The first biosimilar was approved for the European market in 2006. While the regulatory pathway for biosimilars in the U.S. was created as part of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, the first biosimilar was only recently approved for the U.S. market in March 2015.
Biosimilars are essentially generic versions of large molecule biologics. However, the fact they are not exact copies of the reference product makes establishing regulations for their approval and release to market a more complicated process. The WHO, along with many other parties in the pharmaceutical industry, has argued that regulations governing the development and approval of small molecule generics are not appropriate for more complex biological medicines. As such, the WHO set out to establish regulations articulating the efficacy, safety, and quality standards biosimilars must meet and maintain to make it to market. These regulations specify that a biosimilar must prove its biosimilarity to a reference product through head-to-head comparisons. The biosimilar company must also submit non-clinical and clinical studies data and a pharmacovigilance plan to the appropriate regulatory body. Those navigating the landscape of current biosimilars regulations face the challenge of demonstrating a biosimilar’s safety, purity, efficacy, and potency.
The current U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulations for biosimilars require these biologic copies to undergo extensive analytical chemistry, manufacturing, and control (CMC) and clinical processes to prove similarity to the reference product. However, in comparison to the originator biologic, a biosimilar could see an accelerated approval process, as it might need less data to meet the established regulations. The EMA was the first regulatory authority to establish marketing regulations for biosimilars in 2005. Other countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, and South Africa have since turned to the EMA’s regulations, as well as the WHO’s regulations, as a model for crafting their own regulations. In 2012, the FDA released three draft guidances to assist biosimilar developers in demonstrating their product’s biosimilarity. To comply with existing U.S. regulations, manufacturers are expected to include structural analysis, functional assays, and data from animal and human clinical trials in their applications. As biosimilar production spreads globally, regulations have continued to shift and evolve. Currently, each governing body has differing definitions/terminology for biosimilars, and as such, has established varying regulations dictating what studies and data are needed to be approved for the market.