by Giuliana Miglierini
The lack of a suitable capacity of notified bodies (NBs) is one of the main issues still pending after the entry into force of the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR) (EU) 2017/745 and In Vitro Diagnostic Regulation (IVDR) (EU) 2017/746. The Medical Devices Coordination Group (MDCG) discussed some suggestions on how to address the problem within a position paper published in August 2022.
Even if the document does not represent an official guideline, it describes some critical points to be considered by manufacturers and notified bodies in order to face the great challenge of the re-certification of medical devices and in vitro diagnostics according to the new rules. Should this not occur in time, many products may exit the market at the end of the transition period, potentially leading to a supply crisis greatly impacting on the health of patients and the normal functioning of healthcare institutions.
The MDCG position paper answers the request of EU Health ministers advanced during the EPSCO Council meeting on 14 June 2022 to figure out some immediate measures to face the problem. The final goal of the document is to improve the efficiency in the application of the current regulatory framework, with no reduction of requirements to be fulfilled by manufacturers. Waivers from applicable conformity assessments procedures should be considered only in relation to an interest of public health, patient’s safety, or health.
The position paper consists of nineteen points addressing the issue under its different perspectives, the first eleven of which refer to the increase of notified bodies’ capacity. The MDCG calls on all stakeholders to collaborate in order to smoothly implement the suggested actions, a process that will be monitored by the MDCG itself.
How to increase the capacity of NBs
Hybrid audits should be the elective tool notified bodies may use where appropriate to timely and efficiently run conformity assessment. Duplication of activities should be also avoided. To this instance, the suggestion is to “develop a framework for leveraging evidence, or components thereof, from previous assessments” run according to previous Directives. A pre-condition to activate this possibility is that the previous assessment has been judged “valid and properly substantiated also with regard to the MDR/IVDR requirements and the device” by a duly qualified notified body personnel.
A flexible approach may also apply to the combination of audits for legacy devices and actions needed to guarantee their ‘appropriate surveillance’. Combined audits may be used particularly for legacy devices whose application for MDR/IVDR certification is under review by a NB, thus moving the focus more towards the assessment of compliance with the new rules. To this instance, the MDCG also announced the intention to produce a specific guidance on ‘appropriate surveillance’ under Article 110(3) IVDR and to update MDCG 2022-4.
Already existing guidance may also be reviewed to reduce the administrative burden for NBs, and remove limitations related to the scope of documentation not required by MDR/IVDR.
A fundamental piece of the new European infrastructure for medical devices and IVDs is represented by the centralised Eudamed database, which should be timely fed by NBs with all relevant information using machine-to-machine procedures. Double registrations should be avoided as much as possible.
New notified bodies are essential in order to increase capacity. To this instance, the MDCG suggests supporting training, coaching and internship activities for their personnel. The rationalisation of internal administrative procedures is also deemed important.
Time for re-assessment of NBs is undergoing a review by the European Commission, which is expected to result in the publication of new Delegated Acts. The proposal is to move from the current first re-assessment at three years after notification (and then every 4th year) to up to five years after notification, on the basis of a flexible approach. There are currently ten re-assessments planned in 2022, twelve in 2023 and 11 in 2024. According to the MDCG, the new timeframe for re-assessment would allow national designating authorities to free resources to assess new NBs, while existing ones could process higher numbers of first MDR/ IVDR certifications.
Assessment, designation and notification of conformity assessment bodies (including the European Commission) are also called to reduce their timeframes and improve the efficiency of their processes, keeping unaltered the requirements to be met. The possibility to add specific codes to the designation of NBs shall be also explored by the MDCG. The Group is also committed to prioritise some ongoing actions which may impact on NB’s capacity (i.e. revision of section III.6. of MDCG 2019-6 revision 3).
MDCG’s guidance documents should be seen as an aid “to apply the legal requirements in a harmonised way, providing possible solutions endorsed by the MDCG”. Nevertheless, demonstration of the compliance to requirements should always benefit of a certain flexibility. A reasonable time should also be granted to integrate the new guidance in the relevant systems and/ or to apply them, suggests the MDCG.
Suggestions for the manufacturers
Under the perspective of manufacturers of MDs and IVDs, costs to access NBs may play an important role, especially for small-and-medium companies (SMEs). The MDCG position paper recalls NBs to the obligation to make their standard fees publicly available, possibly in a way that might be easily compared. Specific access schemes should be also in place to make available some capacity to SMEs and other first-time applicants for conformity assessment.
Manufacturers should also refer to notice MDCG 2022-11 to ensure timely compliance with MDR requirements. IVDs should not left behind, even if this category of products benefits of one more year for the transition to new rules compered to medical devices.
Structured dialogue is the suggested tool to improve the collaboration between manufacturers and notified bodies along the entire process of conformity assessment aimed at regulatory procedures, should this approach turn to be useful in order to improve the overall efficiency and predictability.
