European Medicines Agency Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

Lessons learnt to transition from Horizon 2020 to the new FP10


by Giuliana Miglierini The European Commission published the ex post evaluation of Horizon 2020 (H2020), the FP8 framework programme for research and innovation (R&I) run in years 2014-2020. The report identifies several areas of possible improvement, which may be taken into Read more

Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023


by Giuliana Miglierini Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023 The European Medicines Agency published its annual highlights, showing 77 medicines were recommended for marketing authorisation, and just 3 received a negative opinion (withdrawals were 19). In 2023 some highly expected Read more

Webinar: Oral Colon Drug Delivery - Design Strategies


EIPG webinar Next EIPG webinar is to be held on Wednesday 21st of February 2024 at 17.00 CET (16.00 GMT) in conjunction with PIER and University College Cork. Anastasia Foppoli, will discuss on the various approaches and the general aspects Read more

Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023

The European Medicines Agency published its annual highlights, showing 77 medicines were recommended for marketing authorisation, and just 3 received a negative opinion (withdrawals were 19).

In 2023 some highly expected candidates under clinical development failed to meet the fixed endpoints, as reported by Fierce Biotech. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic reduced the commercial performance of medical products launched in 2020, highlights the Trinity Annual Drug Index. We summarise the main features emerging from the three documents.

The approval of the first CRISPR/Cas-9 gene therapy

The only advanced therapy medicinal product (ATMP) recommended by EMA in 2023 represents a true innovation in the therapeutic arsenal to treat transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia and severe sickle cell disease. Casgevy (exagamglogene autotemcel) is the first-in-class CRISPR/Cas 9 gene therapy approved, targeting specific mutations in the genome of patients that affect the production or function of haemoglobin.

EMA recommended in 2023 39 medicines based on a new active substance never authorised before in the EU. Generics and biosimilars were about a third of the approved products (14 and 8, respectively). On the other hand, 17 products received an orphan designation. Other new medicinal products followed different dedicated regulatory pathways, such as Prime (3) or accelerated assessment (3). One product received approval under exceptional circumstances, other 8 a conditional marketing authorisation.

Oncology continues to represent the most attractive therapeutic area for pharmaceutical R&D, with a total of 14 new medicinal products.

Elrexfio (elranatamab) and Talvey (talquetamab) were approved for the treatment of adult patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the bone marrow that affects plasma cells. Two other new medicines – Columvi (glofitamab) and Tepkinly (epcoritamab) – were approved for the treatment of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive cancer of the lymphatic system. The treatment of myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer that affects the bone marrow, can benefit from the approval of Omjjara (momelotinib). Cerebral glioma in paediatric patients from one year of age is the target of the combination of Finlee (dabrafenib) and Spexotras (trametinib).

Among other particularly innovative products recommended for approval by EMA are two vaccines to protect against lower respiratory tract disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus, Abrysvo (bivalent, recombinant) targeting small infants via immunisation of the mother during pregnancy (and over-60 adults), and Arexvy (recombinant, adjuvanted), representing the first vaccine for active immunisation of adults aged 60 years and older.

EMA also recommended two medicines for use in countries outside the EU, under the regulatory procedure “EU-Medicines for all” (EU-M4All). Arpraziquantel (arpraziquantel) targets schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease caused by parasitic trematode worms and affecting an estimate of 50 million young children. Fexinidazole Winthrop (fexinidazole) is already in use from 2018 to treat human African trypanosomiasis, a disease caused by the parasite trypanosoma brucei gambiense and also known as sleeping sickness. The CHMP extended the indications to include treatment of the more acute and lethal form of the disease caused by trypanosoma rhodesiense.

The main failures in clinical R&D

Pharmaceutical R&D may also lead to failure of the clinical development for candidate products. A selection of the more significant flops in 2023 as for clinical trials has been published by Fierce Biotech on its website.

