by Giuliana Miglierini
Digitalisation is rapidly advancing also in the regulatory field, as a tool to improve the efficiency and accuracy of processes used for the generation and use of data to inform the regulatory decision-making. To this instance, real-world data (RWD) on the use of a certain medicine by the general population are increasingly important to monitor the impact in terms of health benefits, adverse events and costs for healthcare systems.
The trend is confirmed by the publication of a joint statement by the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) addressing the use of real-world data and real-world evidence (RWE) in the development, authorisation and monitoring of medicines to support regulatory decision-making. The document has been endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which also published the third workplan developed by its Big Data Steering Group to set key actions to be delivered in the period 2022–2025.
The debate on real-world evidence for regulatory decision making was also stimulated by an ISPE’s position paper released in 2020, and by papers published in the scientific literature (see here a recent review).
ICMRA’s joint statement on real-world evidence
The joint statement is the final result of a ICMRA workshop on real-world evidence co-organised with EMA, the US FDA and Health Canada in June 2022, that saw the participation of representatives from more than 40 countries. Heterogeneous data sources across different geographic areas and different levels of quality, as well as various processes for data sharing and access of the data, were among the main open issues identified during the meeting. Four different areas of collaboration have been identified, representing the focus of further discussion by international regulators in order to implement concrete actions to address criticalities.
The first area addresses the harmonisation of RWD and RWE terminologies. This exercise is deemed essential in order to share common operational definitions of RWD and RWE, characterized by a clear scope and level of granularity (e.g., pertaining to RCTs and observational studies).
Already existing guidance, such as the ICH M14 on “General principles on planning and designing pharmacoepidemiological studies that utilize real-world data for safety assessment of a medicine”, may represent useful tools to support these activities.
The convergence on RWD and RWE guidance and best practice should include the development of common principles for RWD quality. Metadata are an essential feature, as they enable the characterisation and discoverability of RWD. Other targets include the definition of suitable scenarios where RWE may contribute to regulatory decision-making, and the setting up of templates for study protocols/reports that can be used in multiple regulatory jurisdictions.
Readiness shall be pursued by strengthening the international regulatory collaboration on RWE. The rapid creation of expert groups on specific topics of interest and an improved collaboration on governance and processes aimed to support the efficient conduct of RWD studies in different countries are key actions in this area.
Transparency should be the common denominator underlying all the above-mentioned activities. It should be tackled through the definition and use of common principles and practices for the systematic registration of pre-specified study protocols and study results in publicly available registries. Publication of study results in open-source, peer-reviewed journals is also expected.
The 2022-2025 workplan on Big Data use for public health
In parallel with the publication of ICMRA’s joint statement, EMA released the Big Data Workplan 2022-2025, jointly developed with the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA). The joint workplan represents the expansion towards the operative phase of the priority recommendations for regulators on the best approaches to use and generate data developed in 2020 by the former Big Data Task Force. The document refers mainly to medicines for human use, even if it includes some information on veterinary medicines.
Big data are the key element to be considered in order to achieve the overall objectives seen above, as they enable the extensive analysis of information available on medicinal products subject to regulatory scrutiny. According to the Big Data Steering Group, the increased evidence arising from big data analysis may accelerate medicine development, improve treatment outcomes and facilitate earlier patient access to new treatments.
The workplan details ten different priory areas and the respective recommendations for action, and it provides the expected timelines for their implementation.
Central to the overall planned system is the Data Analysis and Real-World Interrogation Network (DARWIN EU), a federated network to enable access and analysis of real-world data. After the establishment of the DARWIN EU Coordination Centre and the activation of the first studies in 2022, new activities shall focus on the support to the European Health Data Space (EHDS) and the collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), HTA bodies and payers.
The joint action Towards A European Health Data Space (TEHDAS) shall facilitate the engagement with stakeholders, a critical point to ensure the quality of data. The release of a first version of a data quality framework for the EU Regulatory Network is expected in late 2022. An agreement on metadata to describe and identify RWD sets shall also be supported by the publication of a good practice guide on metadata and a public catalogue of European RWD. Release of new analytics tools and a review of the utility of eHealth data and social media data are also part of actions targeted to data discoverability.
The reinforcement of skills of all stakeholders involved in the process of RWD and RWE generation, analysis and use is also essential to guarantee the success of the new approach. EMA and HMA aim to develop agreed training curricula on biostatistics, pharmacoepidemiology and data science, including the availability of selected modules open to patients, healthcare professionals and academics. A curriculum on genomics data shall also be adopted.
The results of pilot studies on the use of RWE by EMA scientific committees will be released in next years, with a final report and a portfolio of RWE use cases to support uptake of RWE by the ERMN expected in 2025.
More in detail, a proof-of-concept pilot assessing access to individual patient data from clinical trials (raw data) in the scientific assessment of medicines is planned for Q4 2022. The final reflection paper on artificial intelligence (AI) for use in regulatory processes shall be published in Q3 2023, while 2024 should focus on a pilot on data analysis for CMC data.
All the above-mentioned activities shall be supported by new guidance issued by the new EMA Methodologies Working Party, while expert advice will be strengthened through the European Specialised Expert Communities (ESEC), initially focusing on AI & RWE.
The governance of the process shall benefit by a review of the mandates of the Big Date Steering Group and EU Network Data Board expected for late 2022. Target actions aimed to strengthen the framework for ethics in data analysis will also be explored. Activities at the level of the international framework of regulators shall include among others the evaluation of the clinical trial conceptual model under the ICH M11.
An annual Big Data stakeholder forum is also planned, complemented by topic specific meetings and workshops and biannual industry meetings. In the veterinary field, the workplan includes the implementation of the EU Veterinary Big Data strategy adopted in 2022. Among the main deliverable are a catalogue of veterinary data sources, finalisation of the system on antimicrobials sale and use data, and the evolution of training curricula.