Artificial Intelligence Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

A concept paper on the revision of Annex 11


This concept paper addresses the need to update Annex 11, Computerised Systems, of the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guideline. Annex 11 is common to the member states of the European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) as well as to Read more

What happens after IP loss of protection


by Giuliana Miglierini What does it happen under a competitiveness perspective once intellectual property (IP) protection for medicinal products expired? And what is the impact of the new entries on generics and biosimilars already in the market? The role of competitor Read more

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


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 Read more

A concept paper on the revision of Annex 11

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This concept paper addresses the need to update Annex 11, Computerised Systems, of the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guideline. Annex 11 is common to the member states of the European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) as well as to the participating authorities of the Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme (PIC/S). The current version was issued in 2011 and does not give sufficient guidance within a number of areas. Since then, there has been extensive progress in the use of new technologies.

Reasons for the revision of Annex 11 include but are not limited to the following (in non-prioritised order):

  • The document should be updated to replace relevant parts of the Q&A on Annex 11 and the Q&A on Data Integrity on the EMA GMP website
  • An update of the document with regulatory expectations to ‘digital transformation’ and similar newer concepts will be considered
  • References should be made to ICH Q9
  • The meaning of the term ‘validation’ (and ‘qualification’), needs to be clarified
  • Guidelines should be included for classification of critical data and critical systems
  • Important expectations to backup processes are missing e.g. to what is covered by a backup, what types of backups are made, how often backups are made, how long backups are, retained, which media is used for backups, or where backups are kept
  • The concept and purpose of audit trail review is inadequately described
  • Guidelines for acceptable frequency of audit trail review should be provided
  • There is an urgent need for regulatory guidance and expectations to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models in critical GMP applications as industry is already implementing this technology
  • FDA has released a draft guidance on Computer Software Assurance for Production and Quality System Software (CSA). This guidance and any implication will be considered with regards to aspects of potential regulatory relevance for GMP Annex 11

The current Annex 11 does not give sufficient guidance within a number of areas already covered, and other areas, which are becoming increasingly important to GMP, are not covered at all. The revised text will expand the guidance given in the document and embrace the application of new technologies which have gained momentum since the release of the existing version.

If possible, the revised document will include guidelines for acceptance of AI/ML algorithms used in critical GMP applications. This is an area where regulatory guidance is highly needed as this is not covered by any existing regulatory guidance in the pharmaceutical industry and as pharma companies are already implementing such algorithms.

The draft concept paper approved by EMA GMP/GDP IWG (October 2022) and by PIC/S (November 2022) and released for a two-months consultation until 16 January 2023.


Draft topics for the first IHI calls for proposals

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The Innovative Health Initiative (IHI) published on its website the first draft topics which may be part of the first two calls for proposals, scheduled in June 2022. Interested parties may start the activities needed to build and formalise the research consortia, taking into consideration that the announced topics are draft, pending their approval by the IHI Governing Board and their final version may differ from the drafts.

IHI call 1 shall focus on innovative technologies for the development of decision-support system for improved care pathways, next generation imaging, personalised oncology and access and integration of heterogeneous health data in areas of high unmet public health need.

IHI call 2 shall address cardiovascular diseases and the development of a harmonised methodology to promote early feasibility studies.

The draft topics of IHI call 1

Innovative decision-support systems are important to make available improved care pathways for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and comorbidities. The actions to be undertaken include the enhanced cross-sectoral and sustainable collaboration between healthcare industries, academia and other stakeholders in order to exchange data (through the new European Health Data Space), analytical tools and material for training and professional development of personnel.

Earlier diagnosis should lead to more clinically effective interventions and reduced hospitalisation and facilitate the adherence to therapy. Clinical outcomes are expected to support a better patient stratification, which is needed to develop more patient-adapted interventions, therapeutics and cost-effective pathways for the management of neurodegenerative diseases. Among the expected outcomes is the development of a re-usable, interoperable, easily adaptable, and scalable digital platform, initially targeted to support patients in this therapeutic area, but further expandable in the future to other areas of interest. The action should also involve the development of agreed standards and guidelines to support data collection and operational features of the digital platform. New algorithms may provide (near) real time feedback on health interventions and support the constant monitoring of the patient’s status.

