parallel trade Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

The risk of a biosimilar void in Europe


by Giuliana Miglierini The undergoing revision of the pharmaceutical legislation aims, among others, to redefine data protection to better support competitiveness of generics and biosimilars and to favour the timely access of patients to treatments. While the innovator pharma industry is Read more

The drug shortage situation - EIPG's point of view


by Maurizio Battistini The shortage of medicines has been a major concern in the countries of the European Union, and elsewhere, for more than 10 years, so much so that the Economic Community has devoted a great deal of effort Read more

EP’s draft position on Unitary SPC and SPC Regulation revision


by Giuliana Miglierini The Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the European Parliament released the draft amendments to the Commission’s proposals aimed to establish a Unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) (links to the document and to the procedure) and to Read more

The drug shortage situation – EIPG’s point of view

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by Maurizio Battistini

The shortage of medicines has been a major concern in the countries of the European Union, and elsewhere, for more than 10 years, so much so that the Economic Community has devoted a great deal of effort and increasing attention to this problem in an attempt to mitigate its impact on patient health.

Several factors can be identified as being at the root of the shortage of medicines, some of which intersect with each other, mainly concerning aspects with technical, qualitative, regulatory, forecasting, supply, speculative and economic implications.

EIPG has made its contribution to the various attempts to contain the phenomenon by participating in task forces, round tables and convenings dedicated to identifying the root causes of the issue and, through gap analysis, the consequent mitigation measures. Overall, strengthening the risk-assessment approach to assess and define the risk level of individual deficiencies or the causes to which they pertain in order to rationalize and focus mitigation interventions and identify their level of acceptance with a proactive approach.

Before defining the particularly deserving aspects to be emphasised and consequently acted upon, it is important to mention those that represent, in the opinion of EIPG, but are not limited to, the elements on which priority action should be taken. In analysing the problem, one cannot in fact fail to take proper account of the fact that medicines are not such without their active ingredients and that, for diseases with the widest spread, there are equivalent medicines and alternative therapies. On the basis of the latter assumption, it is understandable that the definition of a shortage of medicines should be restricted to cases where no equivalent medicines or alternative therapies with different medicines are available, so as to concentrate efforts to solve the problem only on those conditions that are worthy of attention because they are not limited to the unavailability of a specific product or to situations for which it is possible to identify an alternative treatment (defining a list of critical medicines and defining risk assessment criteria for assessing whether a product should be on the list or not).

The operation required to bring the production of active ingredients back to Europe, recognising their strategic and central role in the composition of medicines for the entire community and patients, takes longer. The relocation of the manufacturing of active ingredients to third countries, which has been taking place for several years now for mainly economic reasons, has led to the dependence of many other countries, including mainly those of the Union, on supplies that today has the occasional impact that we know of, but which could become much more serious if not systemic. We have been hearing about reshoring the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients for some time now, but so far there do not seem to be any concrete initiatives for its implementation.

As mentioned above, EIPG identified the revision of the definition of drug shortages and the reallocation of strategic production of active pharmaceutical ingredients in Europe as a main key action to mitigate the impact of drug shortages.

Although it is not an aspect of primary interest to the European industrial pharmacist community, EIPG recognises the economic aspects as playing an important role in the origin of shortages, particularly with regard to the low price paid for certain categories of medicines, which induces manufacturers to abandon the manufacture of low-profit products, and the discrepancies in the price of medicines that exist in the different countries of the Union, discrepancies that, coincidentally, make the countries where prices are the lowest or even where volumes are not so attractive as to devote production to shortages.

Having made this necessary digression on the aspects requiring corrective action at source, there are, however, other, mostly ‘occasional’ causes on which to intervene, where possible, in a proactive manner or by means of reaction instruments capable of reducing the impact of shortages. In this regard, some of the elements covered in the introductory part of this discussion, namely: technical-qualitative, regulatory, forecasting and speculative, are taken up and detailed.

As far as the technical quality aspects are concerned, given the vastness of such occasional events in the production cycle of a medicine, a separate, dedicated discussion should be devoted to them. In addition to a few examples, please refer to the chapter ‘Shortages Originating from Manufacturing‘ in the text ‘Pharmaceutical Supply Chains – Medicines Shortages‘ published by Springer and written by the same author as this article. The book, authored by experts in the field, provides an insight of relevant case studies and updated practices in Pharmaceutical Supply Chains (PharmSC) while addressing the most relevant topics within the COST Action Medicines Shortages (CA15105) and it covers uncertainty and risk aspects of supply chain management, carefully combining the scientific level with a pedagogical approach. In industry, proactive strategies such as the adoption of reserve stocks or back-up establishments can be adopted to make up for medicine shortages on an emergency basis, although the expense of sustaining these prudential approaches remains the main problem.

In a number of situations, shortages can occur due to underestimated sales forecasts or problems with the supply of raw materials, and in particular APIs.

A particular case in point is parallel trade, which by its very nature can have such contrasting effects that it has been dubbed ‘The double face of the parallel trade’. While on the one hand, this method is useful in dealing with shortages in a relatively short time (import in the country where the shortage needs to be filled and export from the country where the availability exists), on the other hand, it has often encouraged the migration of products from countries where they are cheap to others where they guarantee a higher margin, in which case it could be the source of the problem and not its solution.

