Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When is a New Drug Submission "Administrative"?

Pfizer Canada Inc v Canada (Attorney General) 2014 FC 1243 Gleason J
            2,409,059 – exemestane – AROMASIN.

Yesterday’s post discussed Gleason J’s holding that the standard of review of the Minister’s interpretation of s 5(1) of the PM(NOC) Regulations is correctness. Today’s post looks at the substantive question: when a first generic has received an NOC, is a second generic which licenses from that first generic subject to s 5? If the answer is yes, this means that a patentee can decide whether to respond to each NOA in light of the threat it perceives from the particular generic; if the answer is no, a patentee must respond to every NOA it receives, or take the risk that the generic in question will subsequently license. As a matter of law, this resolution of this question turns on the interpretation of the word “submission” for an NOC in s 5(1).

To recap the facts, GMP filed an ANDS with the Minister with respect to exemestane using Pfizer’s exemestane product, AROMASIN, as the reference product [45]. GMP served Pfizer with an NOA, and Pfizer chose not to respond. An NOC was then issued to GMP. On the same day, Health Canada also issued an NOC to Teva with respect to exemestane. This NOC was granted on the basis of an “administrative” ANDS filed by Teva, based on a licensing agreement with GMP. The NOC issued to Teva also shows AROMASIN as the Canadian Reference product [46]. Teva never served an NOA on Pfizer.

Teva undoubtedly did file a submission with Health Canada requesting an NOC, and the NOC was granted. The reference product was AROMASIN, and it is consequently clear on the authorities, and now on the face of the Regulations, that Teva’s ANDS compared its product “directly or indirectly” with Pfizer’s product. The only argument, then, is that the ANDS submitted by Teva is not a “submission” for the purpose of the Regulations. As noted yesterday, the AG carried the argument on this question.

The AG’s first argument was that the purpose of the Regulations is to allow the “early working” by a generic company of a patented drug, and Teva did not take advantage of the early-working exception – GMP did – so therefore, that under a purposive approach, Teva’s submission is not a “submission for an NOC.” Gleason J rightly rejected this purposive argument, noting that “The Regulations exist not only to allow generic companies to early work patented medicines to develop generic formulations and to have them ready as soon as possible but, also, to balance these interests with those of the patentee in obtaining protection for innovations that are legitimately patented” [133]. As noted in yesterday’s post, the proposition that the Regulations implement a balance is very well established. Moreover, the AG’s submission on the purpose of the provision seems to miss the point. S 5(1) does not implement the early working exception at all, which is found in s 55.2(1) of the Act. S 5(1) strikes the other half of the balance, namely the protection of the patentee’s interests. The Regulations as a whole strike the balance alluded to by Gleason J, and the purpose of s 5(1) in particular is almost the opposite of that suggested by the AG.

The AG’s next submission was in effect that the case law has established that not all submissions are “submissions” for the purpose of s 5(1); in particular, “administrative” submissions are not considered “submissions” which trigger s 5(1) [129]. The question then is what makes a submission an “administrative” submission?

The AG relied in particular on a series of cases holding that certain supplemental NDSs, specifically, those required where there is a change in the name of a drug, a drug manufacturer, or a change of manufacturing site, are not “submissions” for the purpose of submitting a patent list under s 4: see eg Hoffman-LaRoche 2005 FCA 140 [25]. Gleason J held that those cases were not relevant, on the basis that the concern in those cases – that the patentee should not be able to extend its entitlements under the Regulations with administrative filings – is very different from concerns as to whether the patentee should be required to address a particular generic [143]. While this strikes me as sound as a matter of purposive analysis, the textual argument that the word “submission” should be interpreted in the same way in both s 4 and s 5 is strong. But even if we accept that textual point, the cases cited are not particularly helpful, as the types of changes they discussed were different, and arguably less significant, than a submission by an entirely different party based on a licence.

The AG then appealed to the GlaxoSmithKline 2004 FC 1302 decision, in which Lemieux J held that Health Canada’s Name Change Policy did not trigger s 5. The product in GSK was a salbutamol inhaler. GSK has obtained a NOC for its salbutamol inhaler product, VENTOLIN, and it also obtained a formulation patent which it listed against that product. 3M obtained an NOC for its its salbutamol inhaler product, AIROMIR, on the basis of an entirely separate NDS. 3M also obtained a formulation patent which it listed against its product [13]. 3M and Apotex then entered into a licensing agreement permitting Apotex to sell 3M’s product under Apotex’s name. Apotex sought an NOC based on that agreement. GSK argued that Apotex’s submission triggered s 5, requiring Apotex to address GSK’s patent.

Gleason J held that GSK was distinguishable because Apotex was not required to address GSK’s patents because it was not using GSK’s product as a reference. That is, Apotex was not comparing its product, directly or indirectly, with GSK’s [142]. In this respect, GSK anticipates Biolyse 2005 SCC 26.

