granules Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC


by Giuliana Miglierini The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection


by Giuliana Miglierini As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have Read more

Environmental sustainability: the EIPG perspective


Piero Iamartino Although the impact of medicines on the environment has been highlighted since the 70s of the last century with the emergence of the first reports of pollution in surface waters, it is only since the beginning of the Read more

Draft ICH M13A guideline on bioequivalence open for consultation

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The draft ICH M13A harmonised guideline Bioequivalence for immediate-release solid oral dosage forms” was endorsed by the International Council for Harmonisation on 20 December 2022 and is now open for consultation. Comments can be forwarded until 26 May 2023; publication of the final document is expected by May 2024.

The new guideline will then be implemented as a European guideline, replacing the current EMA guideline on the investigation of bioequivalence (BE) for oral dosage forms. The ICH M13A is the first of a planned series intended to address scientific and technical aspects of study design and data analysis, so to better support BE assessment both during development and post approval. The guideline covers immediate-release (IR) solid oral dosage forms delivering drugs to the systemic circulation (i.e. tablets, capsules, and granules/powders for oral suspension). Different approaches from those suggested in the guideline are possible, provided they are scientifically justified; applicants are thus encouraged to seek the advice of the relevant regulators in order to share a common approach to development.

Key concepts of the M13 series

The determination of bioequivalence to the originator is a fundamental step in the development of generic and biosimilar medicines. BE plays also an important role for some innovator products, as well as for post-approval changes of formulation and/or manufacturing process. BE is determined in terms of bioavailability of the products under comparison after administration, within predefined limits to ensure safety and efficacy. In vivo BE studies for certain orally administered IR solid oral dosage forms can be waived according to the ICH M9 guideline on Biopharmaceutics classification system (BCS)-based biowaiver, which has already superseded Appendix III of the EMA guideline.

The M13A guideline addresses study design containing multiple comparator products or test products, but not the acceptance of comparator products across different regulatory regions, as this greatly varies according to local legislations. The process of regulatory decision making based on BE is also excluded from the guideline.

The planned M13 series should also include the ICH M13B guideline, focused on biowaiver considerations for additional strengths not investigated in BE studies, and ICH M13C discussing data analysis and BE assessment for highly variable drugs, drugs with narrow therapeutic index, and complex BE study design. It should also address data analysis considerations, for example in the case of adaptive BE study design.

Pharmacokinetics (PK) bioequivalence studies and comparative in vitro dissolution studies are the main tools for BE determination for IR solid oral dosage forms with systemic action. These principles can be also applied to other non-orally administered drug products with immediate action (e.g., certain rectal, inhalation, and nasal drug products), provided BE may be derived from measures of systemic exposure.

The ICH E6 guideline on Good Clinical Practice should also be considered while conducting BE studies, in order to ensure the data integrity of all data generated in the trials.

The main contents of the ICH M13A

Chapter 2 of the ICH M13A guideline discusses the general principles to be used for the establishment of bioequivalence. These include the selection of the study population and the choice of the pharmacokinetic endpoint to be used in the BE studies. Healthy subjects should be the preferred choice, unless there are ethical concerns linked to the safety of the pharmaceutical products under assessment. In any case, inclusion and exclusion criteria should always be clearly reported in the study protocol. The main target of BE studies should be the detection of differences in the in vivo release characteristics between the products. Elements to be considered to select the study population are discussed in the draft guideline.

As for the study design, the recommended suggestion is for randomised, single-dose, two-period, two-sequence crossover studies comparing two formulations, as single-dose studies may better detect differences in the rate and extent of absorption. Multiple-dose studies may be conducted in patients should the single-dose design be not affordable for safety/tolerability or ethical reasons. A parallel design may be indicated for drugs with long elimination half-lives, requiring a prolonged washout period. Alternatives are also acceptable upon scientific justification.

The choice of the test product should be also discussed and justified, and it should be representative of the product to be marketed. As for the comparator, the selection of the batches to be used for BE studies should be based on assay content. The strength of the product to be used in the BE study depends on the dose proportionality in PK and solubility of the analyte.