An already FDA approved gene therapy product is also included in the list, Sarepta’s Elevidy for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, as its phase 3 Embark study didn’t meet the primary endpoint. The product is now under further scrutiny by the FDA. As for vaccines, a major failure refers to Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ HIV vaccine and its phase 3 Mosacio study, that was terminated as it was not expected to meet the primary endpoint. According to Fierce Biotech, Johnson & Johnson would have ended the development of the HIV vacci-ne and completely revised the infectious disease R&D unit. Failure to meet the expected benefit (3.5-month overall survival) in the phase 3 Sapphire trial impacted also sitravatinib, a spectrum-selective kinase inhibitor developed by Mirati Therapeutics to overcome resistance to checkpoint inhibitors in the treatment of non-small lung cell carcinoma. Tarcocimab tedromer is an anti-VEGF antibody biopolymer conjugate developed by Kodiak Sciences to treat diabetic macular edema, and that did not meet the primary endpoint in a phase 3 trial compared to the approved therapy. The same occurred to evobrutinib, a BTK inhibitor from Merck KGaA to treat multiple sclerosis, that failed the comparison with the reference product in two phase 3 studies. The failure of the potential blockbuster factor-XIa inhibitor asundexian, developed by Bayer for treatment of atrial fibrillation with stroke risk, was due to an observed “inferior efficacy” com-pared to the standard treatment Eliquis. The failure of efruxifermin (a FGF21 analog) in a phase 2b study aimed to treat fibrosis in cirrhotic MASH patients was attributed by Akero Therapeutics to the fact enrolled patients may have reached a too advanced state of disease for the treatment to be effective. The failure of Nektar Therapeutics’ phase 2 clinical trial in lupus with Rezpeg (rezpegaldesleukin) is a less typical occurrence, as it was due to errors made by the industrial partner Eli Lilly in the analysis of data from a phase 1b trial in eczema and psoriasis. Lilly admitted the errors and was then sued by Nektar.

The land of unicorns also crashed down when izokibep, a small protein developed by Acelyrin, failed the primary endpoint against placebo. The company had received a $540 million IPO, to then see its shares value decreasing by 58%. The failure was attributed to a programming error by a CRO, which according to Fierce Biotech is under investigation by the sponsor. The potential of artificial intelligence in supporting drug discovery may also be impacted by the failure of BEN-2293, a topical pan-Trk inhibitor in eczema developed by Benevolent AI which failed to meet the secondary endpoints of the safety-focused study.

The commercial performance of products approved in 2020

The commercial performances of novel drugs approved in 2020 are the focus of the Trinity Annual Drug Index.

Oncology represented in 2020 the leading indication (29% of the total 58 unique FDA drug and biologic approvals), followed by neurology (16%). The combination of the two therapeutic areas marked a net increase compared to 2017 (45% vs 34%, respectively). Half (9/17) of the new pro-ducts approved in Oncology were small molecules, mainly mutation directed. A quarter (24%) of the new medicines were monoclonal antibodies. The antibody drug conjugates Trodelvy, in particular, was the highest performing Oncology drug overall.

The strong impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the pharmaceutical industry in 2020, with many shifts of priorities in development and the need to manage shortages and disruptions of the supply chain, led to a lower commercial performance of the new products launched com-pared to 2016-2019. Good commercial results were obtained only by new medicines addressing significant unmet need or providing very strong therapeutic benefits.

The Trinity Annual Drug Index also highlights that approx. 21% (12/58) of approved products in 2020 constituted a “first launch” for their respective companies. None of them surpassed their forecast expectations, and approx. a half significantly underperformed.


The first Union list of critical medicines

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The first version of the Union list of critical medicines was published on 12 December 2023 by the European Commission, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Heads of medicines Agencies (HMA).

The initiative is part of the actions planned according to the Pharmaceutical Strategy and the Communication on addressing medicine shortages in the EU. A Q&As documentwas also published to illustrate the main features of the list, together with the methodology to identify critical medicinesto be included in the list (see the dedicated webpage of EMA’s website). The first version of the Union list of critical medicines is comprehensive of approx. 200 active substances, selected starting from a pool of more than 600 referred to in the national lists of critical medicines of Finland, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. These six countries were chosen as their lists were based on criteria aligned with those agreed for the Union list. The process also comprised consultations of key stakeholders, including patients and healthcare professionals’ organisations and industry associations.

