EFPIA Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

Real-world evidence for regulatory decision-making


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 Read more

Webinar: Implementation of Contamination Control Strategy Using the ECA template


The next EIPG webinar will be held in conjunction with PIER and University College Cork on Friday 21st of October 2022 (16.00 CEST), on the implementation of Contamination Control Strategy (CCS) using the ECA* template. This is the second Read more

ACT EU’s Workplan 2022-2026


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 Read more

EFPIA’s Annual Report on the Pharmaceutical industry 2022

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by Giuliana Miglierini

In the 21 years from 2000 to 2021 – in which time we’ve come through the Global Financial Crisis and a pandemic – EFPIA companies have more than doubled production, increased exports by a factor of six, and recorded a trade balance that puts it far ahead of other high-tech sectors in Europe”, writes EFPIA’s Director General Nathalie Moll commenting the Annual Report2022.

Despite this marked growth, many challenges are still to be faced to allow the European pharmaceutical industry to maintain and even strengthen its role as primary hub of innovation, thus contributing to the overall success of the EU’s economy. It can be expected, for example, that the energy crisis will be highly impacting pharmaceutical productions, also in the form of increased difficulties to guarantee a constant supply of raw materials. This would represent just the last drop adding to existing regulatory barriers slowing down R&D and to the impact of fiscal austerity policies that may discourage investors.

At the same time, we have seen the growth of Brazilian, Chinese and Indian markets outstrip growth in the top 5 European markets. Our global competitors have prioritised life sciences and we must respond with similar ambition”, adds Nathalie Moll.

The 2021 of the pharmaceutical industry

According to EFPIA’s Annual Report 2022, the value of production for the research-based European pharmaceutical industry has grown from 127.5 billion euro in year 2000 to 300 billion in2021. Even more relevant is the growth of export, increased from €90.9 bln to €565 bln over the same period. In 2021 imports counted for €390 bln, with a positive trade balance of €175 bln.

The research-based pharma industry employed last year 840,000 units (125,000 of which in R&D) and invested €41.5 bln in research and development activities.

The total European pharmaceutical market value at ex-factory prices increased from €89.4 bln in 2000 to €255 bln in 2021. The pharmaceutical expenditure supported by statutory health insurance systems (and referred to ambulatory care only) grown from €76.9 bln to €157.5 bln over the same time.

Despite these positive figures, EFPIA warns about the danger of migration of many R&D activities from Europe towards fast-growing markets such as Brazil, India and China, thanks to the more favourable conditions. The pharmaceutical market in these countries grown, respectively,11.7%, 6.7% and 11.8% in the period 2016-2021, compared to 5.8% of top EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom) and 5.6% of the US.

North America still represents the wider market area for pharmaceuticals (49.1%, vs 23.4% for Europe), and accounts for the higher proportion of new launches (64.4%, vs 16.8% of top five EU countries). In 2020 China marked the higher pharmaceutical R&D expenditure (78,5 billion Yuan, from 1.9 bln Yuan in 2000), overcoming for the first time the US ($72.4 bln), while Europe is positioned far behind (€39,7 bln). Not less interesting is the 3.2% market share assigned to emerging, high-growth pharmaceutical markets including many African, South American and Asiatic countries (Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam).

Parallel trade is a characteristic of the European pharmaceutical market, due to the persistent fragmentation of many policies in different countries. Denmark saw in 2020 the higher share of parallel imports in pharmacy market sales (26.9%), well above other countries (e.g. 10.9% Sweden,9.1% UK, 8.3% Germany).

 Issues slowing down R&D

According to EFPIA, the length of time needed to bring a new medicine to the market (up to 12-13 years) is still a major issue impacting the attractiveness of European R&D. An average of one-two new synthetic substances out of every 10 thousand exiting the labs passes all the scrutiny steps needed to reach approval. The total costs of R&D was estimated in 2014 to reach €1.97 billion, indicates the report.

