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.