Technology & Research Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

Approval of the Data Governance Act, and EMA’s consultation on the protection of personal data in the CTIS


by Giuliana Miglierini The Data Governance Act (DGA) was approved and adopted in May 2022 by the European Council, following the positive position of the EU Parliament; the new legislation will entry into force after being signed by the presidents Read more

The transition towards EMA's new Digital Application Dataset Integration (DADI) user interface


by Giuliana Miglierini The Digital Application Dataset Integration (DADI) network project is aimed to replace the current PDF-based electronic applications forms (eAFs) used for regulatory submissions with new web-forms accessible through the DADI user interface. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has Read more

IVD regulation in force: new MDCG guidelines and criticalities for innovation in diagnostics


by Giuliana Miglierini The new regulation on in vitro diagnostic medical devices (IVDR, Regulation (EU) 2017/746) entered into force on 26 May 2022. The new rules define a completely renewed framework for the development, validation and use of these important Read more

IVD regulation in force: new MDCG guidelines and criticalities for innovation in diagnostics

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The new regulation on in vitro diagnostic medical devices (IVDR, Regulation (EU) 2017/746) entered into force on 26 May 2022. The new rules define a completely renewed framework for the development, validation and use of these important tools supporting the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, prediction, prognosis, treatment or alleviation of a disease, in line with technological advances and progress in medical science. “Diagnostic medical devices are key for lifesaving and innovative healthcare solutions. Today we are marking a big step forward for the patients and the diagnostics industry in the EU. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of accurate and safe diagnostics, and having stronger rules in place is a key element in ensuring this is the case for EU patients.”, said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

The European Commission also published a Q&A document to facilitate the comprehension of the new framework.

The main contents of the IVDR

The risk-based approach for the classification and development of in vitro diagnostics is at the core of the IVDR. There are four different classes of IVDs: class A (low individual risk and low public health risk), class B (moderate individual risk and/or low public health risk), class C (high individual risk and/or moderate public health risk) and class D (high individual risk and high public health risk). The assessment of the quality, safety and performance of IVDs by independent notified bodies shall be based on more detailed and stringent rules. Higher-risk categories will also be subject to further assessment by newly created scientific bodies acting under the auspices of the European Commission, such as the expert panels and the network of EU reference laboratories. Twelve expert panels have been established up to now.

Each single IVD will be associated to a Unique Device Identifier (UDI), so to facilitate its traceability along the entire life cycle. The identifier will also serve to locate the relevant information about a diagnostic marketed in the EU within the European database of medical devices (EUDAMED), where also a summary of safety and performance will be publicly available for medium- and high-risk devices. The database will also contain information about all economic operators and provide a repository for the certificates issued by notified bodies.

The new regulation strengthened the framework for post-marketing surveillance of IVDs, asking for a closer coordination of the vigilance activities by all member countries. The IVDR also introduced reinforced rules on clinical evidence and performance evaluation, including an EU-wide coordinated procedure for authorising multi-centre performance studies, and a specific regime for devices manufactured and used in the same health institution (in-house devices).

Difficulties in the timely implementation of the (EU) 2017/746 regulation may still be possible due to the lack of a sufficient number of notified bodies, as only seven have been designated up to now, established in only four countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands and Slovakia), while eleven other applications were pending in May 2022. To solve this issue, Regulation (EU) 2022/112 was adopted. A transition period up to May 2025 applies to devices that required a notified body certificate already under the previous Directive (around 8%, vs about 80% according to the IVDR); other classes of IVDs benefit of different transition periods (May 2025 for class D, May 2026 for class C and May 2027 for class B and A sterile).

Q&As on the interface with the Clinical Trial regulation and UDI

The Medical Devices Coordination Group (MDCG) published a Q&A document (MDCG 2022-10) to provide guidance on the interface between Regulation (EU) 536/2014 on clinical trials for medicinal products for human use (CTR) and the IVDR.

The guideline addresses the requirements for assays used in clinical trials, that may include IVDs carrying a CE mark for the intended purpose, IVDs developed in-house and devices for performance studies. Only the devices fulfilling the definition of an IVD as for its intended purpose are subject to the IVD legislation. The guideline also provides suggestions on assays likely to be considered IVDs, as they are used for medical management decisions of trial subjects within the trial.

Another Q&A guideline (MDCG 2022-7) provides clarifications on how to apply the Unique Device Identification system to both medical devices and in vitro diagnostics.

Topics covered by the document include the need for a new UDI-DI assignment in case the number of items in a device package changes or for single-use reprocessed devices, the requirement for economic operators to maintain a registry of all UDIs of the devices which they have supplied or with which they have been supplied, or the requirement of a new UDI-DI for substance-based medical devices, in case of formula quantity changes or additional claims.

The MDCG also addressed the assignment and use of the Basic UDI-DI and the determination of the ‘grouping’ for design or manufacturing characteristics, including the case of devices comprising a patient and a physician facing module, and the contents of the Declaration of Conformity (DoC). Labelling is also addressed, as well as rules for systems and procedure packs (SPPs) and configurable devices, as well as those applying to retail point of sale, promotional packs and marketing related samples.

The impact of the IVDR on innovation

The issues linked to the IVDR implementation and their impact on innovation and diagnostic laboratories, including the development and use of in-house devices, have been analysed by the BioMed Alliance In Vitro Diagnostics Task Force, and published in HemaSphere.

The Task Force identified two main challenges to be faced by the academic diagnostic sector. The first one impacts on the possibility to use in-house IVDs, based on the demonstration that no equivalent CE-IVD kit is present on the market or when the specific needs cannot be met at the appropriate level of performance by an equivalent CE-IVD. The strict exemptions applying to in-house IVDs (e.g. prohibition of transferring to other legal entities, compliance with EN ISO 15189 and justification of use, etc.) may impact also on the potential for innovation in the diagnostic sector.

The second challenge refers to the not so clearly defined boundaries between CE marked-IVDs, modified CE-IVDs, Research Use Only (RUO) tests, and in-house IVDs. The Task Force recalls the immediate applicability of the General Safety and Performance Requirements specified in Annex I of the IVDR, as they have not been included in the approved amendment of the implementation timeline.

