FDA Panel Votes to Modify Isotretinoin iPLEDGE REMS

At a joint meeting of two US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committees today, panelists voted to modify two aspects of the iPLEDGE Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for isotretinoin, a drug for severe, nodular acne that is highly teratogenic.

The first vote was on whether to continue the 19-day lockout period for patients who can become pregnant and do not pick up their first prescription of isotretinoin within the 7-day prescription window. Those patients currently have to wait 19 days to get their second pregnancy test and receive the medication.

Most (17) of the 22 voting members voted not to continue the 19-day period; four voted to keep it; and one abstained. But there was no consensus on when the second pregnancy test should occur if the 19-day lockout is changed.

Ken Katz, MD, MSc, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, California, was among those voting not to continue the 19-day lockout.

“I think this places an unduly high burden physically and psychologically on our patients. It seems arbitrary,” he said. “Likely we will miss some pregnancies; we are missing some already. But the burden is not matched by the benefit.”

The second question concerned patients who cannot become pregnant, and it asked when REMS should require that the prescriber document counseling the patient in the iPLEDGE system. The current requirement is monthly.

Listed options and the number of votes for each were:

  • Only with the first prescription as part of patient enrollment (10)

  • Monthly (1)

  • Every 120 days (6)

  • Some other frequency (5)

For this question too, while the members largely agreed the current monthly requirement is too burdensome, there was little agreement on what the most appropriate interval should be.

Lack of Data

On both questions, several advisory committee members cited a lack of data on which they could base their decision.

On the documentation question, Megha Tollefson, MD, professor of dermatology at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, said she voted for the fourth option (some other frequency) with the thought of yearly attestation.

“As a part of this, providers have to provide monthly counseling,” Tollefson said. “This is just a documentation requirement in the iPLEDGE system. I think most prescribers do document their monthly counseling in their own medical records. I would say it would be OK not to redocument that in iPLEDGE.”

The two votes came at the end of the second day of a joint meeting of the FDA’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee and Dermatologic and Ophthalmic Drugs Advisory Committee in which experts addressed ways to improve the iPLEDGE REMS for isotretinoin. A transition to a new platform for the iPLEDGE program caused chaos after its rollout at the end of 2021, resulting in extensive delays and denial of prescriptions.

The committees sought to balance reducing burden with maintaining safety and preventing fetal exposures to isotretinoin.

They were also tasked with discussing other REMS requirements without taking a vote on each topic.

Among those topics was whether home pregnancy tests, allowed during the COVID-19 public health emergency, should continue to be allowed. Most who spoke to the issue agreed that home tests should continue in an effort to increase access and decrease burden. Members suggested safeguards against falsified results that have been documented, including assigning names and barcodes to the test results and uploading the verification to the iPLEDGE website.

The advisory committees also discussed recommendations to encourage more participation in the iPLEDGE Pregnancy Registry.

The advisory committees’ recommendations to the FDA are nonbinding, but the FDA generally follows the recommendations of advisory panels.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com, and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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