Enforcement Update: OPDP Issues Untitled Letter

We are four months into the year, and this week OPDP has issued its fourth regulatory action letter of 2022. Two of the previous were Warning Letters, considered the more serious of the two categories, and two, including the latest, were Untitled Letters.

As noted in past updates, FDA’s OPDP enforcement letters have dropped off considerably over the years. In fact, over the past two years, the office issued only a total of 6 letters which means 2022 is going at a heightened clip. Of course, if OPDP only issues two more actions for this year, it would be on par with the recent track record – and sometimes several weeks can go by before OPDP issues a letter.

I like to take an approach to examine both the historical context and the substance of each individual letter.

The Letter. The recipient of the letter was Bausch Health Companies and it was in regard to two different communications vehicles – one a “DTC video” that appeared on Lifetime TV’s The Balancing Act – and the other the efficacy webpage of the healthcare professional website. The medicine that was the subject of these communications was DUOBRII (halobetasol propionate and tazarotene) a topical lotion indicated for the treatment of plaque psoriasis in adults. The risk profile of this medicine includes contraindication in pregnancy as well as risk of sunburn among other stated risks.

Taking the video first, there were a couple of things. First was the most common violation cited in OPDP letters – the presentation of risk information. The agency stated that material facts about the risks were not properly conveyed with particular regard to advising women about the risks during pregnancy and noted that the package insert advises a pregnancy test within 2 weeks prior to therapy initiation and advises on the use of contraception during treatment. The video portrayed a women of child bearing age – with two children – making the statement that she used the product during a flare up, implying it can be used any time. FDA did acknowledge the presence of information regarding fetal risk is present in the video, but indicated that the lack of specific reference to the need for testing and use of birth control were material. In addition, the patient in the video is depicted out of doors with exposed shoulders and arms, but did not mention the photosensitivity and risk of sunburn in the video. Finally on the issue of balance, FDA noted that the additional risks were addressed in small text at the bottom of the screen while benefits were being conveyed verbally by a narrator.

The other issue for the video was making an unsubstantiated claim regarding efficacy and an implication of superiority. The video stated that the medicine was the “first and only” topical combining two active ingredients, while FDA asserted that there was at least one other such combination. In addition, the patient depicted said that she had tried other creams that did not work for her. FDA said clinical superiority had not been established and that the statement implied that the medicine would be effective in patients who failed to respond to other treatments. While it may be accurate for this patient in particular, the agency said it could not be broadly applied to all patients.

When it came to the webpage, FDA took issue with language that made the claim of “superior efficacy” to mono therapies based on evidence that was characterized by the agency as a post hoc analysis of a single phase 2 trial not designed to support this type of conclusion.

The Context. It is important to look at context to see if there are any emerging patterns related to enforcement with respect to treatment categories, companies or communications vehicles. There are a couple of things of note. First OPDP enforcement over the past few years has not only diminished, but the actions have generally involved smaller, lesser well-known companies. However of the 11 letters (both Warning and Untitled) sent since 2021 began, Some larger, established companies have been included – such as Amgen and Lilly (which received 2 letters). Also of note, the treatment of pain, in particular migraine, was the subject of 3 of these 11 letters. But perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the most common communications vehicle that was the target of enforcement were DTC videos which were the subject of 5 of the 11 letters.

Finally, it is noteworthy perhaps that OPDP acquired new leadership last year. That may mean an emerging difference in the way the office engages in enforcement.

Until next time.

Image by Goh Rhy Yan at Unsplash

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