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UPDATE 1-U.S. FDA panel backs approval for Indivior opioid addiction drug

(Adds details from panel discussion)

Oct 31 (Reuters) - Indivior Plc's experimental drug to treat opioid addiction is effective and should be approved, an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded on Tuesday.

The panel voted 18-1 that the injectable drug, known as RBP-6000, could benefit addicts and the lower of two doses studied has an acceptable safety profile. The FDA typically follows the recommendations of its advisory panels.

"I think this is a really promising alternative to what's out there and will be attractive to a lot of patients," said Laurel Habel, a panelist and researcher at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California.

The recommendation comes less than a week after FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the agency's plans to encourage widespread use among opioid addicts of less harmful opioids such as methadone and buprenorphine, the active ingredient in RBP-6000.

The United States is battling an opioid abuse epidemic that in 2015 claimed 33,000 people. President Donald Trump recently declared the problem a national public health emergency.

Indivior studied two dosing regimens. In one, 300 milligrams were given once a month for six months. In the other, two doses of 300 milligrams were followed by four doses of 100 milligrams. There was little difference in effectiveness between the two doses and the higher dose caused more side effects.

Panelists said they would like to see more data about which patients should be given the higher dose, though some said they would like to have it available despite the lack of data supporting any additional benefit.

"I do think there are people who will need the higher concentration but I would like to see guidance in the labeling to limit it to those people," said Dr. Anne-Michelle Ruha, director of the medical toxicology fellowship program at Banner University.

Dr. Caleb Alexander, associate professor of epidemiology and medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said he "would have concerns with concluding that the 300/300 product fulfills regulatory thresholds for approval."

If approved the product would be the first monthly injectable buprenorphine treatment. Indivior already sells Suboxone Film, a product which combines buprenorphine and nalexone and is placed under the tongue or inside the cheek.

The monthly injection would be delivered as part of a treatment plan that also includes counseling and psychological support. It is designed to be administered only in healthcare settings.

(Additional reporting by Justin Varghese; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Chris Reese)