by Giuliana Miglierini
The European Commission has published the summary of the outcomes of the public consultation on the Evaluation and revision of the general pharmaceutical legislation, which closed on 21 December 2021. A total of 478 contributions were received, mostly by companies and business organisations (25.10%), non-governmental organisations (19.67%) and business associations (14.02%). At the geographical level, Germany contributed the 18.2% of feedbacks, followed by Belgium (16.7%), and France (9.2%); 12.8% of contributions came from non-EU countries.
Almost half of the respondents (48.1%) are registered in the EU Transparency Register; one third (33.1%) provided also separate position documents. The Summary Report and single contributions to the consultation are available at the Commission’s dedicated webpage.
Large companies represented the main industrial contributors (39%). Feedback from the pharmaceutical sector accounts for 28.4%, those from patient or consumer organisations 13.8%. A great part of the comments from public authorities (26 respondents in total) came from public authorities at national level (82.6%).
The main themes emerged from the answers
The Summary Report provides an outlook of the received comments from the perspective of the different categories of stakeholders.
Key topics of interest for the Industry included the decline of R&D investment and clinical trials in Europe, paralleled by the need of a more attractive regulatory framework for global investment and a facilitated access to value-added products and over-the-counter switching. Slow response rates of regulatory agencies, high administrative costs, convergence of data requirements of EMA and HTA, digitalisation of regulatory processes and optimisation of regulatory pathways for vaccines are other issues looking for solutions.
The impact of parallel trade on the security of supply, a predictable system of incentives for innovative products and unmet medical needs, a strong framework for intellectual property (IP) protection, and attention to the EU manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) were also reported.
Some of these topics were also addressed under the perspective of public authorities and healthcare payers. Comparative safety assessments, coherence with the blood, tissues and cells (BTC) legislation, affordability issues due to high prices/monopoly positions, transparency of medicinal product R&D and market launch costs, and abuse of existing incentives are other issues on the table, together with incentives for APIs manufacturing in the EU and a clear framework for medicine repurposing. On the clinical perspective, regulators ask for the inclusion of up-to-date clinical information in the Summaries of product characteristics, and for patient involvement in the definition of unmet medical needs.
The Summary Report also provides feedback on comments received by academics and research institutions, civil society organisations, citizens, healthcare professionals and other respondents. A total of six different campaigns were identified through the statistical analysis of the received answers, addressing respectively the need to update the radiopharmaceutical legislation, medicines shortages and the role of wholesale distribution, incentives for the innovative pharmaceutical industry and for generic manufacturers, access to treatments for rare diseases from the patient perspective, and the integration of microbiome science in the legislation.
EFPIA, representing the innovator industry, highlighted the “significant interdependencies between the R&D policy environment and the manufacturing ecosystem downstream”. At the regulatory level, suggestions include the reinforcement of expertise-driven assessment and a more agile centralised authorisation framework, the improvement of expedited pathways framework supporting innovation, an expanded role of EMA in the assessment of drug-device/diagnostic combination products, and the replacement of the paper patient information leaflets with electronic versions.
The impact of further modifications of the EU SPC framework would need a careful assessment, while a Regulatory Data Protection (RDP) would support a better evaluation of products with lower development times, insufficiency/inadequacy of patent protection and new indications.
EFPIA also provides its vision on the sustainability of the off-patent market, including procurement practices and interchangeability of medicinal products. Actions to prevent and mitigate medicines shortages should be differentiated and coordinated at the European level, on the basis of a harmonised definition of shortage. Harmonisation should also represent a target for quality requirements at the global level, as well as for supply chain and GDPs. Other identified barriers at the manufacturing level include manufacturing site authorisations referring only to the local premises specified, full import testing, Official Medicines Control Laboratory testing for vaccines and biologics, and the revision of the Variations Regulation.
