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.