By Giuliana Miglierini
The long-waited European regulation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) was adopted by the Council of Europe on November 9, and it has now to pass through the final endorsement of the European Parliament as the last step before publication in the EU Official Journal. The regulation will entry into force three years and twenty days after publication.
The first proposal of a new HTA regulation was made in January 2018 by the EU Commission; the final political agreement between the Council and the EU Parliament was reached in June 2021. The position of the Council of Europe on the draft regulation at first reading was also published.
The provisions of the new HTA regulation will apply to medicinal products, medical devices (for example pacemakers, dialysis equipment or infusion pumps) or medical and surgical procedures, as well as measures for disease prevention, diagnosis or treatment used in healthcare.
“The adoption of this law is another demonstration of how EU countries, when acting together, can achieve very practical results for their citizens. This new law will benefit patients, producers of health technologies and our health systems.”, said Janez Poklukar, the Slovenian minister for health.
Cooperation and joint activities
Joint clinical assessments and joint scientific consultations are central concepts of the HTA regulation: a target that would require the active cooperation of all member states in order to efficiently identify emerging health technologies. Administrative procedures shall be greatly simplified and become more cost-efficient, as manufacturers of health technologies (especially small companies) should be required to submit once-only all data and documentation for a certain technology at the EU level. These will form the basis for national competent authorities to run all joint activities, including scientific advice and clinical assessment.
The added value of new health technologies compared to the existing ones will be a main driver to guide the assessment activities, so to take informed decisions on pricing or reimbursement.
Joint scientific consultations may also include the exchange of relevant information between national authorities and manufacturers on development plans for the technology under assessment, so to favour the availability of all the evidence required to meet regulatory expectations.
The new Heads of Agencies Group
While waiting for the formal adoption of the new HTA regulation by the EU Parliament, other activities are ongoing to set up the operative framework needed to guarantee the smooth activation of all planned collaborative efforts.
The newly formed Heads of Agencies Group (HAG) is an initiative aimed to support the implementation of common joint work approach on all HTA activities at the EU level, according to the new model of cooperation among national authorities established by the regulation.
The new HTA-focused collaborative network for high-level strategic exchange and discussion was launched on 29 September 2021 by the heads of 19 European HTA agencies, which elected Prof. Rui Santos Ivo (INFARMED, Portugal) as its Chair, and Prof. Dominique Le Guludec (HAS, France) and Dr. Trygve Ottersen (NIPH, Norway) as Vice-Chairs. The secretariat of the Group has been established at the Dutch Health Care Institute (ZIN).
All HAG’s activities will be based on a joint Memorandum of Understanding. The Group will work during the next three years to support national systems to be prepared for the entry into force of the HTA regulation, including the availability of the needed capacity. HAG will also support the joint technical and scientific work performed by HTA bodies across Europe, and it will advise policymakers and other relevant institutions – both at the EU and national level – on issues related to cooperation in HTA.
Current members of the group include the following national authorities involved in HTA activities: AEMPS (Spain), AIFA (Italy), AGENAS (Italy), AIHTA (Austria), INFARMED (Portugal), KCE (Belgium), NIPH (Norway), G-BA (Germany), HAS (France), HIQA (Ireland), IQWiG (Germany), FIMEA (Finland), NCPE (Ireland), REDETS (Spain), RER (Italy), RIZIV-INAMI (Belgium), NOMA (Norway), TLV (Sweden) and ZIN (The Netherlands).
The EUnetHTA 21 consortium
After the closing of its third Joint Action (2016-2020), which paved the way to the permanent HTA working structure for Europe (encompassing more than 80 HTA bodies), the European Network for Health Technology Assessment (EUnetHTA) has published a HTA White Paper as the final document resuming lessons learned up to now that may prove relevant for the implementation of the next phase of the HTA joint cooperation.
This new phase in the life of the Network, that now goes under the name of EUnetHTA 21, is no more a Joint Action; a joint consortium has been created instead, led by the Dutch HTA body ZIN and including the following HTA agencies: AEMPS (Spain), AIFA (Italy), AIHTA (Austria), GBA (Germany), HAS (France), INFARMED (Portugal), IQWIG (Germany), KCE (Belgium), NCPE (Ireland), NIPN (Hungary), NOMA (Norway) and TLV (Sweden). The consortium will provide support to the future European HTA system to be established according to the upcoming regulation.
EUnetHTA 21 is funded by a two-years’ Service Contract for the Provision of Joint Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Work Supporting the Continuation of EU Cooperation on HTA, signed on 17 September 2021 by the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA).
The first Stakeholder Kick-Off online meeting of the consortium is scheduled on 3 December
2021; the discussion will focus on the illustration of the governance principles, the planned interactions with stakeholders in the form of public consultations and the presentation of deliverables planned for the next two years.
The first Open Call for consultation
EUnetHTA 21 has already launched its first Open Call , targeted to the pharmaceutical industry with reference to four different Joint Scientific Consultations (JSC, previously referred to as Early Dialogues). The Call is open until 7 December 2021; some other four slots for JSC are expected to be activated during the period of activities of EUnetHTA 21.
The medicinal products to access these four first slots will be selected on the basis of the results of the Open Call, within two weeks from its closure; the following Joint Scientific Consultations are expected to start in January 2022. According to EUnetHTA, the procedure to be used for JSC shall remain essentially unchanged, with just minor adjustments; an updated guidance document should be soon available.
JSCs are a pillar of the new HTA regulation, aimed to provide non-binding scientific advice to developers of new products, after completion of the feasibility or proof of concept studies and prior to the activation of pivotal clinical trials, in order to improve the quality and appropriateness of the data to be used for future HTA assessment. This type of evaluation will run in parallel to EMA’s scientific advice procedures.
Early exchange of relevant information between applicants and both regulatory (EMA) and HTA agencies represents the core of the process, so to optimise the integration of the different requirements to be included in the study design across multiple European member states. These might refer, for example, to the choice of comparators or relevant outcomes, to the quality of life and/or patient groups (both for pivotal trials and post-launch studies), as well as to the economic evidence generation plan.