A Proposed Approach for the Determination of the Bioequivalence Acceptance Range for Narrow Therapeutic Index Drugs in the European Union

Publication: Clin Pharmacol Ther


The current regulatory criterion for bioequivalence of narrow therapeutic index (NTI) drugs in the European Union requires that the 90% confidence interval for the ratio of the population geometric means of the test product compared with the reference for area under the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC), and in certain cases maximum plasma drug concentration (Cmax ), to be included within the tighter acceptance range of 90.00-111.11%. As a consequence, sponsors need to recruit a higher number of subjects to demonstrate bioequivalence and this may be seen as increasing the burden for the development of generics. This “one-size-fits-all” criterion is particularly questionable when the within-subject variability of the reference product is moderate to high. As an alternative, we propose a further refined statistical approach where the acceptance range is narrowed based on the within-subject variability of the reference product of the NTI drug, similar to the one used for widening the standard 80.00-125.00% acceptance range for highly variable drugs. The 80.00-125.00% acceptance range is narrowed, only if the within-subject variability is lower than 30%, down to the current NTI acceptance range of 90.00-111.11% when the within-subject variability is 13.93% or lower. Examples within the current European Medicines Agency list of NTI drugs show a considerable reduction in required sample size for drugs like tacrolimus and colchicine, where the predicted within-subject variability is 20-30%. In these cases, this approach is less sample size demanding without any expected increase in the therapeutic risks, since patients treated with reference products with moderate to high within-subject variability are frequently exposed to bioavailability differences larger than 10%.

By Paulo Paixão, Rita Bento Guerreiro,  Nuno Silva, Kevin Blake, Milton Bonelli, Jose Augusto Guimarães Morais, Alfredo Garcia Arieta, Luis Filipe Gouveia