The second topic is focused on the development of high-quality tools, high-quality data, advanced patient imaging and image-guided technologies and processes for improved early diagnosis, prognosis, staging, intervention planning, therapy and management of cancer. Imaging can be part of new combined cancer therapies (e.g., theranostics, chemotherapy, targeted therapy including immunotherapy, radiotherapy and/or surgery). The call should also include the development of improved validation and evaluation methodologies specific to artificial intelligence (AI)and machine learning (ML), with a particular attention to the creation of new solutions that automatically link images to clinical data. This could be applied, for example, to develop minimally invasive interventions guided by medical imaging, or image-driven planning and predictive tools.

The third topic is also aimed to tackle cancer through the development of personalised interventions. This action should contribute to break down silos that are often still characterizing medicine and technological areas. The availability of harmonised approaches should lead to safe and effective innovative health technologies, to the integration of future products, services and tools and the development of more patient-centred tools. Here again, an expected outcome is represented by a dynamic platform for R&I collaboration across different sectors and stakeholders, focusing on the early stages of applied clinical research on cancer and on the testing and validation of multi-modal therapeutic approaches, including novel or emerging technical and clinical concepts and the possible contribution arising from in vitro diagnostics.

Topic 4 of IHI 1 addresses the integration of future products, services and tools along the healthcare pathway to better respond to specific patients’ needs. The availability of interoperable, quality data which reflect the FAIR principles (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, Reusability) is central to this action, as well as the development of advanced analytics/artificial intelligence supporting health R&I. Among the main expected outcomes is the long-term access to diverse types of data enabled by the linkage and integration of novel and cross-sectoral sources. Access to interoperable tools should also become possible for citizens and patients to support the self-management of health and the joint decision making process between healthcare professionals and patients.

The draft topics of IHI call 2

Cardiovascular diseases (CDV) remain one of the main causes of death; the development of new tools for the primary and secondary prevention of CDV is the main focus of Topic 1, to be pursued by the identification of existing comprehensive CVD and heart failure (HF) patient datasets, in order to facilitate the diagnosis of atherosclerosis and HF. These data shall be also integrated with those captured by diagnostic tools (e.g., wearables, imaging devices, bio samples/biopsies).

Classical diagnostic screening, in-vitro- diagnostics, ‘multi-omic’ platforms (e.g. genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and multimodality imaging data), continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) data, continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) from wearable, HF and activity data, wearable devices and digital health applications are all possible sources for the data. Projects may also leverage data in currently available IMI federated databases in compliance with the GDPR regulation governing protection of personal data.

The utility of already existing or new biomarker combinations shall be assessed to detect patients at risk, also making use of AI models to analyse data. Validated data referred to patient reported outcome and experience measure (PROMs and PREMs) may also be considered for use in the clinical setting.

The second draft topic is targeted to establish a harmonised methodology to promote the diffusion of Early Feasibility Studies (EFS) among healthcare professionals. Once again, the availability of digital technologies easily accessible by patients shall be key to this action. Among expected outcomes are the improvement of the quality of clinical evidence on health technology innovation generated through earlier clinical experience, together with the increase of the attractiveness of clinical research for healthcare technologies in the EU.

These activities are essential to enable the fast translation of innovation into the clinical practice, improving access to patients especially where there are only limited or no alternative therapeutic options. This approach to the development of innovative technologies may also benefit regulators and health technologies assessment (HTA) bodies, as well as notified bodies. All stakeholders involved in clinical practice and research may contribute to the early generation of quality data, so to achieve a better understanding of diseases management and treatment options and to support the future development of new medical guidelines.

The creation of hubs of clinical excellence to attract investment may also be considered under this topic, with involvement of developers of medical devices, drug-device combination products, imaging equipment, in-vitro diagnostics, and SMEs.


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.


