advanced therapies Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

A new member within EIPG

The European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG) is pleased to announce the Romanian Association (AFFI) as its newest member following the annual General Assembly of EIPG in Rome (20th-21st April 2024). Commenting on the continued growth of EIPG’s membership, EIPG President Read more

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

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection

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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 on the entire European pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. In the meantime, the Committee for Legal Affairs of the European Parliament approved the amendment to the Regulation proposed by the Commission to govern the issuing of Union compulsory licences for the manufacturing of medicinal products during crisis.

The initial proposal on regulatory data protection

To resume the main features of the EU Commission proposal on incentives referred to regulatory data protection (RDP), the current 8+2(+1) scheme would be remodulated to grant a standard 6-year period of regulatory data protection, valid for all newly approved medicines. This might be followed by extension periods of different length, depending on specific conditions (see here the impact report, Chap. VII).

The proposed additional criteria may support an RDP duration up to 12 years, as for example in the case of medicines for orphan diseases or unmet medical needs. But the more debated criteria proposed by the Commission is perhaps the request to the holders of marketing authorisations (MAH) to market newly approved medicinal products in all EU members states at the same time, within 2 years from the date of the MA. Should this occur, the MAH may benefit from a 2-year extension of the RDP.

New chemical substances undergoing clinical testing against a relevant and evidence-based comparator may also benefit of a 6-month extension of the RDP. Should the product be already in the market, the approval of a new indication coupled to the provision of a significant clinical benefit may extend regulatory data protection for 1 year. The same extension applies to products that changed their prescription status on the basis of significant non-clinical tests or clinical studies. Repurposed medicinal products may benefit from a 4-year extension of regulatory data protection in case of a new therapeutic indication not previously authorised in the EU.

The RDP is critical for the EU’s competitiveness

According to the Director General of EFPIA, Nathalie Moll, there are three key areas to be kept in mind while reaching the final decision: the positive net financial impact of regulatory data protection for both patients, the EU and member states, the R&D attractiveness at the EU and national level, and the fact the US has currently a more attractive RDP than the EU (see here more).

The regulatory data protection scheme proposed by the Commission might greatly reduce the number of new medicines available in Europe in the next 15 years, says EFPIA. The Commission’s estimate of €1.2 billion/year of additional costs for members states for every additional year of regulatory data protection would be wrong, it adds, as it is based on the List Prices of medicines. But many EU countries have clawback-type mechanisms to reduce this type of impact, which should be added to the indirect impact innovative medicines may exert in reducing other costs supported by healthcare systems. Thus, the final economic impact calculated by EFPIA would be €2 billion/year.

The attractiveness for R&D investments of a certain geographical area may prove also important, especially in the case of advanced therapies and complex types of therapeutics or to support research targeted to unmet medical needs.

As for the duration of regulatory data protection in the US, according to EFPIA this reaches 12 years (including market protection) for biologics and around 6-7 years of market protection for small molecules. ”RDP for non-biologics is the only element of IP where Europe leads on the US and is in the control of EU policy makers”, wrote Nathalie Moll.

On the other side of the game, Medicines for Europe on behalf of the generic and biosimilar industry also addressed a note to the rapporteur and shadow-rapporteur of the EU pharmaceutical legislation.

The key message is that there might have been a misunderstanding about the concrete impact of the extensions of regulatory data protection proposed by the EU Parliament, which received a strong political support, due to the complex interactions between the pharma legislation and the IP and SPC legislations.

The correct understanding of the dual track of pharmaceutical incentives (regulatory and patent/ SPCs) should be thus the key area of attention during the final set up of the new provisions. According to Medicines for Europe, some parliamentary amendment would extend the duration of regulatory data protection well beyond the duration of SPC, thus further extending the global protection (up to 13.5 or 18 years, depending on the specific proposal) and preventing the entry of generics and biosimilars in the European market.

The analysis run by the industrial association also calculated the potential impact on pharmaceutical budgets corresponding to the possible different lengths of regulatory data protection, and how the same budget might be used to potentiate the resources of healthcare system in terms of available nurses and doctors. The calculated range spans from €2.5-5.35 bln for the three countries considered (France, Germany, Spain) up to €19.5 bln to the entire EU in the case of 13.5 year extension, and it reaches, respectively, €13.2-24 bln and €99.5 bln in the case of the 18 years extension.