Comments from Medicines for Europe
Medicines for Europe, representing the off-patent industry, asks for a fit-for-purpose, efficient and fully digitalised regulatory framework. Among the priorities at the regulatory level are the optimisation of the Decentralised and Repeat Use Procedures. The regulatory framework should also avoid the unnecessary and unethical repetition of clinical studies, so to encourage generic and biosimilar medicines development. Global access and competition in the field of off-patent medicines should benefit of a single global development framework for multiple jurisdictions.
According to Medicines for Europe, the revision of the pharmaceutical legislation should also address the absence of rewards for manufacturers, in order to find a balance with their obligations of supply. As for IP protection, the association asks for the clarification of the Bolar exemption and the legal ban of patent linkage in all EU member states. The availability of multiple API suppliers should be encouraged through a single and efficient assessment of ASMP (Assembling Surfactants-Mucoadhesive Polymers) and API authorisations, and the separation between the regulatory dossier (regulatory assessment-subject of variations) and GMP (subject of inspection) should be introduced; a broader use of virtual inspections should also be promoted.
Other comments from industrial associations
AESGP, representing the self-care industry, considers the incentive of one added year of data protections not sufficient to reward investment in innovative switches. The burden posed by the Sunset Clause is also critical with regard to un-marketed licences, as well as extending the data exclusivity for a new indication or a switch. Stringent pharmacovigilance and post-approval change requirements are considered by AESGP unjustified or disproportionate, due to the limited gains in patient protection. The suggestion is for a risk-based approach for the submission of Risk Management Plans as a part of Market Access Authorisation, based on existing API safety info and provided there are no great differences in conditions of use. At the regulatory level, the applicant should be free to choose the procedure to authorise the product, and all procedures should perform equally and according to defined timelines. A broader definition of unmet needs would allow for more non-prescription medicines to be accessed; differences in the legal status of this type of medicines in different EU’s countries may also affect their availability to patients.
The European Healthcare Distribution Association (GIRP) addressed mainly issues related to medicines shortages. Among these are the need to strengthen the existing obligations for supply chain actors, and a better framework for the implementation of Article 81, paragraph 2 and 3 of Directive 2001/83 in member states legislation, so to place obligations on both marketing authorisation holders (MAHs) and pharmaceutical full-line wholesalers. The latter should be appropriately and continuously supplied by MAHs with the full range of products. Unjustified supply quotas based on legal and ethical grounds should be abolished.
A legal basis should be established for a EU-wide early warning system for anticipated/potential and verified/confirmed shortages for critical medicines. EU-wide harmonised categories for root causes of shortages should be implemented in the shortages databases managed by member states. GIRP also addressed access to market, suggesting pricing and reimbursement for centrally registered products should be separated from the availability of centrally registered products on national markets.
Market access has been addressed also by Affordable Medicines Europe, representing parallel distributors. The suggestion is for the Commission to develop a guidance on the launch of centrally approved products by parallel distributors in markets where the MAHs have not launched. An obligation for MAHs to supply entities launching in markets not covered by MAHs is also envisaged. To better manage withdrawals, Art 123 (2) of Directive 2001/83 should be amended, and a notification by MAHs should be made no less than 12 months before the withdrawal for commercial reasons. MAHs should also compulsory supply entities continuing marketing in markets undergoing commercial withdrawal; in this instance, guidance to member states should be provided on how to delegate pharmacovigilance tasks to another member state where pharmacovigilance data are available, so to limit technical measures aiming to reduce availability and ensure that products can still enter the market.
