‘Herceptin Biosimilars’ Seriously Questioned

The news struck as an anticlimax, close on the heels of high decibel product launch of ‘Herceptin Biosimilars’ in India, being hyped as the first in the world, bringing much needed relief to many diagnosed breast cancer patients for their economical pricing.

At the same time, this legal challenge has now come as an acid test for the regulator to prove that ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion’ for any new drug approval and especially if it is a complex biosimilar used for the treatment of patients suffering from dreaded diseases, such as, breast cancer.

It’s not patent this time:

Interestingly, this is not a patent infringement case, as Roche has reportedly given-up its patent on Trastuzumab (Herceptin) in India last year.

Alleged violations: 

The above media report highlights, in Delhi High Court Roche has sued Biocon of India and its US based generic partner – Mylan along with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) related to launch of ‘Herceptin Biosimilar’ versions in India.

The allegation against Biocon and Mylan is that their recently launched drugs are being misrepresented as ‘biosimilar Trastuzumab’ or ‘biosimilar version of Herceptin’ without following the due process in accordance with the ‘Guidelines on Similar Biologics‘, necessary for getting approvals of such drugs in India.

Caesar’s wife’ under suspicion too:

The DCGI has also been sued by Roche for giving permission for launch of this product allegedly not in conformance with the above biosimilar guidelines, which were put in place effective August 15, 2012.

Roche reportedly argued that the above guidelines on similar biologics laid down a detailed and structured process for comparison of biosimilar with the original product and all the applications for manufacturing and marketing authorization of biosimilars are necessarily required to follow that prescribed pathway before obtaining marketing approval from the DCGI. Roche has also stated that there is no public record available, in the clinical trial registry India (CTRI) or elsewhere to show that these two players actually conducted phase-I or II clinical trials for the drug.

According to report Roche claims that DCGI has approved the “protocol and design study for testing” of Biocon related to the proposed drug just before the above regulatory guidelines were made effective, predominantly for patients’ health and safety reasons.

Interim restrain of the Delhi High Court:

In response to Roche’s appeal, the Delhi High Court has reportedly restrained Mylan and Biocon from “relying upon” or “referring to Herceptin” or any data relating to it for selling or promoting their respective brands Canmab (Biocon) and Hertaz (Mylan) till the next hearing.

The relevance of Guidelines on Similar Biologics’:

The ‘Guidelines on Similar Biologics’ clearly articulated:

“Since there are several biosimilar drugs under development in India, it is of critical importance to publish a clear regulatory pathway outlining the requirements to ensure comparable safety, efficacy and quality of a similar biologic to an authorized reference biologic.”

Thus for patients’ health and safety interest the above regulatory pathway must be followed, the way these have been prescribed without any scope of cutting corners. This is even more important when so important pharmacovigilance system is almost non-functional in India.

Attempts to dilute the above guidelines from some quarters:

It was earlier reported that strong representations were made to the drug regulator in writing by powerful domestic players in this area urging to dilute the above ‘Guidelines’, otherwise it will be difficult for them to compete with the pharma MNCs.

This argument is ridiculous by any standard and smacks of putting commercial considerations above patients’ health interest.

The key issue:

As I see it, four quick questions that float at the top of my mind are as follows:

  • If the ‘Guidelines on Similar Biologics’ have not been followed either by the applicants or by the DCGI, how would one establish beyond an iota of doubt that these drugs are biosimilar to Trastuzumab, if not ‘Biosimilar to Herceptin’?
  • If these drugs are not proven biosimilar to Trastuzumab, as specified in the ‘Guidelines on Similar Biologics’, how can one use Trastuzumab data for their marketing approvals and the DCGI granting the same?
  • If these drugs were not biosimilars to Trastuzumab, would these be as effective, reliable and safe as Herceptin in the treatment of breast cancer?
  • Further, how are references related to Herceptin being used to promote these drugs both pre and post market launch?

Conclusion:

I guess, predominantly commercial considerations prompted Roche to sue Biocon, Mylan and also the DCGI on ‘Trastuzumab biosimilars’, launched recently in India.

Be that as it may, for the interest of so many diagnosed breast cancer patients in the country, there is crying need for the facts to come out in the open, once and for all. Are these drugs truly Trastuzumab biosimilars with comparable safety, efficacy, quality and reliability of Herceptin?

If the answer comes as yes, there would be a huge sigh of relief from all corners inviting millions of kudos to Biocon and Mylan.

However, if by any chance, the allegations are proved right, I do not have an iota of doubt that the honorable Delhi High Court would ferret out the truth, unmask the perpetrators and give them exemplary punishments for playing with patients’ lives.

By: Tapan J. 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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