repurposing Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC


by Giuliana Miglierini The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection


by Giuliana Miglierini As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have Read more

Environmental sustainability: the EIPG perspective


Piero Iamartino Although the impact of medicines on the environment has been highlighted since the 70s of the last century with the emergence of the first reports of pollution in surface waters, it is only since the beginning of the Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection

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by Giuliana Miglierini

As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have on the entire European pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. In the meantime, the Committee for Legal Affairs of the European Parliament approved the amendment to the Regulation proposed by the Commission to govern the issuing of Union compulsory licences for the manufacturing of medicinal products during crisis.

The initial proposal on regulatory data protection

To resume the main features of the EU Commission proposal on incentives referred to regulatory data protection (RDP), the current 8+2(+1) scheme would be remodulated to grant a standard 6-year period of regulatory data protection, valid for all newly approved medicines. This might be followed by extension periods of different length, depending on specific conditions (see here the impact report, Chap. VII).

The proposed additional criteria may support an RDP duration up to 12 years, as for example in the case of medicines for orphan diseases or unmet medical needs. But the more debated criteria proposed by the Commission is perhaps the request to the holders of marketing authorisations (MAH) to market newly approved medicinal products in all EU members states at the same time, within 2 years from the date of the MA. Should this occur, the MAH may benefit from a 2-year extension of the RDP.

New chemical substances undergoing clinical testing against a relevant and evidence-based comparator may also benefit of a 6-month extension of the RDP. Should the product be already in the market, the approval of a new indication coupled to the provision of a significant clinical benefit may extend regulatory data protection for 1 year. The same extension applies to products that changed their prescription status on the basis of significant non-clinical tests or clinical studies. Repurposed medicinal products may benefit from a 4-year extension of regulatory data protection in case of a new therapeutic indication not previously authorised in the EU.

The RDP is critical for the EU’s competitiveness

According to the Director General of EFPIA, Nathalie Moll, there are three key areas to be kept in mind while reaching the final decision: the positive net financial impact of regulatory data protection for both patients, the EU and member states, the R&D attractiveness at the EU and national level, and the fact the US has currently a more attractive RDP than the EU (see here more).

The regulatory data protection scheme proposed by the Commission might greatly reduce the number of new medicines available in Europe in the next 15 years, says EFPIA. The Commission’s estimate of €1.2 billion/year of additional costs for members states for every additional year of regulatory data protection would be wrong, it adds, as it is based on the List Prices of medicines. But many EU countries have clawback-type mechanisms to reduce this type of impact, which should be added to the indirect impact innovative medicines may exert in reducing other costs supported by healthcare systems. Thus, the final economic impact calculated by EFPIA would be €2 billion/year.

The attractiveness for R&D investments of a certain geographical area may prove also important, especially in the case of advanced therapies and complex types of therapeutics or to support research targeted to unmet medical needs.

As for the duration of regulatory data protection in the US, according to EFPIA this reaches 12 years (including market protection) for biologics and around 6-7 years of market protection for small molecules. ”RDP for non-biologics is the only element of IP where Europe leads on the US and is in the control of EU policy makers”, wrote Nathalie Moll.

On the other side of the game, Medicines for Europe on behalf of the generic and biosimilar industry also addressed a note to the rapporteur and shadow-rapporteur of the EU pharmaceutical legislation.

The key message is that there might have been a misunderstanding about the concrete impact of the extensions of regulatory data protection proposed by the EU Parliament, which received a strong political support, due to the complex interactions between the pharma legislation and the IP and SPC legislations.

The correct understanding of the dual track of pharmaceutical incentives (regulatory and patent/ SPCs) should be thus the key area of attention during the final set up of the new provisions. According to Medicines for Europe, some parliamentary amendment would extend the duration of regulatory data protection well beyond the duration of SPC, thus further extending the global protection (up to 13.5 or 18 years, depending on the specific proposal) and preventing the entry of generics and biosimilars in the European market.