Germany, Switzerland and the UK are the European countries more active in research and development (€7.8 bln, €7.4 bln and € 5.6 bln expenditure in 2020, respectively). Clinical research accounts for the higher percentage of investment (44.1%, mainly in phase III studies), far above pre-human and pre-clinical research (14.9%) and phase IV studies aimed to post-marketing surveillance (11.5%). Approval studies account for 4.3% of the total R&D expenditure.

The US generated 159 new chemical entities (both chemical and biological) in years 2017-2021, almost doubling Europe (72) and a group of other countries (71), excluding Japan (41). Even more worrying, in 2021 China lagged just behind Europe as originator of new active substances launched for the first time on the world market (18 vs 19, respectively), while the US confirmed its leading position (35). According to EFPIA, this trend is associated with a marked lower annual growth rate of pharmaceutical R&D expenditure in Europe (4.0% for years 2017-2021), compared to that in the US (8.5%) and China (12.9%). Despite this, health industries still position at the first place of the ranking of industrial sectors by overall R&D intensity (12.4%, vs 8.7% of ITC services and 7.4% of ITC products).

The pharmaceutical production

Switzerland, Germany and Italy are the leading European hubs for pharmaceutical production (€53.2 bln, €32.3 bln and €34.3 bln of value, respectively). This corresponds in Germany to a significant higher number of people employed in the sector (115,519, vs 66,400 in Italy and 47,000 in Switzerland). EFPIA also mentions that the research-based pharmaceutical industry generates about three times more indirect employment along its value chain (both upstream and downstream) than it does directly, thus significantly contributing to the overall European job market. This is even more true for highly skilled jobs, thus preventing the phenomenon of brain-draining towards more attractive countries for scientific talents.

The US remains the favoured trading partner for the EU pharmaceutical industry, accounting for 32.2% EU exports and 30.2% imports. Switzerland is at the first place for EU imports (36.4%, and 11.8% EU exports); more distanced are the UK, China and Japan.

Fragmentation still impacts the European market

Fragmentation of policies on price and reimbursement and different VAT rates for medicinal product sis a very typical phenomenon still limiting the potentiality of the European pharmaceutical market.

According to EFPIA, in 2020 the retail price of a medicine corresponded on average to 66.8% rewarding for the manufacturer, 17.4% for the pharmacist, 10.6% for the State and 5.2% for the wholesaler. The top 5 countries for market value at ex-factory prices were Germany (€42.9 bln), Italy (€23.4 bln), France (€29, 5 bln), the UK (€24.6 bln) and Spain (€17.6 bln); Russia also represented a relevant market (€18,4 bln). Italy sees the higher market share for generics (67.6%), well above Poland (58%) and Austria (49%). EFPIA also monitored the VAT rates applied to prescription and OTC medicines in different European countries, compared to the standard VAT rates. Malta (0%), Sweden (0%), France (2.1%), Switzerland (2.5%), Luxembourg (3%), Spain (4%), Lithuania, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary (5%) marked the lower VAT rates on prescription medicines. In some case, these same rates applies also to OTC products (Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain, Switzerland), while in other countries the rates for this category of medicines is higher (France 10%, Lithuania 21%, Sweden 25%).


Current inspection trends and new approaches to the monitoring of post-inspection activities

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) has published its Annual Regulatory GMP/GDP Inspection Survey 2021, highlighting the more recent trends in inspections and how the pandemic affected this critical verification process of pharmaceutical productions. Meanwhile, UK’s regulatory authority MHRA launched the Compliance Monitor Process pilot, aimed to use eligible consultants as Compliance Monitors to supervise companies in the delivery of actions identified in the Compliance Protocol agreed with the regulatory authority.

Main trends in inspections

The main effect of the lockdowns has been the implementation of new ways to run inspections. The recommendation resulting from EFPIA’s report is now for virtual tools combined with onsite presence; to this instance, data gathered in 2021 show that the two modalities of inspection have a similar duration (2.9 days for on-site inspections vs 2.8 days for virtual ones). The report also indicates there is still a backlog of inspections due in 2020, the critical period of the pandemic; suggestions to manage expiring GMP/GDP/ISO-certificates include a one-year prolongation of current certificates, a dedicated communication process between the industry and regulators in the case of issues with the registration in third countries, and a planning of inspections based on the quality history of the site.

