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U.S. Food & Drug Administration Acts to Bolster Supply of Critically Needed Cancer Drugs Including Doxil

Posted by Paul Cacciatore on February 21, 2012

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced a series of steps to (i) increase the supply of critically needed cancer drugs, and (ii) build upon President Obama’s Executive Order to help prevent future drug shortages.  To alleviate the Doxil cancer drug shortage, the FDA approved  the temporary importation of a replacement drug named “Lipodox” (doxorubicin hydrochloride liposome injection), with the expectation of  ending the U.S. shortage and fully meeting patient needs in the coming weeks. Doxil is an important weapon in the fight against recurrent ovarian cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced a series of steps designed to increase the supply of critically needed cancer drugs, and build upon President Obama’s Executive Order, dated October 31, 2011 (No. 13588), in an attempt to prevent future drug shortages.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Food & Drug Administration

“A drug shortage can be a frightening prospect for patients and President Obama made it clear that preventing these shortages from happening is a top priority of his administration,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “Through the collaborative work of the FDA, industry, and other stakeholders, patients and families waiting for these products or anxious about their availability should now be able to get the medication they need.”

In response to the critical shortage of the cancer drug Doxil (doxorubicin hydrochloride liposome injection) and rapidly declining supplies of methotrexate, the FDA took proactive steps needed to increase available supply for patients in the U.S.

For Doxil, there will be temporary importation of a replacement drug named “LipoDox” (doxorubicin hydrochloride liposome injection), which is expected to end the shortage and fully meet patient needs in the coming weeks.

For methotrexate, in addition to already announced actions, the FDA approved a new manufacturer of preservative-free formulation of methotrexate that is expected to further bolster supply and help avert a shortage of this lifesaving medicine. the FDA expedited review of the application to help address this potential shortage.

In response to President Obama’s Executive Order #13588 regarding prescription drug shortages, the FDA today issued draft guidance to industry which provides detailed requirements for both mandatory and voluntary notifications to the FDA of issues that could result in a drug shortage or supply disruption. Because of President Obama’s Executive Order #13588 and the FDA’s letter to manufacturers on the same day, increased awareness of the importance of early notification has resulted in a sixfold increase in voluntary notifications by industry of potential shortages. In 2011, there were a total of 195 drug shortages prevented. Since the issuance of Presidential Executive Order #13588, the FDA has prevented 114 drug shortages.

Under the FDA’s exercise of enforcement discretion, the chemotherapeutic drug LipoDox will be imported as an alternative to Doxil. Doxil is used in multiple treatment regimens, including treatment of ovarian cancer after failure of platinum-based chemotherapy (e.g., carboplatin or cisplatin). The drug is also indicated for use in AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma and multiple myeloma. The FDA anticipates that the incoming supply of LipoDox will be able to fully meet patient needs.

The FDA’s exercise of enforcement discretion for Lipodox is a temporary, limited arrangement specific to Sun Pharma Global FZE (a United Arab Emirates entity) and its authorized distributor, Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories Ltd. (a U.S. subsidiary of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., a leading Indian pharmaceutical company).

Temporary importation of unapproved foreign drugs is considered in rare cases when there is a shortage of an approved drug that is critical to patients and the shortage cannot be resolved in a timely fashion with FDA-approved drugs.

When a company is identified that is willing and able to import the needed drug product, the FDA evaluates the foreign-approved drug to ensure that it is of adequate quality and that the drug does not pose significant risks for U.S. patients. Only after successful evaluation of these factors does the FDA exercise its enforcement discretion for the temporary importation of an overseas drug into the U.S. market.

Methotrexate is a drug that is needed for the treatment of many forms of cancer and other serious diseases. For example, preservative-free methotrexate is needed for the intrathecal (injection into the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) treatment of children with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), as well as high-dose therapy of osteosarcoma.

To alleviate the shortage of methotrexate, the FDA has successfully engaged several firms to assist in maintaining supplies to meet all patient needs. First, the FDA has prioritized the review and approval of a preservative-free methotrexate generic drug manufactured by APP Pharmaceuticals (APP) and expects that product to become available in March 2012 and continue indefinitely. Second, Hospira expedited release of additional methotrexate supplies, resulting in 31,000 vials of new product – enough for more than one month’s worth of demand – being shipped to hundreds of U.S. hospitals and treatment centers today. The FDA is actively working with other manufacturers of methotrexate who have also stepped up to increase drug production for the purpose of meeting patient needs, including Mylan and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals.

APP’s application for preservative-free methotrexate is a supplement to its already approved generic drug application that the firm had previously discontinued. When the FDA became aware of potential problems with the supply of the drug (attributable to the voluntary plant closing of the largest methotrexate manufacturer, Ben Venue Laboratories), the agency reached out to other firms to see how the FDA could assist to meet the shortfall.

Prior to the approval of APP’s application, and the subsequent Ben Venue Laboratories’ voluntary shutdown, the FDA worked with Ben Venue on release of already manufactured preservative-free methotrexate, following its confirmation of the safety of remaining drug inventory. This supply is available already and will provide emergency supplies as the other firms also work to increase production of methotrexate in response to requests by the FDA and the public.

On October 31, 2011, the Obama Administration also announced its support for bipartisan legislation that would (i) require all prescription drug shortages to be reported to the FDA, and (ii) give the FDA new authority to enforce these requirements. While additional manufacturing capacity is necessary to fully address the drug shortage problem, additional early notification to the FDA can have a significant, positive impact on addressing the incidence and duration of drug shortages.

For more FDA information relating to the U.S. drug shortage, please click on the topics listed below:

Drug Shortages

Drug Shortage Guidance (“Guidance for Industry — Notification to FDA of Issues that May Result in a Prescription Drug or Biological Product Shortage – Draft Guidance,” dated February 2012)

Labeling for Doxil (doxorubicin hydrochloride liposome injection)

Letter from Sun Pharma Global FZE to healthcare professionals regarding doxorubicin, dated January 27, 2012.

FDA letter to Industry regarding drug shortage, dated October 31, 2011.

Labeling for methotrexate

Consumer Inquiries: 888-INFO-FDA

About the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The FDA is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Source: FDA acts to bolster supply of critically needed cancer drugs, FDA News Release, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, February 21, 2012.

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