ACT EU: the EU’s vision for the future of clinical trials

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Just few days before the entry into force of the new Clinical Trials Regulation and of the Clinical Trials Information System (CTIS) on 31 January 2022, a new initiative has been announced to completely renew the European framework governing how clinical trials are designed and run. The strategic document ACT EU (Accelerating Clinical Trials in the EU) has been jointly developed by the European Commission, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA) and national regulators with the aim to strengthen the European Union as a leading “focal point” for clinical research at the international level.

ACT EU shall support the achievement of the goals established by the European Pharmaceutical Strategy and the European medicines agencies network strategy (EMANS) to 2025. The initiative will be co-led by the European Commission, EMA and HMA; the proposed governance shall find inspiration on the model already in use by the Clinical Trials Information System, with an EUCTR Coordination Group with an adapted mandate and composition. The individual domains which form the overall matrix will be coordinated by the relevant functions available within the network. The formal public communication phase on ACT EU will start after the official endorsement of the initiative by HMA and EMA.

Six objectives and ten priorities of action for 2022-2023

The ACT EU strategy identifies six different goals for the future of European clinical research. Its leading role shall be optimised through a unified European position on clinical trials at the international level, a better ethical oversight and integration of ethics committees into the clinical trial and medicines regulatory lifecycle. Large-scale multinational clinical trials with broader geographical scope shall be incentivised, while reducing the administrative burden for sponsors and investigators.

A special attention will be paid to the generation of decisional evidence for unmet medical needs, rare diseases, and on vaccines and therapeutics for public health crises and pandemics. A truly high level and coordinated scientific advice is indicated as an important element in order to support the trial and marketing authorisation processes. The strategy confirms the need to adopt new patient-oriented medicines development and delivery models with pro-active engagement of all the stakeholders. The availability of an improved capacity both at the development and regulatory level is also deemed important to achieve the goals of the initiative.

These challenging objectives shall be pursued in years 2022-2023 through the activation of a set of ten specific priority lines of action. An initial exercise to map already existing initiatives within the European medicines regulatory network (EMRN) will be run, that will represent the basis for the consequent development of a governance rationalisation strategy. This might include, for example, the alignment of different expert groups and working parties in the EMRN and ethics infrastructure.

The smooth implementation of the Clinical Trials Regulation shall be monitored using a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPI), still to be developed; the modernisation of the good clinical practices (GCPs) should occur under specific ICH’s guidance. The attractiveness of Europe for larger, multinational trials should specifically address studies run in the academic setting. Furthermore, the academics and non-profit organisations may also play a leading role in the analysis of data arising from clinical trials.

Further actions will include the availability of a multi-stakeholder platform, including patients, and the engagement in the initiative of all enablers by mean of a targeted communication campaign. A tighter coordination of different aspects relevant to the planning of new clinical trials, i.e. the scientific advice on the trial approval and the design of the study, has been also announced. The increasing use of artificial intelligence and/or machine learning technologies in the clinical domain and issues pertaining complex and decentralised trials, as well as the interface between the In Vitro Diagnostics Regulation (IVDR) and the Clinical Trials Regulation will benefit of new targeted methodological guidelines.

As for safety monitoring of clinical trials, the priority is to start its integration into a pre- and post-marketing safety monitoring framework. At the educational level, the competences needed to face this challenging scenario for the future of clinical trials in the EU will require the activation of specific training curricula, inclusive of modules on drug development and regulatory science with links to universities and SMEs.

Four principles to guide all actions

The complexity of the ACT EU initiative will require also the development of a new approach to make available the resources needed to smoothly run all the planned activities, possibly including the exploitation of the expertise external to the European medicines regulatory network. The strategy indicates the intention to adopt a collaborative and integrative approach, so to achieve a large research impact in the EU.

To this instance, the four principles “Do, Require, Influence, Support” have been identified to guide the execution and coordination of the projects, the requirement of specific guidance to address the expectations on applicants/developers/researchers, the availability of key publications and leadership to support the transformation phase at all levels (including patient, the academic, etc.), and stakeholders interactions suited to support all the above mentioned objectives.