Domestic inspections confirming the trend observed since 2016, are almost double of the number of foreign inspections. These last ones focused in 2021 on only 23 countries, compared to the 44 countries visited by inspectors in 2017. EU’s countries were the most visited ones, with some 350 inspections reported vs the 150 of US, confirming the importance of European pharmaceutical manufacturing. According to the report, 2021 saw an increased attention to GDP inspections, while the percentage of sites with no inspections remains stable for six years.

A new mix of inspection tools

The use of new tools, additional to physical on-site presence, has now become a routine possibility accepted by many regulatory authorities. Many different approaches have been tested during the pandemic, including different inspections tools. Different combinations of tools cannot be considered to be equivalent, according to EFPIA. In general, a mixture of physical presence, document review and virtual presence flanked by the sharing of experience, collaboration and reliance is deemed suitable to confirm compliance and capability while supporting a risk-based efficiency.

Data show that the number of virtual inspections was higher in 2020 compared to 2021; the last year saw an increase of on-site presence vs 2020 and a mixture of virtual and on-site inspections. According to the report, only seven European countries have experience with the implementation of virtual inspection tools (Germany, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Sweden). As a consequence, the impact of mixed virtual and on-site domestic inspections in 2021 was lower in EU member states that, for example, in the US, Brazil, Russia and Singapore.

There is still space for improvement

EFPIA’s survey presents the respective advantages and disadvantages of on-site inspections vs virtual tools. The implementation of the new modalities is far from being accomplished, the process is still on the learning curve, says the document.

While the remote, virtual interaction allows for a greater flexibility of the inspection process, it may result stressful for some people; furthermore, it impacts on the way work is organised, as it needs a flexible schedule and time to prepare for the next day meetings. Also, the style of communication changes to become less natural and more focused. Overall, virtual inspections appear to be more efficient when performed in real-time, as it would be for on-site inspections. While being less costly, due to avoiding extensive travelling, virtual inspections require a careful preparation, including the availability of a suitable IT infrastructure and connectivity. Documents are also often required in advance of the meetings to be shared with regulators.

How to further improve inspections

According to EFPIA, the future of inspections calls for improved collaboration and reliance in order to increase the knowledge shared by the different inspectorates and overcome the limits intrinsic to self-dependency. The expected final outcome of the new approach to inspections is an improvement in the decision-making process. Inspection frequency may be set every 1 to 5 years on the basis of a risk-based evaluation.

Collaboration, reliance and delegation appear to be the new mantras to guide the actions of regulators: the focus suggested by EFPIA is on inspections run by domestic authorities, coupled to the implementation of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA) to avoid duplication of efforts. According to the report, it would be needed to harmonise the scope of existing MRAs and to establish new ones between the EU and PIC/S participating authorities (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey and UK). The European legislation should be also updated to include the concept of listed third countries, as already in place for the importation of active substances under the provisions of the Falsified Medicines directive.

The report also suggests a qualitative tool that would fulfil the legal requirements for “inspections” and may prove useful to support inspection planning on the basis of the knowledge of the GMP compliance history of the site, the footprint history of critical and major deficiencies and the type of inspection to be run. These elements lead to the identification of the hazards to be considered, including the intrinsic risk and the compliance-related one. The final output of the tool takes the form of a risk-ranking quality metric, to be used to establish the frequency of inspection for a certain site and the number and level of expertise of the required inspectors, as well as the scope, depth and duration of routine inspections.

