Warning Letter to New England Compounding Center

February 12, 2008

Department of Health and Human Services' logo Department of Health and Human Services

Public Health Service
Food and Drug Administration
New England District


One Montvale Ave Stoneham, MA 02180 781-596-7700 Fax: 781-596-7896

December 4, 2006

Barry J. Cadden, Z
Director of Pharmacy & Owner
New England Compounding Center
697 Waverly St
Framingham, MA 01702

Ref. No. NWE-06-06W

Dear Mr Cadden:

On September 23, 2004, investigators from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy inspected your firm, located at 697 Waverly St, Framingham, MA. On January 19, 2005, the inspection was completed. This inspection revealed that your firm compounds human prescription drugs in various dosage forms and strengths.

We acknowledge the receipt of your October 1, 2004, letter addressed to FDA’s New England District Office, concerning questions presented during the referenced inspection.

FDA’s position is that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) establishes agency jurisdiction over “new drugs,” including compounded drugs. FDA’s view that compounded drugs are “new drugs” within the meaning of 21 USC 321(p), because they are not “generally recognized, among experts … as safe and effective,” is supported by substantial judicial authority. See Weinberger v. Hynson, Westcott & Dunning, 412 US 609, 619, 629-30 (1973) (explaining the definition of “new drug”); Prof’ls & Patients for Customized Care v. Shalala, 56 F.3d 592, 593 n.3 (5th Cir. 1995) (the FDCA does not expressly exempt pharmacies or compounded drugs from its new drug provisions); In the Matter of Establishment Inspection of Wedgewood Village Pharmacy, 270 F.Supp. 2d 525, 543-44 (D.N.J. 2003), aff’d, Wedgewood Village Pharmacy v. United States, 421 F.3d 263, 269 (3d Cir. 2005) (“The FDCA contains provisions with explicit exemptions from the new drug … provisions. Neither pharmacies nor compounded drugs are expressly exempted.”). FDA maintains that, because they are “new drugs” under the FDCA, compounded drugs may not be introduced into interstate commerce without FDA approval.

The drugs that pharmacists compound are not FDA-approved and lack an FDA finding of safety and efficacy. However, FDA has long recognized the important public health function served by traditional pharmacy compounding. FDA regards traditional compounding as the extemporaneous combining, mixing, or altering of ingredients by a pharmacist in response to a physician’s prescription to create a medication tailored to the specialized needs of an individual patient. See Thompson v. Western States Medical Center, 535 US 357, 360-61 (2002). Traditional compounding typically is used to prepare medications that are not available commercially, such as a drug for a patient who is allergic to an ingredient in a mass-produced product, or diluted dosages for children.

Through the exercise of enforcement discretion, FDA historically has not taken enforcement actions against pharmacies engaged in traditional pharmacy compounding. Rather, FDA has directed its enforcement resources against establishments whose activities raise the kinds of concerns normally associated with a drug manufacturer and whose compounding practices result in significant violations of the new drug, adulteration, or misbranding provisions of the FDCA.

FDA’s current enforcement policy with respect to pharmacy compounding is articulated in Compliance Policy Guide (CPG), section 460.200 [“Pharmacy Compounding”], issued by FDA on May 29, 2002 (see Notice of Availability, 67 Fed. Reg. 39,409 (June 7, 2002)).1 The CPG identifies factors that the Agency considers in deciding whether to initiate enforcement action with respect to compounding. These factors help differentiate the traditional practice of pharmacy compounding from the manufacture of unapproved new drugs. They further address compounding practices that result in significant violations of the new drug, adulteration, or misbranding provisions of the FDCA. These factors include considering whether a firm compounds drugs that are copies or essentially copies of commercially available FDA-approved drug products without a documented patient-specific medical need. The factors in the CPG are not intended to be exhaustive and other factors may also be appropriate for consideration.

1. Copies of Commercially Available Drug Products

It has come to our attention that you are compounding trypan blue ophthalmic products. During the inspection at your firm, you advised an investigator from FDA’s New England District Office that the trypan blue products that your firm compounds are devices. FDA classifies trypan blue products as drugs, not devices. Further, on December 16, 2004, trypan blue ophthalmic solution was approved by FDA and it is commercially available. As stated in the CPG, FDA will not exercise its enforcement discretion for the compounding of copies of commercially available FDA-approved products, including this one.