The analysis run by the industrial association also calculated the potential impact on pharmaceutical budgets corresponding to the possible different lengths of regulatory data protection, and how the same budget might be used to potentiate the resources of healthcare system in terms of available nurses and doctors. The calculated range spans from €2.5-5.35 bln for the three countries considered (France, Germany, Spain) up to €19.5 bln to the entire EU in the case of 13.5 year extension, and it reaches, respectively, €13.2-24 bln and €99.5 bln in the case of the 18 years extension.

A strong critical voice in support of a true competition

The European Social Insurance Platform (ESIP) published a note at the end of February signed by its Director, Yannis Natsis. “Let us be clear that these protection periods are not companies’ rights, but privileges granted to the manufacturers by the European legislators, and they come at a significant cost for public budgets”, wrote Mr. Natsis.

The extension of regulatory data protection would thus result in a possible distortion of competition, and in a delay of patients’ access to treatments. Mr. Natsis also identified the “elephant in the room” of the European healthcare system, i.e. the extremely high prices of medicines in many therapeutic areas. An issue that ESIP’s Director considers a systemic problem.

The note supports the proposed 6-year standard regulatory data protection, with extensions that should not exceed the current situation. Incentives for orphan medicines should go in favour of truly rare diseases and unmet medical needs. ESIP also supports the availability of alternative incentive mechanisms to reward development of new antibiotics, instead of the Transferable exclusivity vouchers (TEVs) that should be replaced.

ESIP’s Director also wrote that “Put simply, we need to take these industry threats with a pinch of salt”, with reference to the pharmaceutical industry having repeatedly threatened to leave Europe since the beginning of the revision of the pharma legislation. “In any case, we cannot afford to end up with a reform which hands a free-for-all incentives “menu” to the companies. These are very expensive “carrots”. Such an outcome will be counter-productive for patients and self-defeating for healthcare systems across Europe”, commented Yannis Natsis.

From the perspective of statutory payers, a well-functioning generic competition allows to treat larger groups of patients at lower prices, while the pricing and business strategies of pharma companies often would limit the possibility to treat patients with most severe conditions. The request for the Parliament is thus to reach a well-balanced text. “There needs to be a renewed social contract between the pharmaceutical industries and the society at large”, wrote Yannis Natsis.

The JURI Committee amendments to the proposed Regulation on the Union compulsory licensing

In the meantime, the Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the EU Parliament approved on 13 February 2024 (17 votes in favour, 6 against) the report detailing the amendments to the proposed Regulation on the Union compulsory licensing during crisis and emergencies for the public health.

The Report also include the opinion given by the Committee on International Trade, and the list of entities or persons that provided input to the rapporteur (Adrián Vázquez Lázara) in the preparation of the report, among which are many industrial associations.

The Explanatory Note by the rapporteur highlights the need to maintain the equilibrium between innovation and rapid access to essential products. The JURI Committee has identified several aspects of the proposed Regulation that should be better clarified to ensure legal certainty, and which were addressed within the approved amendments.

The definition of “crisis” raised many concerns; the proposed amendments refer to a cross-border effect in the UE with involvement of two or more member states. Measures put in place should be proportionate, and not unnecessarily and disproportionally affecting the rights of citizens or the protection of intellectual property rights of businesses.

Union compulsory licenses might be issued only after the rights-holder has the time to negotiate a voluntary license with a potential licensee. To this instance, the Parliament has indicated 4 weeks as a suitable period for the Commission to wait for the results of ongoing negotiations. Furthermore, the Union compulsory licensing should remain a last resort instance and should have a duration strictly in line with that of the crisis, with a maximum of 12 months unless otherwise needed.

According to the JURI Committee, the definition of the know-how necessary for the manufacturing of certain products should be also clarified, as it is key to activate an expanded production capacity during crises. A new proposed recital indicates the Commission should have the authority to oblige rights-holders to provide all needed information, including know-how, especially for highly complex pharmaceuticals such as vaccines.

The Committee also highlighted the need for a better definition of the role of the advisory board. The proposed amendment indicates the inclusion as observers of other crisis relevant bodies at the UE level to ensure consistency with the measure, and of representatives of national authorities responsible for issuing compulsory licenses under the national patent laws.