The list will be updated annually, and further references will be added in 2024. The final list will also include the separate assessment of the vulnerability of the supply chains to be run by the European Commission.

The Union list will not replace existing national lists of critical medicines, that will continue to support national policy decisions. EU member states may also use the Union list to create their own national lists, if not yet available.

Ensuring an uninterrupted supply of critical medicines is essential for a strong European Health Union. With the publication of the first Union list of critical medicines today, we are delivering on our promise to accelerate work in this area and to take every possible measure to avert the risk of shortages for our citizens”, said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

A list to prevent shortages

The Union list of critical medicines represents a warning about the importance of avoiding shortages for specific medicines, as they would highly impact both patients and healthcare systems. No immediate effect is expected on shortages, but the risk might decrease in the longer term.

The Union list specifies human medicines (both innovators and generics, vaccines, and medicines for rare diseases) those continued supply is considered a priority in the EU. It will be used by the EU Commission, EMA and HMA for the definition of proactive measures to strengthen the supply chain and minimise the risk of supply disruptions (see more on EMA’s webpage on Availability of critical medicines).

The Union list of critical medicines will also serve as the basis for the Commission to run the analysis of vulnerabilities, followed by recommendation of suitable measures in consultation with the Critical Medicines Alliance (we wrote about this part 1 and part 2). The Commission may issue recommendations for companies to diversify suppliers or increase production within the EU. Incentives to invest may also be used to favour the resilience of European manufacturing. As for procurement, strong contractual obligations for delivery may apply.

Medicines included in the Union list will also be prioritised for actions by the European medicines regulatory network, in charge of monitoring their availability and implementing measures to minimise the risk of supply disruptions. To this instance, existing processes and structures will be used as defined in the mandate of EMA’s Medicine Shortages Single Point of Contact (SPOC) Working Party and EMA’s Executive Steering Group on Shortages and Safety of Medicinal Products (MSSG).

No additional obligations have been introduced by now for marketing authorisation holders and national competent authorities. This will be a topic of discussions during the final phase of negotiations on the proposed revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation.

The methodology to select critical medicines

The therapeutic indication and the availability of alternative medicines are the two main criteria for the insertion of a certain medicinal product in the Union list of critical medicines. Additionally, it has to be classified as critical in at least one-third (33%) of EU/EEA (European Eco-nomic Area) member states.

National lists of critical medicines may differ from one another, reflecting differences of the internal evaluation criteria used to assess criticality. For example, some products are marketed just in some countries, or alternatives are available in some countries and not in others. Furthermore, the Union list is still incomplete, as some important medicines have not yet been assessed at the central level. The Union list does not include as well products mentioned in the WHO list of essential medicines. Orphan medicines are included in the Union list if they meet the above-mentioned assessment criteria.

The document on methodology further clarifies the governance of the process and the matrix for identifying medicines to be included in the Union list of critical medicines. The methodology was created starting in 2021 (European Commission Structured Dialogue initiative), finalised by the HMA/EMA Task Force on the availability of authorised medicines for human and veterinary use (HMA/EMA TF-AAM), and finally adopted in June 2023.

The medicinal product criticality is evaluated on the basis of a risk assessment. As for therapeutic indications (criterion 1), all authorised medicines in a member state should be classified, irrespective of their marketing status. Criterion 2 refers to the availability of alternatives, and only authorised medicines marketed in the respective member state should be classified.

A low, medium or high-risk level is assigned for each of the two above-mentioned criteria, thus resulting in a risk matrix. The exercise allows to assign the medicine in one of the following categories: critical medicines, medicines at risk, other medicines.

Medicines considered at high risk with respect to their therapeutic indication refers to products those use may have very serious implications for the health of individual patients or public health (general life-threatening acute conditions, specific life-threatening acute conditions, or irreversibly progressive conditions). Evaluation parameters include the fact the disease is potentially fatal, irreversibly progressive or, if left untreated, will pose an immediate threat to the patients. Furthermore, the treatment must be administered immediately or within regular dosing intervals, and the product has to be part of a national disease control program.

