pharmaceutical supply chains 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

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


Review of the pharmaceutical legislation, the proposals of the industrial associations

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The Staff Working Document on “Vulnerabilities of the global supply chains of medicines” published by the European Commission on 17 October 2022 identified several issues related to the current, often difficult situation experienced by pharmaceutical supply chains. Among these are the increasing complexity and specialisation, challenges linked to the production process and technologies, the lack of geographical diversification and other dependencies, the need to unlock the potential of data to improve supply and demand predictability, and a perceived regulatory complexity.

The same issues have been widely debated under different perspectives during recent months as a possible contribution to the current revision of the pharmaceutical legislation, a major goal of the EU Commission’s Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe together with the New Industrial Strategy for Europe.

The structured dialogue with stakeholders has been the tool chosen to facilitate the interaction and exchange of opinions in order to optimise the development and implementation of the new pieces of legislation. We resume some of the latest proposals arising from the main industrial associations on how to better achieve this very challenging objective.

EFPIA proposals for action

In November 2022, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations published a report to illustrate its proposals for action to tackle shortages of medicines and to improve the efficiency and robustness of the supply chain.

Five key principles form the basis of nine operative proposals. A standard definition of a shortage and an interoperable IT European monitoring/notification system would be needed in order to build a harmonised EU prevention and mitigation system. Epidemiological data are deemed essential to better analyse patient demand, so to improve transparency in the overall supply chain by means of the European Medicines Verification System (EMVS). Targeted shortage prevention plans (SPP) should be developed to prevent the risk of shortages for critical products and to manage safety stocks on a risk-based approach. Regulatory mitigation measures for shortages would also be of help in improving flexibility. At the global level, the maintenance of global open supply chains should be the goal, supported by the strong existing EU manufacturing and R&D footprint, and where appropriate, targeted incentives for the diversification of supply chains.

The current revision of EU pharmaceutical legislation is a golden opportunity to reverse the trends of the last 25 years. It is our once-in-a-generation chance to reinvent the regulatory framework to ensure we have a modern approach that matches our ambition to be a hub of medical innovation”, writes EFPIA’s director general Nathalie Moll in a recent post, published on the association’s website.

In its Regulatory roadmap to Innovation of January 2023, EFPIA focused on how to achieve a more agile and streamlined regulatory framework, so to shorten the period needed for approval of a new active substance (currently 426 days, vs 244 days in the USA, 306 in Canada, 313 in Japan or 315 in Australia). Innovative approaches to clinical trials, including complex clinical trials (CCTs) and decentralised trials (DCTs), and the development of clear guidance on the use and regulatory acceptance of real-world data (RWD) and real-world evidence (RWE) are among the eight areas of possible immediate actions identified by EFPIA.

A dynamic regulatory assessment pathway based on early and iterative dialogue on data, international data standards and technology, and cloud-based submission modalities would support EMA and HTAs in accepting iterative data generation as part of the evaluation procedures.

As for drug-device combinations and in-vitro diagnostics, EFPIA suggests adopting an integrated EU pathway for the assessment, including the possibility for parallel advice with Notified Bodies. A clearer definition of unmet medical need would also be needed, as well as the full digitalisation of regulatory processes. A common definition of shortage coupled to the setting up of a European reporting system (possibly the already existing EMVS) would support the collection of real-time information and activation of alerts. Epidemiological data should be elaborated and released by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).

The Variation Regulation is also under review by the EU Commission. EFPIA’s proposal is to incorporate the considerations for pharmaceutical product lifecycle management set forth by the ICH Q12 guideline, and to develop a vaccine-specific annex to the Variation guideline.

EFPIA also identified four areas requiring legislative change to accelerate pharmaceutical innovation in Europe. These include the possibility to redesign EMA’s committee structure in order to speed up the efficiency of regulatory assessment and decision-making process from EMA approval to EC decision.

Expedited regulatory pathways (ERP) are still of limited use in the EU, according to EFPIA. The suggestion is to embed the PRIME scheme in the new legislation to ensure its optimal use and allocation of sufficient resources. The creation of a new legal category for drug-device combination products, to be regulated as medicinal products, would also accelerate the approval of this increasingly important type of therapeutic option.

The transition from paper leaflets to electronic product information (ePI) should be also supported within the new pharmaceutical legislation, while considering the still present difficulties that may be experienced by elders and people not having access to computers or mobile devices. A new, centralised ePI repository/database would also be needed.