A strong critical voice in support of a true competition

The European Social Insurance Platform (ESIP) published a note at the end of February signed by its Director, Yannis Natsis. “Let us be clear that these protection periods are not companies’ rights, but privileges granted to the manufacturers by the European legislators, and they come at a significant cost for public budgets”, wrote Mr. Natsis.

The extension of regulatory data protection would thus result in a possible distortion of competition, and in a delay of patients’ access to treatments. Mr. Natsis also identified the “elephant in the room” of the European healthcare system, i.e. the extremely high prices of medicines in many therapeutic areas. An issue that ESIP’s Director considers a systemic problem.

The note supports the proposed 6-year standard regulatory data protection, with extensions that should not exceed the current situation. Incentives for orphan medicines should go in favour of truly rare diseases and unmet medical needs. ESIP also supports the availability of alternative incentive mechanisms to reward development of new antibiotics, instead of the Transferable exclusivity vouchers (TEVs) that should be replaced.

ESIP’s Director also wrote that “Put simply, we need to take these industry threats with a pinch of salt”, with reference to the pharmaceutical industry having repeatedly threatened to leave Europe since the beginning of the revision of the pharma legislation. “In any case, we cannot afford to end up with a reform which hands a free-for-all incentives “menu” to the companies. These are very expensive “carrots”. Such an outcome will be counter-productive for patients and self-defeating for healthcare systems across Europe”, commented Yannis Natsis.

From the perspective of statutory payers, a well-functioning generic competition allows to treat larger groups of patients at lower prices, while the pricing and business strategies of pharma companies often would limit the possibility to treat patients with most severe conditions. The request for the Parliament is thus to reach a well-balanced text. “There needs to be a renewed social contract between the pharmaceutical industries and the society at large”, wrote Yannis Natsis.

The JURI Committee amendments to the proposed Regulation on the Union compulsory licensing

In the meantime, the Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the EU Parliament approved on 13 February 2024 (17 votes in favour, 6 against) the report detailing the amendments to the proposed Regulation on the Union compulsory licensing during crisis and emergencies for the public health.

The Report also include the opinion given by the Committee on International Trade, and the list of entities or persons that provided input to the rapporteur (Adrián Vázquez Lázara) in the preparation of the report, among which are many industrial associations.

The Explanatory Note by the rapporteur highlights the need to maintain the equilibrium between innovation and rapid access to essential products. The JURI Committee has identified several aspects of the proposed Regulation that should be better clarified to ensure legal certainty, and which were addressed within the approved amendments.

The definition of “crisis” raised many concerns; the proposed amendments refer to a cross-border effect in the UE with involvement of two or more member states. Measures put in place should be proportionate, and not unnecessarily and disproportionally affecting the rights of citizens or the protection of intellectual property rights of businesses.

Union compulsory licenses might be issued only after the rights-holder has the time to negotiate a voluntary license with a potential licensee. To this instance, the Parliament has indicated 4 weeks as a suitable period for the Commission to wait for the results of ongoing negotiations. Furthermore, the Union compulsory licensing should remain a last resort instance and should have a duration strictly in line with that of the crisis, with a maximum of 12 months unless otherwise needed.

According to the JURI Committee, the definition of the know-how necessary for the manufacturing of certain products should be also clarified, as it is key to activate an expanded production capacity during crises. A new proposed recital indicates the Commission should have the authority to oblige rights-holders to provide all needed information, including know-how, especially for highly complex pharmaceuticals such as vaccines.

The Committee also highlighted the need for a better definition of the role of the advisory board. The proposed amendment indicates the inclusion as observers of other crisis relevant bodies at the UE level to ensure consistency with the measure, and of representatives of national authorities responsible for issuing compulsory licenses under the national patent laws.

Rights-holders should be able to provide their comments and other pertinent information to the advisory board prior to the final issuing of the Union compulsory licence. The procedure should start with the identification of the intellectual property rights concerned, and of potential licensees. The Commission should not grant any compulsory licences should the rights-holders not have been completely identified.

The JURI Committee also amended the text of the proposal to indicate the remuneration for the rights-holders should be determined, among others, considering the total gross revenue gene-rated by the licensee from the pertinent activities governed by the Union compulsory licence.

Remuneration should be also provided in cases where the rights-holder should disclose the trade secrets strictly necessary to achieve the purpose of the licence. A new amendment asks the Commission to assess the list of crisis modes or emergency modes reported in the Annex to the Regulation every two years from its entry into force, or without undue delay in case of exceptional threats to public safety or national security.

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.

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

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.