All opinions are my own.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Impact of Regulations, Drug Manufacturing and Pharma Supply Chain (PBMs and allies) in Drug Shortages and Affordability Part 1

Drug prices and shortages are becoming an ever-increasing issue. They need to be addressed. Regulations, Parma manufacturing and Benefit Managers and the supply chain have an impact. Since there is too much to cover, I am presenting my perspective in two parts. 

There are opportunities and they might be worth attention. Observations and views are mine and no reflection of any entity’s performance. Opportunities are there, waiting for us to be exploited and improve the landscape. There is no financial relationship with any company. 

Landscape and some “out of box” thoughts on how and what to improve are considered and reviewed. My perspective is on issues from “FDA to patient” which includes regulators, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distribution”. 

Part 1: 

Many have expressed their opinions. Legislators(1) and regulators (2, 3, 4) have organized meetings and discussions to figure out how shortages can be alleviated and drug prices contained to a reasonable degree. Pharmaceutical companies and PBMs (Pharmacy Benefit Managers) have stalled and intervened every attempt to control drug pricing that will upset their apple cart as they could lose a lot. Legislators want to intervene but due to political influence of the industry have shrugged away from the wants of their electorate. Suggestions have been made to ease drug shortages but nothing has worked except for talk.  

“Creative Destruction” (5)“Nondestructive Creation” (6) or coup d’├ętat are potential improvement pathways. Persistent effort and planning would be needed. We must recognize that there will be significant internal resistance and powers to be will intervene and make sure “nothing to very little” is altered.

Not much will happen instantly. We must understand the existing landscape, reconfigure it and make the necessary changes. It seems process of “continuous improvement” has been overlooked from FDA to patient. Unless an effort is made we could be still talking about the change for the next 10 or 20 years. 

Drastic measures like single payer system, drug price controls and government edicts can control price increases and shortages. A President’s “National Healthcare Emergency” equivalent to “National Border Emergency” (7) is another alternate. There will be significant opposition against altering the current way of doing business. Intent here is not to take drastic steps but create wins that would lead to big wins for all involved. 

What all is possible?

Since there are many players (regulators, pharma companies, middlemen) involved, my conjecture is that selective application of “Nondestructive Creation” and “Creative Destruction” would be needed to achieve lower drug prices, reduce shortages, and retain profitability of everyone. Assistance of legislators would be helpful to smooth out the landscape. Even though each participant is independent but influences each other. If we can simplify/improve each, we will improve a lot. 

Existing processes can be simplified, innovated and competition instilled with two objectives: enhance profitability of pharma related companies and improved drug affordability with minimum or no shortages. If we put our heart and mind to improve the existing system it can be improved. As I said earlier there will be resistance as the easiest thing us humans love to say “NO” it won’t work. Unless we try, nothing will change. 

We all know that competition leads to manufacturing technology innovation, better and consistent product quality, better prices, minimum shortages, and improved profits of every participant in the business. It seems that in generic pharma manufacturing and distribution we have “organized lack of competition”. It could be due to influence of brand drugs and the sentiment “patient will pay the demanded price to extend their life. It is interesting to note that no one knows the real drug prices except what patients pay after copay. What patients pay is not realistic as they are mutually subsidized prices. We also need to look at the total landscape to see interferences and simplify them to tackle affordability, profitability, and price issues.  

Regulations (ANDA and NDA Approval Processes): 

In the United States FDA is responsible for assuring product quality and consistency. Companies are expected to get approval of every new (NDA), generic (ANDA) or OTC (over the counter) drug prior to their sales (8). For product consistency and quality, companies must follow FDA’s established cGMP guidelines. They are expected and do use established and appropriate economics and engineering principles and methods to produce drugs. Economic justification, like in any other business, is necessary for use of every process and technology.  

FDA has a guidance (process or road map) for ANDA/NDA approvals (8). I consider filing and approval process equivalent to a manufacturing operation. For these filings FDA must give precise road map of their expectations (I call them operating instructions) that any company (equivalent to a plant operator) should be able to follow and get approval (create a quality product) in three months. These operating instructions must be clear and broad enough to cover every ANDA/NDA filing and produce a quality product from the get go. 

My conjecture is that most likely FDA knows what is needed for approval but either the companies don’t completely understand the needs and wants or have become accustomed to FDA’s hand-holding to take them across the finish line. Based on my review, the current process is complex and needs significant legal and engineering manpower to file an application and get an approval. There is some discussion to lower the current approval times but it is not going to be significantly different (9).

In every manufacturing organization, process operating instructions are pilot tested. My expectation is that FDA similarly pilot tests their ANDA/NDA instructions internally before these instructions are issued (commercialized). If FDA’s operating instructions cannot be followed the first time, it suggests these instructions may not have been pilot tested. In FDA’s own terms if they do not fit quality by design (QbD) process but fit quality by analysis (QbA) (A could be aggravation) mode. Based on my experience, I have found that practicing/testing the operating instructions before commercialization is an excellent way to learn their shortcomings. This exercise is an excellent example of “nondestructive creation” can be used NDA/ANDA filings also. 