A timely communication to manufacturers by mean of webinars, workshops, targeted feedback and informative sessions is also deemed important in order to allow for a better preparedness, with a particular attention to SMEs and first-time applicants. The MDCG also suggest NBs to develop common guidelines for manufacturers to assist them in the application phase, containing explicative examples of typical non-conformities and details on he preparation and content of technical documentation. National authorities and industry associations are called as well to contribute to the dissemination of relevant information across their stakeholders.
Specific guidance should be issued by the MDCG to support a simpler conformity assessment of some aspects of legacy and orphan devices denoted by a demonstrable track record of safety. The development of a specific definition of “orphan devices” is also planned.
An improved dialogue between NBs and medicines authorities, and cases where expedited review would be possible is also supported in order to speed up consultations on medical devices incorporating an ancillary medicinal substance and companion diagnostics.
EDQM introduces a consultation phase in the management of CEP documents
by Giuliana Miglierini
The new process implemented by the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and HealthCare (EDQM) for the elaboration of documents related to the Certification of Suitability (CEP) procedure includes a newly inserted consultation phase. This new step, which may be public or targeted to specific groups of stakeholders, aims to increase the transparency of the elaboration process and offers stakeholders the possibility to forward comments to the draft documents in order to optimise them.
Transparency and efficiency are also the main goals inspiring the overall new elaboration process, which covers the entire pathway of CEP documents, from development, through consultation, up to final adoption, publication and implementation.
A dedicated page on the EDQMs’s website will host the documents open to consultation, together with the respective instructions for the stakeholders wishing to submit comments. Announcements on new documents available for consultation will be made on EDQM Certification webpages. The CEP Steering Committee will be responsible for the elaboration process for CEP documents, in compliance with the EDQM document CEP Terms of Reference and Rules of Procedure (PA/PH/CEP (01) 1).
The elaboration process will cover both public documents (the main part), as well as those the CEP Steering Committee would indicate as restricted for use by the bodies involved in the CEP procedure. The new process does not cover the Resolution on the Certification procedure, which falls under another specific process established by the Council of Europe.
A guidance to understand the new process
The management of CEP guidelines and operational documents for the CEP procedure has been described in a specific guidance issued in November 2022 by the EDQM’s Certification of Substances Department.
The guidance covers a broad range of documents participating from different perspectives to the CEP procedure. The elaboration of the different types of documents may slightly differ from one another, with possible exemptions from some steps, for example in the case of minor revisions (which in any case always have to be full justified and documented). All CEP documents will be drafted in English; the guidance provides indication of the format to be used to establish the unique reference code for governance documents and technical guidelines (PA/PH/CEP (XX) YY), as well as for the revision number (ZR) where needed.
The EDQM specifies that the implementation date of the newly approved CEP documents will be such to allow interested parties to have enough time to comply with the new or revised requirements.
Governance documents define procedural aspects for the practical implementation of the CEP procedure. The initial draft will be prepared by the EDQM and reviewed and agreed upon by the CEP Steering Committee before entering the consultation phase. Comments collected will serve as the basis to consolidate the final version of the document. A second round of consultation may be needed in case of critical comments preventing finalisation. The adoption of the final document falls under the responsibility of the CEP Steering Committee, which may also indicate the need to improve and re-submit the draft before adoption. Once the final version of the document is available, its publication on the EDQM’s website and implementation will close the process.
Technical guidelines inform about the requirements applicants should fulfil for the submission or evaluation of CEP applications. Their drafting may be initiated also by members of the relevant Technical Advisory Board (TAB), in addition to the EDQM. The TAB is also called to review and agree upon the draft document before the assessment and approval by the CEP Steering Committee and the following consultation phase can take place. The same applies to the consolidation of comments and finalisation of the document, that has to be approved by the relevant TAB. In this case too, a second round of consultation is possible should criticalities arise during the first one, followed by adoption by the CEP Steering Committee (and a possible second round of updating and approval by the TAB, if needed), and publication and implementation.
The management of specific aspects of the procedure can be supported by the issuing of administrative or operational documents. These documents fall under the responsibility of the EDQM, that may consult the CEP Steering Committee of other parties where necessary.
The consultation phase
A specific chapter of the EDQM’s guidance describes the newly inserted consultation phase, those details (type of process and duration) will be decided on a case-by-case basis by the CEP Steering Committee.
In the case of a public consultation, the draft document will be made available at the dedicated page of the EDQM website. The draft may also be sent to identified relevant stakeholder organisations, to ensure a better awareness of the ongoing process.
Targeted consultations aim to obtain feedback from selected stakeholders on specific areas of intervention. In such instances, the forwarding of the draft document will be restricted only to identified interested parties, including regulators and relevant industrial associations or other organisations.
According to the type of document and/or the topic under consultation, the consultation phase may vary in duration. To this instance, the guidance indicates a possible range between 3 weeks and 3 months, with the effective duration to be communicated as a part of the call for consultation. A template will also be available to submit comments, which should be always justified and contain concrete proposals for action to tackle the issue under consideration. All comments and justifications received will be transmitted to the groups in charge of approving and adopting the documents.
At the end of the elaboration process, the final approved versions of CEP documents will be published on the EDQM’s website.