Appropriate alternatives are identified according to the fact they are authorised for the same therapeutic indication and are available on the market in the respective member state. Furthermore, alternative treatment has to be clinically possible, without negative impact on the patient’s health and providing the same quality of care standard. As for criterion 2, high risk cri-tical medicines refer to products for which no appropriate alternative is available, or only one appropriate alternative (product) on ATC level 4 or 5 (same active substance or alternative is within the same ATC level 4 group or in another ATC level 4 group) is available.

Public consultation for the review of HERA

We inform all interested EIPG’s members that the public consultation for the review of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) is open until 19 February 2024 and it can be accessed through the dedicated webpage of the EU Commission website.

The consultations aim to assess how HERA’s mandate and tools contributed to achieve EU’s political objectives, and how the Authority complements the work of other EU bodies and responds to the current health challenges.


The Windsor Framework

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On 27 February 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that agreement had been reached on changes to the operation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The Protocol has been in effect since 1 January 2021 requiring that all goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain comply with EU regulations. The UK Government and EU Commission have both made proposals in relation to the operation of the Protocol over the last two years. One approach adopted by the UK Government was to introduce the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on 13 June 2022 providing UK with power to make further changes to it. In response to the Bill being introduced, the European Commission announced it was proceeding with legal action against the UK. Since then, negotiations between the UK Government and the European Commission increased in intensity and this led to the announcement of the agreement called “Windsor Framework”. Part of the new Windsor Framework is a political declaration published by both parties which confirms that the UK Government will not be proceeding with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and that the European Commission will halt its legal proceedings relating to the Protocol against the UK.

The Framework (This publication is available at www.gov.uk/official-documents)

The original Protocol applied all EU rules and authorisation requirements for medicines, notwithstanding that medicine supply is an essential state function. This meant that for novel medicines, including innovative cancer drugs, it was the EMA, not the MHRA, which approved medicines for the Northern Ireland market. This failed to recognise or accommodate for the fact that the overwhelming flow of medicines to Northern Ireland is from Great Britain, with medicines provided for the UK market as a whole.

The EU made a series of changes to its rules last year to address some of these issues, addressing regulatory requirements which prevented medicines flows and supporting the MHRAs continued ability to authorise generic drugs under a single licence for the whole UK. This, combined with the UKs own Northern Ireland Medicines Authorisation Route (NIMAR), has ensured that medicines have continued to flow uninterrupted into Northern Ireland. But these arrangements were not a complete solution for the long-term and did not address the EMAs role in licensing novel medicines, leaving Northern Ireland exposed to divergence as UK and EU rules changed into the future.

This uncertainty, as well as the requirement for Northern Ireland drugs to meet various EU labelling requirements, risked discontinuations if firms were unwilling to maintain two sets of labels and packs for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This was not a sustainable way forward and has been addressed by this deal.

Under the agreement, both UK and EU have listened to the needs of industry and the healthcare sector and secured an unprecedented settlement that provides a comprehensive carve-out from EU rules: fully safeguarding the supply of medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, and once again asserting the primacy of UK regulation.

As a result, it will be for the MHRA to approve all drugs for the whole UK market. This will enable all types of medicines to be supplied in single packs, within UK supply chains, with a single licence for the whole UK. This will provide a long-term, durable basis for medicines supplies into Northern Ireland.

  • Specifically, the whole of the Falsified Medicines Directive has been disapplied for medicines supplied to Northern Ireland, ending the unnecessary situation in which – even with grace periods – wholesalers and pharmacies in Northern Ireland were expected to keep barcode scanners to check individual labels.
  • And for the provision of innovative drugs to patients, Northern Ireland will be reintegrated back into a UK-only regulatory environment, with the European Medicines Agency removed from having any role.
  • This responds to the overwhelming calls from industry for stability and certainty, and can give reassurance to patients and clinicians in Northern Ireland well into the future.

At the same time, the agreement safeguards frictionless access to the EU market for world-leading Northern Ireland pharmaceutical and medical technology firms. This pragmatic dual-regulatory system protects business, patients and healthcare services, and reflects that it is an essential state function to maintain and oversee the supply of medicines within the whole United Kingdom.

