Four years seems ample time to judge the progress of a new regulatory procedure, and approvals of drugs blessed with US breakthrough status since this accolade was introduced in July 2012 have shown striking reductions in average FDA review time.
If this is one clear trend, another has emerged more slowly: breakthrough therapy designations (BTDs) are accruing mainly to big pharma. And now an analysis by EvaluatePharma links the two, showing how reduced review times have also largely favored big pharma over smaller groups with BTDs under their belts (see tables below).
True, the sample size is small; only six of the 31 drugs with BTD that were approved between July 2012 and the 2016 half-year point are solely in the hands of small or mid-cap companies. Indeed, of the 145 granted BTD applications just 39 are known to belong to non-big pharmas – though there could be more that have not been disclosed, of course.
But the trend is there: small company drugs with BTD have got to market in an average 8.2 months, seemingly much longer than the 5.5-month average it has taken big pharmas.
As before, this calculation excludes the anomaly of the Roche (OTCQX:RHHBY) drug Esbriet. This had been filed in 2009 before being subjected to a five-year delay, and only after Roche applied for the newly introduced breakthrough designation did it get approved.
Across all 31 approvals the average review time is 6.1 months, or 7.8 if Esbriet is included; a year ago average review time for BTD drugs was 5.7 months (FDA’s high bar for breakthrough therapy designations, June 8, 2015).
Either way this shows how BTD can speed a drug’s path, since US review times overall are running at between nine and 10 months. So it might be surprising that BTD applications have been holding steady over time, and at present 145 have been granted, with the US agency giving the OK to about 40% of those submitted.
That said, one obvious question is whether the FDA would in any case have fast-tracked a drug that is clearly highly promising, or is showing efficacy in an unmet need – with or without the existence of BTD.
This has long been an imponderable, but a new analysis seems to support this hypothesis. The trick is to look at two drugs – Vertex’s (NASDAQ:VRTX) Kalydeco and Pfizer’s (NYSE:PFE) Xalkori – whose approved BTD uses were not their first registered indications.
Kalydeco was approved in 4.7 months for treating cystic fibrosis patients with non-G551D gating mutations, having first been approved for the non-BTD use of G551D-mutated cystic fibrosis. For Xalkori, BTD approval in Ros1-mutated lung cancer came in just 2.8 months, after first being approved in Alk-mutated tumors.
But how long did these to drugs take to negotiate the regulatory pathway in their initial uses, which both occurred before the BTD pathway was in effect? The answer is just 3.5 and 4.9 months respectively.
This is not to deny the benefit to an applicant that BTD brings in terms of interacting with the regulator and planning a robust pivotal program. But the FDA clearly does not need to have its hand held, and smaller companies still need to work harder to turn breakthrough designation into faster approval.
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