Medicines for Europe, focus on access and prevention of shortages

The 2022 of Medicines for Europe (MfE), representing the generic, biosimilar and value-added medicines industry, focused its lobbying activities mainly on access to medicines and prevention/ mitigation of shortages.

The economic and geopolitical crisis highly impacted the sector, which suffers strict price caps requirements in market policies. In a recent letter to the EU institutions, Medicines for Europe highlights the possible link between the shortages of amoxicillin and amoxiclav antibiotics and the low pricing and procurement policies in place in many EU member states.

There are significant risks of more medicine shortages in 2023”, writes the association, which may be tackled by concrete policy reforms and industry commitments.

The economic model for generic medicines in Europe is identified as the structural root cause of shortages, requiring manufacturers to run their plants at the maximum capacity in order to “remain profitable as GMP rules require continuous investment in manufacturing plant upgrades”. This leaves little space to accommodate requests for increased production in order to face shortages. Other measures that, for MfE, impacted on the consolidation of supply chains and generic markets include the requests set forth by the Falsified medicines directive, as well as the Brexit, the Covid emergency and the current war scenarios.

The letter also identifies some possible short- and medium-term measures useful to mitigate the risk of shortages and improve the efficiency of the generic’s supply chains.

The first ones include the request for more regulatory flexibility for packaging, to facilitate the distribution of the available products in different member states. Clearer thresholds for nitrosamines and the need to avoid new regulations that may have a disproportionate impact on low margin medicines are also suggested. A better dialogue on immediate measures to tackle the cost of inflation on generic medicines would also be beneficial, says MfE, which also agrees on the need to better estimate demand surges on the basis of available data and epidemiological analysis.

The association of the generic and biosimilar industry shares also the importance of a rapid digitalisation of the medicines regulatory network in order to fully exploit the potential of big data. On the medium-term (2025), this may prove important to achieve objective related to the implementation of the ePI, the reduction of variations, the management of API sources, the harmonisation of packs and a better handling of requirements at national level.

Suggested actions at the legislative level include the introduction of legal guidance on the implementation of the criteria established by the Public Procurement Directive. The Transparency Directive may take example from Canada, where prices for generics varies according to the variation of the demand. A Medicine Security Act might represent the legislative tool to support investments in manufacturing diversification and greener technologies.

MfE also highlights some threats resulting from political choices such as national stockpiling requirements, that can increase costs and reduce cross-country solidarity. A preferred approach would be that of the European strategic reserve concept, based on rolling reserves. The real usefulness of joint procurement should also be better evaluated, especially with reference to OTC and other medicines directly dispensed by community pharmacies.

A note published in November 2022 focused on the still greatly unused potential of value-added medicines, a sector which according to MfE may benefit by a re-evaluation of the current innovation model, leading to a increased attention to the entire lifecycle of a medicine and on off-patent molecules. The request to the EU Commission is to fully acknowledge value added medicines in the EU pharmaceutical legislation as a separate group of medicines, with its own dedicated regulatory pathway and proportionate data exclusivity incentives.

The vision of the ATMP sector

The vision of the advanced therapies (ATMPs) sector, represented by the Alliance for Regenerative Medice (ARM), was illustrated in an event held in November 2022 at the European Parliament.

The declining competitiveness of the EU and how to ensure patients’ access to transformative treatments have been subjects of the debate. Many of the newly approved treatments fall under the ATMP categories of medicinal products (cell and gene therapies, tissue therapies), that according to ARM would require a better suited policy and regulatory framework to fully exploit their potential. “The same policies and approaches that brought us yesterday’s biomedical innovation simply will not work for the cell and gene therapies of today and tomorrow. The EU has led before — and can lead once again — but the time to act is now.” said Timothy D. Hunt, chief executive officer of ARM.

According to data by ARM, the number of ongoing industry clinical trials in Europe involving ATMPs is increasing very slowly (just 2% at the end of June 2022). More in detail, only one phase 1 study was initiated in Europe in the first half of 2022, says the association, and the region accounted for just 11% of new trials involving ATMPs and started in the same period. Many EU’s approved advanced therapies are also suffering, with 23 ATMPs withdrawn from the market. The reduced interest of the sector towards Europe is also acknowledged by the declining number of developers headquarters (-2% vs the previous five years): a trend opposite to that of North America and, especially, the Asia-Pacific region