Proposal for a Regulation (This publication is available at EU commision website here)

The European Commission has published a proposal for a Regulation that in essence carves-out medicinal products destined for the UK internal market from the EU pharmaceutical rules. Article 4(1) of the proposed Regulation provides that centrally-authorised products cannot be placed on the market in Northern Ireland. Such medicines may be placed on the market in Northern Ireland if all the following conditions are met:

  • the competent authorities of the UK have authorised the placing on the market of the product in accordance with the law of the UK and under the terms of the authorisation granted by the competent authorities of the UK;
  • the medicinal product concerned shall bear an individual label which shall be attached to the packaging of the medicinal product in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible, clearly legible, and indelible; it shall not be in any way be hidden, obscured, detracted from, or interrupted by any other written or pictorial matter or any other intervening material. it shall state the following words: “UK only”.
  • the UK shall provide the European Commission with written guarantees that the placing on the market of the medicinal products does not increase the risk to public health in the internal market and that those medicinal products will not be moved to a Member State.

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The transition towards EMA’s new Digital Application Dataset Integration (DADI) user interface

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The Digital Application Dataset Integration (DADI) network project is aimed to replace the current PDF-based electronic applications forms (eAFs) used for regulatory submissions with new web-forms accessible through the DADI user interface.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has released the updated timeline for the implementation of the project, which will at first affect variation forms for human medicinal products. The ongoing phase of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) by members of the DADI Subject Matter Expert (SME) Group (including representatives of EMA, national competent authorities and the industry) is expected to close in August 2022, followed by a second round of testing with external users, representatives of the different stakeholders.

The final release of the new form is currently scheduled for October 2022; a six month transition period shall then apply, during which both the PDF eAF and the web-based form can be used in parallel. Further information of the scope and implementation of the new DADI interface is available in the Q&A document published by EMA. An updated Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) mapping spreadsheet is also available, containing all attributes that are required by the Notice to Applicants; the attributes have been made consistent with the ISO Identification of Medicinal Products (IDMP), so that the DADI form also supports the submission of structured data to EMA’s Product Management Service (PMS).

A short history of the project

The DADI project is aimed to improve the interoperability of data; it builds upon the Common European Single Submission Portal (CESSP) Phase 1 project (2016-2020). Seven national competent authorities (NCAs), from Austria, Germany, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are also collaborating to the setting up of the DADI project.

Some results from the Horizon 2020’s UNICOM project (with no contractual obligations for EMA towards the UNICOM Consortium and the European Commission) also supported the DADI’s development; UNICOM is specifically targeted to ensure the availability of pan-European ISO IDMP compliant forms and IDMP implementation at national agencies.

The use of ISO IDMP rules is compulsory as for Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 520/2012 (articles 25 and 26) for both marketing authorisation holders (MAHs), EMA and member states. These standardised definitions for the identification and description of medicinal products for human use shall facilitate the reliable exchange of information between the different parties involved in the regulatory processes. However, it should be noted that ISO IDMP covers human medicinal products only, not veterinary ones, and refers to the entire product lifecycle, including development. This differs from the PMS module, which covers only the Authorised Medicinal product part of IDMP.

How the DADI interface works

EMA’s plan is to gradually replace during 2022 and 2023 all the eAF forms for the various types of regulatory procedures, starting with the variation form for human medicinal products, so to achieve the availability of standard product master data for human and veterinary medicinal products. It is important to note that both the old forms based on the PDF format and the new web-forms are “electronic application forms”; EMA warns to expect that “the web-based forms will still be called electronic application forms (eAF)”, while in DADI communications, reference can be made to web-based application forms to distinguish them from the current PDF-based eAFs.

The implementation of the FHIR data exchange standard shall make possible to generate human- readable output (PDF files, with an attached FHIR XML) as well as machine-readable output for digital processing. Exchangeable contents based on FHIR are called “resources”. They all share some common characteristics, including how they are defined and represented on the basis of reusable patterns of elements, a common set of metadata, and a human readable part.

Some form fields could also be pre-populated with available product master data from the PMS for human medicines and the Union Product Database (UPD) for veterinary ones, so to facilitate applicants with the filling of the form. Additional metadata may be included in the FHIR XML backbone in order to facilitate regulatory activities.

