PharmExec Blog

Off-Label Comments Online: Keep Doing What You're Doing, Says FDA

Those in favor of a less is more approach to FDA social media guidelines got what they wanted for the holidays: a trim, 15-page document on how to respond to unsolicited off-label comments

In response to off-label inquiries about a drug, biopharma companies can use the kind of boilerplate they’ve been inserting on social media sites for years – thanks for your comment, here’s our contact information, call us for more information – but they cannot address the question publicly, where it appears, a privilege many hoped would be included in FDA’s long-promised and long-awaited social media guidelines. Companies must also include a “mechanism for providing readily accessible current FDA-required labeling,” but cannot include a link to anything that could be construed as promotional, like a “product website, product promotional materials, firm websites, or third-party websites.” Guidance on responding to unsolicited requests for off-label information was published in the Federal Register a few days before the end of 2011.

Responding to an unsolicited off-label question/comment is only appropriate when a specific brand is named, and if the question is “broad in nature,” drug companies should “appropriately narrow the question.” FDA recognizes the fact that companies are “capable of responding to requests about their own products in a truthful, non-misleading, and accurate manner,” and that companies probably know more about their own products than other self-appointed responders:

It can be in the best interest of public health for a firm to respond to unsolicited requests for information about off-label uses of the firm’s products that are made in public forums, especially since other responders may not provide or have access to the most accurate and up-to-date medical product information.

Unlike other forum responders, who can comment publicly in response to any question, manufacturers must wait for the original commenter to respond to the boilerplate message with contact information, before providing “any substantive communication about off-label uses for the product, in response to the original unsolicited off-label question,” and that communication must occur “solely between the firm and the individual who made the request…the firm should not make its detailed response with off-label information publicly available within the same forum.”

FDA’s guidance on industries’ social media interaction with patients, at least with respect to off-label inquiries, seems to be: Don’t participate publicly. According to the guidance document, this sentiment reflects a concern that publicly posted off-label information – in response to an unsolicited query – would be available for an indefinite period of time, and would also reach the eyes of readers who have not requested such information. Even if the drug information is accurate when it’s posted, it may not be accurate next month. For viewers who didn’t ask about an off-label use, but are still party to a public response, the information itself, regardless of its scientific merit, “may promote a product for a use or condition for which FDA has not approved or cleared.”

Those companies that would like to respond to an individual with a question, assuming that person has called or emailed the company in response to the provision of contact information – contact info that leads to a firm’s medical or scientific department, not a marketing department, the guidance clearly states – should include the following materials, according to the document:

  • FDA—required drug label
  • A prominent statement saying the product has not been FDA approved
  • A prominent statement disclosing approved indications, if any
  • A prominent statement of all important safety info, including box warnings, if any
  • A complete list of references for all of the information disseminated in the response (firms should use peer-reviewed articles whenever possible)

Companies should also maintain the following records about off-label responses:

  • The nature of the request for information, including the name, address and affiliation of the requestor
  • Records regarding the information provided to the requestor
  • Any follow-up inquires or questions from the requestor

The guidance is open for comment for 90 days. Here’s the Federal Register entry.

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