FDA Committee Approves New Drug Implant

By Pat Anson, Editor

An advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug delivery system to treat opioid addiction – an implant that could potentially be used to treat chronic pain and other diseases that require steady doses of medication.

The FDA’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 12 to 5 in favor of the new drug application for Probuphine, a tiny implant about the size of a matchstick that contains buprenorphine, a drug already used to treat addiction that currently only comes in pills and oral film strips. The FDA is expected to make a final decision on Probuphine next month.

“You can never be 100 percent sure of anything,” said Sunil Bhonsle, CEO and president of Titan Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TTNP), which partnered with Braeburn Pharmaceuticals in developing the implant. “The data clearly shows that this product can be of benefit to this patient population. And we hope the FDA will approve it.”



Once implanted under the skin, Probuphine is designed to deliver a steady dose of buprenorphine for six months. Buprenorphine is a weaker opioid that’s long been used as an addiction treatment drug sold under the brand name Suboxone. While it reduces cravings for opioids, buprenorphoine can also be abused and is prized by addicts as a street drug that can ease withdrawals pains from heroin.

The advantages of an implant are many. The dosage is controlled and there’s hardly any risk of abuse, diversion, or accidental overdose. Users also never have to remember to take a pill.

Probuphine’s path to the marketplace hasn’t been a smooth one. Braeburn and Titan were stunned in 2013 when the FDA denied approval of the implant and asked for a new clinical study proving Probuphine’s effectiveness in treating opioid addiction.

The results of a six month, double-blind clinical trial on 177 patients, found that the implant was more effective than buprenorphine film strips in treating addiction. The implant’s insertion and removal were "generally well tolerated," although nearly one in four patients had a "mild" adverse event at the implant site.

Several members of the FDA's advisory committee, including its chairwoman, voted against approval, saying there was not enough evidence of Probuphine’s effectiveness after six months.   

"New treatment options for the millions of patients and their families suffering from opioid addiction are desperately needed, and we appreciate the Committee's comprehensive review of Probuphine," said Bhonsle. “There are many applications for this technology and I think the medical community is now more in tune with looking at long-term delivery technology in the chronic disease setting. So I think it’s probably accurate to say the time is right to expand the use of these technologies to different settings.”

Bhonsle says Titan is already looking at ways the implant can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease and hypothyroidism, adding that chronic pain could also be treated with an implant.

“Clinical studies will need to be done to establish the ability, but the drug levels can certainly be delivered that are going to be beneficial for treating chronic pain,” he told Pain News Network.