All these items may form the basis for the drafting of a GMP inspection “Reliance Assessment Report”, which would also include the statement about the name of the hosting national competent authority and the basis on which country reliance has been established. Such a document may be then used to support regulatory decisions. According to EFPIA, the suggested approach would benefit of a better knowledge of the site inspected by the local NCA, a better insight in the local culture and less barriers to the interaction, with optimisation of resources. A better transparency of the inspection process is also expected, as a non-compliant site may negatively impact on the reputation of local inspectorates. Identified pre-requisites to allow the implementation of such an approach are the availability of high-quality standards at the local level and the evaluation of national regulatory systems by and independent body (e.g. PIC/S or the WHO Global Benchmarking Tool).

UK’s pilot of a Compliance Monitor Process

A new approach that may represent a first example towards the new paradigm of collaboration and reliance has been undertaken in the UK, where the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) launched in April 2022 a pilot project focused on the Compliance Monitor (CM) Process (see more here and here). The pilot is part of MHRA’s delivery plan 2021-2023 and will focus on the CM supervision process for appropriate GMP and GDP Inspection Action Group (IAG) cases.

According to the MHRA, the new process would allow companies to concentrate on the delivery of the required improvements without the need to use resources to manage MHRA supervision inspections to assess compliance remediation activities. On the regulatory side, the MHRA should be able to concentrate on the delivery of the routine risk-based inspection programme. The risk-based approach to supervision and monitoring is also expected to limit the number of potential shortages of supply.

The CM process is based on the figure of eligible consultants acting as Compliance Monitors (CM) in charge of working with the company to deliver the remediation actions identified in a Compliance Protocol (CP) agreed with the MHRA. The supervision by the CMs is expected to contribute to lower the need of on-site inspections with respect to the current process managed by the IAG. The CP also includes the transmission to MHRA of high-level updates at fixed intervals of time, which should include only exceptions to the agreed timelines or significant related compliance issues which were identified. Once completed the CP protocol, the CM informs the regulatory authority that the company is ready for inspection, so that the MHRA can verify onsite the possibility of its removal from IAG oversight.

CMs will be selected by the involved company from a dedicated register and accepted as suitable for that case by the MHRA. At least five years’ experience in independent audits of GMP/ GDP companies is needed to be eligible as CM. Furthermore, not having been personally the subject of MHRA regulatory action and/or significant adverse findings in the previous three years,  a suitable CV and the completion of a MHRA training as CM. All details on requirements for the CM role and application are available at the dedicated page of the MHRA website.

Suitability criteria to act as a CM for the specific case include as a minimum a sufficient experience of the dosage form manufactured, testing activities being performed, or distribution activity being carried out and a written confirmation of absence of Conflict of Interest. These criteria will be assessed by the company selecting the CM.

BIA’s view of the reliance in the UK medicines regulatory framework

The UK’s BioIndustry Association (BIA) contributed to the debate on the reliance in the UK medicines regulatory framework with a Reflection Paper. According to BIA, the MHRA has a well recognised status and history as a valued contributor to the global regulatory ecosystem and a point of reference for the regulatory decision-making which should be preserved also in the future.

BIA recalls the role played by the MHRA in the development of the concept of regulatory reliance at the EU level, as a way to support the agile management of resources and simultaneously focusing on core and innovative national activities across all stages in the product lifecycle. The central concept sees regulators from one country to rely on the decision and assessments of trusted authorities from another country in order to speed up the timeline of regulatory procedures. At the end of the process, each regulator remains fully responsible and accountable for all its decisions.

BIA also highlights the contribution of reliance to the advancement of good regulatory practices and international networks of regulators, so to better allocate resources potentially taking into account also the respective fields of specialisation. The proposal is for a list of accepted reference regulatory authorities as a way to recognise the evolution of partnerships over time. Examples of recognition pathways already active in the UK are the EC Decision Reliance Procedure (ECDRP) and international work-sharing through the Access Consortium and Project Orbis, through which the MHRA may act as the reference regulatory agency in many procedures.

BIA also warns about the risks of a sudden interruption at the end of 2022 of the reliance pathway, that would have a highly disruptive impact on companies and patients.



ACT EU: the EU’s vision for the future of clinical trials

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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.