Rights-holders should be able to provide their comments and other pertinent information to the advisory board prior to the final issuing of the Union compulsory licence. The procedure should start with the identification of the intellectual property rights concerned, and of potential licensees. The Commission should not grant any compulsory licences should the rights-holders not have been completely identified.

The JURI Committee also amended the text of the proposal to indicate the remuneration for the rights-holders should be determined, among others, considering the total gross revenue gene-rated by the licensee from the pertinent activities governed by the Union compulsory licence.

Remuneration should be also provided in cases where the rights-holder should disclose the trade secrets strictly necessary to achieve the purpose of the licence. A new amendment asks the Commission to assess the list of crisis modes or emergency modes reported in the Annex to the Regulation every two years from its entry into force, or without undue delay in case of exceptional threats to public safety or national security.


The EU Commission proposal of the new pharmaceutical legislation

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By Giuliana Miglierini

After a five-months delay, the European Commission has announced on 26 April 2023 its proposal for the revision of the European pharmaceutical legislation. The package is comprehensive of a Directive governing authorisations and other regulatory procedures, and a Regulation focused on central authorisation procedures. A Council Recommendation on antimicrobial resistance is also included. The entire reform package shall now undergo the scrutiny of both the European Parliament and Council in order to gain final approval and adoption.

In this first article, we will resume the main features of this highly complex reform, leaving to following posts a more detailed discussion of the single lines of intervention.

The experienced delays acknowledge of the many difficulties encountered by the Commission in reaching a balance between forces representing different perspectives within the pharmaceutical sector. Among the main areas of debate was the exclusivity protection: an issue not yet re-solved, judging from the first reactions from industrial associations, and that should be addressed during the incoming negotiations at the EU Parliament and Council.

A single market for medicines

Central to the entire reform package is the creation of a single European market for medicines, aimed to facilitate the fair and rapid access to patients of all member states. Regulatory procedures for approval of generic and biosimilar medicines should be simplified. Patients are also expected to benefit from more innovative medicines, thanks to a wide array of incentives, and from the repurposing of products already on the market.

Patient centricity should also address rare diseases and new therapeutic options for paediatric patients, including the creation of a EU network of representatives of patients associations, academics, developers and investigators. Patient representatives should be appointed to the EMA Committees, and thus involved in the approval of new medicines. A more extensive use of electronic Product Information is expected to facilitate access to updated information, while reducing costs for manufacturers.

A greater transparency on public funding for R&D should better support price negotiations with national authorities, so to make medicines more affordable to patients.

The long lasting issue of medicines shortages should be tackled from different perspectives. Pharmaceutical companies should be responsible for the emission of earlier warnings on shortages and withdrawals, and for the establishment of prevention plans. European authorities should create a list of critical medicines, to be used to identify supply chain vulnerabilities and improve security of supply. National and central competent authorities are called to a better monitoring of shortages, while EMA should play a stronger guiding role on security of supply.

The One Health approach should inspire actions to improve the environmental sustainability of medicines. From this perspective, the proposed reform includes a strengthened environmental risk assessment for all medicines, including those already on the market. Actions to improve environmentally friendly production technologies and to reduce the release of drugs into the environment are also considered.

Actions supporting innovation

The reform package completely redesigns the duration of regulatory protection, reducing the standard length to 8 years (6 years of data protection + 2 years of market protection), but offering a wide range of incentives to reach a cumulative maximum of up to 12 years of protection. The true novelty is the 2-year incentive for companies launching a new product in all EU markets at the same time. Other incentives are targeted to unmet medical needs (6 months), comparative clinical trials (6 months), and for a new indication to treat another disease (1 year).

The standard market exclusivity should reach 9 years for medicines for rare diseases. In this case too, a wide range of incentives may extend protection to up to 13 years.

The Transferable data exclusivity voucher is the tool identified to support the development of new antimicrobial medicines: the voucher would be transferred to another of the company’s products, extending its protection by 1 year. The Commission plans to issue no more than 10 vouchers over a 15 year period, under strict conditions, so to limit the impact of the measure on healthcare systems. Reshoring of pharmaceutical productions and EU’s strategic autonomy are not included in the reform. A number of other actions are ongoing to support specific lines of intervention, i.e. the EU FAB flexible manufacturing network of vaccines producers, HERA’s Joint Industrial Cooperation Forum on vulnerabilities along the supply chain, and the Important Project of Common European Interest on Health to allocate state aid to support for innovative EU projects.

