The More You Know: FDA Provides Additional Guidance on Biosimilars

December 16, 2020By Sara W. Koblitz

Biosimilars have been around for a bit over 10 years now, and there has been tremendous progress in licensing new biosimilar products.  But there is no question that there are still significant holes that FDA must address to further facilitate biosimilar development under section 351(k) of the PHS Act.  Many of these questions relate to interchangeable products, as FDA and industry have had very limited experience with interchangeable biosimilars.  As of December 2020, FDA has approved 28 biosimilars, but not one has been approved as “interchangeable” for its reference product.  For this reason, FDA explicitly included “providing additional clarity” to product developers on interchangeability as an objective of the Biosimilar Action Plan announced in 2018.

In one recent attempt to provide such clarity, FDA published a new draft guidance entitled Biosimilarity and Interchangeability:  Additional Draft Q&As on Biosimilar Development and the BPCI Act.  This guidance is not a stand-alone guidance, but, when finalized, it will be added to the final guidance document Questions and Answers on Biosimilar Development and the BPCI Act.  Like FDA’s previous biosimilar guidance documents, the intent of this Q&A guidance is to “enhance transparency and facilitate the development and approval of biosimilar and interchangeable products” and “provide clarity for developers who want to demonstrate that their proposed biological product meets the statutory interchangeability standard under the Public Health Service Act.”  FDA Press Release, FDA Releases a Draft Q&A Guidance for Industry on Biosimilar and Interchangeable Product Development and the BPCI Act (Nov. 19, 2020).  To that end, this guidance provides further draft responses to frequently asked questions about biosimilars and interchangeability.

Specifically, the guidance addresses some procedural elements related to the submission of an interchangeable biosimilar application.  Because the BLA (sometimes called an “aBLA”) submission for a biosimilar and for an interchangeable are the same, industry has asked FDA for clarification on distinguishing interchangeable applications from biosimilars.  The guidance explains that a BLA for an interchangeable product must include an affirmative statement that the application seeks licensure for an interchangeable biosimilar; without that statement, FDA will evaluate the submission as a biosimilar application.  And if the applicant applies for interchangeable status but fails to meet that standard, FDA will bifurcate the application for administrative purposes.  In that circumstance, FDA could license the product as a biosimilar while separately reviewing and providing a Complete Response Letter outlining deficiencies for interchangeability.  FDA notes that the administrative “split” is the default in such circumstances, but the applicant can request that FDA only license the product if determined to be interchangeable.

FDA also provides guidance for sponsors of existing 351(a) or “deemed” BLAs that would like to be considered biosimilar to other approved biologics.  In such a case, FDA requires that the sponsor submit a new BLA under 351(k) containing data demonstrating that its product is biosimilar or interchangeable to the reference product.  Importantly, there is no need to revoke the original BLA, as a product may be on the market as both a stand-alone biologic and a biosimilar.

Finally, the guidance tackles biosimilar and interchangeable biosimilar labeling.  FDA explains that neither biosimilar nor interchangeable biosimilar labeling should include descriptions of the data used to demonstrate biosimilarity or interchangeability.  Because the biosimilarity studies are not safety and effectiveness studies, they do not facilitate understanding of a product’s safety and effectiveness and therefore do not belong in the product labeling.  FDA reiterates here that certain differences in labeling between interchangeable biosimilars and their reference products may be appropriate and highlights that an interchangeable product may be licensed for fewer than all of the reference product’s licensed conditions of use.  Notably, FDA expressly recommends that sponsors, whenever possible, seek approval for all conditions of use (which is probably good advice—at least for now—considering the Federal Circuit’s recent decision on induced infringement for carve-outs in the small molecule context).  Further, FDA recommends that sponsors of approved interchangeable biosimilars include the following labeling statement regarding interchangeability:

An interchangeable product (IP) is a biological product that is approved based on data demonstrating that it is highly similar to an FDA-approved reference product (RP) and that there are no clinically meaningful differences between the products; it can be expected to produce the same clinical result as the RP in any given patient; and if administered more than once to a patient, the risk in terms of safety or diminished efficacy from alternating or switching between use of the RP and IP is not greater than that from the RP without such alternation or switch. Interchangeability of [INTERCHANGEABLE BIOSIMILAR’S PROPRIETARY NAME] has been demonstrated for the condition(s) of use, strength(s), dosage form(s), and route(s) of administration described in its Full Prescribing Information.

As it does for all draft guidance documents, FDA encourages industry to submit comments on this guidance.  Comments are due by January 19, 2021.  Once final, these questions and responses will be incorporated into existing final guidance on biosimilars and interchangeability.