The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a final rule requiring content and format changes to pregnancy and lactation labeling information for prescription drugs and biologic products.
The long-awaited “Content and Format of Labeling for Human Prescription Drug and Biological Products; Requirements for Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling, or the Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule”(PLLR) is part of broad effort by the FDA to improve the content and format of prescription drug labeling. The PLLR, which finalizes many of the provisions in a proposed rule issued in May 2008 after input from numerous stakeholders, calls for replacement of the current A, B, C, D, and X drug classification system with more detailed information about the risks and benefits of use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The rule will take effect June 30, 2015.
Under the PLLR, labels will be required to include three detailed subsections entitled Pregnancy, Lactation, and Females and Males of Reproductive Potential. Each will include a risk summary, a discussion of the supporting data, and relevant information to help providers make prescribing and counseling decisions, according to the FDA. If no data are available to guide decision making, this must be stated.
The Pregnancy subsection combines the existing Pregnancy and Labor and Delivery subsections, and will address use of the drug during pregnancy as well as provide information about relevant registries that collect and maintain data on the use of the product in pregnant women. The Lactation subsection replaces the existing Nursing Mothers subsection, and will include information about use of the product during breastfeeding, including the amount of drug in breast milk and potential effects on the breastfed child. The new Females and Males of Reproductive Potential subsection will address pregnancy testing, contraception, and fertility issues as they relate to use of the product.
The existing A, B, C, D, and X categories were frequently misinterpreted as a grading system, giving an over simplified view of product risk, according to Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the Office of New Drugs in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
The new, more detailed approach to labeling will better address the complex risk-benefit considerations inherent in prescribing decisions during pregnancy and lactation, she said during a press briefing.
“I’m excited because clinicians will, going forward, be able to rely on FDA-approved drug labeling for comprehensive, chronically relevant, and user-friendly information in this part of labeling – something that has been missing for many years,” she said, noting that the changes are particularly important, given that the more than 6 million women who become pregnant each year in the United States take an average of 3-5 different prescription products during the course of their pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
“It is our hope that this new system will help their health care professionals and these women as they discuss treatment options,” she said.
Importantly, the PLLR ensures that more robust and informative data about drugs will be provided than ever before – and in a manner that speaks directly to the concerns that are common among providers, she said.
In addition to the elimination of the letter categories and the addition of the three new subsections, the use of standardized risk statement also was eliminated, as these had the same limitations as the letter categories. A section on inadvertent exposure also was eliminated due to redundancy, as the risk would be the same as with intentional exposure.
The rule also requires that labels be updated as they become outdated.
Much of the information that will be included on the new labels, which will be phased in for existing drugs and required immediately for drugs approved after June 30, 2015, was already included, but was scattered and difficult to find. The new formatting requirements provides for consistency across labels by pulling this information together in one place, Dr. Kweder said.
In an official statement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists applauded the rule for “taking needed steps to increase understanding about the effect of prescription medicine on women during pregnancy and lactation.”
“The FDA’s updated method of presenting information about both risk and benefit will improve the ability of all physicians to treat their pregnant and breastfeeding patients, as well as women who may become pregnant. It will also help more women to understand and take part in their health care decision making,” according to the ACOG statement, which also noted that the organization hopes the new content on prescription drug and biological product labels will “provide added incentives for clinical research as well as participation in patient registries.”
Christina Chambers, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and director of clinical research for the department of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, also praised the new labeling rule, noting in an interview that “the final rule has been long awaited by many who work in the field of counseling pregnant and breastfeeding women about risks and safety of prescription medications, such as counselors with organizations like MotherToBaby , a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, which provides information about medication and other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and which was involved in development of the final rule.
“The MotherToBaby counselors located throughout the United States who answer questions about medication exposures for hundreds of women every day, have struggled for years with trying to explain the not-so-useful A, B, C, D, X pregnancy categories to patients and providers alike who commonly misinterpret their meaning. The new label format is much more content rich and evidence-based, and encompasses the larger picture of the safety data in the context of treatment (or lack of treatment) of the maternal condition. This is a huge step forward – and will make even more clear how critical the need is for more human pregnancy data for all medications likely to be used by women of reproductive age,” she said.
Dr. Chambers is the program director for MotherToBaby California, and director of the MotherToBaby research center at the University of California, San Diego. She reported having no relevant disclosures.