A more flexible regulatory framework

A higher regulatory flexibility should support fast approval of medicines. Regulatory assessment for centralised procedures should shorten to 180 days (from the current 210); the time should be reduced further to 150 days for products needed for health emergencies.

Simplification of procedures will include full electronic submission of applications. Rolling re-views and temporary emergency marketing authorisations at the EU level for public health emergencies will fully enter the set of available procedures. Simplification should also include the abolishing of the marketing authorisation renewal in most cases.

A reform of EMA’s Committees is also envisaged: only the Committee for Human medicinal pro-ducts (CHMP) and the Safety Committee (PRAC) should continue to exist, while the orphan, paediatric and ATMP committees would be abolished.

Generic and biosimilar medicines shall also benefit from simpler rules for approval, while regulatory sandboxes are the tool to support testing of particularly new and innovative therapies. These may also benefit of additional early scientific advice and regulatory support by EMA, particularly for unmet needs. Dedicated pathways are also planned to support repurposing, especially for SMEs and not-for-profit organisations.

Clinical development may be improved thanks to a wider use of adaptive clinical trials, real world evidence and health data. The reform is also expected to make easier the interaction with other relevant healthcare frameworks, e.g. for medical devices and health technology assessment.

The first comments from interested parties

A very negative opinion on the proposed reform has been issued by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industrial Associations (EFPIA), representing the innovator industry.

Unfortunately, today’s proposal manages to undermine research and development in Europe while failing to address access to medicines for patients”, said EFPIA’s Director General Nathalie Moll. The main point of criticism is the 2-year incentive for the contemporary launch of a new medicine in all 27 member states, that for EFPIA would represent an impossible target for companies. According to President Hubertus von Baumbach, “the ‘net’ impact of policies set out across these proposals, in their current form, puts European competitiveness at risk: overall, it weakens the attractiveness for investment in innovation and hampers European science, research and development”. A comprehensive competitiveness checks on the impact of the revised pharmaceutical legislation is EFPIA’s request.

The Association also published a series of reports supporting its vision on the availability of new medicines throughout Europe, as its first action to stimulate the debate in view of the assessment of the proposal by the EU Council and Parliament.

We strongly support the proposal’s intention to stop the well documented patent games manship and evergreening and the adaptation of incentives to necessary equity of access across the EU. Moreover, there should not be an accumulation of regulatory incentives that would extend the regulatory data protection period beyond the existing system (8 years) which is already the longest in the world. Regarding AMR, the Commission proposal for a reserve fund is the correct alternative to transferable vouchers and most efficient policy to protect against future risks”, wrote in a note Medicines for Europe, representing the generic, biosimilar and value added medicines industry. “The central role of the off-patent medicines industry for the patient is clearly reflected in the intentions of the draft legislation. We are still lacking an industrial strategy to strengthen the European off- patent sector and improve open strategic autonomy in health”, said Medicines for Europe President Elisabeth Stampa.

EuropaBio, on behalf of the biotech sector, welcomed the provisions improving the EU’s regulatory framework and promoting novel technologies. In this case too, the main concern is the proposed new set of incentives, that according to EuropaBio may undermine the predictability and stability of the European landscape for innovation. “It is essential that EU policies meaningfully improve patient access to medicines across the EU without undermining the EU’s attractiveness for life science investments”, said EuropaBio Healthcare Public Affairs Director Vlad Olteanu.

AESGP supports the revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation in principle. While we welcome the regulatory simplifications introduced by the revision, we are voicing some concerns on behalf of non-prescription medicines manufacturers that may have unintended negative consequences”, said Jurate Svarcaite, AESGP Director General. The Association resumed its worries in a statement published in its site.

