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Tag: biogenerics legislation

Biotech Takes Steps to Fight Generic Threat

Written by on Monday, August 13th, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an interesting article last week on the steps that the biotech industry is taking to protect itself against the threat of generic copies, as patents run out and the threat of biogenerics legislation looms ahead.

The Chronicle reported on the issue as follows:

Whether many biotech companies will be able to beat the generic threat through innovation is an open question. But many will try. . . .

Traditional pharmaceutical companies, whose pills and tablets have been vulnerable to generic competition since 1984, have struggled to roll out significantly improved medicines before patents expired. Revenues for drugs such as the antidepressant Zoloft and the sleeping pill Ambien are plunging as generic sales rise.

“It remains to be seen if the same thing will happen in biotech,” Citigroup analyst Yaron Werber said. Some of the signs for biotech are favorable. “The industry continues to be a leader in innovation,” he said. That capacity for innovation is a significant added business risk for generic manufacturers who venture into the biotech realm, Werber said.

So what is the industry doing to prepare?

According to the Chronicle, Genentech is putting brand-names of its drugs on the market to compete with the drugs that are about to lose protection, and is also putting next-generation versions of its own drugs on the market.

In contrast, the Chronicle reported that other companies are racing to develop improved generic versions of the brand name drug.  The Chronicle stated as follows:

Two Bay Area companies, Affymax Inc. of Palo Alto and FibroGen Inc. of South San Francisco, are among the manufacturers working on next-generation drugs they hope will capture market share from Epogen and similar branded drugs. Affymax’s experimental compound Hematide requires less-frequent dosing. Theoretically, it could help patients avoid a very rare side effect associated with Epogen-like drugs.

All in all, the Chronicle put a positive spin on the issue, emphasizing that the industry was not concerned, arguing that the threat of biogenerics and the impending loss of patent protection just encouraged the industry to move forward with the development of more innovations.

Is this media spin or an accurate reflection of the mood of the industry?  My guess is that it is a little of both.  Smart industry players have to think ahead on how they will survive if biogenerics legislation becomes a reality, but one cannot help but question whether they are really as unconcerned as the Chronicle suggests.

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Genzyme’s Example of Myozyme: A Case Study for Why Biogenerics Legislation is a Bad Idea?

Written by on Monday, August 13th, 2007

Rebecca Zacks in XConomy provided an excellent overview of a blogosphere controversy that erupted last week over biogenerics legislation, in response to an article run by the Wall Street Journal on Genzyme’s recent difficulties in manufacturing the drug Myozyme at a second plant.

Zacks provided some background to the issue:

Myozyme, approved by the FDA last year for the treatment of an inherited muscle disorder called Pompe disease, could be a big source of revenue for Genzyme—the drug can cost more than $300,000 per year for an adult patient, according to the Journal article. But Genzyme has been unable to scale up production of the drug because the FDA has so far declined to approve a Boston plant meant to be its main source. While the company waits for that approval, it is providing some U.S. patients with free doses from a different plant in Framingham, MA—the one that produced the drug for the clinical trials—on an experimental basis. (The Framingham product is already approved for sale in other countries, but not the U.S.)

What’s stalling approval of the new factory, according the article, is a chemical difference between the Myozyme produced in Framingham and that produced in Boston.

Zack cited Wall Street Journal’s David Armstrong, who followed up on the Journal’s article with the following explanation:

Genzyme is having trouble persuading the FDA to sign off on Myozyme made in big batches. The agency wants to be sure the drug produced in large tanks is the same as the stuff Genzyme made successfully on a smaller scale.

Making biologics is complicated work, and that’s one reason the biotech industry has voiced caution about legislation to allow generic versions of the medicines.

In the case of Myozyme, billions of cells from hamster ovaries growing in large stainless steel tanks produce the enzyme Pompe patients lack. The fact that Genzyme, which has loads of biotech experience, is having such difficulty ramping up production of its own drug heightens worries about the ability of generic manufacturers to accurately copy brand-name biotech drugs.

