Clozapine Interrupted: APA, Others Seek FDA Forum on REMS

Kerry Dooley Young

March 03, 2022

Multiple psychiatric groups have asked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider holding a public meeting about its approach to risk management of the schizophrenia drug clozapine, which is effective but carries serious risks, including death.

In a February 14 letter, the groups asked the FDA to reconsider its new risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) for clozapine because of concerns it had the potential to cause abrupt discontinuation of the medication.

The groups cite an Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) report of a 40-year-old woman who was a long-time clozapine user, had a cardiac arrest, and died after she stopped taking the drug because her psychiatrist was unable to register for the updated version of the REMS.

"It is unacceptable for a REMS with unproven effectiveness at meeting its goal to carry risks of interruptions that can result in rehospitalization, acute exacerbation of psychosis, increased risk of suicide and potentially fatal orthostatic hypotension/bradycardic syndromes associated with incorrect restarts," the groups said in the letter.

"We feel certain that this case reported in the literature is not the only serious adverse outcome from the REMS and the transition," they added.

The letter was signed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Association for Community Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, and the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

Clozapine can decrease the neutrophil count, which can lead to severe neutropenia, serious infection, and death. Consequently, the FDA put additional safety measures in place governing clozapine prescribing.

In 2015, a centralized clozapine REMS replaced separate prescribing registries that the drug manufacturers maintained. There were technical issues with the 2015 start-up of that website, including data migration problems and long call wait times, the FDA said.

Subsequently, the drug's manufacturers then decided to change the REMS platform, which created new issues that led to high call volume and long wait times for clinicians and pharmacists who were trying to enroll.

Maintaining Access

As reported by Medscape Medical News in November, the FDA announced it would put some aspects of a planned switch on hold. A month later, the agency made further modifications to its plan.

The FDA said it would exercise "enforcement discretion" to try to maintain access to clozapine amid hitches with the REMS transition efforts. The agency also said at the time that it would not object if pharmacists dispensed clozapine without the usual authorization. In addition, wholesalers could ship the drug to pharmacies and healthcare settings without confirming REMS enrollment.

The FDA also held two December meetings to allow various stakeholders to air concerns.

In their letter, the APA and other groups asked if the FDA intends to continue with accommodations, such as allowing pharmacies to order clozapine from wholesalers without restriction.

"We do not feel the issues are resolved," the groups said.

Kerry Dooley Young is a freelance journalist based in Miami Beach, Florida. She is the core topic leader on patient safety issues for the Association of Health Care Journalists. Young earlier covered health policy and the federal budget for Congressional Quarterly/CQ Roll Call and the pharmaceutical industry and the Food and Drug Administration for Bloomberg.  Follow her on Twitter @kdooleyyoung.

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