One of these things is not like the other

  • by: |
  • 04/07/2014

Much chatter about Janet Woodcock’s Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Health testimony last week.  Much of it ill-informed.

Dr. Woodcock stood firm that separate labeling for generic drugs will advance the public heath by advancing 21st century drug safety. Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (no relation) didn’t agree. His comment, “The only outcome I see is confusion,” demonstrates his own confusion.

“I’d like to dispel the notion that labels are the same now with respect to safety information,” said Janet. Representative Pitts was not mollified, moving on to suggest the agency’s motives were other than for advancing the public health – specifically that “trial lawyers” were to blame for the agency’s actions.

Trial lawyers? Clearly he’s met with representatives of the GPhA.

Janet made it clear that the decision to move forward on the labeling change rule was CDER and no one other than CDER. “The personnel in the Center for Drugs did not meet with the trial layers.”

Mr. Pitts’ suspicions were not assuaged. Whatever.

(PS/Representative Waxman commented that he found the GPhA’s report that distinct labeling would increase consumer spending on generic drugs by $4 billion annually “highly invalid.”)

Dr. Woodcock also clarified that the discussion about generics labeling did not extend to biosimilars.

Per Janet, “This rule does not apply to that because those would be under the Pubic Health Service Act – and they’re not considered generics, so that’s a separate issue.”

Much consternation over this last remark. Some see it as a nod and a wink that the agency is going to allow biosimilars to have the same name and labeling language as innovators. I disagree for two reasons:

(1) Janet was precisely correct in stating that generic drugs and biosimilars are two distinct things. Biosimilars are not generic drugs.

(2) The fact that the FDA has made distinct generic drug labeling such an important policy initiative certainly does not send a signal that they will view biosimilars in a more laissez faire manner. Au contraire.

So, for people trying to read too much into Janet’s statement that generic drug labeling is different from biosimilar naming and labeling, relax. If anything, the news is good.

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. – Niels Bohr


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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