Furthermore, only tests meeting economic viability may in the future be transferred from the academia to the industry, while rare or complex tests would probably remain excluded. According to the paper, the cost of diagnostics shall likely increase, and the academic should carefully consider how to support further research into rare or complex diagnostics in order to ensure their availability to patients.

Following the results of a survey among medical societies on current diagnostic practices, several suggestions are made to better support the implementation of the IVDR, namely by mean of the availability of diagnostic equivalents of the European Reference Networks for rare diseases and a concerted action involving all stakeholders. A joint biomarker-to-test pipeline between the IVD industry and research/academic labs would also be useful to facilitate the initial development and local application of innovative diagnostics within healthcare institutions or diagnostic reference networks with specific expertise, to then transfer them to manufacturers above a certain production volume.


Key issues in technical due diligences

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Financial due diligence is a central theme when discussing mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Not less important for the determination of the fair value of the deal and the actual possibility to integrate the businesses are technical due diligences, assessing the technological platforms and product portfolios to be acquired. A series of articles published in Outsourced Pharma discussed, under different perspectives, the main issues encountered in technical due diligences. We provide a summary of main messages to be kept in mind while facing this type of activity.

Technical due diligence of pharmaceutical products

The third millennium is being highly characterised by the closure of many M&A operations in the biopharma sector as a way to support the transfer of new technological platforms from their originators – usually an innovative start-up or spin-off company – to larger multinational companies. The latter are usually managing advanced clinical phases of development and regulatory procedures needed to achieve market authorisation in the territories of interest.

Furthermore, the acquisition of already marketed products often represents a way to renew the product portfolio or to enter new markets. Should this be the case, an article by Anthony Grenier suggests that a main target is represented by the understanding of how the products were maintained on the market by the seller company.

The restructuring of assets following acquisition may require the transfer of products manufacturing to sites of the acquiring company, or the possibility to use the services of a Contract Manufacturing Organisation (CMO). These are all issues that should enter the technical due diligence, that usually includes the exchange of information about the product, equipment, manufacturing, quality, and regulatory aspects of the deal.

The regulatory and quality perspectives

Regulatory due diligence takes into consideration the approval status of the interested products in target markets. Relevant documentation to be examined include the CMC dossier (Chemistry, Manufacturing, and Controls) and/or the Common Technical Document (CTD), and the current status of approval procedures undergoing, for example, at the FDA in the US or the European Medicines Agency in the EU. A possible issue mentioned by Anthony Grenier refers to the assessment and management of dossiers relative to unfamiliar markets, that may differ as for regulatory requirements and thus need the availability of dedicated internal resources or consultants. This type of considerations may impact also on the selection of CMOs; the transfer of older dossiers is also challenging, as they often do not reflect current requirements and standards and may require significant investments (including the request of additional studies) to support the submission of variations.

A visit to the facility manufacturing the product during the second round of bidding, in order to better understand issues related to the technology transfer, is also suggested. Technical documentation available to assessors should include copies of batch records and specifications for raw materials, active ingredients, and drug products. Analysis of the annual trends in manufacturing may be also useful, as for example a high number of rejected batches may indicate the need for a reformulation of the product.

From the quality perspective, the due diligence should also examine issues with supply or quality agreements, and the date of the last revision of documents. Examples of relevant documentation to be examined include process validation reports, change control lists, stability studies, inspection reports, etc.

The manufacturing perspective

In a second article, A. Grenier examined technical due diligence from the perspective of manufacturing, equipment and logistics.

The manufacturing process is key to ensure the proper availability of the product in the target markets, and it should be correctly transferred to the acquiring company or the CMO. To this instance, executed batch records are important to provide information on actual process parameters, processing times, and yields. Here again, process validation reports and master supply agreements provide information on the robustness of the processes and the steady supply of raw materials.

Consideration should also be paid to the transfer of any product-dedicated equipment involved in the manufacturing or packaging process, including its actual ownership. The time period for technology transfer should be long enough (at least 12 months) to ensure for the proper execution of all operations.

From the logistics point of view, it is important to understand the need to update printed components to reflect the new ownership of the product, a task that may result complex should it be marketed in many different countries and/or in many different dosage forms. Inventories of all raw materials, APIs, and packaging components should be also assessed, paying a particular attention to narcotic products for which specific production quotas may be present in some countries (e.g. the US).

Technical due diligence of entire facilities

M&A deals often involve the acquisition of one or more manufacturing facilities and other complex industrial assets. Anthony Grenier also examined the key factors impacting on this type of technical due diligence.

The “technical fit” between the two companies involved in the deal is a primary target for assessment, in order to evaluate the achievable level of integration and the existing gaps in experience to be filled. This may refer, for example, to the acquisition of a manufacturing plant for non-sterile products that would need to be converted for aseptic manufacturing: a goal that may require the building of new areas, thus the availability of enough space to host them. Experience of the staff is also highly valuable, as well as the successful introduction of new equipment.

Capacity of the plant should also be considered, neither in excess or defect with respect to the effective needs in order to avoid waste of resources or need of new investments. Experience of the seller company in CMO may be also relevant, as it may be used to fill some of the excess capacity. To this instance, the fields of specialisation and the availability of containment capability to avoid cross contamination are important parameters to be considered.

Compliance of the facility to regulatory requirements arising from the different target markets should also be assessed, as it impacts on the positive outcomes of inspections.

Highly complex technical due diligences

Technical due diligence becomes even more complex in the case of multi-site acquisitions. In this case, visits to assess specificities of the single facilities involved in the operation may be needed. The above mentioned parameters of technical fit, capacity and compliance should be always considered, and the take-at-home message from the A. Grenier is for the acquiring companies to “look for the weakest links that would prohibit them from bringing their product or technology to the sites to be acquired”. Capacity optimisation may be needed, for example.

The different steps of technical due diligence have been also examined in another article by Anne Ettner and Norbert Pöllinger published in Pharm. Ind.. They presented a mind map that clarifies the complexity of the items that should enter the due diligence process, and lists typical documents and questions that should be taken into consideration. Examples and case studies are also provided relative to the assessment of starting materials, the evaluation of the pharmaceutical formulations and that of the production process.