These include the proposed two new prescription criteria for antimicrobial products and medicines containing an active substance which may have an environmental impact. As for incentives, according to AESGP a longer data exclusivity period (3 years instead of 1) should be considered in cases where new, pivotal evidence is generated, for switching from prescription to non-prescription status. Other points of concern refer to how environmental risks for medicines are to be assessed. “Decisions to minimise the environmental impact should always lead to proportional risk mitigation measures and never interfere with clinical priorities and benefit/ risk assessments that ensure EU citizens get access to the healthcare products they need”, wrote AESGP.

Improvement to the Commission’s proposal would also be needed with regard to the adoption of electronic Product Information, where a phased and harmonised approach to digitalisation is suggested. A better definition of real-world evidence/data would also be needed. As for shortages, mitigation measures should be proportionate and aimed at the critical medicines that do not have alternatives and have concentrated supply chains. AESGP supports the extension of the proposed approach to Risk Management Plans exemption also to medicinal products of well-established use, as for generics and biosimilars.

We appreciate the proposals aimed at streamlining and digitalising regulatory procedures, yet we are concerned that other provisions will undermine R&D, innovation, and EU competitiveness. These will be especially detrimental to the small and mid-sized innovative companies that Eucope represents. The proposal introduces more risk and unpredictability into the system while reducing incentives for innovation and investment, which will negatively impact patient access”, wrote the association in its comments to the proposal of reform.

The Commission’s revision includes troubling proposals, such as the introduction of (High) Unmet Medical Need, which risk reducing the EU’s global competitiveness in life sciences, thereby limiting the development and availability of innovative therapies”, said Eucope Secretary General Alexander Natz.



A new role for EMA and a pilot project for the repurposing of medicines

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by Giuliana Miglierini

A draft agreement was reached at the end of October between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to reinforce the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) with reference to crisis preparedness and management for medicinal products and medical devices. “EU-level preparation and coordination are two essential ingredients to fight future health crises. Thanks to this deal we are adding an essential new building block to upgrade the EU’s health architecture. It will allow the EU’s Medicines Agency to make sure we have the medicines needed to deal with public health emergencies”, said Janez Poklukar, the Slovenian minister for health.

The revision of EMA mandate is part of the broader activities announced by the EU Commission in November 2020 to achieve the European Health Union; these also include the reinforcement of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and a draft law on cross-border health threats. The establishment of the new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), announced in September 2021, is also part of the package. The draft agreement shall now be endorsed both by the Council and the Parliament before entering into force.

Three new key targets for EMA

The draft agreement reached by the Council and Parliament negotiators focuses on three main areas. The first one refers to the definition of a major event and how to recognise it: these shall be events likely to pose a serious risk to public health in relation to medicinal products, as acknowledged by a positive opinion from the Medicines Shortages Steering Group, and which may trigger specific actions such as the adoption of a list of critical medicinal products to fight the health threat.

Solid funding from the Union budget shall be also provided to EMA in order to support the work of the new steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels. The availability of provisions for adequate data protection is important to guarantee the full compliance to the GDPR regulation and other EU data protection rules, and the safe transfer of personal data relevant to EMA’s activities (e.g. data from clinical trials).

EMA shall play an improved role in the monitoring and management of shortages of medicines and medical devices, a critical activity for the availability of the products needed during public health emergencies. Other points of the agreement include the timely development of high-quality, safe and efficacious medicinal products, and the creation of a new EMA’s structure specific for expert panels in charge of the assessment of high-risk medical devices and of essential advice on crisis preparedness and management.

How to tackle shortages of medicines

According to the EU Parliament, two “shortages steering groups” (for medicines and medical devices, respectively) shall be created by EMA; if needed, these groups may also include expert advice from relevant stakeholders (e.g. patients and medical professionals, marketing authorization holders, wholesale distributors, etc.).

Parliament negotiators highlighted the importance to achieve a high transparency of the process, including avoidance of interests related to industry sectors for members of the two groups; summaries of the proceedings and recommendations shall be also made publicly available.

A European Shortages Monitoring Platform shall be created by EMA to facilitate the collection of information on shortages, supply and demand of medicinal products; a public webpage with information on shortages of critical medicines and medical devices shall be also made available.

