study design 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

Draft ICH M13A guideline on bioequivalence open for consultation

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The draft ICH M13A harmonised guideline Bioequivalence for immediate-release solid oral dosage forms” was endorsed by the International Council for Harmonisation on 20 December 2022 and is now open for consultation. Comments can be forwarded until 26 May 2023; publication of the final document is expected by May 2024.

The new guideline will then be implemented as a European guideline, replacing the current EMA guideline on the investigation of bioequivalence (BE) for oral dosage forms. The ICH M13A is the first of a planned series intended to address scientific and technical aspects of study design and data analysis, so to better support BE assessment both during development and post approval. The guideline covers immediate-release (IR) solid oral dosage forms delivering drugs to the systemic circulation (i.e. tablets, capsules, and granules/powders for oral suspension). Different approaches from those suggested in the guideline are possible, provided they are scientifically justified; applicants are thus encouraged to seek the advice of the relevant regulators in order to share a common approach to development.

Key concepts of the M13 series

The determination of bioequivalence to the originator is a fundamental step in the development of generic and biosimilar medicines. BE plays also an important role for some innovator products, as well as for post-approval changes of formulation and/or manufacturing process. BE is determined in terms of bioavailability of the products under comparison after administration, within predefined limits to ensure safety and efficacy. In vivo BE studies for certain orally administered IR solid oral dosage forms can be waived according to the ICH M9 guideline on Biopharmaceutics classification system (BCS)-based biowaiver, which has already superseded Appendix III of the EMA guideline.

The M13A guideline addresses study design containing multiple comparator products or test products, but not the acceptance of comparator products across different regulatory regions, as this greatly varies according to local legislations. The process of regulatory decision making based on BE is also excluded from the guideline.

The planned M13 series should also include the ICH M13B guideline, focused on biowaiver considerations for additional strengths not investigated in BE studies, and ICH M13C discussing data analysis and BE assessment for highly variable drugs, drugs with narrow therapeutic index, and complex BE study design. It should also address data analysis considerations, for example in the case of adaptive BE study design.

Pharmacokinetics (PK) bioequivalence studies and comparative in vitro dissolution studies are the main tools for BE determination for IR solid oral dosage forms with systemic action. These principles can be also applied to other non-orally administered drug products with immediate action (e.g., certain rectal, inhalation, and nasal drug products), provided BE may be derived from measures of systemic exposure.

The ICH E6 guideline on Good Clinical Practice should also be considered while conducting BE studies, in order to ensure the data integrity of all data generated in the trials.

The main contents of the ICH M13A

Chapter 2 of the ICH M13A guideline discusses the general principles to be used for the establishment of bioequivalence. These include the selection of the study population and the choice of the pharmacokinetic endpoint to be used in the BE studies. Healthy subjects should be the preferred choice, unless there are ethical concerns linked to the safety of the pharmaceutical products under assessment. In any case, inclusion and exclusion criteria should always be clearly reported in the study protocol. The main target of BE studies should be the detection of differences in the in vivo release characteristics between the products. Elements to be considered to select the study population are discussed in the draft guideline.

As for the study design, the recommended suggestion is for randomised, single-dose, two-period, two-sequence crossover studies comparing two formulations, as single-dose studies may better detect differences in the rate and extent of absorption. Multiple-dose studies may be conducted in patients should the single-dose design be not affordable for safety/tolerability or ethical reasons. A parallel design may be indicated for drugs with long elimination half-lives, requiring a prolonged washout period. Alternatives are also acceptable upon scientific justification.

The choice of the test product should be also discussed and justified, and it should be representative of the product to be marketed. As for the comparator, the selection of the batches to be used for BE studies should be based on assay content. The strength of the product to be used in the BE study depends on the dose proportionality in PK and solubility of the analyte.

The draft also indicates standardised fasting conditions should be the preferred choice to run BE studies, as they support a better discrimination between the PK profiles of the product and the comparator. Both fasting and fed BE studies should be conducted for high-risk products, due to their complex formulation design or manufacturing process that may impact differently on their in vivo performance, due to different gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. This is the case, for example, of low solubility drug substances formulated in the form of solid dispersions, microemulsions, lipid-based formulations, nanotechnologies, or other specialised technologies.