Users will be able to download forms containing relevant product data, but it won’t be possible to export only product data nor to perform bulk exports in the web UI. Digital signature tools should be used to sign the PDF rendition of the web-form (details will follow from EMA).

Other expected benefits include shorter times to load substances drop down lists and a lower administrative burden for regulators, so to speed up the validation of applications and lowering the number of errors and discrepancies.

The main expected changes

No changes in the process to apply for or submit marketing authorisation applications will occur following the implementation of the DADI project. The current PDF output will remain, as well as the content of the output form included in the application.

The DADI project was developed on the basis of the Safe Agile principles of the Network Portfolio, and it will impact both centralised, decentralised, mutual recognition and national procedures. Ownership of the new web-forms is shared between EMA and NCAs, to acknowledge the collaborative work done to develop them.

At the level of national competent authorities, the new FHIR compliant XML shall be implemented by NCAs which are currently using the PDF forms’ Extensible Markup Language (XML) functionalities.

Specific guidance, training and webinars on the use of the new variation form should be made available by EMA close to its final adoption. Support in the use of the new web-forms will be available through the EMA Service Desk; the existing eAF Maintenance Group shall also continue its activities and act as an expert body.

Access to the new DADI interface should be based on EMA’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) system, and make use of specific access privileges. Consultants may be granted access by marketing authorisation holders (MAHs) to all products from that MAH, or only to specific applications containing products.

EMA also clarifies that the new DADI portal will remain distinct from the IRIS platform supporting product-related scientific and regulatory procedures, and it will be governed differently.

The challenges for the industry

The challenges and opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry linked to the implementation of the new DADI interface by April 2023, at the end of the transition period, has been addressed by an article by Amy Williams in Pharmaceutical Online.

Namely, the decision to implement the DADI has overwritten the expected publication of the IDMP’s EU Implementation Guide 2.2, thus asking the industry an effort to redefine its priorities along its entire regulatory portfolio to include all types of EU procedures. Submission of structured PMS data should also be accelerated by the adoption of the DADI, thus asking for an improved approach to data capture and alignment across the entire company. The need to resubmit post-approval data using EMA’s Extended EudraVigilance Medicinal Product Dictionary (xEVMPD) should be also considered.

The new phase of the DADI implementation indicates that “full IDMP-based regulatory data exchange, via a system-to-system interface between pharmaceutical companies and EMA, now won’t come into effect any time soon”, writes Renato Rjavec in Pharmaceutical Technology Europe. Compliance to data granularity requirements of IDMP should also be ensured, together with the availability of tools to extract relevant information from complex IDMP data model to appropriately generate the xEVPRM format of data exchange.


Commission establishes portfolio of 10 most promising treatments for Covid-19

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The second phase in the development of new medicines to treat Covid-19 – a part of the EU Strategy on Covid-19 Therapeutics launched in May 2021 – has reached a cornerstone with the announcement made by the European Commission of a first portfolio list of ten potential Covid-19 therapeutic candidates likely to be authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The only medicine authorised up to now at EU-level to treat Covid-19 is remdesivir.

The choice of the molecules to be included in the list was based on independent scientific advice by an expert group, and it is aimed to offer new treatment opportunities for patients affected by the disease in a way complementary to the preventive action of the already available vaccines. The strategy shall contribute to the achievement of the European Health Union, and it has been modelled on the example of the EU Vaccines Strategy.

Once available in the European market, the new medicines are expected to contribute to the reduction of hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19. “We have already signed four joint procurement contracts for different Covid-19 treatments and we stand ready to negotiate more. Our goal is to authorise at least three therapeutics in the coming weeks and possibly two more by the end of the year and help Member States gain access to them as soon as possible.”, said the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides.

Three different categories of therapeutics

The initial list of ten candidates includes three different categories of therapeutics, and it may evolve in future according to the emerging of new scientific evidence.

Antiviral monoclonal antibodies have been identified as the most efficacious approach to be used in the earliest stages of infection. This category includes the following medicinal products under development:

  • Ronapreve, a combination of two monocolonal antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Roche.
  • Xevudy (sotrovimab) from Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline.
  • Evusheld, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab from Astra-Zeneca.

