Assessing the Chiral Switch

Approval and Use of Single-Enantiomer Drugs, 2001 to 2011

Published In: AJMC, The American Journal of Managed Care, v. 20, no. 3, Mar. 2014, p. e90-e97

Posted on on March 01, 2014

by Walid F. Gellad, Phillip Choi, Margaret Mizah, Chester B. Good, Aaron S. Kesselheim

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OBJECTIVES: A "chiral switch" occurs in the pharmaceutical market when a drug made up of 2 enantiomer forms is replaced with a purified single-enantiomer version, often in the context of a patent expiration. We studied the prevalence of chiral switching in the United States over the past decade, including trends in use of, and expenditures on, these products in Medicaid. STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective analysis. METHODS: We used US Adopted Names prefixes (lev/levo/ar/es/dex/dextro) to identify all single-enantiomer drugs approved from 2001 to 2011. From publicly available US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval documents, we extracted the characteristics of the pivotal premarket trials for the single enantiomers. Specifically, we evaluated whether the single enantiomer was directly compared with the precursor racemic drug and whether there was evidence of superior efficacy. We used quarterly drug expenditure data from each state Medicaid program to chart trends in use of, and spending on, the single-enantiomer products and their racemic precursors during the study period. RESULTS: From 2001 to 2011, the FDA approved 9 single-enantiomer products: dexlansoprazole, levoleucovorin, levocetirizine, armodafinil, arformoterol, eszopiclone, escitalopram, dexmethylphenidate, and esomeprazole. Of those 9 drugs, 3 had at least 1 pre-approval randomized trial that included the racemic precursor as a direct comparator, but there was no evidence of superiority of the single enantiomer over the racemic at comparable doses. Between 2001 and 2011, US Medicaid programs spent approximately $6.3 billion on these 9 single-enantiomer drugs. CONCLUSIONS: Recently approved single-enantiomer drugs showed no evidence of superior efficacy over the older racemic precursors in the pivotal trials leading to their approval, and in a majority of cases, they were not directly compared.

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