We have also learned that your firm may be compounding 20% aminolevulinic acid solution (ALA). Please note that there is a commercially available, FDA-approved aminolevulinic acid solution 20%. Like compounded trypan blue, FDA regards compounded 20% aminolevulinic acid solution as a copy of commercially available drug.

FDA does not sanction the compounding of copies of FDA-approved, commercially available drugs and the agency will not exercise its enforcement discretion regarding the trypan blue and ALA products compounded by your firm.

All products compounded by your firm containing trypan blue or ALA are drugs within the meaning of section 201(g)(1) of the FDCA (21 USC 321(g)(1)). These products are misbranded under section 502(f)(1) of the FDCA (21 USC 352(f)(1)) in that their labeling fails to bear adequate directions for its use. These products are not exempt from this requirement under 21 CFR 201.115 because they are new drugs within the meaning of section 201(p) of the FDCA (21 USC 321(p)) and they lack approved applications filed pursuant to section 505 of the FDCA (21 USC 355).

2. Anesthetic Drug Products

Equally serious, your firm’s promotional materials reveal that it offers to compound “Extra Strength Triple Anesthetic Cream” which contains 20% benzocaine, 6% lidocaine, and 4% tetracaine. Like a manufacturer, you have developed a standardized anesthetic drug product that you sell under the name “Extra Strength Triple Anesthetic cream,” Further, you generate sales by giving physicians “courtesy prescriptions” (i.e., free samples). These actions are not consistent with the traditional practice of pharmacy compounding, in which pharmacists extemporaneously compound reasonable quantities of drugs upon receipt of valid prescriptions from licensed practitioners to meet the unique medical needs of individual patients.

Moreover, the agency is concerned with the public health risks associated with the compounding of “Extra Strength Triple Anesthetic Cream.” There have been at least two non-fatal reactions and two deaths attributed to the use of compounded topical local anesthetic creams containing high dose of local anesthetics. Local anesthetics, like “Extra Strength Triple Anesthetic Cream,” may be toxic at high dosages, and this toxicity can be additive. Further, there is a narrow difference between the optimal therapeutic dose of these products and the doses at which they become toxic, i.e. they have low therapeutic index.

Adverse events consistent with high systemic exposures to these products include seizures and cardiac arrhythmias. Specifically, risk of systemic adverse events from tetracaine products includes (1) a systemic allergic response to p-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) which, at worst, could lead to cardiac arrest; or (2) excessive systemic absorption following repetitive or extensive application, especially for a 4% product, which could ultimately lead to convulsions. Tetracaine is associated with a higher incidence of allergic reactions than other anesthetics, such as lidocaine. The risk of systemic toxicity is greatest in small children and in patients with pre-existing heart disease. Factors that may increase systemic exposure are time and surface area of the exposure, particularly when the area of application is covered by an occlusive dressing. Benzocaine has an additional toxicity not seen with lidocaine, methemoglobinemia, an acquired decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells. Further, patients with severe hepatic disease are at greater risk of developing toxic plasma concentrations of local anesthetics because of their inability to metabolize them.

The Extra Strength Triple Anesthetic Cream compounded by your firm is a drug within the meaning of section 201(g)(1) of the FDCA (21 USC 321(g)(1)). This product is misbranded under section 502(f)(1) of the FDCA (21 USC 352(f)(1)) in that its labeling fails to bear adequate directions for its use. It is not exempt from this requirement under 21 CFR 201.115 because it is a new drug within the meaning of section 201(p) of the FDCA (21 USC 321(p)) that lacks an approved application filed pursuant to section 505 of the FDCA (21 USC 355).

Depending on its labeling, this product may also violate section 502(a) of the FDCA (21 USC 352(a)). A drug or device is misbranded under section 502(a) if its labeling is false and misleading in any particular (e.g., if the labeling for your local anesthetic products fails to reveal the consequences that may result from the use of the products as local anesthetics).

