active ingredients Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC


by Giuliana Miglierini The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection


by Giuliana Miglierini As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have Read more

Environmental sustainability: the EIPG perspective


Piero Iamartino Although the impact of medicines on the environment has been highlighted since the 70s of the last century with the emergence of the first reports of pollution in surface waters, it is only since the beginning of the Read more

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current SPC Regulation (EC) 469/2009. The unitary SPC system will apply also to plant protection products (under different regulations), and it will allow for the obtainment of up to 5 years IP protection beyond the life of the patent.

The new system will complement the unitary patent system, as part of the overall “EU patent package” announced in 2023, and which also includes the proposed regulation on compulsory licensing (we wrote about this last week) and the one on standard essential patents. According to the EU Parliament, the procedure on unitary SPCs will now stop after the European elections.

A report on the potential impact of the unitary supplementary protection certificates on access to health technologies, prepared by the Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs for the Parliament’s Committee for Legal Affairs, is also available.

The main amendments to the Commission’s proposal

The text adopted by the Parliament on 28 February 2024 (together with the legislative resolution on the recast of the SPC regulation) refers to the proposed new regulation amending Regulation (EU) 2017/1001 (EU trademark), Regulation (EC) 1901/2006 (medicinal products for paediatric use) and Regulation (EU) 608/2013 (custom enforcement of intellectual property rights).

The report of the rapporteur, Tiemo Wölken, specifies the entities or people that provided him with input in the preparation of the document, among which are also EFPIA and Medicines for Europe.

The amended text highlights the importance of pharmaceutical research in ensuring the EU’s competitiveness, but also the difficulty of establishing a direct link between this and the rules aimed to support research in innovative medicinal products. The point is that “authorised medicines from third countries are equally eligible to receive all Union incentives, just as Union-based innovative companies can equally benefit from incentives in third countries”. This may lead to companies moving their activities in other countries offering greater protection.

The adopted text better specifies cases for which manufacturing is possible in the EU in presence of a still valid unitary SPC, i.e. export to a third country, where protection does not exist or has expired, or storing the product in order to be ready to enter the EU market upon expiry of the corresponding SPC (the so-called EU “day-one” entry).

To obtain granting of the unitary SPC, the product should fall within the scope of one or more claims of the basic patent. To this instance, the Parliament made specific reference to the description and drawings of the patent, and to the skilled-on-the-art “person’s general knowledge in the relevant field and of the prior art at the filing date or priority date of the basic patent”. The same applies also to active ingredients in combination products, each of which needs to be specifically identifiable. The approved text removes any reference to the concept of “therapeutic equivalence”.

The Parliament specified that the information on granted unitary SPCs provided in the register should not be used for patent linkage or other administrative decisions related to generics or biosimilars. The text also clarifies how to consider “economically linked” parties, that are not entitled to obtain multiple SPCs for the same product.

A single procedure and a digital-by-default process

The main objective of the unitary SPC system is to allow the submission of a single application to obtain extension of the IP protection in all European countries which are part of the EU’s unitary patent system. The digital-by-default principle should guide the entire procedure leading to the grant of a unitary SPC, starting from the submission of the application to the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) using a format to be made available by the EUIPO itself. Combined applications for supplementary protection certificates should also be made possible.

The application for a unitary SPC would be based on an already existing centralised marketing authorisation issued by EMA. Information on any direct public financial support received for research related to the development of the product for which the SPC is requested should be also provided.

In charge of the examination would be a new SPC division created within the EUIPO. The examination would be run by an examiner from the Office and two examiners from national competent authorities, with sufficient expertise (at least one examiner with a minimum of five years’ experience in the examination of patents and supplementary protection certificates).

The examination opinion should be issued within six months of the publication of the application. A new amendment has been introduced to allow for an expedited examination (4 months) in case, for example, of imminent expiry of the basic patent. Should multiple oppositions be filed against an examination opinion, they should be jointly dealt with by the EUIPO, with issuing of a single decision. The Parliament has maintained the pre-grant opposition procedure, which attracted many criticisms as it might result in increased uncertainty for patentees.

