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.