On July 22, 2010, the European Medicines Agency recommended restricting the use of modafinil. Doctors and patients should be advised to use the drug only for the treatment of narcolepsy and all other indications should be withdrawn from market authorization, the press release said.
In addition to the brand-name, Provigil, marketed by Cephalon in the US, modafinil is also sold as Alertec, Modalert, Modavigil, Modiodal, Provake, and Vigil.
A review by the Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP), began in May 2009, because of safety concerns relating to psychiatric disorders, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, and psychotic episodes, and life threatening skin reactions, as well as significant off-label use and potential for abuse.
CHMP looked at all the clinical trial data on modafinil for narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnoea, shift-work sleep disorder and idiopathic hypersomnia, and articles from the published literature. CHMP also reviewed all the side effects reported on modafinil-containing medicines, and convened a group of experts on clinical neurosciences to provide advice, according to a Q&A document on EMA's website.
On the basis of the available data, CHMP concluded that the benefits of modafinil only outweighed the risks in treating narcolepsy and the clinical trials for other disorders did not provide strong evidence to support use of the drug. For other indications, CHMP found the data on effectiveness insufficient to outweigh the risks of skin reactions, psychiatric adverse reactions, and cardiovascular adverse reactions, such as hypertension and irregular heart beat.
CHMP concluded that the product information should carry a recommendation saying modafinil should not be prescribed to children and use of the drug be contraindicated in patients with uncontrolled moderate-to-severe hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias. The recommendations were forwarded to the European Commission for the adoption of a binding decision, the press release said.
Because CHMP noted in its review that modafinil has often been used for conditions not indicated, the drug makers were asked to carry out further studies, including a "drug utilisation study," to look at why family doctors prescribe the drug, according to the Q&A. In addition, data on misuse by university students is currently being collected and will be analyzed once available, the EMA reports.
The Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency issued a "stop press" notice in the August 2010 edition of "Drug Safety Update," reminding healthcare professionals of the EMA's recommendations.
Provigil was approved for narcolepsy in late 1998, which only affects around 200,000 people in the US, according to a July 2010 report by Global Industry Analysts.
US sales began in February 1999. Ten months later, "25% of narcolepsy patients in the country, more than 31,000 people, were taking the drug. It generated $25 million in 1999 sales, and Cephalon's revenue nearly tripled to $45 million," according to an August 1, 2000 report, by Matthew Herper, on Forbes.com.
A November 20, 2002, New York Times article reported that Cephalon CEO, Frank Baldino, himself, was taking Provigil, but would not say what condition he used it for. Provigil is short for "promotes vigilance," according to the Times.
Use of the drug is "expanding rapidly, with more than 80 percent of the prescriptions written to treat the fatigue and sleepiness associated with many other diseases, like depression and multiple sclerosis, or even just sleepiness caused by no disease at all," the article reported in 2002.
At that time, Baldino denied that the drug was or would be abused. "I don't think it's going to happen, because we're careful about how we sell it and doctors are careful how they write prescriptions," he told the Times.
"He added that the growing use of the drug for conditions other than narcolepsy is being driven by physicians, not by Cephalon's marketing," the article said.
Less than eleven months earlier, the FDA had sent a letter warning Cephalon to quit promoting Provigil for off-label uses. The FDA objected to language indicating the drug could be used for symptoms such as sleepiness, tiredness, decreased activity, lack of energy and fatigue. "Provigil is indicated to improve wakefulness in patients with excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy. Provigil is not approved for use as a daytime stimulant," the FDA wrote in January 2002.