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FDA warns against phthalate use in medicines

Published on 27/03/12 at 09:35am
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The Food and Drug Administration has warned pharma companies not to use two phthalates as excipients in both biological products and drugs, because they could cause developmental or reproductive problems in humans. 

The chemicals singled out in the draft guidance were dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Phthalates are used in certain oral pharmaceuticals as plasticisers to coat pills and create slow- or extended -release formulations. 

While some compounds in the phthalate class have not been found to be toxic, others are known to disrupt the endocrine system in laboratory animals, leading the FDA to suspect that the chemicals could have similar effects on humans. 

The guidance notes that other regulatory initiatives have been implemented to limit exposure to DBP and DEHP. In 2009, Europe banned their use in cosmetics after identifying them as reproductive toxicants, while the US Congress blocked their use in children's toys at concentrations higher than 0.1% in 2008. 

"While it is recognised that drug products may carry inherent risks, DBP and DEHP are used as excipients, and safer alternatives are available," says the FDA in its new document, which acknowledges that human toxicity data is scanty at the moment. 

"Therefore, the Agency recommends avoiding the use of DBP and DEHP as excipients in [regulated] drug and biologic products." 

Pharmaceutical manufacturers can look for alternative excipients in the FDA's Inactive Ingredients Database, and the listings for DBP and DEHP in this repository will be removed once manufacturers reformulate products that contain them. 

It may be possible for a manufacturer to argue that it has to use one of the phthalates, but in these cases the company will have to provide data "to support why a safer alternative cannot be substituted, as well as a risk/benefit analysis that demonstrates that the benefit for the intended population outweighs potential safety concerns." 

As part of the switching process, firms should consider the impact on scale-up and post-approval changes (SUPAC) and file information to the FDA accordingly, says the guidance.

Phil Taylor

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