Trends in the development of new dosage forms

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Oral solid dosage (OSD) forms (i.e. capsules and tablets) historically represent the most easy and convenient way for the administration of medicines. Recent years saw an increasing role of new approaches to treatment based on the extensive use of biotechnology to prepare advanced therapies (i.e. cellular, gene and tissue-based medicinal products). These are usually administered by i.v. injections or infusions, and may pose many challenges to develop a suitable dosage form, as acknowledged for example by the use of new lipid nanoparticles for the formulation of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.

The most recent trends in the development of new dosage forms have been addressed by Felicity Thomas from the column of Pharmaceutical Technology.

The increasing complexity of formulations is due to the need to accommodate the peculiar characteristics of biological macro-molecules and cellular therapies, which are very different from traditional small-molecules. Bioavailability and solubility issues are very typical, for example, and ask for the identification of new strategies for the setting up of a suitable formulation. The sensitivity of many new generation active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) to environmental conditions (i.e. temperature, oxygen concentration, humidity, etc.) also poses many challenges. Another important target is represented by the need to improve the compliance to treatment, to be pursued through the ability of patients to self-administer also injectable medicines using, for example, specifically designed devices. The parenteral administration of medicines has become more acceptable to many patients, especially in the case of serious indications and when auto-injectors are available, indicates another PharmTech’s article.

According to the experts interviewed by Felicity Thomas, there is also room for the development of new oral solid dosage forms for the delivery of biological medicines, as well as for OSD forms specifically designed to address the needs of paediatric and geriatric patients.

Some examples of technological advancements

Productive plants based on the implementation of high containment measures (i.e. isolators and RABS) are widely available to enable the entire manufacturing process to occur under “sea led” conditions, thus allowing for the safer manipulation of high potency APIs and the prevention of cross-contamination. Process analytical technologies (PAT), digital systems and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to improve the overall efficiency of the formulation process. This may also prove true for previously “undruggable” proteins, that thanks to the AI can now become “druggable” targets denoted by a very high potency (and a low stability, thus asking for specific formulation strategies).

Advances in material sciences and the availability of new nanotechnology can support the development of oral formulations characterised by improved efficacy and bioavailability. To this instance, the article mentions the example of new softgel capsules able to provide inherent enteric protection and extended-release formulation. Functional coating, non-glass alternatives for injectables, and new excipients may also play an important role in the development of new formulations, such as controlled-release products, multi-particulates, orally disintegrating tablets, intranasal dosage forms, fixed-dose combinations.

 The ability to establish a robust interaction with the suppliers enables the development of “tailor-made” specifications for excipients, aimed to better reflect the critical material attributes of the drug substance. The ability to formulate personalised dosage forms may prove relevant from the perspective of the increasingly important paradigm of personalised medicine, as they may better respond to the genetic and/or epigenetic profile of each patient, especially in therapeutic areas such as oncology.

Not less important, advancements of processing techniques used to prepare the biological APIs (for example, the type of adeno-viral vectors used in gene therapy) are also critical; to this regard, current trends indicate the increasing relevance of continuous manufacturing processes for both the API and the dosage form.

 Injectable medicines may benefit from advancements in the understanding of the role played by some excipients, such as polysorbates, and of the interactions between the process, the formulation and the packaging components. Traditional techniques such as spray drying and lyophilisation are also experiencing some advancements, leading to the formulation of a wider range of biomolecules at the solid or liquid states into capsules or tablets.

New models for manufacturing

API solubility often represents a main challenge for formulators, that can be faced using micronization or nano-milling techniques, or by playing with the differential solubility profile of the amorphous vs crystalline forms of the active ingredient (that often also impact on its efficacy and stability profile).

As for the manufacturing of OSD forms, 3D printing allows the development of new products comprehensive of several active ingredients characterised by different release/dissolution profiles. This technology is currently represented, mostly in the nutraceutical field, and may prove important to develop personalised dosage forms to be rapidly delivered to single patients. 3D printing also benefits from advancements in the field of extrusion technologies, directly impacting on the properties of the materials used to print the capsules and tablets.

Artificial intelligence is today of paramount importance in drug discovery, as it allows the rapid identification of the more promising candidate molecules. Smart medical products, such as digital pills embedding an ingestible sensor or printed with special coating inks, enable the real-time tracking of the patient’s compliance as well as the monitoring “from the inside” of many physiological parameters. This sort of technology may also be used to authenticate the medicinal product with high precision, as it may incorporate a bar code or a spectral image directly on the dosage form. Dosage flexibility may benefit from the use of mini-tablets, that can be used by children as well as by aged patients experiencing swallowing issues.

The peculiarities of the OTC sector

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines present some distinctive peculiarities compared to prescription drugs. According to an article on PharmTech, since the mid-‘80s the OTC segment followed the dynamics characteristic of other fast-moving consumer packaged goods (FMCG) industries (e.g., foods, beverages, and personal care products), thus leading to a greater attention towards the form and sensory attributes of the dosage form.

The following switch of many prescription medicines to OTC, in the ‘90s, reduced the difference in dosage forms between the two categories of medicinal products. Today, the competition is often played on the ability to provide patients with enhanced delivery characteristics, for example in the form of chewable gels, effervescent tablets for hot and cold drinks, orally disintegrating tablets and confectionery-derived forms. The availability of rapid or sustained-released dosage forms and long-acting formulations, enabling the quick action or the daily uptake of the medicine, is another important element of choice. Taste-masking of API’s particles is a relevant characteristic, for example, to make more acceptable an OSD form to children; this is also true for chewable tablets and gels, a “confectionery pharmaceutical form” often used to formulate vitamins and supplements.


FAT and SAT, a critical step for the introduction of new equipment

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by Giuliana Miglierini

There are two key moments to be faced to introduce a new piece of equipment in a pharmaceutical plant: a factory acceptance testing (FAT), usually performed by its manufacturer to verify the new equipment meets its intended purpose, prior to approve it for delivery and once arrived at its final destination and installed, a site acceptance testing (SAT) run by the purchasing company and is part of the commissioning activity.