As already occurred during the Covid pandemic, future public health emergencies may boost the development of new medicines and medical devices. Sponsors of clinical trials conducted during health emergencies will be required to make the study protocol publicly available in the EU clinical trials register at the start of the trial, as well as a summary of the results. Following the granting of the marketing authorisation, EMA will also publish product information with details of the conditions of use and clinical data received (e.g. anonymised personal data and no commercially confidential information).

With this agreement, Parliament makes both the Agency and all actors in the supply chain more transparent, involving them more in the process and fostering synergies between EU agencies. Moreover, we pave the way to promoting clinical trials for the development of vaccines and treatments, boosting transparency on those issues. In short, more transparency, more participation, more coordination, more effective monitoring and more prevention”, said Rapporteur Nicolás González Casares (S&D, ES).

EMA’s pilot project for the repurposing of medicines

The repurposing of already approved and marketed medicines is another key action put in place to ensure improved response capacity in case of future health emergencies.

A new pilot project to support the repurposing of off-patent medicines has been launched by EMA and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA), with special focus on not-for-profit organisations and the academia as the main actors to carry out research activities needed to support the regulatory submission for the new indication. The initiative follows the outcomes reached by the European Commission’s Expert Group on Safe and Timely Access to Medicines for Patients (STAMP).

Interested sponsors may access EMA’s specific scientific advice upon submission of the drug repurposing submission form to the e-mail address [email protected] by 28 February 2022. More information is available in a Question-and-Answer document. The pilot will last until scientific advice for the selected repurposing candidate projects; filing of an application by a pharmaceutical company for the new indication is another target. Final results of the project will be published by EMA.

Comments from the industry

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) welcomed the proposed framework for the repurposing of authorised medicines. “This pilot launch comes at a timely moment to test whether a streamlined and more transparent regulatory pathway for repurposing of off-patent established products increases the chances of including existing scientific evidence into regulatory assessment. One of the goals of the pilot is to raise awareness regarding the standards required for regulatory-ready evidence on the road to further increase availability of authorised therapeutic use”, said the chair of EFPIA’s Regulatory Strategy Committee Alan Morrison.

Innovation on existing, well-known molecules through repurposing can deliver huge benefits for patients, according to Medicines for Europe. The Association of the generic and biosimilar industry supports the pilot project as a way to generate robust data packages and to translate research into access for patients. A sustainable innovation ecosystem for off-patent medicine is the expected final outcome, possibly including also reformulation of existing medicines, new strengths or adaptation for specific patient groups (i.e. paediatric populations). “These investments must also be recognised in pricing and reimbursement policies to make access a reality for all patients”, writes Medicines for Europe.


Consultation on the reform of the European pharmaceutical legislation

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by Giuliana Miglierini

A new step in the review of the overall framework governing the pharmaceutical sector has been announced by the European Commission on September 28th: the launch of a first phase of public consultation will enable to collect opinions from all the stakeholders of the pharmaceutical sector as a pre-requisite for the revision of the existing general pharmaceutical legislation on medicines for human use.

The initiative builds on the previous public consultation which represented the basis for the drafting of the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe released by the Commission in November 2020. The final target is the creation of a future-proof and crisis-resilient regulatory framework for the pharmaceutical sector. The pharmaceutical industry represents one of the main contributors to the European economy, with 800.000 direct jobs and €109.4 billion trade surplus in 2019, and €37 billion contribution to research investment.

Today we take an important step for the reform of EU’s pharmaceutical legislation by the end of next year. A regulatory framework for pharmaceuticals, which is modernised and fit for purpose, is a key element of a strong European Health Union and crucial to addressing the many challenges this sector is facing. I call on all interested citizens and stakeholders to help us shape EU rules for the future, responding to patients’ needs and keeping our industry innovative and globally.”, said the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides.

Details of the consultation

The consultation is open until 21 December 2021 and is published in the form of an online questionnaire to be filled in by stakeholders and members of the general public, including patients and patient’s organisations, pharmacists and doctors, associations active in public health, healthcare professionals and providers, academia, researchers, regulators, EU’s institutions and the pharmaceutical industry. A combined evaluation roadmap/Inception Impact Assessment published in April 2021 is also available at the consultation’s webpage, together with a document on the consultation strategy (link).

