Move over supplements, here come medical foods


More disputes and insurance coverage

Mary Ann DeMarco, executive director of sales and marketing for the Scottsdale, Ariz.–based medical food maker Primus Pharmaceuticals, said the company believes its products fit within the FDA’s medical foods rubric.

These include Fosteum Plus capsules, which it markets “for the clinical dietary management of the metabolic processes of osteopenia and osteoporosis.” The capsules contain a combination of genistein, zinc, calcium, phosphate, vitamin K2, and vitamin D. As proof of effectiveness, the company cites clinical data on some of the ingredients – not the product itself.

Primus has run afoul of the FDA before when it similarly positioned another product, called Limbrel, as a medical food for osteoarthritis. From 2007 to 2017, the FDA received 194 adverse event reports associated with Limbrel, including reports of drug-induced liver injury, pancreatitis, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. In December 2017, the agency urged Primus to recall Limbrel, a move that it said was “necessary to protect the public health and welfare.” Primus withdrew the product but laid out a defense of Limbrel on a devoted website.

The FDA would not comment any further, said Ms. Schor. Ms. DeMarco said that Primus is working with the FDA to bring Limbrel back to market.

A lack of insurance coverage – even for approved medical foods for IEMs – has frustrated advocates, parents, and manufacturers. They are putting their weight behind the Medical Nutrition Equity Act, which would mandate public and private payer coverage of medical foods for IEMs and digestive conditions such as Crohn disease. That 2019 House bill has 56 cosponsors; there is no Senate companion bill.

“If you can get reimbursement, it really makes the market,” for Primus and the other manufacturers, Mr. Hyman said.

Primus Pharmaceuticals has launched its own campaign, Cover My Medical Foods, to enlist consumers and others to the cause.

Partnering with advocates

Although its low-protein breads, pastas, and baking products are not considered medical foods by the FDA, Dr. Schär is marketing them as such in the United States. They are trying to make a mark in CKD, according to Ms. Donnelly. She added that Dr. Schär has been successful in Europe, where nutrition therapy is more integrated in the health care system.

In 2019, Flavis and the National Kidney Foundation joined forces to raise awareness of nutritional interventions and to build enthusiasm for the Flavis products. The partnership has now ended, mostly because Flavis could no longer afford it, according to Ms. Donnelly.

“Information on diet and nutrition is the most requested subject matter from the NKF,” said Anthony Gucciardo, senior vice president of strategic partnerships at the foundation. The partnership “has never been necessarily about promoting their products per se; it’s promoting a healthy diet and really a diet specific for CKD.”

The NKF developed cobranded materials on low-protein foods for physicians and a teaching tool they could use with patients. Consumers could access nutrition information and a discount on Flavis products on a dedicated webpage. The foundation didn’t describe the low-protein products as medical foods, said Mr. Gucciardo, even if Flavis promoted them as such.

In patients with CKD, dietary management can help prevent the progression to end-stage renal disease. Although Medicare covers medical nutrition therapy – in which patients receive personalized assessments and dietary advice – uptake is abysmally low, according to a 2018 study.

Dr. Burdock thinks low-protein foods for CKD do meet the FDA’s criteria for a medical food but that the agency might not necessarily agree with him. The FDA would not comment.


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