According to an article published in Outsourced Pharma, the commissioning of a new piece of equipment poses many challenges, and criticalities needs to be considered both from the business and regulatory point of view. Pharmaceutical plants are very complex and often customised upon the specific business needs, and the delivery of a new equipment requires the interaction of many different parties, both internal and external to the purchasing company. FAT, SAT and commissioning activities require a careful planning and detailed responsibilities for all participating parties to be included within the Commissioning and Qualification Plan (CQV plan). A possible responsibility matrix is suggested by the authors to provide clarity and ensures ownership of activities.

FAT, assessing the equipment at the manufacturer site

FAT and SAT testing involve the visual inspection of the equipment and the verification of its static and/or dynamic functioning, in order to assess the actual correspondence to the user requirement specifications (URS). While FATs are usually based on simulations of the equipment’s operating environment, SAT testing occurs at the final site after installation, thus it reflects the real operating conditions and environment in order to support qualification.

There are many different elements to be considered during FAT testing, including for example verification of the existing site drainage, piping, or room dimensions, or the position of the handle for accessibility, as well as software design specification, interface, and device integration.

The FAT exercise is always highly recommended, as it is essential to solve in advance (before shipment to the final destination) any error or malfunctioning of the equipment, that otherwise might occur at the purchasing company’s site. This results in the optimisation of the delivery and commissioning process, with important savings in terms of both time and costs for the purchasing company. To ensure for the transparency of FAT testing, the entire procedure (that requires usually 1-3 days, depending on the complexity of the equipment to be verified) is usually performed in the presence of a third party inspector and customer representative.

A comprehensive set of documentation should be always available to support FAT, including URS, drawings, checklists and procedures, calibrations and certifications, data sheets, references, etc. Raw data acquired during FAT are transmitted to the customer for analysis and validation. FAT should take into consideration all aspects relevant to the evaluation of the safety and functionality of the equipment and its compliance to URS, GMPs and data integrity. To this regard, it is also important for the engineering team called to run the new equipment at its final location to learn and share knowledge with the manufacturer along the entire commissioning process, so to increase the first-hand direct experience. According to the article, this is also critical to authorise the shipment of the equipment to the final destination, a step that should always be performed by an authorised, trained, and approved subject matter expert.

 SAT acceptance testing

All criticalities emerged during the FAT exercise are then checked again at the final site, after installation and verification; additional test cases may also be added to the SAT protocol to check for potential failure modes. SAT testing is performed once all connections between the new equipment and other machines/softwares are in place, under the real operating parameters, and may be witnessed by a representative of the equipment’s manufacturer.

Results from SATs may thus differ from those obtained from the FAT previously run by the manufacturer. From the regulatory point of view, SAT testing is a key element to demonstrate the compliance of the equipment to GMP requirements and to support the overall quality and safety of pharmaceutical productions. In this case too, many are the possible elements to be inspected and verified, including interlocks, ventilation, internal box pressure, electrical/hydraulic connections and safety systems, visual checks of components, training of the operators, etc.

A plan for each testing phase

FAT planning begins at the very moment of the purchasing company placing the order for the new equipment, and it has to reflect all URS to be checked for acceptability of the manufactured apparatus. This step in the design is critical and calls for a strict and positive communication between the manufacturer and its customers, a key point to take into consideration all elements that should enter the project.

All identified items and procedures to be challenged during FAT and SAT testing are usually addressed within the CQV plan, that connects the design phase to user requirements specifications and the other elements impacting the commissioning and qualification processes (i.e. system impact assessment, design specification, functional risk assessment, hardware / software specifications, Installation / Operational / Performance Qualification), including deviations and change management. The plan specific to SAT testing should include the scope, test specifications and logs, a test summary, the Commissioning report and the final Certificate of Acceptance.

Transparency and a robust statistical approach should represent main targets along the entire commissioning and validation procedure, that may be run with the assistance of external consultants. All activities that shall enter the regulatory dossiers should always be justified and documented, also under the perspective of data integrity. The Outsourced Pharma’s article also suggests paying a particular attention to controls on data provided by the manufacturer in the case a risk-based leveraging is applied.


Investing in formulation as success’ factor

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Formulation is a critical step in the development of new medicinal products, as it directly influences the bioavailability, release profile and stability of the active ingredient, overall impacting on both the efficacy and safety of the medicine.

While in the traditional approach the definition of the final formulation was a quite late step along the development process, new models of R&D greatly focus on early formulation as a way to optimise both time and costs of drug development. It is thus important to identify the optimal formulation strategy as early as possible: a quite challenging goal in many instances, especially in the case of last generation complex biopharmaceuticals which may prove difficult to formulate. An article by Felicity Thomas, published in Pharmaceutical Technology discusses how to address early formulation strategies to maximise the chance of success.

Limits and challenges of formulation

The main objective of the drug development process remains the same, reducing as much as possible the time-to-market so to fully exploit the marketing exclusivity period granted by the patents protecting an innovative medicine.

To this instance, some key aspects should be considered in order to rapidly establish the most appropriate formulation, with a special attention to achieving an early access to first-in-human assessment and proof-of-concept studies.

Scaling-up of the formulation process is another critical issue, as it requires a careful consideration of all the steps needed to establish the final manufacturing process at the commercial scale. This exercise is fundamental in order establish the critical quality attributes and process parameters, thus reducing the risk of a change of the initial formulation to make it suitable to the final manufacturing process.

As explained by Jessica Mueller-Albers, strategic marketing director Oral Drug Delivery Solutions, Evonik, the increased pressure to speed up formulation is also connected to the fact “many new drugs target small therapeutic areas, where it is essential for pharma companies to be first in the market from an economic perspective.”

The availability of enabling technologies is fundamental to early formulate niche medicinal products, moving away from the classical mass production. The trend initiated with the development of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines may represent a change of paradigm in drug development, suggests Jessica Mueller-Albers. Lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) are an example of enabling technology that has been widely employed to formulate the mRNAs used in Covid-19 vaccines. LNPs may take many different forms, i.e. liposomes, lipoplexes, solid lipid nanoparticles, nanostructured lipid nanoparticles, microemulsions, and nanoemulsions (see more in Drug Development and Delivery).

