that under the Agency’s structure-centric interpretation of “active moiety” (rather than an activity-based interpretation), PREPOPIK is not eligible for 5-year NCE exclusivity.

As we previously reported, there’s quite a bit of back story to the PREPOPIK NCE exclusivity dispute. In short, after denying NCE exclusivity for PREPOPIK, FDA seemed to indicate that the Agecny would grant the exclusivity in light of the D.C. District Court’s September 2016 ruling in Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Burwell.  Judge Rudolph Contreras’s September 2016 Memorandum Opinion granted a Motion for Reconsideration filed by Ferring requesting reconsideration of the court’s March 2016 ruling that FDA’s pre-October 10, 2014 interpretation of the FDC Act’s NCE exclusivity provisions as applied to a newly approved Fixed-Dose Combination (“FDC”) drug product containing an NCE and a previously approved drug was not arbitrary and capricious. Although Judge Contreras initially backed FDA’s decision to deny NCE exclusivity for PREPOPIK, he reversed course after considering several precedents identified by Ferring in the company’s Motion for Reconsideration and remanded the matter to FDA.

Then came FDA’s June 9, 2017 Letter Decision concluding that PREPOPIK is not eligible for 5-year NCE exclusivity:

Upon further evaluation of the structure of sodium picosulfate during FDA’s consideration on remand, the Agency determined that sodium picosulfate is the di-sodium salt of a di-sulfate derivative of bis-(p-hydroxphenyl)-pyridyl-2-methane (BHPM) (Figure I). After excluding the salt and ester portions of sodium picosulfate, as FDA’s regulations require, what remains is BHPM. Therefore, BHPM is the active moiety in sodium picosulfate. BHPM is also the same active moiety as that of the drug substance bisacodyl, which was approved years before Prepopik.

Ferring promptly filed a Motion to Enforce Judgment with the DC District Court requesting that the court order FDA to recognize NCE exclusivity for PREPOPIK, and characterizing FDA’s exclusivity decision as an end-run of the court’s order. But in his 22-page February 13th Memorandum Opinion, Judge Contreras said that he is not persuaded by Ferring’s arguments:

Ferring [] argues that the FDA’s change in position regarding sodium picosulfate’s prior approval status violates the law of the case; that the agency is judicially estopped from changing its position in this manner; that the agency’s eleventh hour chemical analysis of sodium picosulfate impermissibly retroactively applies a new interpretation of the term “ester” and violates due process; and that the agency’s actions are arbitrary and capricious. . . . [T]he Court finds that the FDA’s actions on remand do not violate the law of the case and that the FDA is not judicially estopped from asserting its change in position concerning sodium picosulfate’s prior approval status. The Court also finds that Ferring’s arguments regarding retroactivity, due process, and arbitrary and capriciousness are not suitable for consideration within the context of a motion to enforce judgment.

Importantly, while the baseline for Ferring’s arguments was an apparent (and initial) shared understanding with FDA that focused on whether picosulfate was a NCE, Judge Contreras said that the court never relied on that understanding in his remand decision:

[T]he Court did not “rely” on the parties’ shared understanding that picosulfate was the active moiety in sodium picosulfate in reaching its decision, but rather focused on the issue presented to it: whether the application of the FDA’s original interpretation of the NCE five-year exclusivity provision to Prepopik was arbitrary and capricious, violating the APA. The identity of the active moiety in sodium picosulfate was not essential to the Court’s reasoning in reaching its decision, nor was it actually decided by the Court. Accordingly, although this remand gave Ferring the right to have its application adjudicated without the application of a particular arbitrary and capricious rule, it did not dictate a result in Ferring’s favor. Nor did it constrain the FDA’s decisionmaking process beyond the non-application of the rule that the Court had deemed arbitrary and capricious. On remand, agencies are permitted to come to the same conclusions as they had come to in the first instance, as long as they come to those conclusions for permissible reasons. . . . If there is a post-remand arbitrary and capricious, or otherwise invalid, final agency action that Ferring wishes to challenge, it may do so, but not through a motion to enforce the Court’s prior judgment.

As of this date, there’s been no indication that Ferring will appeal to the DC Circuit.