The same drug company that donated $500,000 to a campaign to defeat marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona in 2016 is now actively fighting to deter competition against its own synthetic THC product. Efforts to extend its exclusive right to manufacture the drug have resulted in a back-and-forth with a federal agency that ultimately resulted in the pharma firm’s request being summarily rejected.
Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that came under fire over its anti-legalization election spending, is also known for producing potent opioids and a drug called Syndros, a synthesized THC product containing dronabinol that’s similar to Marinol, except that it’s a liquid preparation rather than a pill.
To many advocates, the company’s anti-legalization spending reeked of conflicts of interest. Was Insys worried that legal weed in Arizona represented a threat to its bottom line? The company essentially admitted as much in 2007, writing in a disclosure statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that “the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected” if marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids were legalized.
Now, according to publicly available documents, Insys is engaging in another type of battle. It wants extended exclusivity over its oral dronabinol product. And in October 2017, the company asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decline applications from competitors seeking to produce generic versions of Syndros.
Insys has already sued two such drug companies, Par Pharmaceuticals and Alkem Laboratories, after learning that they had submitted Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDA)—the first step in the process of gaining approval for generic versions of existing drugs—which “triggered a 30-month stay” in one case, Insys senior vice president of regulatory affairs Stephen Sherman noted in a October 2017 citizen petition to the FDA.
In light of disclosures that drugmakers were submitting FDA applications to develop generic versions that referenced Syndros, which might eventually provide patients with cheaper alternatives, Insys appealed to the FDA.
Its request was in two-parts: 1) It asked the FDA to decline to “receive or approve” any ANDA applications that didn’t establish “in vivo bioequivalence” to its drug, and 2) that any ANDA applications for its drug “include fed and fasted state bioequivalence studies.”
In essence, Insys argued that its drug was too complex to be replicated by generic competitors that didn’t first conduct extensive testing demonstrating its biochemical likeness.
In a letter made public earlier this month, the FDA flatly denied the company’s petition. The government agency disputed the claims Insys included in its letter and clarified how the ANDA approval process works.
Robin Feldman, professor of law and director of the Institute for Innovation Law at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, literally wrote the book on all the different ways that mainstream pharmaceutical companies try to subvert generic competition.
She told Marijuana Moment that the bioequivalence testing Insys requested was already required in any ANDA application, so it was kind of like “petitioning the FDA to say ‘we insist that you do what it is that we all know you’re going to do.’ And with that, you get five months of delay.” In a phone interview, Feldman couldn’t help but laugh as she was read another section of the drug company’s citizen petition. That section says:
“Insys notes that it is currently awaiting an FDA exclusivity determination with respect to SYNDROS and expects to receive three years of exclusivity based on the submission of new clinical studies essential to approval.”
“Companies pile these exclusivities on one after another to keep generic competitors off the market as long as possible,” Feldman said. “So the reason I laughed is what you are seeing is a multipronged effort by the brand company to stave off generic entry as long as possible.”
“They’re using a variety of techniques: citizen petition, additional regulatory exclusivity, and adding these on. Each delay may be of limited time, but they may be extremely valuable—and together, they can add up to significant costs to the consumer,” she said.
In her book and published studies, Feldman reported that approximately 80 percent of citizen petitions, like the one submitted by Insys, were denied by the FDA. Submitting a citizen petition is often a delay tactic for drug companies hoping to maintain exclusivity over their brands, because “[d]elaying generic competition for as little as six months can be worth half a billion dollars in sales for a blockbuster drug,” she wrote in an op-ed for STAT.
False or misleading citizen petitions from drugmakers are so common, in fact, that Feldman created a beta “alert system” for users to submit and detect suspect petitions. When she ran Insys’s October 2017 petition through the system, it “came back with red flags,” she said.
Insys Therapeutics did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. This story will be updated if the company sends comment.
Marijuana Trade Group Demands Action Against Unlicensed Los Angeles Dispensaries
Unlicensed marijuana dispensaries abound in Los Angeles, and a major cannabis trade association is calling on the local prosecutor to step up enforcement efforts.
In a letter sent to City Attorney Mike Feuer, the United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA) says it is concerned that “illegal retail cannabis operations are continuing to flourish and proliferate” and that existing medical marijuana dispensaries “are struggling financially in the face of competition from illegal dispensaries.”
The group, which represents licensed medical cannabis dispensaries throughout the city, requested information about how the local government is handling the situation.
“The UCBA is looking for answers and actions from City Attorney Feuer to ensure safety for workers and residents across the city and to protect the city’s much needed revenue,” UCBA executive director Ruben Honig said in a press release this week. “We are greatly concerned that illegal cannabis dispensaries continue to operate and proliferate in Los Angeles and urge him to crack down on rampant illegal cannabis operations.”
Of course, cracking down on the hundreds of unlicensed dispensaries operating in the city is easier said than done. And the city attorney’s office has moved to enforce local marijuana ordinances in waves this year. In September, for example, the office announced that more than 500 people were charged for running 105 illicit dispensaries.