Even small differences in these drugs could affect patients. Myozyme made in the big tanks contains less of a key carbohydrate that is believed to help certain muscle cells absorb the drug. Less absorption could reduce the drug’s effectiveness.

However, Zacks acknowledged that not all the bloggers give any real credence to the biotech’s industry’s position or to the argument that Myozeme should be a case study for why biogenerics legislation is a bad idea, citing Venture Beat’s David Hamilton, who had his own take on the controversy, arguing that the Wall Street Journal “missed a much more important point about biogenerics: [t]he double standard that the biotech industry holds” on determining the equivalence of different batches of drugs.  Hamilton wrote as follows:

The first issue here is that there’s nothing new about biotechs finding that new production batches of a complicated protein differ in certain ways from older batches. . . . Sometimes these differences are serious; more often, they’re not. . . .

The second issue — and those of you who’ve followed these debates can probably see where I’m going — is that the biotech industry wants to have it both ways when it comes to the “complicated work” of making biologics. Where biogenerics are concerned, the industry insists that copycat versions of biotech drugs must undergo those expensive and lengthy clinical trials in the interests of “patient safety.” When it comes to their own drugs, however, biotech companies are perfectly willing to rely on a battery of simpler tests to ensure that a new production batch is equivalent to an old one, and only run clinical trials as a last resort (and when forced to by the FDA).

All of which suggests that it would probably suffice to subject any would-be copycat drug to the same set of tests that biotech manufacturers themselves must meet for a new production facility. If it passes, it’s approved. If not, then it’s time to consider clinical trials. In fact, this is pretty much the “case-by-case” strategy adopted by the House and Senate biogenerics bills — ones that I’m pretty sure the Biotechnology Industry Organization opposed. In any event, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that journalists covering these debates realize that the case against biogenerics is a lot weaker than the industry would like us to think.

All in all, Zacks effectively captured a very interesting blogosphere debate on yet another aspect of the biogenerics controversy.  As you know if you follow this blog, I have indicated repeatedly in prior blogposts my view that biogenerics legislation is going to have a negative impact on the biotech industry.  I think I would agree with Venture Beat that this is the principal problem with biogenerics legislation, and that the argument that biogenerics legislation will somehow lead to dangerous copies of drugs being on the market is a fairly weak attempt at scaring the public and/or legislators into voting against such legislation.  There is already a mechanism in place to regulate drugs on the market–the FDA regulatory powers.  The much larger issue is what biogenerics legislation will do to discourage biotech innovations that should be a concern to all of us out there.  We all want to be able to afford to buy the drugs we need, but at the same time, we also want access to medications that will make us well when we come down with a horrible illness.  We should not lose sight that without a profit incentive to developing those medications, they won’t be available when we need them.

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Case Study For Potential Impact of New Generics Legislation?

Written by on Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Pfizer may serve as a good case study for the potential impact of new generics legislation, in light of its reports today of plunging profits due to generic competition.

Dow Jones Marketwatch reported:

Pfizer Inc. said Wednesday its second-quarter profit fell 48%, largely due to generic competition for its top-selling drugs Zoloft, Norvasc and Lipitor. . . .

Pfizer’s top line has been under pressure in recent quarters because of the loss of patent protection for several of its once-popular products, such as Zoloft, Zithromax and, most recently, Norvasc.
Once a patent expires, other drugmakers are legally permitted to make generic versions of the drug, which are often sold at considerable discount.
Pfizer has said that it expects revenue to be largely flat until 2009, when it sees sales of newer products compensating for those lost to patent expirations.
Could the example of Pfizer serve as a case study for how new generics legislation could affect the biotech industry?
Certainly, drugs are patented today and will eventually go off patent, opening up the marketplace to generic competitors, which will of course affect the company’s bottom line, as in the case of Pfizer. However, this is the normal course of a patent.
If new generics legislation is implemented, though, could it be possible that we will see these kinds of profit drops across the industry?  Could the profits of the whole industry be slashed in half?
I think the example of Pfizer should yet again make us all stop and think about the potential impact of new generics legislation on the biotech industry across the board.

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