Steps towards the final approval of the IP action plan

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The end of 2021 may see the final approval of many pieces of the new legislative framework announced in November 2020 by the European Commission. An important piece of this puzzle is represented by the IP Action Plan, governing the protection of intellectual property (IP); a step forward in this direction is represented by the resolution of 11 November 2021 on the Own-initiative report of the European Parliament.

The final text licensed in single reading is the result of the examination of the initial draft report – issued in May 2020 by the Committee for Legal Affairs, rapporteur Marion Walsmann – by several other Committees (IMCO, DEVE, CULT, AGRI).

The main points of the resolution

The resolution recognises the importance for the European economy of a balanced protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR). In years 2012-2016, the knowledge-intensive industries generated almost 30% of all jobs and almost 45% of total economic activity (in terms of Gross Domestic Product, GDP) in the EU; the IPR-intensive industries account for 93% of total EU exports of goods.

Europe’s recovery and resilience capacity is also highly impacted, as demonstrated by the pandemic when shortages of certain medicinal products and vaccines occurred. The EU Parliament acknowledges the role played by intellectual property in increasing the overall value of companies,especially the small-and-medium size ones (SMEs).

A current limitation to IP protection in Europe is represented by the still fragmented situation across different member states, which often leads to parallel national validation procedures and litigation for European patents. To this instance, the Parliament suggests the establishment of an IP coordinator at European level, to harmonise the approach to EU IP policy and enhance cooperation between the different bodies involved in the process (i.e. national IP authorities, Commission Directorates-General, EPO, EUIPO, WIPO, etc).

The Parliament also recognised the role IP plays in the pharmaceutical sector, where the availability of incentives greatly favours the development of new and innovative treatments. The resolution asks the Commission to support the innovative potential of European companies “on the basis of a comprehensive IP regime”, so to guarantee effective protection for R&D investments and favour fair returns through licensing. The availability of open technology standards has been valued as an important competitive element on the wider, global scenario.

Many different types of incentives are suggested by the Parliament’s resolution as useful to support micro-enterprises and SMEs in filing and managing their intellectual property, including IP vouchers, IP Scan and other Commission and EUIPO initiatives to support simple registration procedures and low administrative fees. The newly created European IP Information Centre may represents a fundamental reference point to increase knowledge in the field. The Parliament also suggests to introducing an EU-level utility model protection, not yet available, as a possible fast and low-cost protection tool to protect technical inventions.

Unitary patents and improved market competition

Still missing members states are urged to adhere to the enhanced cooperation scheme for the creation of a Unitary Patent Protection (UPP) and to ratify the Protocol to the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court on provisional application (PPA). The activation of this unique Court in charge of the examination of litigations would allow for a more efficient process and for lowering legal costs and improving legal certainty.

Fragmentation remains an issue also with respect to Supplementary Protection Certificates (SPCs): to this instance, the resolution asks the Commission to issue guidelines for member states and to provide a legislative proposal based on an exhaustive impact assessment. A major criticality to be solved is represented by the unitary patent not providing a unique SPC title valid across the EU; the own-initiative report also suggests the extension of the EPO’s mandate, so that examination of SPC applications could be carried out on the basis of unified rules.

Other important points needing attention to improve the presence of generic and biosimilar medicines in the EU are the abuse of divisional patent applications and patent linkage, which should also see an intervention by the Commission. The Parliament also opened the possibility of a revision of the Bolar exemption, which allows clinical trials on patented products needed to reach marketing authorisation of a generic or biosimilar version not to be regarded as infringements of patent rights or SPCs. This may also support the immediate market entry after the expiration of patent rights and SPCs. The Commission is called also to ensure the effectiveness and better coordination of compulsory licensing in order to provide access to medicines needed in case of health emergencies.

The resolution also addresses the theme of standard essential patents, which currently often leads to litigations, and it calls for the revision of the 20-years old system for design protection. Transparency on results obtained from publicly funded R&D is also recommended. The Parliament suggests artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies may play an important role in tackling counterfeiting practices and guarantee traceability of goods, as they may contribute to a better enforcement of intellectual property rights along the whole supply chain. The Commission should also work to establish clearer criteria for the protection of inventions created by the AI, without human intervention.

