by Giuliana Miglierini
The new Regulation (EU) 2021/228 on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) will assume full validity in January 2025, at the end of the 3-year transition period. To this instance, it is time to define the actions needed to establish the new framework for HTA in the field of medicinal products.
A central point of the new approach is represented by joint scientific consultations (JSCs) to be carried out in coordination between the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the bodies entitled of HTA at the level of single member states.
After the termination of the European Network for Health Technology Assessment (EUnetHTA) initiative, in 2021, the new consortium EUnetHTA 21 has been created grouping thirteen HTA agencies from The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Portugal, Belgium, Ireland, Hungary and Norway. EUnetHTA 21 signed a contract service in 2021 with the Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA) for the provision of joint health technology assessment up to September 2023.
On this basis, EMA and EUnetHTA 21 have now published a joint work plan of the activities to be put in place until 2023; the initiative represents the continuation of the EUnetHTA Joint Actions, started in 2010 and concluded in May 2021.
The document identifies the priority areas of future collaboration between regulators and HTA bodies at European level, with the final goal to “improve efficiency and quality of processes, whilst respecting the respective remits of different decision makers, and ensure mutual understanding and dialogue on evidence needs”.
The transition to the new legislative framework shall be based on a flexible approach to the different tasks; the work plan includes both methodological and operative actions, and it will be monitored in close cooperation with the EU Commission. Progresses will be discussed during the four bilateral meetings planned until September 2023.
Under the new framework, high priority HTA activities related to the service contract will be delivered by EUnetHTA 21. Other voluntary activities can be actioned through individual HTA bodies from a European (EU/EEA) member state that expressed their interest to participate. Should this be the case, the work plan clarifies that the position is that of the individual HTA body, not of EUnetHTA 21. A public consultation on deliverables part of the EUnetHTA’s mandate is also planned.
Actions in support of JSCs
Joint scientific consultations are the core of the new approach to HTA, aimed to generate a robust evidence relative to the entire life cycle of medicinal products, including the post-licensing and launch.
The work plan establishes a new European process of “parallel joint scientific consultation” involving both HTA bodies and EMA, that will take the place of the current procedures of parallel scientific advice, parallel consultation and early dialogue. This action shall make available a single assessment process, reflecting both regulatory and HTA’s needs.
Interested parties can apply to access the EMA/EUnetHTA parallel JSC procedure; a joint guidance on how to apply and the dates of EMA’s Scientific Advice Working Party (SAWP) meetings are available at the dedicated page of the Agency’s website, together with the template of the parallel consultation briefing document and submission deadlines. The joint guideline also provides details for applicants on how to respond to a EUnetHTA 21 open call for joint scientific consultation.
Exchange of information
The setting up of the JSC procedure includes the optimisation of the use of registries to facilitate post-licensing evidence generation (PLEG) and/or launch evidence to support decision making. To this instance, and depending on the specific products selected during the JSC, advice may be provided on requirements for data collection and analysis of disease registries in the context of development plans, or for qualification of registries in disease areas of particular mutual interest (including advanced therapies, ATMPs).
This exchange of information between EMA and EUnetHTA 21 may lead to discussions in order to monitor progress in the identification of PLEG. Under this action, a voluntary pilot might be activated to explore the feasibility of earlier engagement with an HTA agency during regulatory assessment, including evidence sharing and managing of uncertainties. A main outcome of this area of cooperation shall see the initial drafting of the rules for the exchange of information on the preparation and update of joint clinical assessment of medicinal products.
Capturing patient relevant data and information
The ability to generate patient relevant data and information is key to support the process of decision making. The joint work plan aims to develop new methodologies to improve reliance of patient relevant data. To this instance, the cooperation with EUnetHTA is expected to contribute to EMA’s initiative to establish an EU network of experts on Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs). The work plan also includes voluntary actions focused on the discussion and exchange of relevant data in bilateral meetings, in parallel with the development of the respective guidelines, and a workshop on patient experience data planned in June 2022.
The work plan shall also favour a better engagement of patients and healthcare professionals in areas of mutual interest. To this regard, EMA and EUnetHTA 21 will share their best practices as for compensation for expert participation and how to incorporate the input received in regulatory and HTA deliverables.
Preparedness for future challenges
The need to better understand challenges arising from the development of innovative treatments will benefit the sharing of horizon scanning activities between EMA and EUnetHTA 21. This may include, on a voluntary basis, joint discussions on data requirements and preparative measures relative to high-impact innovative medicines for patients with high unmet needs. Other voluntary activities by individual HTA bodies may focus on the optimisation of regulatory assessment reports in order to facilitate the uptake of their outcomes as part of the HTA process. Sharing of experience and guidance on the optimisation of information on subpopulations (e.g. labelling and EPARs) may also be considered, as well as the improvement of Orphan Medicines Assessment Reports (OMARs). Under the methodological perspective needed to make real-world evidence more available, a main goal of the plan shall achieve HTA representation in the advisory board of Darwin EU, the Data Analysis and Real World Interrogation Network established and coordinated by EMA to provide timely and reliable evidence on the use, safety and effectiveness of medicines for human use from real-world healthcare databases across the EU.
Other voluntary activities in this area may include multi-stakeholder discussions aimed to optimise the design, quality and utilisation of disease registries and the training on new guidance on registry-based studies. Joint methodological work may be also carried out to identify key concepts supporting the acceptance of extrapolation and/or evidence transfer, and to share best practices and experiences in the field of the integrated assessment of companion diagnostics, or other diagnostics for targeting therapeutics not directly related to the use of specific medicines.