prevention 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


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.