The main issues touched by the consultation include all the 4 pillars of the Pharmaceutical Strategy, for each of which both legislative and non-legislative actions are envisaged.

A main area of interest looks to address unmet medical needs and ensure access to affordable medicines for patients, namely in the areas of antimicrobial resistance and rare diseases. The commitment to respond to environmental challenges is another key point of attention. New incentives for innovation and future-proofing the regulatory framework for novel products shall support the availability of next-generation therapeutics for European citizens and the competitiveness of the European markets. Quality and manufacturing of medicines, and the repurposing of older products are other topics looking for innovative approaches to be defined within the revision of the pharmaceutical legislation.

The Covid pandemia showed the importance to developed measures to enhance crisis preparedness and response mechanisms in all European countries, and to ensure diversified and secure supply chains are in place to reduce dependency of supply from extra-EU countries. A stronger EU voice on the theme of medicines shortages shall be also pursued by promoting a high level of quality, efficacy and safety standards.

The consultation aims to better understanding of all implications of the possible policy options, and to provide evidence to the Commission on the functioning and delivery of the current legislation with respect to its initial objectives. The impact of new potential options on the different stakeholders shall be also assessed. The exercise aims to identify areas of broad agreement among stakeholders as well as differences of views on other topics, and the causes of contention.

A brief overview of the legislative process

The revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is just one of the many legislative actions undertaken by the von der Leyen Commission in order to completely innovate the reference framework for medicines’ development, production, authorisation, commercialisation and postmarketing monitoring. The last revision of the pharmaceutical legislation occurred almost 20 years ago.

The Pharmaceutical Strategy defines the general targets, to be then synergistically implemented by mean of actions specific to the different fields. The revision of the general pharmaceutical legislation is one of the main flagship initiatives towards this target, and it is also being supported by an ongoing study run by an external contractor and expected to close in Q1 2022.

Among other actions which shall contribute to the goals of the Strategy are the proposal of the new regulation on Health Technology Assessment, the EU Health Data Space, the revision of the current legislation on rare diseases and paediatric medicines and actions to address shortage of medicines in the EU’s market.


The opportunity for repurposing of oncology medicines

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Rare cancers, which account for approx. 22% of new cases in Europe, represent an area of low business interest for the pharmaceutical industry, due to the limited number of patients compared to the very high costs to develop targeted treatments. It is thus important to consider the possibility for already existing medicines to be repurposed for a new indication. Lower costs of development and risk of failure, and a shorter time frame to reach registration are upon the main advantages of repurposing compared to de novo development, highlights the Policy Brief presented during the Joint meeting of EU Directors for Pharmaceutical Policy & Pharmaceutical Committee of 8 and 9 July 2021.
The experts addressed more specifically the possibility to achieve non-commercial repurposing of off-patent cancer medicines, which are commonly used off-label to treat patients not responsive to other more innovative types of therapies.

The issue of non-commercial development
The request of a new indication for an already marketed medicine has to be submitted by the Marketing authorisation holder (MAH). This greatly hampers the access to noncommercial repurposing by independent research institutions, as they would need to find an agreement with the MAH, the only responsible for all the interactions with regulatory authorities, at the central (EMA) or national level.
Considering the issue from the industrial point of view, this type of external request may prove difficult to be answered positively, when taking into consideration the very low return on investment that can be expected from a repurposed off-patent medicine. Even EU incentives schemes, such as those on data exclusivity and orphan designation, may not be sufficiently attractive for the industry. Current incentives schemes, for example, allow for an additional year of exclusivity in case of a new indication for a well-established substance, a 10-year market exclusivity
plus incentives in case of an authorised medicine granted with orphan designation, or the extension of the supplementary protection certificate for paediatric studies (plus 2 years market exclusivity for orphans).
The following table summarises the main issues and potential solutions involved in the setting of a specific reference framework for the repurposing of off-patent medicines for cancer, as reported in the WHO’s Policy Brief.

