This blog was originally published on McDermott’s Antitrust Alert Blog.

On February 4, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released joint guidance concerning competition for biologics, including biosimilars. The joint guidance seeks to enhance competition for biologics and reduce manufacturers’ use of false or misleading statements or promotional communications concerning the efficacy or safety of biosimilars and other biologics. This guidance appears to be part of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce the cost of medications for consumers, as it is aimed at increasing the level of competition biosimilars can offer and raising awareness of the safety and efficacy of biosimilars.

The fast-growing biologics market has become an important sector of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. According to the joint guidance, private insurers spent over $125 billion on biologics in 2018 alone. Biologics treat many serious conditions that often lack alternative treatment options. Although Congress enacted an abbreviated FDA-approval process for biosimilars nearly a decade ago, adoption of biosimilars has been relatively slow. The FTC and the FDA will focus on competition for biologics in hopes of improving patient access to important treatment options and curbing costs. The joint guidance highlights the agencies’ efforts to transfer recent investigatory and enforcement efforts to biologics markets.

The joint guidance sets forth goals for which the FTC and the FDA will agree to collaborate in their efforts to support adoption of biosimilars and enhance competition in biologics markets. These goals build on recent efforts by both agencies to deter anticompetitive conduct in the pharmaceutical industry more broadly. The joint goals include:


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In 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), which contained provisions to help accelerate medical product innovation while reducing regulatory burden, as well as to increase efforts for critical research and increase the involvement of patients and their perspectives in research and the product development process. The Cures Act specifically provided the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to modernize product development and review, and create greater efficiencies and predictability in product development and review. In June 2018, in response to this congressional mandate and corresponding new authorities, as well as reauthorizations of FDA’s user fee agreements, FDA made a series of announcements for a proposal to modernize new drug development.

Highlights of FDA’s initial proposal included:

  • Focusing on recruiting talent across disciplines;
  • Building multidisciplinary teams for more efficient collaboration;
  • Prioritizing operational excellence through a single and consistent review process;
  • Improving knowledge management through enhancements to information technology and honed expertise within review divisions;
  • Emphasizing safety and risk-benefit analysis before and after approval; and
  • Incorporating the patient voice into product development.

As articulated by former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, “[a] principal aim of these proposed changes is to elevate the role of . . . scientists and medical officers to take on even more thought leadership in their fields.”  The agency contemplates implementing organizational and structural changes that make drug review divisions more therapeutically-focused to promote efficient review and transparency in – as well as patient and stakeholder access to – the review process. According to the agency, these and other changes that are part of the Cures Act will result in a 20 percent improvement in efficiency.


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WHAT HAPPENED

On July 18, 2018, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb delivered a speech at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, discussing how to bolster competition from biosimilars while maintaining innovation.

The Commissioner noted the absence of true competition among biologics from biosimilar products in the United States, similarly to what