by Giuliana Miglierini
The implementation phase of the Accelerating Clinical Trials in the EU (ACT EU) initiative, launched in January 2022 by the European Commission, started with the publication of the2022-2026 Workplan jointly drafted by the Commission, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA).
The final target is to renew how clinical trials are designed and managed, so to improve the attractiveness of Europe for clinical research and the integration of results in the current practice of the European health system.
The 2022-2026 Workplan details the actions and deliverables planned according to the ten priorities identified by ACT EU. The drafting of the document took as primary reference also the recommendations of the European Medicines Regulatory Network (EMRN) strategy to 2025 and the European Commission’s Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe.
Steps towards the full implementation of the CTR
The first priority of action should see the completion by the end of 2022 of the mapping of already existing initiatives within the EMRN and ethics infrastructure. This exercise represents a fundamental step to achieve a detailed picture of the current clinical trials regulatory landscape, characterised by the presence of various expert groups working in different areas.
The results of the mapping will form the basis to plan and implement a new strategy for the governance of the entire framework governing clinical trials, including the clarification of roles and responsibilities to the Network and its stakeholders. The expected outcome is the rationalisation and better coordination of the work done by different expert groups and working parties, as reflected by a new regulatory network responsibility assignment (RACI) matrix. The analysis and setting up of the new framework should start from the core governance bodies (Clinical Trials Coordination and Advisory Group (CTAG), Clinical Trials Coordination Group (CTCG), Commission Expert Group on Clinical Trials (CTEG) and Good Clinical Practice Inspectors Working Group (GCP IWG)), to then extend to other parts of the Network further.
The full implementation of the Clinical Trials regulation (Reg. (EU) 536/2014) by mean of the launch of monthly KPIs tracking of the planned activities is another key action. A survey to identify issues for sponsors and the consequent implementation of a process to prioritise and solve them are planned for the second half of 2022. The beginning of 2023 should see the launch of a scheme to better support large multinational clinical trials, particularly those run in the academic setting. One year later, at the beginning of 2024, a one-stop shop to support academic sponsors should also be launched.
An important action for the success of ACT EU should see the creation of a multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) to enable the interaction and regular dialogue of the many different stakeholders working in the field of clinical trials under different perspectives, both at the European and member state level. The platform should be launched by Q2 2023, with the first events run under its umbrella planned for Q3 and is expected to help in the identification of key advances in clinical trial methods, technology, and science.
Methodological updates in clinical trials
Another key step in the renewal of the European framework for clinical trials is linked to the updating of the ICH E6(R2) guideline on “Good Clinical Practice” (GCP). A targeted multi-stakeholder workshop on this theme is planned for Q1 2023, while the resulting changes should be implemented in EU guidance documents by Q3 2023. New GCPs should take into better consideration the emerging designs for clinical trials and the availability of new sources for data and are expected to “provide flexibility when appropriate to facilitate the use of technological innovations in clinical trials”. This action also includes the development of a communication and change management strategy to support the transition to the revised GCP guideline, and the updating of other relevant EU guidelines impacted by the change.
The opportunity to introduce innovative clinical trial designs and methodologies shall be addressed starting from decentralised clinical trials (DCT), with the publication of a DCT recommendation paper by the end of 2022. A workshop on complex clinical trials should be also organized to discuss issues linked to study design, such us umbrella trials and basket trials or master protocols. New technologies may support innovative approaches to the recruitment of eligible study participants and new ways to capture data during clinical trials. The publication of key methodologies guidance is an expected deliverable, together with a improved link between innovation and scientific advice.
A new EU clinical trials data analytics strategy is expected to be published by the end of 2022, while the first half of next year should see the development of a publicly accessible EU clinical trials dashboard and a workshop to identify topics of common interest for researchers, policy makers, and funders. These activities are targeted to fully exploit the opportunities offered by data analytics, so to identify complex trends from the large base of data about clinical trials collected by the EMRN. The existence of multiple data sources is a main barrier currently affecting the possibility to access, process and interpret these data.
Another priority is to plan and launch a targeted communication campaign to engage all enablers of clinical trials, including data protection experts, academia, SMEs, funders, Health Technology Assessment (HTA) bodies and healthcare professionals. Up to 2024, this action will also support sponsors in remembering the importance of training linked to the application of the CTR and the mandatory use of the Clinical Trials Information System (CTIS). All other communication needs across all priority actions will also be handled under this action.
Scientific advice, safety monitoring and harmonised training
The current framework sees the involvement of different actors who interact with sponsors at different stages of product development to provide them with scientific advice. A simplification of the overall process should be pursued by grouping of key actors in clinical trials scientific advice in the EU, “with the aim of critically analysing the existing landscape in line with stakeholder needs”. The Workplan indicates several pilot phases should be run to identify the better way to address this topic, which should benefit especially academic or SMEs sponsors that may have less experience of regulatory processes. Planned activities include a enhanced intra-network information exchange, the running of a survey among stakeholders and the operation of a first pilot phase by Q4 2024, to then optimise and expand the advice process upon results.
The establishment of clinical trial safety monitoring is another central theme of action, that should see member states involved in a coordinated work-sharing assessment. Key activities should include the identification of safe CT KPIs by the end of 2022 and a review of IT functionalities for safety, and it will be run in strict connection with the EU4Health Joint Action Safety Assessment Cooperation and Facilitated Conduct of Clinical Trials (SAFE CT). Training of safety assessors and the development of a harmonised curriculum thereof shall be also considered, as well as the alignment of safety procedures for emerging safety issues potentially impacting clinical trials.
The development of a training curriculum informed by regulatory experience should support the creation of a renewed educational ‘ecosystem’ characterised by bidirectional exchanges to enable training on clinical trials. This action is target mainly to better engage universities and SMEs, and it should include also training provided by actors other than the regulatory network.