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Recall of Anemia Drug Omontys Rings Alarm Over Biosimilars

ATLANTA, Feb. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Makers of innovative biologics have legitimate reason to sound alarms about automatic substitution of biosimilars that have not proven their interchangeability – and it's not just because of the potential impact to their bottom line. That point was driven home by the recent recall of Affymax Inc. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.'s anemia drug Omontys (peginesatide), according to BioWorld.


Though Omontys is not a biosimilar, the unexpected postmarketing reports of serious hypersensitivity reactions (three patient deaths) linked to the erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA) served as a reminder of the variability of biologics, their sensitivity to minute manufacturing changes and the difficulty of catching a rare safety signal in the full-blown biologic development process – let alone an abbreviated biosimilar path, as noted in a blog post by BioWorld Washington Editor Mari Serebrov

This should give the FDA pause about its approach to biosimilar approval. Because of the variability of biologics, biotechs and patient advocacy groups have urged the agency to require safety data for biosimilars. While the FDA maintains that patient safety is its primary concern with any drug, it insists that since the reference biologic has demonstrated safety and efficacy, all a biosimilar must do is demonstrate similarity to the reference drug. The goal is not to require redundant clinical trials that would be expensive, unnecessary and unethical.

Neither the FDA nor most biotechs want the biosimilar path to fail. But they understand the complexities of making biologics, and they know that one disaster now could doom or indefinitely delay the new approval path.

Unfortunately, people unfamiliar with the differences between biologics and small molecule drugs, which are far less complex than biologics, too often equate biosimilars with generics. Since generics are unquestionably accepted as equivalent to small molecule reference drugs, they can be substituted automatically for the brand drug at the pharmacy. Yet even generics have had equivalency problems.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from a BioWorld Perspectives Blog post. Read the complete post:

BioWorld ‑ the industry's most trusted news service focused on the development of biologics for more than two decades ‑ has identified and profiled 139 key biosimilar developers with >276 biosimilars in their pipelines, according to The Biosimilars Game: A Scorecard for Opportunities, Threats and Critical Strategies, a new report by BioWorld Data. Call for details (800) 477-6307.

Contact: Lynn Yoffee

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