My speculation of “untested instructions” is confirmed by significant “back and forth” (long time) the current review process takes to get an approval. To me that means that the operating instructions are not precise and/or clear. The resulting product (ANDA application) is not a quality first time but a re-worked product. In manufacturing operations “re-work” means lower profits. In financial terms “ANDA approval after rework” is delay in commercialization and delayed profits to the applying company. I believe significant improvements can be made to simplify the existing process so that better than 95% of the hand-holding can be eliminated. Saved time would have higher profitability, lower cost and affordability implications, a big win for all.

Since the current filing and approval process takes time, question needs to be asked to the Regulators is “what can they do to simplify the path and approval to bring drugs to the market?” Again, this would be a great  profitability through simplicity opportunity.

Companies deciding to file for approval can take as much time as necessary to complete and file the application. Each filing company will submit their information in FDA’s requested format even though they produce different products. Again, I want to emphasize that these pilot tested operating instructions, if followed precisely, should produce a quality product which would result is an ANDA approval in three months. 

Recently introduced Competitive Generic Therapies Guidance draft (10) is supposed to give companies competitive advantage. Competition, to me, means be first in the market. I don’t believe companies will get any such advantage as the suggested process is cumbersome and battery of personnel (legal and otherwise) would be needed for submission. I also ask the question “has the guidance been pilot tested within FDA to see the challenges it poses for submission and approval and does it meet FDA’s own Quality by Design (QbD) expectations proposed in 2005?” It would be extremely useful if FDA, based on its internal pilot test, can simplify the process and suggest the time it would take from start to finish to file and get an approval. 

Regulations: ANDA Term: 

FDA’s existing evergreen ANDA approval regimen can be exploited and abused. US FDA should consider changing its evergreen policy. As explained later, if adopted, it may encourage competition. US being the largest and most profitable market, almost every company would like to sell their products in this market. However, their products must be on some formulary. If a company’s approved ANDA drug is not manufactured for sale in the US and is also not on any US formulary one-year after approval, ANDA should be revoked. In addition, if the approved ANDA is licensed out to and produced at an un-inspected FDA facility, ANDA should be voided. If a company later wants to sell their products in US, they would have to re-apply. This would prevent companies from using and overloading US approval system to promote their products in other countries. My conjecture is only companies with best technologies, cost and quality based on economies of scale should serve the US market. 

About 30% (~2491) of the ANDAs are with 90 companies (11) and this basically suggests that likelihood of economies of scale, optimum processes, is minimal to none. Rest (~69%=5,475) are with ten companies (10) which are being manufactured in about 200+ plants. Again, my conjecture is that these products have no benefits of economies of scale most drugs are produced using mediocre manufacturing processes and are not the lowest cost producers. It is very likely that they, as explained later in Part 2, face many challenges. 

Since FDA must monitor each ANDA facility at a prescribed schedule, I am not sure FDA has sufficient staff. It is ironic that FDA does not know how many of the ANDAs are not being marketed (11). If an annual report is not submitted within FDA’s guidelines and the granted facility inspected, related ANDA should be voided and could present opportunities to the companies that are producing the same product/s to other companies. All voided ANDAs should be publicly listed. Expiration and voiding of ANDAs might result in consolidation and competition for the market through economies of scale (better technologies) and costs, which is dearly needed. 

If PBMs are forcing companies to have certain number of ANDAs to be on the formulary but not marketing all, ANDAs not being marketed should also be voided. This is discussed in Part 2. 

In Part 2 of this blog I will share my perspective on Manufacturing and Pharmaceutical Supply Chain (PBMs), Drug Shortages and Affordability. 

Girish Malhotra, PE
EPCOT International 

  1. Senate Finance Hearing on Drug Pricing, C-SPAN, February 26, 2019
  2. Strategic Plan for Preventing and Mitigating Drug Shortages, FDA, October 2013, Accessed November 21, 2018
  3. FDA is Advancing New Efforts to Address Drug Shortages, FDA, November 2018, Accessed November 19, 2018
  4. The Duke-Margolis Center for Health PolicyIdentifying the Root Causes of Drug Shortages and Finding Enduring Solutions, November 27, 2018
  5. Schumpeter, Joseph:Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942, Accessed November 29, 2018
  6. Kim, Chan W., Mauborgne: Nondisruptive Creation: Rethinking Innovation and Growth, MITSloan ReviewFebruary 21, 2019
  7. National Emergency, The New York Times, February 15, 2019 
  8. ANDA Submissions — Content and Format Guidance for Industry
  9. Testimony of Drs. Woodcock, Marks and Shuren Accessed March 23, 2017
  10. Draft Competitive Generic Therapies Guidance, FDA, February 2019 
  11. Berndt, Ernest R., Conti, Rena M. and Murphy, Stephen J: The Generic User Fee Amendments: An Economic Perspective, NBER Working Paper 23642, August 2017