October 17, 2022
Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 207-2832
Washington D.C.— Today, NCL Health Policy Associate Milena Berhane representing the Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance testified at The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing on the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s (CDER’s) proposal to withdraw approval of Makena or 17P. Milena’s full testimony can be found below.
Hello and thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Milena Berhane, and I am a Health Policy Associate at the National Consumers League. I am here representing The Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance, a coalition of 15 maternal and women’s health advocacy organizations that came together in 2021 with a shared concern about the state of preterm birth in the U.S. and what the proposed withdrawal of Makena and its generics could mean for women at risk.
Collectively, the Alliance seeks to improve preterm birth outcomes in the U.S. by maintaining access to safe, FDA-approved treatments and advocating for more diverse medical research that adequately represents the experiences of newborns and women of color.
Since convening as an Alliance, our members have included the following pre-existing organizations with their own missions, leadership and voices coming together to speak with one voice on this issue. These groups include:
- 1,000 Days
- The American Association of Birth Centers
- Black Women’s Health Imperative
- Black Mama’s Matter Alliance
- Expecting Health
- Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies
- Healthy Women
- Miracle Babies
- The National Birth Equity Collaborative
- The National Black Midwives Alliance
- The National Consumers League
- The National Partnership for Women and Families
- Sidelines and
Over the next few minutes, I will speak to why we believe it is unnecessary and potentially detrimental to cut off access to this entire class of drugs. And I will address how removing 17P and its generics will not affect all women equally.
For full transparency, the panel should be aware that COVIS Pharma – the sponsors of Makena – are one of more than 100 funders who support the work of the National Consumers League. The company has provided some initial funding to support the Alliance but is not involved in the strategic direction of the Alliance or its activities. And—like all of NCL’s funders—does not hold sway over our positions or efforts.
As I’m sure you know and will hear from many others, women of color have substantially higher rates of preterm birth than their white counterparts. According to the March of Dimes 2021 Report Card, while the U.S. preterm birth rate declined a fraction of a percent in recent years—from 10.2 percent in 2019 to 10.1 percent in 2020—rates of preterm birth increased for Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women, who continue to be up to 60 percent MORE likely to give birth preterm compared to White women.
We at the Alliance believe that the removal of Makena and its generics would exacerbate these inequities and contribute to the already stark divide in maternal and infant health outcomes between Black, Indigenous, and other women of color and their white counterparts.
For more than a decade, maternal-fetal medicine specialists have safely used 17P and its generics to help women with recurrent preterm birth carry their babies closer to term, improving the chances of a healthy birth and reducing the risk of long-term health issues for the infant. Taking it off of the market would mean cutting off access to the only safe and effective drug for this indication, which would leave pregnant women and their providers without an affordable approved alternative.
The Alliance believes the FDA should allow for additional studies to learn which populations 17P is MOST effective in treating. And we believe this can and should happen while maintaining access to 17P for women at high risk of adverse outcomes. Based on available evidence, maternal healthcare providers and their patients should have the opportunity to decide together whether 17P would be beneficial to them in their pregnancy.
I want to pause on this point of available evidence. All of the clinical trial and real-world evidence to date points to Makena and its generics being safe for women who have had a previous preterm birth. This makes keeping 17P on the market a question of efficacy, not safety. So why aren’t we doing everything possible to understand which populations 17P is most effective in treating before taking it off the market entirely?
Given the discrepancy in efficacy data between the original and confirmatory trials, it seems a logical next step would be to conduct additional efficacy studies in the population known to be at highest risk for recurrent preterm birth, which in the U.S., is Black and indigenous women.
Yet, the proposal to withdraw approval was based not on the original trial – MEIS (“Mees”) – which included nearly 60% African American and other women of color in the United States and found that 17P substantially reduced the rate of recurrent preterm delivery among women at high risk for preterm birth. Instead, the proposal to withdraw seems to be based on the results of the confirmatory trial – PROLONG – which was conducted primarily outside of the U.S. among mostly white European women, and which found Makena to not have the same level of efficacy as in the MEIS trial.
These trials studied two vastly different patient populations, one inclusive of women in the U.S. most vulnerable to preterm birth and one not. So the fact that they had different outcomes is not surprising. What doesn’t make sense is why the outcomes among white European women should carry more weight in decision-making than the outcomes among women of color in the U.S.
The Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance believes that evidence of efficacy for women of color in the U.S should be more determinative than a lack of demonstrated efficacy on white women in Europe.
In 2021, a meta-analysis study called EPPPIC (“eh-pick”), published in the Lancet, pooled data from thirty-one randomized trials in asymptomatic women at risk of preterm birth. It concluded that both 17P injections and vaginal progesterone reduced the risk of preterm birth before 34 weeks in high-risk women with singleton pregnancies. It also noted that shared decision making with women that have high-risk singleton pregnancies, should discuss an individual’s potential risks and benefits. However, despite this reinforcing conclusion about the efficacy of 17P, the agency made no change to its recommendation to remove.
To achieve birth equity and protect the physical, financial, and emotional wellbeing of mothers and infants, we cannot study pregnant women as a monolith. Instead, we must gain a better understanding of who can benefit most from treatments like 17P, through more diverse studies that include adequate representation from the women in this country who we know are most affected and are at the highest risk.
We believe that this research must explore the causes of disparate outcomes and risk of eliminating approved treatment options before a decision is made. And we believe that while these additional studies are conducted, 17P should absolutely remain available to patients and providers.
This last point is truly critical from the Alliance’s perspective. Considering the proven, life-impacting outcomes from the first clinical trial, years of anecdotal clinical data, and follow-up studies like EPPPIC, we believe that maintaining patient access to 17P while additional studies are conducted is KEY. The Alliance is fighting for a more inclusive healthcare system that gives every pregnant person an equal chance at having the best birth outcomes possible.
We do not believe that removing 17P from the market without understanding who could benefit the most from its use is in the best interests of patients or healthcare providers, especially without any other approved treatment options available.
Women of color need a seat at the table.
About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.