The initial mapping of existing activities should also led to the identification of the budget needed for meetings, inclusive also of the activities relative to stakeholder engagement, training, and communication. Any other activities falling outside the optimisation of the already existing ones would be self-funded by the respective organisations (EC/NCA/EMA).

Comments from EFPIA

According to EFPIA, the announcement of ACT EU represents the beginning of an exciting new phase for clinical research in Europe. The industrial association highlights that the innovative design of many clinical trials, especially the complex ones, requires an increased efficiency.


Steps towards the final approval of the IP action plan

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The end of 2021 may see the final approval of many pieces of the new legislative framework announced in November 2020 by the European Commission. An important piece of this puzzle is represented by the IP Action Plan, governing the protection of intellectual property (IP); a step forward in this direction is represented by the resolution of 11 November 2021 on the Own-initiative report of the European Parliament.

The final text licensed in single reading is the result of the examination of the initial draft report – issued in May 2020 by the Committee for Legal Affairs, rapporteur Marion Walsmann – by several other Committees (IMCO, DEVE, CULT, AGRI).

The main points of the resolution

The resolution recognises the importance for the European economy of a balanced protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR). In years 2012-2016, the knowledge-intensive industries generated almost 30% of all jobs and almost 45% of total economic activity (in terms of Gross Domestic Product, GDP) in the EU; the IPR-intensive industries account for 93% of total EU exports of goods.

Europe’s recovery and resilience capacity is also highly impacted, as demonstrated by the pandemic when shortages of certain medicinal products and vaccines occurred. The EU Parliament acknowledges the role played by intellectual property in increasing the overall value of companies,especially the small-and-medium size ones (SMEs).

A current limitation to IP protection in Europe is represented by the still fragmented situation across different member states, which often leads to parallel national validation procedures and litigation for European patents. To this instance, the Parliament suggests the establishment of an IP coordinator at European level, to harmonise the approach to EU IP policy and enhance cooperation between the different bodies involved in the process (i.e. national IP authorities, Commission Directorates-General, EPO, EUIPO, WIPO, etc).

The Parliament also recognised the role IP plays in the pharmaceutical sector, where the availability of incentives greatly favours the development of new and innovative treatments. The resolution asks the Commission to support the innovative potential of European companies “on the basis of a comprehensive IP regime”, so to guarantee effective protection for R&D investments and favour fair returns through licensing. The availability of open technology standards has been valued as an important competitive element on the wider, global scenario.

Many different types of incentives are suggested by the Parliament’s resolution as useful to support micro-enterprises and SMEs in filing and managing their intellectual property, including IP vouchers, IP Scan and other Commission and EUIPO initiatives to support simple registration procedures and low administrative fees. The newly created European IP Information Centre may represents a fundamental reference point to increase knowledge in the field. The Parliament also suggests to introducing an EU-level utility model protection, not yet available, as a possible fast and low-cost protection tool to protect technical inventions.

Unitary patents and improved market competition

Still missing members states are urged to adhere to the enhanced cooperation scheme for the creation of a Unitary Patent Protection (UPP) and to ratify the Protocol to the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court on provisional application (PPA). The activation of this unique Court in charge of the examination of litigations would allow for a more efficient process and for lowering legal costs and improving legal certainty.

Fragmentation remains an issue also with respect to Supplementary Protection Certificates (SPCs): to this instance, the resolution asks the Commission to issue guidelines for member states and to provide a legislative proposal based on an exhaustive impact assessment. A major criticality to be solved is represented by the unitary patent not providing a unique SPC title valid across the EU; the own-initiative report also suggests the extension of the EPO’s mandate, so that examination of SPC applications could be carried out on the basis of unified rules.

Other important points needing attention to improve the presence of generic and biosimilar medicines in the EU are the abuse of divisional patent applications and patent linkage, which should also see an intervention by the Commission. The Parliament also opened the possibility of a revision of the Bolar exemption, which allows clinical trials on patented products needed to reach marketing authorisation of a generic or biosimilar version not to be regarded as infringements of patent rights or SPCs. This may also support the immediate market entry after the expiration of patent rights and SPCs. The Commission is called also to ensure the effectiveness and better coordination of compulsory licensing in order to provide access to medicines needed in case of health emergencies.