Last but not least, it should be pointed out that the phenomenon of shortages has an economic implication, as it is more likely to affect drugs with low profitability or movements of drugs from countries with low margins or sales volumes to those with high margins or higher market shares.

Heads of Medicines Agencies and the European Medicines Agency on improving availability of human and veterinary medicines invited the EIPG to attend the key stakeholders’ table at the Workshop on Shortages Prevention Plan held on 1 and 2 March 2023. The EIPG was represented by Jane Nicholson and Maurizio Battistini. Staff from the EMA, the European Commission and members of national authorities presented their current initiatives and future plans. Representatives from the research and generics industry, wholesalers, pharmacists from the EIPG and PGEU, and several organizations representing patient groups had the opportunity to present and discuss ideas for shortage prevention, permanent market withdrawals, and shortage communication and transparency.

The meeting had breakthrough sessions on biosimilars (the EMA is publicly encouraging their use) immunoglobulins and veterinary medicines. The EIPG commented on the low prices of medicines that cause shortages and called for more accurate definitions of ‘medicine shortages’ and to focus efforts on essential product shortages where there is no equivalent medicine or alternative therapy to ensure patient access to adequate treatment.

Shown below is the action plan that EIPG submitted to the group at the meeting; an action plan that largely reflects what is the topic of this article.

  • Establish pro-active risk management plan
  • Prepare list of medicinal products of clinical importance that lack therapeutic alternatives • Undertake regular checks on market availability of alternative products especially those with low pricing due to cap measures
  • Criticality in the procurement of all starting materials with particular attention to APIs
    • How to mitigate?
  • Quality and manufacturing aspects that could have an impact on medicines’ shortages
    • How to manage them preventively?
  • Appropriate agreements on quality and capacity of CMOs
  • Need to review quality management systems throughout life cycle (including those for older products)
  • Consideration of batch release and transportation impact on the time to deliver products to the market
  • Review impact on production planning of potential weaknesses in sales forecasting

Everyone in industry agrees that problems of shortages are complex with no quick solutions, and it was interesting to hear staff from Agencies agree that one of the main problems of shortages for older products is the impact of low pricing of products by national healthcare systems. Also, product dumping of medicines at an extremely low price was mentioned as occurring in some countries and everyone present agreed this must not be tolerated. There were 100 participants in the main meeting room at the EMA and 200 who were connected online.

In opening the meeting, Emer Cooke Executive (Director EMA) explained the aim was to inform stakeholders about the HMA/EMA Task Force activities and deliverables and share stakeholders’ perspectives on ongoing and planned initiatives to address availability issues. She explained the long-term position of the EMA is to focus on prevention and to become more proactive, particularly since the EMA after Covid was given an extended mandate for emergency situations. The EU joint action for shortages has been launched to improve capacity at national level and the single point of contact (SPOC) working party is really helping to ensure suitable structures are in place to assist with shortages. The EMA is working with the European Commission, DG SANTE (medicinal products unit, quality, safety and innovation) and DG HERA (intelligence gathering, analysis and innovation unit) both of whom made presentations during the meeting.

In October 2023, released documents about Commission steps up actions to address critical shortages of medicines and strengthen security of supply in the EU.

The work done by the European community is aimed at addressing the shortages of the most critical medicines by emphasising the role of logistical aspects but overlooking certain critical elements that go beyond supply chain management and concern the upstream management of the concrete problems for which medicine shortages continue to occur (root causes). For the time being, the Commission seems to be oriented towards a predominantly top-down approach, even if there are spaces where opportunities for a multidisciplinary discussion involving all stakeholders in the supply chain are offered. However, it remains important to note that the Community is taking an active interest in the problem albeit adopting containment measures aimed at containing the problem rather than solving it at its root.

Given the role entrusted to Italy to find solutions to this important problem, the author is convinced that the face-to-face meeting that EIPG will have in Rome with the Italian Medicines’ Agency, on the occasion of the EIPG’s Annual General Assembly, will serve as a constructive basis for working together to find longer-term solutions to medicines’ shortages main causes.

Reference: Battistini, M. (2019). Shortages of Medicines Originating from Manufacturing. In: Barbosa-Povoa, A., Jenzer, H., de Miranda, J. (eds) Pharmaceutical Supply Chains – Medicines Shortages. Lecture Notes in Logistics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15398-4_5


EMA’s recommendations to prevent medicines shortages

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By Giuliana Miglierini

Continuity of medicinal product supply is still representing a key issue for European countries. The HMA/EMA Task Force on the Availability of Authorised Medicines for Human and Veterinary Use has published a new guidance document in the form of recommendations for the industry on best practices to be adopted to prevent shortages of human medicines.

The recommendations are targeted at marketing authorisation holders (MAHs), wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers. The specific role of each actor is detailed, and highlights are provided on how to optimally approach the prevention and mitigation of shortages. The document refers to the harmonised definition of shortage agreed by EMA and HMA, i.e. “A shortage of a medicinal product for human or veterinary use occurs when supply does not meet demand at a national level“.