3. Repackaging

Additionally, we are in receipt of a complaint alleging that you are repackaging the approved injectable drug, Avastin, into syringes for subsequent promotion and sale to health professionals. Avastin is unpreserved and is packaged and labeled in 4 and 16 ml single-use glass vials. The labeled precautions include “discard any unused portion left in a vial.…” Each step in the manufacture and processing of a new drug or antibiotic, from handling of raw ingredients to final packaging, must be approved by FDA, whether carried out by the original manufacturer or by some subsequent handler or repacker of the product. Pharmacists are not exempt from these statutory requirements. Generally, the agency regards mixing, packaging, and other manipulations of approved drugs by licensed pharmacists, consistent with the approved labeling of the product, as an approved use of the product if conducted within the practice of pharmacy, i.e., filling prescriptions for identified patients. However, processing and repacking (including repackaging) of approved drugs is beyond the practice of pharmacy and is thus subject to the Act’s premarket approval requirements.

The agency has an established policy, articulated in Compliance Policy Guide Sec. 446.100, Regulatory Action Regarding Approved New Drugs and Antibiotic Drug Products Subjected to Additional Processing or other Manipulations (CPG 7132c.06) (copy enclosed), concerning the manipulation of approved sterile drug products outside the scope of the FDA-approval. FDA is particularly concerned about the manipulation of sterile products when a sterile container is opened or otherwise entered to conduct manipulations. The moment a sterile container is opened and manipulated, a quality standard (sterility) is destroyed and previous studies supporting the standard are compromised and are no longer valid. We are especially concerned with the potential microbial contamination associated with splitting Avastin — a single-use, preservative-free, vial — into multiple doses. When used intravitreaily, microbes could cause endophthalmitis, which has a high probability for significant vision loss. The absence of control over storage, and delays before use after repackaging, only exacerbate these concerns.

Avastin is approved for use in the treatment of colorectal cancers. The text of your alleged promotional material offers this drug to ophthalmologists. Avastin has no approved indications for use in the eye. As such, your firm is distributing an unapproved new drug in violation of section 505 of the FDCA. Because the product lacks adequate labeling for its intended use (see 21 CFR 201.128) your firm is also distributing a misbranded drug in violation of section 502(f)(1) of the FDCA (21 USC 352(f)(1)). Also, please note that, under section 301(a) of the FDCA (21 USC 331(a)), the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of any drug that is misbranded is prohibited.

Under section 301(d) of the FDCA (21 USC 331(d)), the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a new drug that has not been approved under section 505 is also prohibited.

Further, we have been informed that, although your firm advises physicians that a prescription for an individually identified patient is necessary to receive compounded drugs, your firm has reportedly also told physicians’ offices that using a staff member’s name on the prescription would suffice. Drugs compounded in this manner are not compounded consistent with the CPG, and FDA will not exercise its enforcement discretion regarding those drugs.

The above violations are not intended to be an all-inclusive list of deficiencies. You should take prompt action to correct these deviations. Failure to promptly correct these deviations may result in additional regulatory action without further notice. These actions include, but are not limited to, seizure of your products or injunction against you or your firm. Federal agencies are routinely advised of the issuance of warning. letters so that they may take this information into account when considering the award of government contracts.

Please notify this office in writing within 15 working days of receipt of this letter, of any steps you will take to correct the noted violations, including an explanation of each step being taken to prevent the recurrence of similar violations. If corrective action cannot be completed within 15 working days, please state the reason for the delay and the time frame within which the correction will be complete.

You should address your reply to this letter to the US Food and Drug Administration, New England District Office, 1 Montvale Ave, 4th Fl, Stoneham, MA 02180, Attn: Ann Simoneau, Compliance Officer. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Ms Simoneau at 781-596-7732.

Gail T. Costello District Director

1 Although Section 503A of the FDCA (21 USC 353a) addresses pharmacy compounding, this provision was invalidated by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Thompson v. Western States Medical Center, 535 US 357 (2002), that Section 503A included unconstitutional restrictions on commercial speech. And those restrictions could not be severed from the rest of 503A. In Thompson v. Western States Medical Center, 535 US 357 (2002), the Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit ruling that the provisions in question violated the First Amendment.

This page was posted on February 12, 2008.