The draft also indicates standardised fasting conditions should be the preferred choice to run BE studies, as they support a better discrimination between the PK profiles of the product and the comparator. Both fasting and fed BE studies should be conducted for high-risk products, due to their complex formulation design or manufacturing process that may impact differently on their in vivo performance, due to different gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. This is the case, for example, of low solubility drug substances formulated in the form of solid dispersions, microemulsions, lipid-based formulations, nanotechnologies, or other specialised technologies.

Analysis of the parent drug should be the preferred choice to demonstrated bioequivalence. Primary metabolites are considered acceptable in the case of pro-drugs which are rapidly eliminated. Stereoselective assays measuring individual enantiomers should be also considered while assessing chiral drugs.

Specific paragraphs address the setting up of sampling, the need to avoid occurrence of Cmax at the first post-dose sampling time point, the possibility to use truncated AUC for drugs with long half-life and considerations on early exposure.

How to analyse and present data

Specific sections of the guideline discuss how to present and report data obtained from BE studies. The study documentation should include the complete evidence of the protocol, conduct, and evaluation, and it should be written according to the ICH E3 guideline Structure and content of clinical study reports”.

Unadjusted, measured drug concentrations in a suitable biological fluid should be always provided for both the product and the originator, for each subject participating in the study. Any deviations should be clearly identified. A suggested list of PK’s parameters to be tabulated for each subject-formulation combination is provided, together with summary statistics to be reported. Not less important is the statistical analysis performed on raw data. To this instance, the model of choice for the analysis should be pre-specified in the study protocol. Cmax and AUC(0-t) should be the preferred PK parameters to establish BE.

Chapter 3 discusses specific topics that may impact on the determination of BE. Among these is the presence of endogenous compounds identical to the drug under evaluation, thus requiring the determination of their baseline concentration in the biological fluids of interest. The draft guideline also specifies that both orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs) and chewable tablets should be administered in BE studies according to the comparator product labelling with regard to intake of water. The comparator product labelling should also represent the main reference for BE studies involving tablets, granules, and powders labelled as being only intended to be dispersed in a liquid before administration as an oral suspension. Considerations are also provided for fixed-dose combination products and the dependance of the drug solubility on pH.


Trends in Drug delivery and Formulation

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by Giuliana Miglierini

According to the 2021 Global Drug Delivery & Formulation Report, signed by Kurt Sedo, Vice President Operations, PharmaCircle LLC and published in a three-part series on Drug Development & Delivery, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have had little impact on the regulatory approvals of new dosage forms and formulations. A positive sign from the pharmaceutical ecosystem, considering the difficulty to maintain normal operative conditions, the issues with international supply chains and the many hurdles to regulatory activities posed by the emergency.

According to Kurt Sedo, products newly approved by the FDA and based on new chemical entities have been the less affected, as they reflect a larger benefit for patients. On the other hand, are generics, together with new dosage forms and new formulations. Simple dosage forms continue to represent the great part of new approvals, while biologics prevail in terms of NCEs for injection.

The FDA approved in 2021 a total of 31 new products under the Biologics Licence Application (BLA) procedure, slightly more than in the previous two years. The increase is mainly linked to the higher number of vaccines and cell and gene therapies, while approval of biologic medicines maintained stable.

Approval trends by category of product

A marked decrease characterised Abbreviated New Drug Approvals (ANDA) (627 in 2021, vs 903 in 2020 and 962 in 2019). New Drug Applications (NDA) also slightly decreased. Analysing this category by type of product, the decrement is marked for new molecular entities and new dosage forms, while an opposite trend can be observed for new active ingredients and new formulations/new manufacturers.

As for administration route, the report indicates a marked prevalence of injection in all geographic areas (US 55%, EU 36%, JP 59%); oral drugs also continue to be highly represented. The author warns about the difficulty to reliably interpret the figures for European and Japanese approvals, as “The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approvals relate only to specific classes of pharmaceutical products and don’t capture the full range of products. The Japanese Pharmaceutical Medical and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) published approvals are hard to access and properly assess”.

Looking more in detail at the injection route of administration, intravenous injectable products remain the leading category (US 39%, EU 38%, JP 38%), followed by subcutaneous injection. Simple solutions with or without a dedicated delivery device were the most commonly approved injectable simple dosage forms in 2021. Tablets and capsules remained the favoured oral dosage forms, while granules and pellets are especially represented in paediatric formulations.

Small molecules are the more represented category of active ingredients (US 64%, EU 74%, JP 52%), followed by antibodies and peptides; this last category of API offer the advantage of a possible formulation as non-injectable dosage form.