Different players for different roles

The pharmaceutical supply chain is characterised by many different actors, each of which plays a specific role in the development, manufacturing and distribution of medicinal products.

Marketing authorisation holders are the ultimate responsible for the monitoring of all activities needed to timely produce and distribute their products. This means MAHs should oversight the entire supply chain, from suppliers of active ingredients (APIs) to end users, in order to continually align demand with supply, evaluate the actual impact of a shortage, and establish the more suitable prevention or mitigation strategies. According to the guidance, reference should be made to the “ISPE Drug shortages prevention plan – Holistic view from root cause to prevention” in order to build a suitable quality culture integrated into product lifecycle; compliance to ICH Q10 is also recommended.

Manufacturers include both APIs suppliers and producers of the medicinal product, which should possess a in depth knowledge of their processes and issues that may impact on product availability. This is even more true for contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs), as a problem with their manufacturing capacity may impact many different customers. Wholesale distributors have general visibility of stock levels and product flow and can identify early signals of a potential medicine shortage. They are subject to national laws as for their obligations to ensure continuity of supply to patients.

As for institutions, national competent authorities (NCAs) are responsible for the coordination of the response to a shortage by means of regulatory tools and strategies. Existing regulatory flexibility can be used, while NCAs cannot intervene in pricing, sourcing, and clinical practice. NCAs are also responsible to communicate actual shortages from their websites.

EMA’s responsibilities relate to shortages of centrally authorised products and coordination of the EU response to supply issues due to major events or public health emergencies. The Agency is also responsible for the publication of a public catalogue for shortages assessed by the CHMP and/or PRAC committees, and for the publication of information on critical shortages monitored at EU level.

National health service providers are responsible for the setting up of policy and operational aspects needed to guarantee the timely access to medicines (i.e. reimbursement schemes, purchasing arrangements, clinical guidelines, etc.). In case of a shortage, they are called to indicate available alternatives, and to issue specific clinical guidance for healthcare professionals if needed.

The overall sustainability and accountability of health systems is the major goal for national Ministries of Health, to be tackled by mean of legislative initiatives. End users include healthcare professionals responsible for appropriate prescribing and for the identification of available alternatives in the case of a shortage affecting their patients. Timely information to patients, in particular for specific diseases, may be provided by patients representative groups, which may also collect feedback on the impact of shortages for patients.

Ten recommendations to prevent shortages

The guidance highlights the importance to notify as soon as possible to NCAs any potential or actual shortage, in order to timely face the increased demand for alternative product suppliers. To this instance, MAHs and wholesalers are in the best position to monitor available stocks and report at early stages about possible issues.

An improved transparency would be needed as for the provided shortage information, to avoid patients’ concerns and the consequent risk of stockpiling and to avoid duplication of efforts. To this instance, MAHs are called to provide all available information requested by the notification form, including also multi-country information (e.g. related to API suppliers).

MAHs should also have a shortage prevention plan in place, addressing the entire life cycle of the specific product from sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing capacity and distribution. Wholesale distributors are also called to develop similar plans focusing on their specific role. Prevention plans should include an analysis of vulnerabilities and risks of interruption of supply, the assessment of the robustness of the supply chain arrangements and controls as well as of the need of revalidation, and the availability of a medicine shortage risk register to identify products of clinical importance by therapeutic use and availability of alternatives.

MAHs and wholesalers should also have a shortage management plan to be activated in case of issues with the availability of a certain product. To this instance, the capacity of available alternative manufacturing sites is critical, including CMOs which should always be kept timely informed by MAHs. A possible approach suggested by the guidance sees the development of a dashboard to continuously monitor signals for potential supply disruption. Procedures to identify true shortage points would also be needed to overcome the current limitation of the automated order systems.

The punctual implementation of Pharmaceutical Quality System according to ICH Q10 and ICH Q12 is also deemed fundamental to prevent any delay related to regulatory procedures that may impact on product availability. Product quality reviews (PQRs) are suggested as a possible tool to capture appropriate data and trends for continuous improvement.

The overall resilience of the supply chain should be supported by the justification of the adoption of the just-in-time supply model, particularly when limited alternatives are available. MAHs and wholesalers should guarantee the availability of suitable contingency stocks to face any unexpected delay.

Sub-optimal communication among different stakeholders should be also addressed by means of an improved cooperation, including a two-way communication system extending also to potential or actual shortages. Critical points of attention are identified in the intra-company communication between different departments, those between local MAH representatives and manufacturer, and the availability of information on stock levels to entities entitled to supply medicines to the public via ordering portals. Specific criteria for communication, together with the description of key processes and supply chain maps should be developed by each stakeholder.

Stockpiling is another critical practice to be avoided in order to ensure the fair and timely distribution of medicines. To this instance, healthcare professionals are called not to order or dispense more stock than normal in case of shortage, while MAH stock allocation practices between different countries should also take into account the clinical need of patients, and not just economic factors. Parallel trade should be also avoided as far as possible. NCAs should duly justify any decision to limit this practice, while companies should seek advice from their relevant authorities of the exporting country in case of critical shortages.


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%).