The Alliance of Regenerative Medicines (ARM), representing producers of advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMP), highlights the risk for Europe of loose positions in the competitive scenarios due to policy and regulatory barriers. According to ARM, all medicines falling under the ATMP definition should undergo the same regulatory requirements. A mandatory centralized procedure of authorisation should be maintained, in order to provide the level of expertise needed for the assessment of these complex products. GMP and pharmacovigilance aspects should be also coordinated at EU level. Bedside manufacturing models or other schemes should be avoided in order to prevent a two-tiered regulatory framework for ATMPs, leading to different quality and safety standards. Hospital Exemption (HE) should also be strictly regulated and harmonised across member states, with application only to individual patients on a case-by-case basis. Accelerated market approval procedures are expected to maintain rigorous regulatory requirements and high-quality standards for ATMPs. A pan-EU infrastructure and standards for collecting, storing and using ATMP-related real-world data, also for regulatory decision-making, is supported. The association asks for changes to the regulatory requirements for medicines containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Implementation of the EU cross-border healthcare legislation would support the administration of ATMPs to patients; HTA should be also coordinated at the EU-level.
Obligations accompanying any novel incentives should carefully take into considerations differences compared to traditional pharmaceuticals, as well as withdrawals due to market failures. A new business model is also recommended by ARM to address the shift in cost from chronic to one-time treatment. No modification of the current definition of ATMP to differentiate with respect to BTC products would be needed.
The position of community pharmacists
The Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU) also contributed to the consultation with a position paper, providing the perspective of community pharmacists. The document suggests that issues of medicine shortages and patients’ access would require a “bold, ambitious, and coordinated actions at all policy levels”. According to PGEU, the revision of the pharmaceutical legislation should take the form of a new Directive, so to better respect the existing social, cultural and economic differences between European countries, which are reflected in the organisation of their healthcare systems.
An expanded role for EMA in the prevention and management of shortages, in coordination with the HMA, and the availability of a centralised EU monitoring system for (anticipated) shortages of all medicines in the EU would support the improved availability and access for patients. PGEU also asks for a better transparency and timely communication on shortages to affected stakeholders, as community pharmacists are deeply impacted; clarification of European and national laws related to the public service obligations of supply chain actors would also help to improve compliance.
A more effective redistribution mechanism for medicines available on the European market, irrespective of the country of residence of the patient, would help to face health crises and other special circumstances (i.e. the Brexit and its impact on medicines supply in Malta, Ireland and Cyprus). PGEU also suggests that pharmaceutical companies asking for a centralised marketing authorisation for their products should then commercialise them in all member states. Unmet needs of small patient populations may find an answer in pharmaceutical compounding by community and hospital pharmacists; this practice may also help to face shortages in cases where no suitable alternatives are available.
On their regulatory perspective, PGEU suggests that electronic Product Information (ePI) should complement, and not completely replace, printed leaflets. Digitalisation is deemed important also with respect to the exploitation of real-world data for regulatory decision making and Health Technology Assessment. To this instance, the association suggests to consider a rewarding for evidence generation in community pharmacies at the national level, so to better intercept data useful to evaluate the effectiveness, safety, off-label use and therapeutic added value of medicines in practice. According to PGEU, pharmacy organisations should also be better involved in integrated medicines development and post-authorisation activities, in coordination with other actors.
Repurposing of off-patent medicines should be targeted to areas where important public health benefits are likely to be achieved, but attention should be paid not to limit patients access to these medicines for the currently authorised indications. The association of community pharmacists also supports the reshoring of pharmaceutical manufacturing in the EU (e.g. active ingredients, excipients and basic chemical compounds particularly critical in terms of supply), a goal to improve European competitiveness and reduce the direct dependence from extra-EU countries. An improved diversification of the medicines supply chain is also envisaged.
Environmental issues should be tackled by the availability of innovative incentive and business models for the development of new antimicrobials and antibiotics, and a full compliance with environmental quality standards for pharmaceuticals. A coordinated approach among member states to the evaluation of cost-effectiveness and added therapeutic value of new therapies, including HTA, would support the affordability and fiscal sustainability of medicines. According to PGEU, pricing decisions in one country should not negatively impact on patient access in other countries. Cost-effective pharmaceutical care services at national level should be promoted as a mean to support the rational use of medicines through the adequate remuneration.