Other types of emerging technologies are also widely investigated, such as proteolysis-targeting chimeras (PROTACS). These are heterobifunctional nanomolecules, containing one moiety recognised by the E3 ligase and chemically linked to a ligand (small molecule or protein) able to bond to the target protein. The final outcome is the formation of a trimeric complex, through which it becomes possible to transfer ubiquitin molecules to the target protein. The mechanism represents an alternative approach to “knock down”, as it enables the degradation of the target protein, offering many advantages compared to the use of classical inhibitors.

Another challenge to be faced during formulation development is the need of a broad and specialised expertise in the different domain of drug development, including also material characterisation, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. According to Stephen Tindal, director, Science & Technology, Europe, Catalent, this is particularly true for small companies, which are often the focus of early development activities before acquisition of the projects by larger multinationals. As explained in the Pharmaceutical Technology’s article, a possible approach is to use small teams of experts to manage the preclinical phases of development.

The many challenges of early formulation

The solubility of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in aqueous media is often one of the main challenges to be faced in formulation studies, impacting also on the final bioavailability of the drug in the target body compartments and/or fluids. Estimates indicates that at least 70% of new APIs are poorly soluble.

Other challenging points to be taken into consideration include the possible presence of different polymorphic forms, each characterised by its own stability and properties, and potentially giving rise to conversion from one another during the formulation and/or manufacturing process (see more in the article by A. Siew, Pharmaceutical Technology). The often limited amount of API in the early phases of development and the difficulty to evaluate the dose range on the basis of the available data are other critical point to be considered.

The development of an appropriate bioavailable formulation is often based on preclinical data obtained from animal pharmacokinetic and GLP toxicity studies, followed by pre-formulation studies to assess API’s properties (e.g. solubility, stability, permeability, etc.) in commonly used solvents and bio-relevant media. Drug delivery systems might be used to solve solubility issues, to then scale the identified formulation on the selected technology platform to be used for manufacturing (see more in Drug Development and Delivery).

The principles of the Developability Classification System (DCS) may be also considered to better assess the physicochemical and biopharmaceutical characteristics of a new API that may impact of the formulation process.

Some possible approaches to early formulation

The experts interviewed by Felicity Thomas have indicated some possible approaches useful to addresses formulation issues. For systemic oral small-molecule drugs, for example, the use of a solution as the delivery vehicle may allow to reduce the needed amount of API, thus supporting lower costs to reach Phase I proof of concept in healthy volunteers. Various techniques are also available to favour solubilisation and bioavailability of the active ingredient, i.e. hot-melt extrusion, spray drying, coated beads, size reduction, lipid-based approaches, etc. The optimisation of particle size by mean, for example, of micronisation and nanomilling techniques is another option. Co-administration with lipids can enhance the lymphatic transport of lipophilic drugs, as it favours its incorporation into chylomicrons at the intestinal level, and the subsequent delivery to the lymphatic system in the form of chylomicron–drug complexes.

Many algorithm-based platforms and predictive models are also available to support formulators in the selection of excipients and solubilisation methods, avoiding the need of extensive testing. The implementation of real-time adaptive manufacturing is another possible tool, useful to optimise the formulation on the basis of emerging clinical data.



Greatest common divisor for product traceability and batch definition in continuous biomanufacturing

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by Giuliana Miglierini

According to the draft ICH Q13 guideline on continuous manufacturing (CM), the definition of batch established by the ICH Q7 is applicable to all modes of CM, and it may refer to the quantity of output or input material, or to the run time at a defined mass flow rate. Other approaches to batch size definition are also possible and have to be justified taking into consideration their scientific rationale and the characteristics of the specific CM process.

The choice of a range for the batch size has to be justified in the regulatory dossier, including the approach used to define it. To this instance, changes in batch size that fall into the defined range can be managed through the Pharmaceutical Quality System, while variations have to be submitted (based on the availability of supporting data) to manage post-approval changes falling outside the approved range. ICH Q13 also asks manufacturers to define a suitable quantitative metric in order to establish batch-to-batch consistency and system robustness.

A possible approach to answer the complex challenges of batch definition in continuous integrated biomanufacturing has been proposed by an article published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology and signed by researchers of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria, and the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB). According to the authors, another important issue to be faced in CM is the ability to trace the raw materials through the entire process.

The usefulness of the greatest common divisor (GCD)

The deep understanding of a continuous manufacturing process is fundamental to support its regulatory acceptability; many are the different parameters to be considered to this instance, both regarding the attributes of input materials (e.g., potency, material flow properties) and process conditions (e.g., mass flow rates), in order to achieve the desired comprehension of the process dynamics.

The definition of the residence time distribution (RTD) for each individual unit operation, as well as for the integrated system, can be used to define the time a certain mass or fluid element remains in the continuous process. Challenges in the use of the RTD for batch definition in CM include the possibility to combine different production runs and the possible occurrence of process failures, which may cause great economic losses in case of batches of large dimensions.

The article by Lali et al. describes the use of the greatest common divisor (GCD) as a new parameter that may prove useful to lower “the spread of the RTD through continuous downstream process chains without the need for a redesign of individual unit operations for narrower RTD”.

Semi-continuous purification as the model example

The process used to model the new approach refers to the conventional semi-continuous purification of monoclonal antibodies using staphylococcal Protein A affinity chromatography, a process that may include runs performed on different columns.

The overall modelled process described in the article consists of six different steps, each characterized by a different RTD, starting from the alternating tangential flow filtration of the output material obtained from the upstream steps. A three-column periodic countercurrent chromatography (PCC) was used for protein capture, giving rise to a discrete output flow. This was collected in a surge tank or a continuous stirring tank reactor, from which a continuous outlet flow feeds the next unit operation, consisting of a fully continuous virus inactivation column. The last step of the process included polishing by flow-through chromatography and final concentration and buffer exchange obtained by ultrafiltration and diafiltration. The simulation first focused on each single step, to then consider the RTD of the integrated process.

