Earlier this week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) and Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that they reached agreement on a bipartisan, bicameral drug pricing bill, called The Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019. According to a 16-page overview we obtained, the bill includes several FDA-related provisions – from Orange Book and Purple Book modernization, to orphan drugs, to biosimilars . . . to this description of Section 407 of the bill:
Sec. 407. Change conditions of first-to-file generic applicants’ 180-day exclusivity to spur access and competition.
- Prevents first-to-file generic drug applicants from blocking, beyond a 180-day exclusivity period, the entrance of subsequent generic drugs to the market.
- Triggers the start of first-to-file generic drug applicants’ 180-day exclusivity when no first-to-file applicant has received final approval within 30 months of submission of its application, and a subsequent applicant has been tentatively approved.
If this short description looks familiar to you, that’s probably because it is! It’s a description of H.R. 938, the “Bringing Low-cost Options and Competition while Keeping Incentives for New Generics Act of 2019” or the “BLOCKING Act of 2019” (House Report here).
The BLOCKING Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 31, 2019 by Representatives Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), stems from a proposal in the Trump Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget. The bill has drawn this blogger’s ire in blog posts (here and here) and in Congressional testimony as antithetical to a primary goal of the Hatch-Waxman Amendments: getting high quality, low-cost generic drugs into the hands of consumers – fast.
As we’ve noted before (here and here), the BLOCKING Act would significantly alter – and not in a good way – the FDC Act’s 180-day exclusivity provisions and the 180-day exclusivity incentive itself. The BLOCKING Act would punish ANDA applicants eligible for 180-day who are diligently pursuing final application approval and would further dilute and cheapen the 180-day exclusivity incentive Congress created in the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Amendments. In particular, the BLOCKING Act could trigger a loss of 180-day exclusivity – even when the generic drug applicant is diligently seeking final approval – based on a failure of FDA to grant final approval to a first applicant within 30 months of application submission for any reason.
The version of the BLOCKING Act included in Section 407 of the The Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 is reportedly identical to the version of the bill introduced as H.R. 938. This means that all of the efforts and resources expended over the past year to protect the cornerstone of the generic drug provisions of the Hatch-Waxman Amendments by modifying the BLOCKING Act have thus far fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, over the past year we’ve seen multiple proposed modifications to blunt the potentially catastrophic effects of the bill, such as a provision that would require a subsequent ANDA applicant blocked by a first applicant’s eligibility for 180-day exclusivity to certify that the company will promptly market its drug product after ANDA approval. Such a proposal certainly seems to make sense. If the intent of the BLOCKING Act is to promote generic drug competition – that is, actual launch of generic drug products and not just ANDA approval numbers – then a guarantee that launch will occur before obliterating a first applicant’s 180-day exclusivity eligibility seems to be good public policy.
Just as concerning is the possibility that the BLOCKING Act may lead to higher drug prices. According to a press release from the Association for Accessible Medicines, Matrix Global Advisors (“MGA”) will soon release an analysis of the BLOCKING Act that “finds that the BLOCKING Act, by creating the risk that first filers could lose their 180 days of exclusivity through no fault of their own, would reduce generic firms’ incentives to pursue patent challenges, thereby delaying generic entry and savings.” In addition, “MGA concludes that if even one generic launches later as a result of these changed incentives, it would, on average, cost the U.S. health care system $1.7 billion.” Here’s a summary of the MGA analysis we were able to obtain detailing the unintended costs of the BLOCKING Act:
It’s crunch time folks! And while much of the attention of the country and Congress is focused on other matters these days, we should not forget the need to protect the integrity of the Hatch-Waxman Amendments. After all, the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimate of the BLOCKING Act makes it an attractive pay-for candidate to add to drug pricing legislation, or even a last minute add-on to a continuing resolution to fund the government past December 20, 2019.