While I agree that GSK is strictly distinguishable for that reason, the fact that the comparison was indirect was something of a secondary consideration in Lemieux J’s decision. He also addressed the name change issue. On that point, Lemieux J’s decision in GSK turned on the fact that in its submission, Apotex certified that

...all aspects of the submission pertaining to: Apo-Salvent CFC Free submitted by: Apotex Incorporated are identical to Airomir... submission(s) except for a change in the manufacturer/sponsor's name and/or product name and that the product will be manufactured in the same location with identical specifications and procedures". [Lemieux J’s emphasis] [20]

Lemieux J held that the administrative NDS was not a submission because the purpose of the Food and Drug Regulations, which impose the requirement for an NOC, is to ensure the safety and effectiveness of drug products on the Canadian market [66]. The changes in the submission by Apotex were not relevant to the safety and effectiveness of the drug in question – it was “identical” to 3M’s product down to the point of being made in exactly the same plant – so the application for an NOC should not be seen as a “submission” for the purposes of the Food and Drug Regulations [68]. Moreover, because of the linkage between those Regulations and the PM(NOC) Regulations, the meaning of “submission” in the PM(NOC) Regulations should be given a similar interpretation [64].

Lemieux J’s purposive analysis strikes me as sound. In this case, if Teva would be manufacturing in a different plant from GMP, then GSK would be clearly distinguishable, and indeed, it strongly implies that the submission would not be purely administrative in that case. From an NOC perspective, the argument is reinforced; particularly in the case of a formulation patent (such as the 059 patent) the plant in which the product is made might be very significant in a patentee’s decision whether to address an NOA, because the likelihood of infringement would be directly affected. On the other hand, if Teva would be purchasing its product in final form from GMP, the argument that the filing was administrative is much stronger. GSK would still be distinguishable, because of the comparison point discussed at the outset, but the question would be very different. The question would be whether the patentee would be entitled to decide whether to challenge a particular NOA based on its assessment of the business practices of the generic in question, rather than the technical aspects of the product.

It is not clear to me which scenario is at issue in Exemestane. The nature of the license between GMP and Teva is not spelled out, and are details of Teva’s ANDS are not provided, so it is not apparent whether it has a certification similar to that emphasized by Lemieux J in GSK. Nor is s 3.4.1 of the PM(NOC) Guidance Document clear, at least to me. It applies only when the licensee seeks to sell the “identical” drug, but that term is not defined in that Guidance document. The policy on Changes in Manufacturer’s Name and/or Product Name does specify that for the purposes of that policy, a drug is considered identical only when the conditions of manufacture and sale are identical, but it is not obvious to me that that definition is intended to apply across all technical guidance documents.

Gleason J also relied on Nu-Pharm 1 (1997), 73 CPR (3d) 510, [22], aff’d (1998), 80 CPR (3d) 74 (FCA) and Nu-Pharm 2 [1999] FCJ No 1825, aff’d (2000), 5 CPR (4th) 138, holding that these cases were not distinguishable. I don’t know if I agree. In the Nu-Pharm decisions Generic 1 had obtained an NOC using a patentee’s product as a reference product, and Generic 2 sought to avoid having to address the patents by using Generic 1's product as a reference product. The FCA held that Generic 2 could not avoid addressing the patents by this strategy. This has been legislatively affirmed by the reference to an “indirect” comparison in the current s 5(1).

Gleason J held that the Nu-Pharm decisions were not distinguishable because “In both Nu-Pharm cases the generic company, just like Teva, had acquired the right to produce the drug in question under a licence from another generic company” [141]. However, I could not find any reference to a licence in any of the Nu-Pharm decisions. (And I don’t really see what kind of proprietary interest Generic 1 might have had in the right to produce the drug, so it’s not clear to me why Generic 2 would have required a licence.) So it is not clear to me if the Nu-Pharm cases are distinguishable. If, in this case, Teva intends to purchase the final product from GMP, then it seems to me that the cases are distinguishable, because it appears that in the Nu-Pharm cases Generic 2 was going to manufacture the product itself. On the other hand, if Teva intends to manufacture at a different plant than GMP, then I agree with Gleason J the cases are not distinguishable. That this is the case is suggested by Gleason J saying that Teva acquired “the right to produce the drug in question” under licence from GMP, implying that Teva, not GMP will be the manufacturer. But as discussed above, the case as a whole is not clear on this point.

In conclusion, some facts that seem to me to be quite important are simply not clear to me, and consequently I cannot assess the merits of the decision. While the facts in question were no doubt clear to the parties and to Gleason J, for the sake of guidance for future applicants and litigants, I hope that on the inevitable appeal, the FCA will clarify these issues or explain why the questions I have discussed are not relevant.

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