The resolution also addresses the theme of standard essential patents, which currently often leads to litigations, and it calls for the revision of the 20-years old system for design protection. Transparency on results obtained from publicly funded R&D is also recommended. The Parliament suggests artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies may play an important role in tackling counterfeiting practices and guarantee traceability of goods, as they may contribute to a better enforcement of intellectual property rights along the whole supply chain. The Commission should also work to establish clearer criteria for the protection of inventions created by the AI, without human intervention.

Comments from the industry

The European Parliament has clearly voted for a strong and fair IP system by underlining the importance of timely generic and biosimilar medicine competition. The misuse of divisional patents, the need to enlarge the scope of bolar to include API and all regulatory and administrative steps, and the long overdue ban anti-competitive patent linkage are well known problems that the Commission should address in the IP Action Plan. The Parliament has voted; the Commission must act.”, said Adrian van den Hoven, Director General at Medicines for Europe.

A major point in the implementation of the new European policies is represented by the review the Commission is going to conduct in 2024 to assess the effective achievement of goals of the SPC manufacturing waiver, which entered into force in July 2019 and is expected to start producing effects in the second half of 2022.

Many of the themes discussed in the Parliament’s resolution were debated during a webinar organized by Medicines for Europe, with the participation of representatives from the European Commission and the European Patent Office.

EFPIA, representing the innovator pharmaceutical industry, focused its attention on the impact of past EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on drug spending, timing of countries’ access to new medicines after global launch, investments overall and in pharmaceuticals, and clinical trial participation. A report by IQVIA published in the Federation’s website addresses the impact of IP protection on these elements. Results confirm the central role of the pharmaceutical sector as the most R&D intensive industry in the world, with R&D spending averaging over 15% of revenue. A strong IP protection framework available at the level of EU FTAs favours the attractiveness for investments in the EU and its FTA partner countries. According to the report, an expanded IP protection appears not to be linked to the generation of a higher pharmaceutical spending; drugs’ share of healthcare spending is claimed to stay flat or fall after an FTA, and prices for medicines to rise more slowly than the level of inflation. A stronger IP index, adds IQVIA, is also correlated with increased clinical trial activity in a country, bringing both clinical and economic benefits.


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.


Artificial intelligence in medicine regulation

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The International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) sets out recommendations to help regulators to address the challenges that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) poses for global medicines regulation, in a report published on 16 August 2021.

AI includes various technologies (such as statistical models, diverse algorithms and self-modifying systems) that are increasingly being applied across all stages of a medicine’s lifecycle: from preclinical development to clinical trial data recording and analysis, to pharmacovigilance and clinical use optimisation. This range of applications brings with it regulatory challenges, including the transparency of algorithms and their meaning, as well as the risks of AI failures and the wider impact these would have on AI uptake in medicine development and patients’ health.

The report identifies key issues linked to the regulation of future therapies using AI and makes specific recommendations for regulators and stakeholders involved in medicine development to foster the uptake of AI. Some of the main findings and recommendations include:

  • Regulators may need to apply a risk-based approach to assessing and regulating AI, which could be informed through exchange and collaboration in ICMRA;
  • Sponsors, developers and pharmaceutical companies should establish strengthened governance structures to oversee algorithms and AI deployments that are closely linked to the benefit/risk of a medicinal product;
  • Regulatory guidelines for AI development, validation and use with medicinal products should be developed in areas such as data provenance, reliability, transparency and understandability, pharmacovigilance, and real-world monitoring of patient functioning.

The report is based on a horizon-scanning exercise in AI, conducted by the ICMRA Informal Network for Innovation working group and led by EMA. The goal of this network is to identify challenging topics for medicine regulators, to explore the suitability of existing regulatory frameworks and to develop recommendations to adapt regulatory systems in order to facilitate safe and timely access to innovative medicines.

The implementation of the recommendations will be discussed by ICMRA members in the coming months.

Source: EMA