By Giuliana Miglierini
After a five-months delay, the European Commission has announced on 26 April 2023 its proposal for the revision of the European pharmaceutical legislation. The package is comprehensive of a Directive governing authorisations and other regulatory procedures, and a Regulation focused on central authorisation procedures. A Council Recommendation on antimicrobial resistance is also included. The entire reform package shall now undergo the scrutiny of both the European Parliament and Council in order to gain final approval and adoption.
In this first article, we will resume the main features of this highly complex reform, leaving to following posts a more detailed discussion of the single lines of intervention.
The experienced delays acknowledge of the many difficulties encountered by the Commission in reaching a balance between forces representing different perspectives within the pharmaceutical sector. Among the main areas of debate was the exclusivity protection: an issue not yet re-solved, judging from the first reactions from industrial associations, and that should be addressed during the incoming negotiations at the EU Parliament and Council.
A single market for medicines
Central to the entire reform package is the creation of a single European market for medicines, aimed to facilitate the fair and rapid access to patients of all member states. Regulatory procedures for approval of generic and biosimilar medicines should be simplified. Patients are also expected to benefit from more innovative medicines, thanks to a wide array of incentives, and from the repurposing of products already on the market.
Patient centricity should also address rare diseases and new therapeutic options for paediatric patients, including the creation of a EU network of representatives of patients associations, academics, developers and investigators. Patient representatives should be appointed to the EMA Committees, and thus involved in the approval of new medicines. A more extensive use of electronic Product Information is expected to facilitate access to updated information, while reducing costs for manufacturers.
A greater transparency on public funding for R&D should better support price negotiations with national authorities, so to make medicines more affordable to patients.
The long lasting issue of medicines shortages should be tackled from different perspectives. Pharmaceutical companies should be responsible for the emission of earlier warnings on shortages and withdrawals, and for the establishment of prevention plans. European authorities should create a list of critical medicines, to be used to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and improve security of supply. National and central competent authorities are called to a better monitoring of shortages, while EMA should play a stronger guiding role on security of supply.
The One Health approach should inspire actions to improve the environmental sustainability of medicines. From this perspective, the proposed reform includes a strengthened environmental risk assessment for all medicines, including those already on the market. Actions to improve environmentally friendly production technologies and to reduce the release of drugs into the environment are also considered.
Actions supporting innovation
The reform package completely redesigns the duration of regulatory protection, reducing the standard length to 8 years (6 years of data protection + 2 years of market protection), but offering a wide range of incentives to reach a cumulative maximum of up to 12 years of protection. The true novelty is the 2-year incentive for companies launching a new product in all EU markets at the same time. Other incentives are targeted to unmet medical needs (6 months), comparative clinical trials (6 months), and for a new indication to treat another disease (1 year).
The standard market exclusivity should reach 9 years for medicines for rare diseases. In this case too, a wide range of incentives may extend protection to up to 13 years.
The Transferable data exclusivity voucher is the tool identified to support the development of new antimicrobial medicines: the voucher would be transferred to another of the company’s products, extending its protection by 1 year. The Commission plans to issue no more than 10 vouchers over a 15 year period, under strict conditions, so to limit the impact of the measure on healthcare systems. Reshoring of pharmaceutical productions and EU’s strategic autonomy are not included in the reform. A number of other actions are ongoing to support specific lines of intervention, i.e. the EU FAB flexible manufacturing network of vaccines producers, HERA’s Joint Industrial Cooperation Forum on vulnerabilities along the supply chain, and the Important Project of Common European Interest on Health to allocate state aid to support for innovative EU projects.
A more flexible regulatory framework
A higher regulatory flexibility should support fast approval of medicines. Regulatory assessment for centralised procedures should shorten to 180 days (from the current 210); the time should be reduced further to 150 days for products needed for health emergencies.
Simplification of procedures will include full electronic submission of applications. Rolling re-views and temporary emergency marketing authorisations at the EU level for public health emergencies will fully enter the set of available procedures. Simplification should also include the abolishing of the marketing authorisation renewal in most cases.
A reform of EMA’s Committees is also envisaged: only the Committee for Human medicinal pro-ducts (CHMP) and the Safety Committee (PRAC) should continue to exist, while the orphan, paediatric and ATMP committees would be abolished.
Generic and biosimilar medicines shall also benefit from simpler rules for approval, while regulatory sandboxes are the tool to support testing of particularly new and innovative therapies. These may also benefit of additional early scientific advice and regulatory support by EMA, particularly for unmet needs. Dedicated pathways are also planned to support repurposing, especially for SMEs and not-for-profit organisations.