From a market perspective, access to products covered by unitary SPCs should be favoured in countries where the right-holder does not have the intention to launch them, by mean of voluntary agreements to licence the corresponding rights in those markets. A new Recital underlines the importance of a timely entry of generics and biosimilars in the UE market in order to increase competition, reduce prices and ensure sustainability of national healthcare systems and access to affordable medicines.

Comments from Medicines for Europe

The European association of the generic and biosimilar industry, Medicines for Europe, published a note highlighting the possible impact the new unitary SPC may have, due to the significant geographical extension of the IP protection also in countries where the concerned medicines are not normally launched or launched very late.

It would be very important to prevent a possible misuse of the system, is the request of the industrial association. To this instance, the safeguards identified by the Parliament for the examination of applications before the granting of a unitary SPC are considered adequate, as for transparency and quality of the procedures. Furthermore, according to Medicines for Europe, the pre-grant opposition mechanism included in the Parliament’s position should prove useful to prevent invalid (non-innovative) SPCs from being enforced and ultimately invalidated in Court.

The explicit ban of the patent linkage is also considered very important, and it should be coupled to transparency of SPC expiry dates in the register so to ensure these data would not be misused to implement unlawful and anti-competitive patent linkage strategies.

The position of the Parliament goes in the right direction and rightfully bans patent linkage. The pre-grant opposition will ensure a timely grant of SPCs for innovative drugs (a maximum 14 months or 12 with an expedited procedure) and prevent monopoly extensions for those drugs that do not have a legal right to an SPC because they are not innovative. The ban of patent linkage will serve access to medicines by preventing pricing and reimbursement or tender procedure delays for generic and biosimilar medicines at SPC expiry. Medicines for Europe will engage constructively with the EU institutions to ensure the most efficient, quality, and fair SPC system possible for the future.”, said Adrian van den Hoven, Director General of Medicines for Europe, commenting on the report.

You can find here more comments on the approved and deleted amendments.


The FDA warns about the manufacture medicinal and non-pharmaceutical products on the same equipment

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by Giuliana Miglierini

A Warning Letter, sent in September 2022 by the US FDA to a German company after an inspection, addresses the possibility to use the same equipment for the manufacturing of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical products. The FDA reject this possibility, that is considered a significant violation of cGMP.

The letter addresses the lack of process validation for the manufacturing of over-the counter (OTC) drugs and of qualification documentation proving acceptance criteria were met and the process was under control. Deficiencies were reflected in the batch records missing important pieces of information. Aspects pertaining cleaning validation were also found critical.

The requests of the FDA

The Warning Letter asks the company to provide the FDA with a full qualification programme of the equipment and facility. This should include a detailed risk assessment for all medicinal products manufactured using shared equipment. Plans are also needed on how to separate the manufacturing areas for pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical productions.

Furthermore, the program for cleaning validation should be reviewed to include at least (but not limited to) drugs with higher toxicities or potencies, drugs of lower solubility in their cleaning solvents and that may result difficult to clean. Maximum holding times before cleaning and swabbing locations for areas that are most difficult to clean should be also provided. A retrospective assessment of the cleaning process has to be included in the required CAPA plan; change management for the introduction of new manufacturing equipment or a new product should be also discussed.

The FDA also addressed many other violations, such as the lack of robust laboratory controls, identity testing of incoming raw materials including active ingredients (APIs), and the inability to demonstrate the respect of minimum USP monograph specifications and appropriate microbial limits for drug manufacturing. Management and controls on data integrity were also found deficient.

The European perspective

In the EU, the possibility to use the same equipment and premises for the manufacturing of both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical products can be referred to the provisions set forth by Chapter 3 (Premises and Equipment) of the EU GMPs.

The document clearly states that the “premises and equipment must be located, designed, constructed, adapted and maintained to suit the operations to be carried out. Their layout and design must aim to minimise the risk of errors and permit effective cleaning and maintenance in order to avoid cross-contamination”.

