MDCG, a position paper on the capacity of notified bodies

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The lack of a suitable capacity of notified bodies (NBs) is one of the main issues still pending after the entry into force of the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR) (EU) 2017/745 and In Vitro Diagnostic Regulation (IVDR) (EU) 2017/746. The Medical Devices Coordination Group (MDCG) discussed some suggestions on how to address the problem within a position paper published in August 2022.

Even if the document does not represent an official guideline, it describes some critical points to be considered by manufacturers and notified bodies in order to face the great challenge of the re-certification of medical devices and in vitro diagnostics according to the new rules. Should this not occur in time, many products may exit the market at the end of the transition period, potentially leading to a supply crisis greatly impacting on the health of patients and the normal functioning of healthcare institutions.

The MDCG position paper answers the request of EU Health ministers advanced during the EPSCO Council meeting on 14 June 2022 to figure out some immediate measures to face the problem. The final goal of the document is to improve the efficiency in the application of the current regulatory framework, with no reduction of requirements to be fulfilled by manufacturers. Waivers from applicable conformity assessments procedures should be considered only in relation to an interest of public health, patient’s safety, or health.

The position paper consists of nineteen points addressing the issue under its different perspectives, the first eleven of which refer to the increase of notified bodies’ capacity. The MDCG calls on all stakeholders to collaborate in order to smoothly implement the suggested actions, a process that will be monitored by the MDCG itself.

How to increase the capacity of NBs

Hybrid audits should be the elective tool notified bodies may use where appropriate to timely and efficiently run conformity assessment. Duplication of activities should be also avoided. To this instance, the suggestion is to “develop a framework for leveraging evidence, or components thereof, from previous assessments” run according to previous Directives. A pre-condition to activate this possibility is that the previous assessment has been judged “valid and properly substantiated also with regard to the MDR/IVDR requirements and the device” by a duly qualified notified body personnel.

A flexible approach may also apply to the combination of audits for legacy devices and actions needed to guarantee their ‘appropriate surveillance’. Combined audits may be used particularly for legacy devices whose application for MDR/IVDR certification is under review by a NB, thus moving the focus more towards the assessment of compliance with the new rules. To this instance, the MDCG also announced the intention to produce a specific guidance on ‘appropriate surveillanceunder Article 110(3) IVDR and to update MDCG 2022-4.

Already existing guidance may also be reviewed to reduce the administrative burden for NBs, and remove limitations related to the scope of documentation not required by MDR/IVDR.

A fundamental piece of the new European infrastructure for medical devices and IVDs is represented by the centralised Eudamed database, which should be timely fed by NBs with all relevant information using machine-to-machine procedures. Double registrations should be avoided as much as possible.

New notified bodies are essential in order to increase capacity. To this instance, the MDCG suggests supporting training, coaching and internship activities for their personnel. The rationalisation of internal administrative procedures is also deemed important.

Time for re-assessment of NBs is undergoing a review by the European Commission, which is expected to result in the publication of new Delegated Acts. The proposal is to move from the current first re-assessment at three years after notification (and then every 4th year) to up to five years after notification, on the basis of a flexible approach. There are currently ten re-assessments planned in 2022, twelve in 2023 and 11 in 2024. According to the MDCG, the new timeframe for re-assessment would allow national designating authorities to free resources to assess new NBs, while existing ones could process higher numbers of first MDR/ IVDR certifications.

Assessment, designation and notification of conformity assessment bodies (including the European Commission) are also called to reduce their timeframes and improve the efficiency of their processes, keeping unaltered the requirements to be met. The possibility to add specific codes to the designation of NBs shall be also explored by the MDCG. The Group is also committed to prioritise some ongoing actions which may impact on NB’s capacity (i.e. revision of section III.6. of MDCG 2019-6 revision 3).

MDCG’s guidance documents should be seen as an aid “to apply the legal requirements in a harmonised way, providing possible solutions endorsed by the MDCG”. Nevertheless, demonstration of the compliance to requirements should always benefit of a certain flexibility. A reasonable time should also be granted to integrate the new guidance in the relevant systems and/ or to apply them, suggests the MDCG.

Suggestions for the manufacturers

Under the perspective of manufacturers of MDs and IVDs, costs to access NBs may play an important role, especially for small-and-medium companies (SMEs). The MDCG position paper recalls NBs to the obligation to make their standard fees publicly available, possibly in a way that might be easily compared. Specific access schemes should be also in place to make available some capacity to SMEs and other first-time applicants for conformity assessment.

Manufacturers should also refer to notice MDCG 2022-11 to ensure timely compliance with MDR requirements. IVDs should not left behind, even if this category of products benefits of one more year for the transition to new rules compered to medical devices.

Structured dialogue is the suggested tool to improve the collaboration between manufacturers and notified bodies along the entire process of conformity assessment aimed at regulatory procedures, should this approach turn to be useful in order to improve the overall efficiency and predictability.

A timely communication to manufacturers by mean of webinars, workshops, targeted feedback and informative sessions is also deemed important in order to allow for a better preparedness, with a particular attention to SMEs and first-time applicants. The MDCG also suggest NBs to develop common guidelines for manufacturers to assist them in the application phase, containing explicative examples of typical non-conformities and details on he preparation and content of technical documentation. National authorities and industry associations are called as well to contribute to the dissemination of relevant information across their stakeholders.

Specific guidance should be issued by the MDCG to support a simpler conformity assessment of some aspects of legacy and orphan devices denoted by a demonstrable track record of safety. The development of a specific definition of “orphan devices” is also planned.

An improved dialogue between NBs and medicines authorities, and cases where expedited review would be possible is also supported in order to speed up consultations on medical devices incorporating an ancillary medicinal substance and companion diagnostics.