Comments from the industry

The European Parliament has clearly voted for a strong and fair IP system by underlining the importance of timely generic and biosimilar medicine competition. The misuse of divisional patents, the need to enlarge the scope of bolar to include API and all regulatory and administrative steps, and the long overdue ban anti-competitive patent linkage are well known problems that the Commission should address in the IP Action Plan. The Parliament has voted; the Commission must act.”, said Adrian van den Hoven, Director General at Medicines for Europe.

A major point in the implementation of the new European policies is represented by the review the Commission is going to conduct in 2024 to assess the effective achievement of goals of the SPC manufacturing waiver, which entered into force in July 2019 and is expected to start producing effects in the second half of 2022.

Many of the themes discussed in the Parliament’s resolution were debated during a webinar organized by Medicines for Europe, with the participation of representatives from the European Commission and the European Patent Office.

EFPIA, representing the innovator pharmaceutical industry, focused its attention on the impact of past EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on drug spending, timing of countries’ access to new medicines after global launch, investments overall and in pharmaceuticals, and clinical trial participation. A report by IQVIA published in the Federation’s website addresses the impact of IP protection on these elements. Results confirm the central role of the pharmaceutical sector as the most R&D intensive industry in the world, with R&D spending averaging over 15% of revenue. A strong IP protection framework available at the level of EU FTAs favours the attractiveness for investments in the EU and its FTA partner countries. According to the report, an expanded IP protection appears not to be linked to the generation of a higher pharmaceutical spending; drugs’ share of healthcare spending is claimed to stay flat or fall after an FTA, and prices for medicines to rise more slowly than the level of inflation. A stronger IP index, adds IQVIA, is also correlated with increased clinical trial activity in a country, bringing both clinical and economic benefits.


A new role for EMA and a pilot project for the repurposing of medicines

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by Giuliana Miglierini

A draft agreement was reached at the end of October between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to reinforce the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) with reference to crisis preparedness and management for medicinal products and medical devices. “EU-level preparation and coordination are two essential ingredients to fight future health crises. Thanks to this deal we are adding an essential new building block to upgrade the EU’s health architecture. It will allow the EU’s Medicines Agency to make sure we have the medicines needed to deal with public health emergencies”, said Janez Poklukar, the Slovenian minister for health.

The revision of EMA mandate is part of the broader activities announced by the EU Commission in November 2020 to achieve the European Health Union; these also include the reinforcement of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and a draft law on cross-border health threats. The establishment of the new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), announced in September 2021, is also part of the package. The draft agreement shall now be endorsed both by the Council and the Parliament before entering into force.

Three new key targets for EMA

The draft agreement reached by the Council and Parliament negotiators focuses on three main areas. The first one refers to the definition of a major event and how to recognise it: these shall be events likely to pose a serious risk to public health in relation to medicinal products, as acknowledged by a positive opinion from the Medicines Shortages Steering Group, and which may trigger specific actions such as the adoption of a list of critical medicinal products to fight the health threat.

Solid funding from the Union budget shall be also provided to EMA in order to support the work of the new steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels. The availability of provisions for adequate data protection is important to guarantee the full compliance to the GDPR regulation and other EU data protection rules, and the safe transfer of personal data relevant to EMA’s activities (e.g. data from clinical trials).

EMA shall play an improved role in the monitoring and management of shortages of medicines and medical devices, a critical activity for the availability of the products needed during public health emergencies. Other points of the agreement include the timely development of high-quality, safe and efficacious medicinal products, and the creation of a new EMA’s structure specific for expert panels in charge of the assessment of high-risk medical devices and of essential advice on crisis preparedness and management.

How to tackle shortages of medicines

According to the EU Parliament, two “shortages steering groups” (for medicines and medical devices, respectively) shall be created by EMA; if needed, these groups may also include expert advice from relevant stakeholders (e.g. patients and medical professionals, marketing authorization holders, wholesale distributors, etc.).

