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New Rule: Transition to BLA Pathway Is Complete


As of today, the FDA has completed a 10-year process to bring a wider set of biologics under the biologics license pathway for approval.

As of today, March 23, 2020, the life sciences industry completes “the transition.” New categories of biologics will now be licensed via the biologics approval pathway under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA).

This transition occurs 10 years after the 2009 enactment of the BPCIA. During that interim, manufacturers of certain biologics approved and under review for approval were in limbo as to how their products and rights of exclusivity would be treated under the new policy.

Now, biologics previously approved under section 505 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDC) will automatically be “deemed” biologics licensed under section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS). Ultimately, these drugs will be categorized as biologics, subject to biosimilar and not generic competition.

Unfortunately, the original BPCIA statute did not provide instructions to the FDA on how to implement this change. Therefore, the FDA has taken certain steps to enact the transition via several proposed rules and the implementation of its Biosimilars Action Plan (BAP).

The BAP was released in July 2018. The plan is in 2 sections. The first defines key areas in which the FDA wants to focus its regulatory efforts: improving clarity and efficiency of the biosimilar approval process, enhancing understanding through better public communications, and addressing anticompetitive practices.

The second section is made up of key actions. These are steps that the FDA is either taking or planning to take to improve review processes, create information resources, upgrade guidance, and encourage public feedback. Many of these actions have already been initiated.

On February 21, 2020, the FDA released a final rule that goes into effect today. It amends the FDA’s regulatory definition of a biological product so that it is aligned with the BPCIA. “Under the final rule, the term protein means any alpha amino acid polymer with a specific defined sequence that is greater than 40 amino acids in size.” This is one of the final steps in the 10-year transition process. It opens the door for insulins to be approved via the biologics license application (BLA) pathway.

Over 100 products that had been approved via new drug applications under the FDC now must be reviewed as BLAs under section 351 of the PHS. Drugs that will be transitioned include naturally occurring proteins such as hyaluronidase, human growth hormones, and menotropins.

The FDA is focusing on insulins and has made waves with the release of draft guidance on insulin biosimilars. The FDA indicated that switching studies may not be needed for a designation of interchangeable insulins if analytical assessments suggest high similarity between biosimilars and reference products. This could speed the arrival to market of the first interchangeable biosimilars in the United States for insulin.

The FDA has also released 2 question-and-answer documents that discuss the transition for patients and healthcare providers. With the BAP and guidance, the FDA has signaled that they are moving forward with the transition as a means of introducing more affordable medicines into the healthcare system—specifically, by expanding the use of biosimilars.

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