A deeper insight on the main approvals

Part 2 of the series debates the main products approved in 2021. The trend hints to a higher interest towards products and technologies targeted to wider patient populations and more diverse applications. According to Sedo, mRNA and gene therapy platforms have decrease their appealing due to need of validation for applications different than vaccines in the first case and safety and durability concerns in the latter.

Skytrofa (Ascendis Pharma) is a pegylated form of the growth hormone lonapegsomatropin-tcgd for injection or subcutaneous administration, using the dedicated rechargeable and reusable auto-injector. The weekly administration is the main advantage, overruling the need of daily injections.

Invega Hafyera (Janssen Pharmaceuticals), containing paliperidone palmitate as the active ingredient, has been approved in the US to treat adult schizophrenia by intramuscular injection every 6 months. Despite the parent molecule has already lost its exclusivity, Kurt Sedo highlights the remarkable lifecycle management of the Invega family of products, which allowed Janssen to maintain significant revenues for almost 20 years.

Tyrvaya (Oyster Point Pharma) is indicated to treat dry eye using the nasal delivery route. The formulation containing varenicline is administered using the Aptar’s CPS Spray Pump, representing the first approval for this type of technology platform. The possibility to overcome issues in treating ocular conditions connected to the difficulty many patients may experience with the administration of classical ocular drops is the main point of innovation.

Acuvue Theravision (Johnson & Johnson Vision Care) are contact lenses firstly approved in Japan and containing ketotifen to treat allergic conjunctivitis. In this case too, the approach may be replicated to administer other types of drugs in the eye. Issues may be represented by the difficulty of patients in using contact lenses and the need to stabilise the active ingredient to prevent leaching.

Cabenuva Kit (ViiV Healthcare) contains the combination cabotegravir – rilpivirine to treat HIV infection. Firstly, approved in Canada, it is administered monthly by intramuscular injection. Long-acting formulations can prove interesting to overcome compliance issues which may result in serious consequences for patients, as already proved in the case of hepatitis.

The monoclonal antibody Susvimo (anibizumab; Genentech) is formulated as a refillable ocular implant to treat wet acute macular degeneration. After implantation, the intravitreal injections using the Port Delivery System (PDS) occur every 6 months.

Other relevant technologies mentioned among new 2021 approvals include the Medicago Virus Like Particles (VLP) technology, which uses tobacco-related plants as bioreactors to produce noninfectious VLP that mimic the target virus, and LICA technology (Ionis), based on Ligand Conjugated Antisense (LICA) to favour the interaction of ligands and their respective receptors.

The Denali Transport Vehicle (TV) platform uses specific antibodies, enzymes, oligonucleotides, or proteins to link to the transferrin receptor of the blood vessel wall in the brain, thus providing a way to pass the blood-brain barrier by endocytosis.

MedRing (Ligalli) is a smart vaginal insert containing a miniaturised liquid formulation drug container with pump, battery, antenna, electronics, and sensors to monitor various biometric parameters (e.g. glucose or ovulation status).

Q-Sphera (Midatech Pharma) provides a bioencapsulation process using a microfluidic device to obtain discrete droplets without use of surfactants, toxic solvents, biphasic mixtures, shear, or heat forces.

Products in the pipelines

Part 3 of the series addresses the expectations for new approvals of products still in the pipelines The trend shows a higher percentage of early-stage products (research and pre-clinical phases), which is attributed to the higher interest of investors towards new companies able to fill the pipelines with early stage projects. The impact of Covid-19 has proved to be more relevant on projects at the clinical stage.

Small molecules still represent the main focus of development (59% in 2021/22), even if a drop has been observed from values recorded in 2015/16 (66%). Biological products may pose issues due to their highly speculative nature, suggests the report, while oligonucleotide and RNA products still represent only the 2% of the total in the pipelines; a more mature technology are antibodies (12%).

Cancer continues to be the leading therapeutic area of development, followed by infectious diseases and drugs to treat the central nervous system. The report indicates a very high attrition rate for anti-infectives under development, while many anti-cancer therapeutics in the pipelines may be me-too products pursuing validated therapeutic mechanisms. As seen above, injectable formulations maintain the leading position also for products under development (52%), followed by oral formulations.