Parliament negotiators highlighted the importance to achieve a high transparency of the process, including avoidance of interests related to industry sectors for members of the two groups; summaries of the proceedings and recommendations shall be also made publicly available.

A European Shortages Monitoring Platform shall be created by EMA to facilitate the collection of information on shortages, supply and demand of medicinal products; a public webpage with information on shortages of critical medicines and medical devices shall be also made available.

As already occurred during the Covid pandemic, future public health emergencies may boost the development of new medicines and medical devices. Sponsors of clinical trials conducted during health emergencies will be required to make the study protocol publicly available in the EU clinical trials register at the start of the trial, as well as a summary of the results. Following the granting of the marketing authorisation, EMA will also publish product information with details of the conditions of use and clinical data received (e.g. anonymised personal data and no commercially confidential information).

With this agreement, Parliament makes both the Agency and all actors in the supply chain more transparent, involving them more in the process and fostering synergies between EU agencies. Moreover, we pave the way to promoting clinical trials for the development of vaccines and treatments, boosting transparency on those issues. In short, more transparency, more participation, more coordination, more effective monitoring and more prevention”, said Rapporteur Nicolás González Casares (S&D, ES).

EMA’s pilot project for the repurposing of medicines

The repurposing of already approved and marketed medicines is another key action put in place to ensure improved response capacity in case of future health emergencies.

A new pilot project to support the repurposing of off-patent medicines has been launched by EMA and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA), with special focus on not-for-profit organisations and the academia as the main actors to carry out research activities needed to support the regulatory submission for the new indication. The initiative follows the outcomes reached by the European Commission’s Expert Group on Safe and Timely Access to Medicines for Patients (STAMP).

Interested sponsors may access EMA’s specific scientific advice upon submission of the drug repurposing submission form to the e-mail address [email protected] by 28 February 2022. More information is available in a Question-and-Answer document. The pilot will last until scientific advice for the selected repurposing candidate projects; filing of an application by a pharmaceutical company for the new indication is another target. Final results of the project will be published by EMA.

Comments from the industry

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) welcomed the proposed framework for the repurposing of authorised medicines. “This pilot launch comes at a timely moment to test whether a streamlined and more transparent regulatory pathway for repurposing of off-patent established products increases the chances of including existing scientific evidence into regulatory assessment. One of the goals of the pilot is to raise awareness regarding the standards required for regulatory-ready evidence on the road to further increase availability of authorised therapeutic use”, said the chair of EFPIA’s Regulatory Strategy Committee Alan Morrison.

Innovation on existing, well-known molecules through repurposing can deliver huge benefits for patients, according to Medicines for Europe. The Association of the generic and biosimilar industry supports the pilot project as a way to generate robust data packages and to translate research into access for patients. A sustainable innovation ecosystem for off-patent medicine is the expected final outcome, possibly including also reformulation of existing medicines, new strengths or adaptation for specific patient groups (i.e. paediatric populations). “These investments must also be recognised in pricing and reimbursement policies to make access a reality for all patients”, writes Medicines for Europe.


First steps of the HERA Authority and comments from industrial and medical associations

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The new European Health Emergency preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) has started its operative phase. Initially launched in February 2021, HERA has been modelled by the European Commission on the example of the US’s DARPA agency, and it will be in charge of anticipating threats and potential health crises.

The first three calls for tender to support HERA’s setup have been published on the Commission’s website and will remain open until 29 October 2021. They are targeted towards addressing different aspects of the management of Covid-19 therapeutics and antimicrobial resistance.

A total sum of €7 million from the EU4Health programme will fund these activities. An info session on the three calls was delivered on 14 October 2021 by European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA) in collaboration with DG Santé (see more at this link). A summary of HERA’s activities in the field of crisis preparedness and emergency response is also available here. A budget of €6 billion from the current Multiannual Financial Framework 2022-2027 is available to fund HERA’s setup and activities, plus additional support from other EU programmes, for a total of almost €30 billion. HERA will be part of the internal Commission structure, and it is expected to become fully operational in early 2022.