The criticality assessed by the authors refers to the time-dependency of the RTD for the semicontinuous steps of the modelled process (whereas continuous steps are time-independent).

This is further complicated by the fact “each semicontinuous unit operation adds a periodic behavior to the product concentration profile, which leads to complex periodic behavior in the outlet of the process”.

The great common denominator is the parameter proposed in order to take into due account the time period of the semi-continuous steps, namely the time difference between elution peaks. A GCD of 2.29 hours was identified for the switching of the inlet flow to the next chromatographic column; this value was used to define batch size in comparison to a fixed arbitrary time (2 h). The same approach was also used to define outlet sections of the process and the resulting batches (also by pooling different outlet sections together to form a larger batch).

Based on different sectioning in the inlet, when we track the product profile after each unit operation, we see a chaotic pattern when using an arbitrary time of 2 h. However, when the inlets are sectioned based on the GCD of the period for semi-continuous unit operations, we see a predictable, constant periodic behavior in the outlets”, writes the authors.

According to Lali et al., the synchronisation of the semi-continuous unit operations to achieve the largest possible GCD or the smallest possible lower common multiple is the only requirement for this method to define the batch size; every multiple of the GCD can also be used. Authors provide some examples which may typically occur during the management of a CM process and suggest a possible procedure for the implementation of batch definition based on GCD.


Commission establishes portfolio of 10 most promising treatments for Covid-19

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The second phase in the development of new medicines to treat Covid-19 – a part of the EU Strategy on Covid-19 Therapeutics launched in May 2021 – has reached a cornerstone with the announcement made by the European Commission of a first portfolio list of ten potential Covid-19 therapeutic candidates likely to be authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The only medicine authorised up to now at EU-level to treat Covid-19 is remdesivir.

The choice of the molecules to be included in the list was based on independent scientific advice by an expert group, and it is aimed to offer new treatment opportunities for patients affected by the disease in a way complementary to the preventive action of the already available vaccines. The strategy shall contribute to the achievement of the European Health Union, and it has been modelled on the example of the EU Vaccines Strategy.

Once available in the European market, the new medicines are expected to contribute to the reduction of hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19. “We have already signed four joint procurement contracts for different Covid-19 treatments and we stand ready to negotiate more. Our goal is to authorise at least three therapeutics in the coming weeks and possibly two more by the end of the year and help Member States gain access to them as soon as possible.”, said the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides.

Three different categories of therapeutics

The initial list of ten candidates includes three different categories of therapeutics, and it may evolve in future according to the emerging of new scientific evidence.

Antiviral monoclonal antibodies have been identified as the most efficacious approach to be used in the earliest stages of infection. This category includes the following medicinal products under development:

  • Ronapreve, a combination of two monocolonal antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Roche.
  • Xevudy (sotrovimab) from Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline.
  • Evusheld, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab from Astra-Zeneca.

The second category refers to oral antivirals, in this case too for early treatment; it includes the following candidates:

  • Molnupiravir from Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and MSD.
  • PF-07321332 from Pfizer.
  • AT-527 from Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche.

Hospitalised patients may also benefit from the use of immunomodulators; four different possible candidates have been selected within this category:

  • Actemra (tocilizumab) from Roche Holding.
  • Kineret (anakinra) from Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.
  • Olumiant (baricitinib) from Eli Lilly.
  • Lenzilumab from Humanigen.

The scrutiny and selection of the most promising therapeutic options took into consideration 82 different molecules in late-stage clinical development. The analysis assumed that different types of products are needed for different patient populations and at different stages and severity of the disease. This scrutiny exercise was completely separate from the standard scientific assessment of the regulatory dossiers submitted for the candidates, that will be performed by EMA in order to issue the recommendation for final marketing authorisation by the EU Commission.

Steps towards the approval of the selected candidates

As announced by Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, half of the selected candidate therapeutics may reach approval by EMA by the end of 2021. These include products for which the rolling review is already ongoing or that have applied for marketing authorisation to the European Medicines Agency. Pre-requisite for the approval is the final demonstration of their quality, safety, and efficacy; there is still the possibility some of the products in the list shall not be authorized should the scientific evidence provided to EMA be considered not enough robust to meet the regulatory requirements.

Four other candidates are still in early phase of development and have already received scientific advice from the Agency; their rolling review shall begin as soon as enough clinical data will be available. The further development of these products will benefit by an innovation booster to support development activities.

As said, this is just a first list of promising therapeutics to treat Covid-19; some other approaches are expected to be identified as a consequence of the activation of several new initiatives by the EU Commission. Among these are the setting up of the interactive mapping platform for promising therapeutics which represents one of the first targets of action for the newly created Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) (we wrote about this in October’s newsletter). The Commission also announced the activation within few weeks of the HERA website, where contact details and practical guidance for interested companies shall be found.

A pan-European matchmaking event for therapeutics industrial production has been also announced; this effort will focus on the development of new and repurposed Covid-19 therapeutics and it is aimed to mobilise the EU’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity.

The criteria used to select the candidate therapeutics

The European Commission published also a Q&A note to better explain the process that led to the selection of the ten promising therapeutics to be included in the list.

The portfolio of the selected products (authorised and under development) has been established by the expert sub-group on Covid-19 therapeutics (part of the expert group on SARS-CoV-2 variants) upon request of the Commission. The criteria used to run the analysis were approved by Member States in the Human Pharmaceutical Committee.

They include the evaluation of the pharmacological rationale on the basis of the available evidence of the potential role played by the single medicinal product in the treatment of Covid-19, its stage of development and availability of relevant data from clinical trials, the absence of (new) major identified safety issues, and the ability to answer to unmet clinical need and/or bring therapeutic added value. For some product categories, the efficacy against new SARSCoV-2 variants has been also evaluated.

Other points included in the assessment refer to the route of administration, treatment regimen, and formulation, and the company’s intention to access EMA’s early stage scientific advice procedures. The analysis run by the expert group did not focused on more industrial aspects, i.e. manufacturing, production volumes, prices and access conditions; these will be part of the considerations made by the Commission in order to activate its support instruments.

