by Giuliana Miglierini
The new Annex 21 to GMPs (C(2022) 843 final) that EIPG gave a significant contribution in reviewing the original draft and thoroughly presented it within a webinar to its members on August 2020, was published by the European Commission on 16 February 2022; the document provides a guideline on the import of medicinal products from extra-EU countries. The new annex will entry into force six months after its publication, on 21 August 2022. Its contents should be read in parallel with the EU Guide to Good Manufacturing Practice for Medicinal Products and its other annexes, those requirements continue to apply as appropriate.
Annex 21 details the GMP requirements referred to human, investigational and/or veterinary medicinal products imported in the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) by holders of a Manufacturing Import Authorisation (MIA). The new Annex does not apply to medicinal products entering the EU/EEA for export only, as they do not undergo any process or release aimed to place them on the internal market. Fiscal transactions are also not considered as a part of the new annex.
The main principles
According to Annex 21, once a batch of a medicinal product has been physically imported in a EU/EEA country, including clearance by the custom authority of the entrance territory, it is subject to the Qualified Person (QP) certification or confirmation. Manufacturing operations in accordance with the marketing authorisation or clinical trial authorisation can be run on imported bulk and intermediate products prior to the QP certification/confirmation. To this regard, all importation responsibilities for both medicinal products and bulks/intermediates must be carried out at specific sites authorised under a MIA. These include the site of physical importation and the site of QP certification (for imported medicinal products) or QP confirmation (for bulk or intermediate products undergoing further processing).
Marketing authorisation holders (MAHs) for imported products authorised in the EU remain in any case the sole responsible for placing the products in the European/EEA market. Annex 21 requires sites responsible for QP certification to verify an ongoing stability program is in place at the third country site where manufacturing is performed. This last one has to transmit to the QP all the information needed to verify the ongoing product quality, and relevant documentation (i.e. protocols, results and reports) should be available for inspection at the site responsible for QP certification. QP’s responsibilities also extend to the verification that reference and retention samples are available in accordance to Annex 19 of the GMPs, and that safety features are placed on the packaging, if required.
Importation sites should be adequately organised and equipped to ensure the proper performance of activities on imported products. More specifically, a segregated quarantine area should be available to store the incoming products until the occurrence of release for further processing or QP certification/confirmation.
European GMP rules or equivalent standards shall be followed for the manufacturing of medicinal products in third countries due to be imported in the EU. The manufacturing process has to comply to the one described in the Marketing Authorisation (MA), the clinical trial authorization (CTA) and the relevant quality agreement in place between the MAH and the manufacturer. The respect of EU GMP rules or equivalent standards should be documented through regular monitoring and periodic on-site audits of the third country manufacturing sites, to be implemented by the site responsible for QP certification or by a third party on its behalf.
The QP of the importation site is also responsible for the verification of testing requirements, in order to confirm the compliance of the imported products to the authorised specifications detailed in the MA. The verification of testing requirements can be avoided only in the case a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) or an Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (ACAA) is in place between the European Union and the third country where the production of the medicinal product is located.
All agreements between the different entities involved in the manufacturing and importation process, including the MAH and/or sponsor, should be in the written form, as indicated by Chapter 7 of the EU GMP Guide.
The Pharmaceutical Quality System of the importing site
According to the European legislation (Chapter 1 of the EU GMP Guide), all activities performed in the EU with reference to the manufacturing and distribution of pharmaceutical products should fall under to umbrella of the company’s Pharmaceutical Quality System (PQS). This is also true for sites involved with importation activities, those PQS should reflect the scope of the activities carried out. A specific procedure should be established to manage complaints, quality defects and product recalls.
More in detail, the new Annex 21 establishes that sites responsible for QP certification of imported products (including the case of further processing before export with the exception of investigational medicinal products) have to run periodic Product Quality Reviews (PQR). In this case too, the respective responsibilities of the parties involved in compiling the Reviews should be specified by written agreements. Should the sampling of the imported product be conducted in a third country (in accordance with Annex 16 of the GMPs), the the PQR should also include an assessment of the basis for continued reliance on the sampling practice. A review of deviations encountered during transportation up to the point of batch certification should be also available, and a comparison should be run to assess the correspondence of analytical results from importation testing with those listed by the Certificate of Analysis generated by the third country manufacturer.
Full documentation available at MIA sites
The QP’s certification/confirmation step for an imported batch has to be paralleled by the availability of the full batch documentation at the corresponding MIA holder’s site; in case of need, this site may also have access to documents supporting batch certification, according to Annex 16. Other MIA holders involved in the process may access batch documentation for their respective needs and responsibilities, as detailed in the written agreements. A risk assessment is needed to justify the frequency for the review of the full batch documentation at the site responsible for QP certification/confirmation; the so established periodicity should be included in the PQS.
Annex 21 also lists the type of documents that should be available at the importation sites, including the details of transportation and receipt of the product, and relevant ordering and delivery documentation. This last one should specify the site of origin of the product, the one of physical importation and shipping details (including transportation route, temperature monitoring records, and customs documentation). Appropriate documentation should be also available to confirm reconciliation of the quantities of batches which underwent subdivision and were imported separately.
Requirements set forth in Chapter 4 of the GMPs apply to the retention of the documentation; the availability at the third country manufacturing site of an adequate record retention policy equivalent to EU requirements shall be assessed by the site responsible for QP certification. Should it be appropriate, translations of original documents and certificates should be provided to improve understanding.