Fixed Dose Combination’ drugs market in India is growing faster – are there enough regulatory checks and balances to prevent market entry of ‘irrational combinations’ to ensure patients’ safety?

The WHO Model of FDCs:The 2005 ʹProcedure to update and disseminate the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, Criteria for Selection‘ includes the following statement regarding fixed dose combination products (FDCs):ʺMost essential medicines should be formulated as single compounds. Fixed‐dose combination products are selected only when the combination has a proven advantage over single compounds administered separately in therapeutic effect, safety, and adherence or in delaying the development of drug resistance in malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/ AIDS.ʺ

FDCs need to demonstrate clinical efficacy and safety beyond that for the individual drugs given alone. They would also need to ‘demonstrate bioequivalence of the single combined dose unit with the components administered in the same doses separately but concomitantly’.

‘Adherence’ aspect of WHO Model for FDCs is also important. Problems with ‘adherence’ could lead to inadequate and inconsistent dosing, which in turn could lead to development of drug resistance. FDCs, therefore, are expected to improve compliance reducing the risk of development of drug resistance.

However, one of the major disadvantages with the FDCs is lack of flexibility in adjusting dose of individual ingredients, even if it is required for some patients. Internationally, most popular example is the FDCs of antiretroviral drugs for HIV infected patients like, Combivir, Trzivir, Kaletra etc. Besides, there are FDCs for various other disease areas, like, infections, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders etc.

New FDCs are patent protected in the USA:

In the western world, like the USA, new FDCs may also get patent protection. A company may obtain marketing exclusivity for a new FDC even when individual active ingredients go off patent. However, in India FDCs cannot be patented as per Patent Acts of India 2005.

Market attractiveness for FDCs in India:

In India the market for FDCs is very large and growing much faster, in sharp contrast to the western world. Because of growing market demand, pharmaceutical companies in India tend to market FDCs of all different permutations and combination, at times even crossing the line of a ‘sound medical rationale’. For this reason, we find in the website of ‘Central Drugs Standard Control Organization’ (CDSCO), the banned list of so many FDCs.

Lack of regulatory compliance has created a messy situation with FDCs in India:

Introduction of new FDCs does not only warrant a ‘sound medical rationale’ but also ‘strict conformance to all prescribed regulatory requirements’ for the sake of patents’ safety.

To check unfettered market introduction of potentially harmful FDCs, the Ministry of Health issued a Notification in September 1988, including FDCs in Rule 122 E of the Drugs & Cosmetics Rules (D&CR) 1945. In effect, it removed the powers of the State FDAs to give manufacturing or marketing approval of FDCs. After the notification was issued, all manufacturers/marketers of all FDCs are required to apply only to the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) under Rule 122E of the D&CR 1945 as a new drug, along with the stipulated fees by way of a Treasury Challan.

Since this entire process entails relatively more regulatory data generation, besides the time and expenses involved, the above Rule was continuously and deliberately broken and manufacturing and marketing approvals were routinely sought and obtained from the State FDAs. Many believe that the State FDAs were equally responsible for knowingly flaunting the Law, as were the pharmaceutical companies.

Patients’ safety – the key concern:

This complicity resulted in the market being flooded with ‘irrational combinations’ which posed a real threat to patients’ safety. The state FDAs were reminded of the Notification by the earlier DCGI. 294 FDCs got caught in this dispute. The important issue of patients’ safety in that process got converted into a legal issue, as many FDC manufacturers chose to go to the court of law to redress their grievances in this matter.

Untangling the messy knot:

As the issue got trapped into various prolonged litigations, the current DCGI took initiative of resolving this contentious issue with the help of an expert committee, involving the manufacturers.

This subcommittee cleared 48 FDCs under ‘similar FDCs already approved’, after discussing the merits and demerits, including pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, side effects, dosage, medical rationale etc. of each ingredient and the combinations. The decision of the Sub Committee was then submitted to the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB).

After formal approval of DTAB, a notification is expected to be issued subsequent to which each of these combinations will be construed to be a new drug and any company wishing to market/manufacture the formulation will require submitting its Application in Form 44 to the DCGI to get approval in Form 45. The process will be completed after the balance 142 FDCs, which need further examination, are individually approved.

This issue sends a clear signal to all concerned that resorting to any form of shortcuts to bypass strict adherence to prescribed regulatory requirements, could seriously jeopardise the patients’ safety. The number of FDCs banned by CDSCO and also ban of those FDCs agreed and accepted by the industry without any challenge during the above process, will vindicate this point.

Solving the current logjam is not enough:

Solving the current logjam on FDCs by the DCGI is a onetime exercise and will perhaps clear a serious mess-up created over a long period of time. It can definitely not be an ongoing process. Neither will it be desirable. There is an absolute and urgent need to follow the WHO Model for FDCs, in India, as indicated above, through appropriate regulatory processes. At the same time, the DCGI should ensure strict compliance of the Notification issued by Ministry of Health on FDCs, in September 1988. Otherwise, unchecked entry of FDCs of all possible permutations and combinations could pose a serious threat to patients’ interest and safety.

Meeting unmet needs of the patients with high quality drugs of scientifically proven high efficacy and safety profile should always define the purpose of existence of the pharmaceutical industry. Any patients’ safety related issue deserves no scope for any compromise.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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