The application of Quality Risk Management principles is used to assess the specific risk of cross-contamination and the consequent measures to be put in place. Dedicated premises and equipment may be needed in some cases, especially if the risk cannot be adequately controlled by operational and/or technical measures, the product has an unfavourable toxicological profile, or relevant residue limits cannot be satisfactorily determined by a validated analytical method. Attention should also be paid to the positioning of equipment and materials, so to avoid confusion between different medicinal products and their components, and to guarantee the correct execution of process controls. Particular provisions are needed in the case dusty materials are used, also with respect to cleaning validation.

All cleaning procedures should be available in written form, designed to allow for an easy and thorough cleaning (including drains, pipework, light fittings, ventilation points and other services). In the case of exposed materials, the interior surfaces of the premises should be smooth and easy to clean and disinfect.

All documentation needed to support the above mention requirements should be prepared according to Chapter 4 (Documentation) of the European GMPs.

EMA’s Guideline on shared facilities

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) published in 2014 a guideline on setting health based exposure limits for use in risk identification in the manufacture of different medicinal products in shared facilities.

Threshold values expressed in terms of Permitted Daily Exposure (PDE) or Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) are the key parameters to be used to run the risk assessment. The so determined threshold levels for APIs can also be used to justify carry over limits used in cleaning validation. EMA’s guideline discusses how to address the determination of the PDE, also with respect to specific types of active substances (e.g. genotoxic, of highly sensitising potential, etc.)

The WHO guidelines

The World Health Organisation released in 2011 its GMP guideline Annex 6 (TRS 961) on the manufacturing of sterile pharmaceutical products. Clean areas are the location of choice for such productions. High-risk operative areas for aseptic manufacturing are classified in Grade A, with Grade B representing their background zones. Grade C and D areas are reserved to less critical steps of the production process.

A frequent and thorough sanitation is important, coupled with disinfection with more than one biocide and/or a sporicidal agent, as appropriate. The effectiveness of the cleaning procedure should be closely monitored to exclude the presence of contaminants, both in the form of vital and not vital particulate.

The guideline specifically mentions the case of preparations containing live microorganisms (such as vaccines), that can be prepared in multiuser facilities only if the manufacturer can demonstrate and validate effective containment and decontamination of the live microorganisms. To transport materials, the conveyor belt should be continuously sterilised as a requirement to pass through a partition between a Grade A/B and a processing area of lower air cleanliness.

A “Comparison of EU GMP Guidelines with WHO Guidelines” was published by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to support the understanding of differences between the two approaches, and with a special emphasis to the alleged higher costs of implementation and compliance to EU GMPs.

Analysing the requirements relative to premises and equipment, they aim to guarantee the suitability of rooms to the intended tasks, minimise the risk of failure and cross-contamination and ensure easy cleaning and maintenance. According to the BMZ, EU’s and WHO’s requirements are the same, even if the WHO guideline is more detailed in some aspects (to this instance, the BMZ document was published prior to the release of the new Annex 1 to the GMPs). The theme of equipment is also discussed in other WHO guidelines, i.e. the “WHO good manufacturing practices: starting materials” and the WHO guidelines on transfer of technology in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Cleaning and sanitation should be addressed according to the provisions set forth by the ISO 14644 family of technical standards. Cleaning validation is also treated in Appendix 3 of the WHO TRS 937 Annex 4. Cleaning validation should be used as the main tool to ensure the removal to pre-established levels of all residues of an API of a product manufactured in any equipment with direct contact to the surface, so that the next product manufactured using the same apparatus would be not cross-contaminated.

According to the BMZ, indications on qualification, process validation and cleaning validation contained in Annex 15 of EU GMPs (paragraph 6) should be integrated with the contents of the ICH Q2 guideline. The only two points of the EU GMPs not covered by the WHO’s guide refer to the allowance that toxic or hazardous substances can be substituted under special conditions for the validation process and the indication that “Test until clean” is not considered an appropriate alternative to cleaning validation.


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.