The second category refers to oral antivirals, in this case too for early treatment; it includes the following candidates:

  • Molnupiravir from Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and MSD.
  • PF-07321332 from Pfizer.
  • AT-527 from Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche.

Hospitalised patients may also benefit from the use of immunomodulators; four different possible candidates have been selected within this category:

  • Actemra (tocilizumab) from Roche Holding.
  • Kineret (anakinra) from Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.
  • Olumiant (baricitinib) from Eli Lilly.
  • Lenzilumab from Humanigen.

The scrutiny and selection of the most promising therapeutic options took into consideration 82 different molecules in late-stage clinical development. The analysis assumed that different types of products are needed for different patient populations and at different stages and severity of the disease. This scrutiny exercise was completely separate from the standard scientific assessment of the regulatory dossiers submitted for the candidates, that will be performed by EMA in order to issue the recommendation for final marketing authorisation by the EU Commission.

Steps towards the approval of the selected candidates

As announced by Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, half of the selected candidate therapeutics may reach approval by EMA by the end of 2021. These include products for which the rolling review is already ongoing or that have applied for marketing authorisation to the European Medicines Agency. Pre-requisite for the approval is the final demonstration of their quality, safety, and efficacy; there is still the possibility some of the products in the list shall not be authorized should the scientific evidence provided to EMA be considered not enough robust to meet the regulatory requirements.

Four other candidates are still in early phase of development and have already received scientific advice from the Agency; their rolling review shall begin as soon as enough clinical data will be available. The further development of these products will benefit by an innovation booster to support development activities.

As said, this is just a first list of promising therapeutics to treat Covid-19; some other approaches are expected to be identified as a consequence of the activation of several new initiatives by the EU Commission. Among these are the setting up of the interactive mapping platform for promising therapeutics which represents one of the first targets of action for the newly created Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) (we wrote about this in October’s newsletter). The Commission also announced the activation within few weeks of the HERA website, where contact details and practical guidance for interested companies shall be found.

A pan-European matchmaking event for therapeutics industrial production has been also announced; this effort will focus on the development of new and repurposed Covid-19 therapeutics and it is aimed to mobilise the EU’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity.

The criteria used to select the candidate therapeutics

The European Commission published also a Q&A note to better explain the process that led to the selection of the ten promising therapeutics to be included in the list.

The portfolio of the selected products (authorised and under development) has been established by the expert sub-group on Covid-19 therapeutics (part of the expert group on SARS-CoV-2 variants) upon request of the Commission. The criteria used to run the analysis were approved by Member States in the Human Pharmaceutical Committee.

They include the evaluation of the pharmacological rationale on the basis of the available evidence of the potential role played by the single medicinal product in the treatment of Covid-19, its stage of development and availability of relevant data from clinical trials, the absence of (new) major identified safety issues, and the ability to answer to unmet clinical need and/or bring therapeutic added value. For some product categories, the efficacy against new SARSCoV-2 variants has been also evaluated.

Other points included in the assessment refer to the route of administration, treatment regimen, and formulation, and the company’s intention to access EMA’s early stage scientific advice procedures. The analysis run by the expert group did not focused on more industrial aspects, i.e. manufacturing, production volumes, prices and access conditions; these will be part of the considerations made by the Commission in order to activate its support instruments.

As for the three different categories of selected products, antiviral monoclonal antibodies are intended to mimic the action of natural antibodies generated by the immune system against coronavirus. They can exert both a curative and a preventive action against the infection, in particular in the earliest stages of the disease. They are usually administered by injection.

Oral antivirals are small molecules aimed to block the activity and replication of the virus. These too are early interventions targeted to prevent damage in tissues and organs and offer the advantage of administration as tablets or capsules, thus favouring compliance. Other plus identified by the expert group are a higher resistance to variants, and the therapeutic action maintained also in vaccinated patients.

Immunomodulators aim to regulate the excessive reaction of the immune systems against the virus, thus preventing the risk of hospitalisation. They represent a symptomatic treatment option for patients at severe stage of progression of the disease despite vaccination and antiviral therapy.


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.