Table: Short overview of issues and solutions in repurposing of off-patent medicines for cancer
(Source: Repurposing of medicines – the underrated champion of sustainable innovation. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO)

Many projects active in the EU
The European Commission started looking at the repurposing of medicines with the 2015-2019 project Safe and Timely Access to Medicines for Patients (STAMP). A follow-up phase of this initiative should see the activation in 2021 of a pilot project integrated with the new European Pharmaceutical Strategy.
Several other projects were also funded in the EU, e.g. to better train the academia in Regulatory Science (CSA STARS), use in silico-based approaches to improve the efficacy and precision of drug repurposing (REPO TRIAL) or testing the repurposing of already marketed drugs (e.g. saracatinib to prevent the rare disease fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive, FOP). A specific action aimed to build a European platform for the repurposing of medicines is also included in Horizon Europe’s Work programme 2021 –2022; furthermore, both the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan and the Pharmaceutical Strategy include actions to support non-commercial development for the repurposing of medicines.

According to the WHO’s Policy Brief, a one-stop shop mechanism could be established in order for selected non-commercial actors, the so-called “Champions”, to act as the coordination point for EU institutions involved in the funding of research activities aimed to repurposing. This action may be complemented by the support to public–private partnerships involving research, registration and manufacturing and targeted to guarantee volumes for non-profitable compounds.
Among possible non-profit institutions to access funding for repurposing research in cancer are the European Organisation for Research on Cancer (EORTC) and the Breast Cancer International Group. An overview of other existing initiatives on repurposing has been offered during the debate by the WHO’s representative, Sarah Garner.

How to address repurposing
Looking for a new indication is just one of the possible points of view from which to look at the repurposing of a medicine. Other possibilities include the development of a new administration route for the same indication, the setup of a combination form instead of the use of separated medicinal products, or the realisation of a drug-medical device combination.
A change of strategy in the war on cancer may be useful, according to Lydie Meheus, Managing Director of the AntiCancer Fund (ACF), and Ciska Verbaanderd.
Keeping cancer development under control may bring more efficacy to the intervention than trying to cure it, said ACF’s representatives. The possible approaches include a hard repurposing, with a medicine being transferred to a completely new therapeutic area on the basis of considerations about the tumor biology and the immunological, metabolic and inflammatory pathways, or a soft repurposing within the oncology field, simply looking to new indications for rare cancers.
From the regulatory point of view, a possible example for EMA on how to address the inclusion of new off-label uses of marketed medicines is given by the FDA, which may request a labeling change when aware of new information beyond the safety ones.

The Champion framework
The Champion framework, proposed as a result of the STAMP project, is intended to facilitate data generation and gathering compliant to regulatory requirements for a new therapeutic use for an authorised active substance or medicine already free from of intellectual property and regulatory protection.
A Champion is typically a not-for-profit organisation, which interacts with the MAH in order to include on-label what was previously off-label, using existing regulatory tools (e.g innovation offices and scientific and/or regulatory advice). The Champion shall coordinate research activities up to full industry engagement and would be responsible for filing the initial request for scientific/regulatory advice on the basis of the available data. The pilot project to be activated to test the framework will be monitored by the Repurposing observatory group (RepOG), which will report to the Pharmaceutical Committee and will issue recommendations on how to deal with these types of procedures.

AI to optimise the chances of success
Artificial intelligence (AI) may play a central role in the identification of suitable medicines to be repurposed for a target indication, as it supports the collection and systematic analysis of very large amounts of data. The process has been used during the Covid pandemic, for example, when five supercomputers analysed more than 6 thousand molecules and identified 40 candidates for repurposing against the viral infection.
AI can be used along drug development process, making it easier to analyse the often complex and interconnected interactions which are at the basis of the observed pharmacological effect (e.g drug-target, protein-protein, drug-drug, drug-disease), explained Prof. Marinka Zitnik, Harvard Medical School.
To this instance, graphic neural networks can be used to identify a drug useful to treat a disease, as it is close to the disease in “pharmacological space”. The analysis may also take into account the possible interactions with other medicines. This is important to better evaluate the possible side effects resulting from co-prescribing; annual costs in treating side effects exceed $177 billion in the US alone, according to Prof. Zitnik.