HERA’s role is to improve the EU’s development, manufacturing, procurement and distribution of key medical countermeasures said the Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, following the recent Informal Meeting of Health Ministers in Ljubljana, Slovenia -. HERA will also be crucial in ensuring accessibility and availability of medicines. As I said to Ministers today, HERA is a joint undertaking, with Member States, EU Agencies, the European Parliament and other concerned stakeholders, including industry and civil society. HERA’s strength and success will come from our joint preparedness and joint response, and our capacity to bringing joint solutions. HERA is now operational and should be fully up and running early next year.

HERA’s first activities

The call for tender on antimicrobial resistancerefers to a service contract to run a study comprehensive of a technological review of the latest AMR medical-countermeasures (e.g.; medicines, medical devices, vaccines) and a gap analysis and assessment of needs amongst the EU Member States and key stakeholders. The study shall also include options for possible actions, funding and provision of support mechanisms, and exploration of available tools suitable to ensure the availability of safe and effective products in the European market. These products are expected to be immediately available to the EU and member states in the event of a public health emergency. The estimated total value of the tender is €1 million.

Stockpiling of medical countermeasures in the area of AMR is the subject of the second feasibility study (estimated total value €1 million). The study shall analyse physical stockpiling solutions compared to other options, providing identification and assessment of all available opportunities. The needs and availability of AMR countermeasures shall be also assessing, both at member states and EU level, as well as the mapping of relevant stockpiling systems currently operated at EU and/or global level (e.g. WHO). Possible funding mechanisms (including procurement options), identification and assessment of operational deployment mechanisms and considerations on liability and regulatory aspects and/or constraints are also to be included in the study.

The third feasibility study has the higher estimated total value (€5 million) and will focus on the design and prototype development for a mapping platform on Covid-19 therapeutics in the EU. The platform is expected to map the production capacity and supply of products intended to treat Covid-19, both already on the market and in R&D phases. Possible examples include ICU medicines, heparin, dexamethasone and antibiotics, in vitro diagnostics devices and/or companion diagnostics.

Comments from stakeholders

Many stakeholders released their comments to welcome the creation of the new Authority.

The creation of HERA is a first step to putting Europe on the front foot in addressing global health threats.”, said EFPIA Director General, Nathalie Moll. “The speed at which Europe became the epicentre of the Covid-19 crisis meant, as a region, we were simply reacting to issues as they arose, working together to find solutions as quickly as possible”.

The lessons learnt during the pandemic revealed a number of weaknesses in Europe’s ability to respond to a public health crisis. HERA’s ability to balance coordination and unity with agility and responsiveness as threats emerge shall be central to its success, according to EFPIA. The Federation, together with Vaccines Europe, supports an end-to-end approach to govern HERA’s activities, and a collaborative, partnership-based model to maximise the strength of each stakeholder in a highly coordinated approach.

The association representing the generic and biosimilar industry, Medicines for Europe, wrote in a note that HERA should “be an efficient agency with strong links to healthcare industries”. A joint industrial cooperation forum to coordinate interactions of manufacturing associations and EU authorities, a regulatory framework able to prioritise the supply of essential medicines and the elimination of the proposal for redundant manufacturing capacity are just some suggestions made by the Association, which is more favourable towards manufacturing investment in a wide range of medicine production types, as outlined in the Structured Dialogue.

Reserve policies should be also revised in order to avoid waste, costly destruction, and distorting supplies of medicines to certain (smaller) EU countries. The functioning of joint procurement system should be also addressed and improved by the Commission, to avoid distortions in the internal market and provide accurate demand estimates.

The Federation of the European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) published in May 2021 a report jointly prepared with the Wellcome Trust, highlighting the opportunity in the short term not to overstep HERA’s role in relation to others European authorities (e.g. the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) as a pre-requirement to ensure its success.

The new-born Authority should also try to harmonise the European research and development landscape for pandemic preparedness and response, in order to remain “relevant and active between emergencies”.