It’s not quite as simple as shutting down unlicensed marijuana shops, though. Cannabis laws are constantly evolving in Los Angeles, and keeping up with the latest regulatory policies has proved challenging for many previously licensed dispensaries.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) said it agrees that the city attorney’s office should “enforce the law and the new regulatory structure,” but that enforcement “should be transparent, and should focus initially on the traditional criminal element more than on currently unlicensed businesses that have been operating for years without incident in compliance with the old system.”
“This is a perfect example of the problem with arbitrary license caps,” NCIA media relations director Morgan Fox wrote to Marijuana Moment in an email. “I’m not extremely familiar with the LA licensing scheme regarding existing businesses, but I’ve heard that it was very restrictive, very limited and resulted in the exclusion of many smaller and/or minority-owned companies.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Feuer’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Nearby Marijuana Shops Make Homes And Rentals More Valuable, Studies Show
When a shop selling marijuana opens (or closes), there’s a direct impact on housing and rental prices in the surrounding area, according to a pair of recent studies.
Housing prices for new homes increase by 7.7 percent on average if they’re located within a quarter mile of a new dispensary.
A study published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy evaluated how the price of new homes in Denver, Colorado, changes when a cannabis dispensary opens up nearby. Researchers compared the prices of homes before and after a dispensary opened within .25 miles, .25-.5 miles and .5-.75 miles.
When new dispensaries opened within .25 miles, housing prices jumped 7.7 percent on average. There was still a 4.7 percent increase for homes located within .5 miles, but the effect “disappears entirely” for houses that are further than .5 miles from a new dispensary. The researchers also found that the effect was slightly more pronounced if the dispensary was the first to the area.
“Our results suggest that despite potential costs, legalization is capitalized as a net benefit in housing prices,” the researchers wrote.
Interestingly, new dispensaries seem to have about the same impact on housing prices as new grocery stores, the study found. But the “mechanisms through which grocery stores affect housing prices are more obvious than dispensaries.”
“If public sentiment surrounding marijuana is positive, homebuyers may also prefer to select into neighborhoods with more dispensaries for convenience. Ultimately however, our data do not allow us to directly determine the underlying mechanisms driving this result, so these potential explanations should be considered speculative.”
Losing a marijuana coffeeshop causes a three percent decrease in Airbnb rental prices.
Amsterdam’s famous cannabis coffeeshops are known tourist attractions, but what happens when one shuts down? For his master’s dissertation, doctoral student Igor Goncalves Koehne de Castro identified at least one collateral effect: Rental costs on Airbnb drop by about three percent on average if the closure was within 250 meters of the lodging.
If the coffeeshop was further than 250 meters, rental prices didn’t change significantly.
There were plenty of examples for de Castro to study, which spanned from 2014 to 2017, because several coffeeshops have closed in response to new laws in recent years, including one in Amsterdam that prohibits the shops from operating within 250 meters of a school.
After controlling for other possible factors, de Castro developed a series of models based on Airbnb data on rental prices over time and their proximity to recently closed coffeeshops. The study revealed that these shops “present a positive impact” on rental prices for lodgings close to the shops—presumably because people who rent through Airbnb are “tourists” who are “sensitive to distances.”
“The findings of this study suggest that, for the city of Amsterdam, the de facto legalization of cannabis actually has a positive externality,” de Castro wrote. “This result puts new evidence to the debate of drug laws and policies, a matter that still lacks data and research.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Major Alcohol Association Briefs Congress On Marijuana Legalization
One of the nation’s leading alcohol industry associations held a briefing on Capitol Hill on Friday to tell lawmakers and congressional staffers about its position on marijuana legalization.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) became the first major alcohol association to call for the end of federal cannabis prohibition in July. At last week’s briefing, the group reaffirmed that stance, emphasizing that the federal government should allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
A representative from the group also suggested that the cannabis market could take lessons from the current regulatory approach to alcohol, including when it comes to distribution and quality control testing, one person who attended the event told Marijuana Moment. There was also a conversation about developing technologies to detect active impairment from marijuana on the roads.
In a one-sheet overview distributed at the briefing, WSWA wrote that the industry’s regulatory structure “should ensure product safety, discourage underage access, create an effective tax collection regime and encourage innovation and choice for consumers, while at the same time eliminating diversion of cannabis to other states.”
WSWA then outlines a series of recommendations—from implementing impaired driving standards to testing product formulas.
Read WSWA’s full list of marijuana policy recommendations below:
For the most part, the recommendations align with existing regulatory models in legal states. Where the alcohol and marijuana industries might have disagreements, though, is with WSWA’s opposition to vertical integration, under which one company manages more than one area of production and distribution that could otherwise be delegated to other businesses.
The alcohol industry generally operates under a three-tier system in the U.S., through which separate operators handle production, wholesaling and retail sales. Some have suggested that the alcohol industry wants the cannabis market to adopt its approach so that existing businesses like beer, wind and liquor distributors can profit from legal marijuana as well. But Dawson Hobbs, WSWA senior vice president of government relations, denied as much when the association made its initial announcement earlier this year.
“No, what we’re talking about is just creating a pathway for states to have federal recognition of legalization by enacting appropriate regulation that creates a safe and reliable marketplace,” Hobbs said at the time.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.