As for the three different categories of selected products, antiviral monoclonal antibodies are intended to mimic the action of natural antibodies generated by the immune system against coronavirus. They can exert both a curative and a preventive action against the infection, in particular in the earliest stages of the disease. They are usually administered by injection.

Oral antivirals are small molecules aimed to block the activity and replication of the virus. These too are early interventions targeted to prevent damage in tissues and organs and offer the advantage of administration as tablets or capsules, thus favouring compliance. Other plus identified by the expert group are a higher resistance to variants, and the therapeutic action maintained also in vaccinated patients.

Immunomodulators aim to regulate the excessive reaction of the immune systems against the virus, thus preventing the risk of hospitalisation. They represent a symptomatic treatment option for patients at severe stage of progression of the disease despite vaccination and antiviral therapy.


Automation of aseptic manufacturing

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by Giliana Miglierini

The pharmaceutical industry is often the last industrial sector to implement many new manufacturing and methodological procedures. One typical example is Lean production, those concepts were developed in the automotive industry well before their adoption in the pharmaceutical field. The same may also apply to automation: it appears time is now mature to see an increasing role of automated operations in the critical field of aseptic manufacturing, suggests an article by Jennifer Markarian on PharmTech.com.

The main added value of automation is represented by the possibility to greatly reduce the risk of contamination associated to the presence of human operators in cleanrooms. A goal of high significance for the production of biotech, advanced therapies, which are typically parenterally administered. Automation is already taking place in many downstream processes, for example for fill/finish operations, packaging or warehouse management.

The advantages of the automation of aseptic processes

The biggest challenges engineers face when designing isolated fill lines are fitting the design into a small, enclosed space; achieving good operator ergonomics; and ensuring all systems and penetrations are leak-tight and properly designed for cleanability and [hydrogen peroxide] sterilization,” said Joe Hoff, CEO of robotics manufacturer AST, interviewed by Jennifer Markarian.

The great attention to the development of the Contamination Control Strategy (CCS) – which represents the core of sterile manufacturing, as indicated by the new Annex 1 to GMPs – may benefit from the insertion of robots and other automation technologies within gloveless isolators and other types of closed systems. This passage aims to completely exclude the human presence from the cleanroom and is key to achieve a completely segregated manufacturing environment, thus maximising the reduction of potential risks of contamination.

The new approach supports the pharmaceutical industry also in overcoming the often observed reluctance to innovate manufacturing processes: automation is now widely and positively perceived by regulators, thus contributing to lowering the regulatory risks linked to the submission of variations to the CMC part of the authorisation dossiers. High costs for the transitions to automated manufacturing – that might include the re-design of the facilities and the need to revalidate the processes – still represent significant barriers to the diffusion of these innovative methodologies for pharmaceutical production.

The elimination of human intervention in aseptic process was also a requirement of FDA’s 2004 Guideline on Sterile Drug Products Produced by Aseptic Processing and of the related report on Pharmaceutical CGMPs for the 21st Century: A Risk-Based Approach. According to Morningstar, for example, the FDA has recently granted approval for ADMA Biologics’ in-house aseptic fill-finish machine, an investment aimed to improve gross margins, consistency of supply, cycle times from inventory to production, and control of batch release.

Another advantage recalled by the PharmTech’s article is the availability of highly standardized robotics systems, thus enabling a great reduction of the time needed for setting up the new processes. The qualification of gloves’ use and cleaning procedures, for example, is no longer needed, impacting on another often highly critical step of manufacturing.

Easier training and higher reproducibility of operative tasks are other advantages offered by robots: machines do not need repeated training and testing for verification of the adherence to procedures, for example, thus greatly simplifying the qualification and validation steps required by GMPs. Nevertheless, training of human operators remains critical with respect to the availability of adequate knowledge to operate and control the automated systems, both from the mechanical and electronic point of view.

Possible examples of automation in sterile manufacturing

Robots are today able to perform a great number of complex, repetitive procedures with great precision, for example in the handling of different formats of vials and syringes. Automatic weighing stations are usually present within the isolator, so to weight empty and full vials in order to automatically adjust the filling process.

This may turn useful, for example, with respect to the production of small batches of advanced therapy medicinal products to be used in the field of precision medicine. Robots can also be automatically cleaned and decontaminated along with other contents of the isolator, simplifying the procedures that have to be run between different batches of production and according to the “Cleaning In Place” (CIP) and “Sterilisation In Place” (SIP) methodologies.

The design and mechanical characteristics of the robots (e.g. the use of brushless servomotors) make the process more smooth and reproducible, as mechanical movements are giving rise to a reduced number of particles.

Examples of gloveless fully sealed isolators inclusive of a robotic, GMP compliant arm were already presented in 2015 for the modular small-scale manufacturing of personalised, cytotoxic materials used for clinical trials.

Maintenance of the closed system may be also, at least partly, automated, for example by mean of haptic devices operated by remote to run the procedure the robotic arm needs to perform. Implementation of PAT tools and artificial intelligence algorithms offers opportunities for the continuous monitoring of the machinery, thus preventing malfunctioning and potential failures. The so gathered data may also prove very useful to run simulations of the process and optimization of the operative parameters. Artificial intelligence may be in place to run the automated monitoring and to detect defective finished products.

Automated filling machines allow for a high flexibility of batch’s size, from few hundreds of vials per hour up to some thousands. The transfer of containers along the different stations of the process is also automated. The implementation of this type of processes is usually associated with the use of pre-sterilised, single-use materials automatically inserted within the isolator (e.g. primary containers and closures, beta bags and disposal waste bags).

Automation may also refer to microbial monitoring and particle sampling operations to be run into cleanrooms, in line with the final goal to eliminate the need of human intervention.

Comparison of risks vs manual processes

A comparison of risks relative to various types of aseptic preparation processes typically run within a hospital pharmacy and performed, respectively, using a robot plus peristaltic pump or a manual process was published in 2019 in Pharm. Technol. in Hospital Pharmacy.

Production “on demand” of tailor-made preparations has been identified by authors as the more critical process, for which no significant difference in productivity is present between the manual and automated process. The robotic process proved to be superior for standardised preparations either from ready to use solutions or mixed cycles. A risk analysis run using the Failure Modes Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) showed a lower level of associated risk.