Clinical development may be improved thanks to a wider use of adaptive clinical trials, real world evidence and health data. The reform is also expected to make easier the interaction with other relevant healthcare frameworks, e.g. for medical devices and health technology assessment.
The first comments from interested parties
A very negative opinion on the proposed reform has been issued by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industrial Associations (EFPIA), representing the innovator industry.
“Unfortunately, today’s proposal manages to undermine research and development in Europe while failing to address access to medicines for patients”, said EFPIA’s Director General Nathalie Moll. The main point of criticism is the 2-year incentive for the contemporary launch of a new medicine in all 27 member states, that for EFPIA would represent an impossible target for companies. According to President Hubertus von Baumbach, “the ‘net’ impact of policies set out across these proposals, in their current form, puts European competitiveness at risk: overall, it weakens the attractiveness for investment in innovation and hampers European science, research and development”. A comprehensive competitiveness checks on the impact of the revised pharmaceutical legislation is EFPIA’s request.
The Association also published a series of reports supporting its vision on the availability of new medicines throughout Europe, as its first action to stimulate the debate in view of the assessment of the proposal by the EU Council and Parliament.
“We strongly support the proposal’s intention to stop the well documented patent games manship and evergreening and the adaptation of incentives to necessary equity of access across the EU. Moreover, there should not be an accumulation of regulatory incentives that would extend the regulatory data protection period beyond the existing system (8 years) which is already the longest in the world. Regarding AMR, the Commission proposal for a reserve fund is the correct alternative to transferable vouchers and most efficient policy to protect against future risks”, wrote in a note Medicines for Europe, representing the generic, biosimilar and value added medicines industry. “The central role of the off-patent medicines industry for the patient is clearly reflected in the intentions of the draft legislation. We are still lacking an industrial strategy to strengthen the European off- patent sector and improve open strategic autonomy in health”, said Medicines for Europe President Elisabeth Stampa.
EuropaBio, on behalf of the biotech sector, welcomed the provisions improving the EU’s regulatory framework and promoting novel technologies. In this case too, the main concern is the proposed new set of incentives, that according to EuropaBio may undermine the predictability and stability of the European landscape for innovation. “It is essential that EU policies meaningfully improve patient access to medicines across the EU without undermining the EU’s attractiveness for life science investments”, said EuropaBio Healthcare Public Affairs Director Vlad Olteanu.
“AESGP supports the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation in principle. While we welcome the regulatory simplifications introduced by the revision, we are voicing some concerns on behalf of non-prescription medicines manufacturers that may have unintended negative consequences”, said Jurate Svarcaite, AESGP Director General. The Association resumed its worries in a statement published in its site.
These include the proposed two new prescription criteria for antimicrobial products and medicines containing an active substance which may have an environmental impact. As for incentives, according to AESGP a longer data exclusivity period (3 years instead of 1) should be considered in cases where new, pivotal evidence is generated, for switching from prescription to non-prescription status. Other points of concern refer to how environmental risks for medicines are to be assessed. “Decisions to minimise the environmental impact should always lead to proportional risk mitigation measures and never interfere with clinical priorities and benefit/ risk assessments that ensure EU citizens get access to the healthcare products they need”, wrote AESGP.
Improvement to the Commission’s proposal would also be needed with regard to the adoption of electronic Product Information, where a phased and harmonised approach to digitalisation is suggested. A better definition of real-world evidence/data would also be needed. As for shortages, mitigation measures should be proportionate and aimed at the critical medicines that do not have alternatives and have concentrated supply chains. AESGP supports the extension of the proposed approach to Risk Management Plans exemption also to medicinal products of well-established use, as for generics and biosimilars.
“We appreciate the proposals aimed at streamlining and digitalising regulatory procedures, yet we are concerned that other provisions will undermine R&D, innovation, and EU competitiveness. These will be especially detrimental to the small and mid-sized innovative companies that Eucope represents. The proposal introduces more risk and unpredictability into the system while reducing incentives for innovation and investment, which will negatively impact patient access”, wrote the association in its comments to the proposal of reform.
“The Commission’s revision includes troubling proposals, such as the introduction of (High) Unmet Medical Need, which risk reducing the EU’s global competitiveness in life sciences, thereby limiting the development and availability of innovative therapies”, said Eucope Secretary General Alexander Natz.