Congress is considering including bipartisan legislation that could expedite the availability of lower-priced generic drugs in its must-pass bill to fund the federal government in 2018. The legislation, called the CREATES Act, tackles one of the numerous problems driving high drug prices — brand-name drug manufacturers’ use of anticompetitive tactics to block access to generic drugs — that we describe in our report, Getting to the Root of High Prescription Drug Prices: Drivers and Potential Solutions. If passed, the CREATES Act, which has bipartisan support, would increase the development and availability of generic drugs by addressing anticompetitive behaviors of certain brand-name manufacturers that use limited distribution systems and congressionally mandated risk-mitigation programs as a way to delay generic drug development. And because the Act could save the federal government more than $3 billion over 10 years, it could help pay for other necessary federal spending, including funding for community health centers.
Purpose of the Bill
The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984 — commonly referred to as the Hatch-Waxman Act — created the generic drug market in order to balance incentives for innovation (i.e., extended patent terms and market exclusivity protections) with a system that ensures safe, therapeutically equivalent generic drugs are available at lower prices when patents and exclusivities expire. Before a generic drug can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it must demonstrate that it is bioequivalent to the brand-name drug it intends to compete against on the market.
The Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 authorized the FDA, when there are safety concerns like increased toxicity or risk factors, to require manufacturers to adhere to a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS. A REMS program can have four components: patient information, communication plan, elements to assure safe use (ETASU), and implementation system.
Some brand-name drug manufacturers have misused REMS programs to block generic drug manufacturer access in two different ways. First, a brand-name manufacturer may prevent a potential generic competitor from getting access to samples for bioequivalence testing by using the REMS program with ETASU to limit who can access or purchase the drug. More than half of drugs with REMS programs have limited distribution, which restricts access for generic manufacturers. Without access to samples of brand-name products, generic manufacturers cannot conduct bioequivalence testing, which is required for FDA approval of a generic.
Second, if a brand-name drug is subject to an FDA-mandated REMS, then the generic competitor drug is also.1 Shared REMS programs are generally required by statute to be implemented for the brand-name drug and the generic versions. Negotiations between manufacturers for a shared REMS program include confidentiality, product liability concerns, antitrust concerns, and access to a license for REMS program elements that are patented. Brand-name manufacturers can intentionally delay establishing a single, shared REMS program, which blocks the generic drug from the market. As of January 26, 2018, 10 of the 72 REMS programs were shared.
In addition to FDA-mandated REMS programs, manufacturers may voluntarily institute a REMS program or create a limited distribution system to control who may access their drug by allowing dispensing from a limited number of specialty pharmacies. For example, an investigation by the Senate Aging Committee found that Turing Pharmaceuticals put a limited distribution system into place in order to block competitors’ access to samples and significantly increase the drug price. (Daraprim was not subject to an FDA-mandated REMS program.) The anticompetitive behaviors associated with REMS programs and limited distribution systems are estimated to cost patients more than $5 billion each year.
The CREATES Act would enable a generic manufacturer facing one of these delay tactics to bring an action in federal court for injunctive relief (i.e., to obtain the sample it needs, or to enter into court-supervised negotiations for a shared safety protocol). The CREATES Act would expedite legal review and change the burden from proving a violation of antitrust law to one in which the generic manufacturer would need to only prove that sufficient quantity of samples were being withheld by the brand-name manufacturer. In addition, the CREATES Act would permit the generic manufacturer to work with the FDA to establish its own REMS with ETASU that are comparable to the brand-name manufacturer’s REMS program.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not officially scored the CREATES Act, but has estimated that similar legislation would save the federal government more than $3 billion over 10 years.2
Taking these steps to counter brand-name manufacturer tactics to delay generic competition could help address one of the factors driving high prescription drug prices. Such action also may serve as an important opening for further conversations on how we can regain the balance of incentives for drug innovation and competition that was established under the Hatch-Waxman Act.