The opportunity for repurposing of oncology medicines

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Rare cancers, which account for approx. 22% of new cases in Europe, represent an area of low business interest for the pharmaceutical industry, due to the limited number of patients compared to the very high costs to develop targeted treatments. It is thus important to consider the possibility for already existing medicines to be repurposed for a new indication. Lower costs of development and risk of failure, and a shorter time frame to reach registration are upon the main advantages of repurposing compared to de novo development, highlights the Policy Brief presented during the Joint meeting of EU Directors for Pharmaceutical Policy & Pharmaceutical Committee of 8 and 9 July 2021.
The experts addressed more specifically the possibility to achieve non-commercial repurposing of off-patent cancer medicines, which are commonly used off-label to treat patients not responsive to other more innovative types of therapies.

The issue of non-commercial development
The request of a new indication for an already marketed medicine has to be submitted by the Marketing authorisation holder (MAH). This greatly hampers the access to noncommercial repurposing by independent research institutions, as they would need to find an agreement with the MAH, the only responsible for all the interactions with regulatory authorities, at the central (EMA) or national level.
Considering the issue from the industrial point of view, this type of external request may prove difficult to be answered positively, when taking into consideration the very low return on investment that can be expected from a repurposed off-patent medicine. Even EU incentives schemes, such as those on data exclusivity and orphan designation, may not be sufficiently attractive for the industry. Current incentives schemes, for example, allow for an additional year of exclusivity in case of a new indication for a well-established substance, a 10-year market exclusivity
plus incentives in case of an authorised medicine granted with orphan designation, or the extension of the supplementary protection certificate for paediatric studies (plus 2 years market exclusivity for orphans).
The following table summarises the main issues and potential solutions involved in the setting of a specific reference framework for the repurposing of off-patent medicines for cancer, as reported in the WHO’s Policy Brief.

Table: Short overview of issues and solutions in repurposing of off-patent medicines for cancer
(Source: Repurposing of medicines – the underrated champion of sustainable innovation. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO)

Many projects active in the EU
The European Commission started looking at the repurposing of medicines with the 2015-2019 project Safe and Timely Access to Medicines for Patients (STAMP). A follow-up phase of this initiative should see the activation in 2021 of a pilot project integrated with the new European Pharmaceutical Strategy.
Several other projects were also funded in the EU, e.g. to better train the academia in Regulatory Science (CSA STARS), use in silico-based approaches to improve the efficacy and precision of drug repurposing (REPO TRIAL) or testing the repurposing of already marketed drugs (e.g. saracatinib to prevent the rare disease fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive, FOP). A specific action aimed to build a European platform for the repurposing of medicines is also included in Horizon Europe’s Work programme 2021 –2022; furthermore, both the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan and the Pharmaceutical Strategy include actions to support non-commercial development for the repurposing of medicines.

According to the WHO’s Policy Brief, a one-stop shop mechanism could be established in order for selected non-commercial actors, the so-called “Champions”, to act as the coordination point for EU institutions involved in the funding of research activities aimed to repurposing. This action may be complemented by the support to public–private partnerships involving research, registration and manufacturing and targeted to guarantee volumes for non-profitable compounds.
Among possible non-profit institutions to access funding for repurposing research in cancer are the European Organisation for Research on Cancer (EORTC) and the Breast Cancer International Group. An overview of other existing initiatives on repurposing has been offered during the debate by the WHO’s representative, Sarah Garner.

How to address repurposing
Looking for a new indication is just one of the possible points of view from which to look at the repurposing of a medicine. Other possibilities include the development of a new administration route for the same indication, the setup of a combination form instead of the use of separated medicinal products, or the realisation of a drug-medical device combination.
A change of strategy in the war on cancer may be useful, according to Lydie Meheus, Managing Director of the AntiCancer Fund (ACF), and Ciska Verbaanderd.
Keeping cancer development under control may bring more efficacy to the intervention than trying to cure it, said ACF’s representatives. The possible approaches include a hard repurposing, with a medicine being transferred to a completely new therapeutic area on the basis of considerations about the tumor biology and the immunological, metabolic and inflammatory pathways, or a soft repurposing within the oncology field, simply looking to new indications for rare cancers.
From the regulatory point of view, a possible example for EMA on how to address the inclusion of new off-label uses of marketed medicines is given by the FDA, which may request a labeling change when aware of new information beyond the safety ones.

The Champion framework
The Champion framework, proposed as a result of the STAMP project, is intended to facilitate data generation and gathering compliant to regulatory requirements for a new therapeutic use for an authorised active substance or medicine already free from of intellectual property and regulatory protection.
A Champion is typically a not-for-profit organisation, which interacts with the MAH in order to include on-label what was previously off-label, using existing regulatory tools (e.g innovation offices and scientific and/or regulatory advice). The Champion shall coordinate research activities up to full industry engagement and would be responsible for filing the initial request for scientific/regulatory advice on the basis of the available data. The pilot project to be activated to test the framework will be monitored by the Repurposing observatory group (RepOG), which will report to the Pharmaceutical Committee and will issue recommendations on how to deal with these types of procedures.

AI to optimise the chances of success
Artificial intelligence (AI) may play a central role in the identification of suitable medicines to be repurposed for a target indication, as it supports the collection and systematic analysis of very large amounts of data. The process has been used during the Covid pandemic, for example, when five supercomputers analysed more than 6 thousand molecules and identified 40 candidates for repurposing against the viral infection.
AI can be used along drug development process, making it easier to analyse the often complex and interconnected interactions which are at the basis of the observed pharmacological effect (e.g drug-target, protein-protein, drug-drug, drug-disease), explained Prof. Marinka Zitnik, Harvard Medical School.
To this instance, graphic neural networks can be used to identify a drug useful to treat a disease, as it is close to the disease in “pharmacological space”. The analysis may also take into account the possible interactions with other medicines. This is important to better evaluate the possible side effects resulting from co-prescribing; annual costs in treating side effects exceed $177 billion in the US alone, according to Prof. Zitnik.