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A review of the two major regulatory pathways for non-proprietary low-molecular-weight heparins

Journal: Thrombosis and Haemostasis
ISSN: 0340-6245
Issue: 2012: 107/2 (Feb) pp. 201-395
Pages: 201-214

A review of the two major regulatory pathways for non-proprietary low-molecular-weight heparins

F. A. Ofosu (1)

(1) Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada


venous thromboembolism, biologics, biosimilars, low-molecular-weight heparins, patents


With the expiry or pending expiry of originator low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) patents, pharmaceutical companies have invested in developing non-proprietary versions of LMWHs. LMWHs are manufactured by depolymerising highly purified unfractionated heparin. In contrast to traditional synthetic drugs with well-defined chemical structures, LMWHs contain complex oligosaccharide mixtures and the different manufacturing processes for LMWHs add to the heterogeneity in their physicochemical properties such that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider existing originator LMWHs to be distinct medicinal entities that are not clinically interchangeable. The FDA views LMWHs as drugs and has approved two non-proprietary (generic) LMWHs, using the Abbreviated New Drug Application pathway. In contrast, the World Health Organization and the EMA view LMWHs as biological medicines. Therefore, the EMA and also the Scientific and Standardization Subcommittee on Anticoagulation of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis and the South Asian Society of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis have all published specific guidelines for assessing non-proprietary (biosimilar) LMWHs. This manuscript reviews why there are two distinct pathways for approving non-proprietary LMWHs. Available literature on non-proprietary LMWHs approved in some jurisdictions is also reviewed in order to assess whether they satisfy the requirements for LMWHs in the three guidance documents. The review also highlights some of the significant difficulties the two pathways pose for manufacturers and an urgent need to develop a consensus governing the manufacture and regulation of non-proprietary LMWHs to make them more widely available.

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