Analysis of the parent drug should be the preferred choice to demonstrated bioequivalence. Primary metabolites are considered acceptable in the case of pro-drugs which are rapidly eliminated. Stereoselective assays measuring individual enantiomers should be also considered while assessing chiral drugs.

Specific paragraphs address the setting up of sampling, the need to avoid occurrence of Cmax at the first post-dose sampling time point, the possibility to use truncated AUC for drugs with long half-life and considerations on early exposure.

How to analyse and present data

Specific sections of the guideline discuss how to present and report data obtained from BE studies. The study documentation should include the complete evidence of the protocol, conduct, and evaluation, and it should be written according to the ICH E3 guideline Structure and content of clinical study reports”.

Unadjusted, measured drug concentrations in a suitable biological fluid should be always provided for both the product and the originator, for each subject participating in the study. Any deviations should be clearly identified. A suggested list of PK’s parameters to be tabulated for each subject-formulation combination is provided, together with summary statistics to be reported. Not less important is the statistical analysis performed on raw data. To this instance, the model of choice for the analysis should be pre-specified in the study protocol. Cmax and AUC(0-t) should be the preferred PK parameters to establish BE.

Chapter 3 discusses specific topics that may impact on the determination of BE. Among these is the presence of endogenous compounds identical to the drug under evaluation, thus requiring the determination of their baseline concentration in the biological fluids of interest. The draft guideline also specifies that both orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs) and chewable tablets should be administered in BE studies according to the comparator product labelling with regard to intake of water. The comparator product labelling should also represent the main reference for BE studies involving tablets, granules, and powders labelled as being only intended to be dispersed in a liquid before administration as an oral suspension. Considerations are also provided for fixed-dose combination products and the dependance of the drug solubility on pH.


ACT EU’s Workplan 2022-2026

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The implementation phase of the Accelerating Clinical Trials in the EU (ACT EU) initiative, launched in January 2022 by the European Commission, started with the publication of the2022-2026 Workplan jointly drafted by the Commission, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA).

The final target is to renew how clinical trials are designed and managed, so to improve the attractiveness of Europe for clinical research and the integration of results in the current practice of the European health system.

The 2022-2026 Workplan details the actions and deliverables planned according to the ten priorities identified by ACT EU. The drafting of the document took as primary reference also the recommendations of the European Medicines Regulatory Network (EMRN) strategy to 2025 and the European Commission’s Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe.

Steps towards the full implementation of the CTR

The first priority of action should see the completion by the end of 2022 of the mapping of already existing initiatives within the EMRN and ethics infrastructure. This exercise represents a fundamental step to achieve a detailed picture of the current clinical trials regulatory landscape, characterised by the presence of various expert groups working in different areas.

The results of the mapping will form the basis to plan and implement a new strategy for the governance of the entire framework governing clinical trials, including the clarification of roles and responsibilities to the Network and its stakeholders. The expected outcome is the rationalisation and better coordination of the work done by different expert groups and working parties, as reflected by a new regulatory network responsibility assignment (RACI) matrix. The analysis and setting up of the new framework should start from the core governance bodies (Clinical Trials Coordination and Advisory Group (CTAG), Clinical Trials Coordination Group (CTCG), Commission Expert Group on Clinical Trials (CTEG) and Good Clinical Practice Inspectors Working Group (GCP IWG)), to then extend to other parts of the Network further.

The full implementation of the Clinical Trials regulation (Reg. (EU) 536/2014) by mean of the launch of monthly KPIs tracking of the planned activities is another key action. A survey to identify issues for sponsors and the consequent implementation of a process to prioritise and solve them are planned for the second half of 2022. The beginning of 2023 should see the launch of a scheme to better support large multinational clinical trials, particularly those run in the academic setting. One year later, at the beginning of 2024, a one-stop shop to support academic sponsors should also be launched.

An important action for the success of ACT EU should see the creation of a multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) to enable the interaction and regular dialogue of the many different stakeholders working in the field of clinical trials under different perspectives, both at the European and member state level. The platform should be launched by Q2 2023, with the first events run under its umbrella planned for Q3 and is expected to help in the identification of key advances in clinical trial methods, technology, and science.

Methodological updates in clinical trials

Another key step in the renewal of the European framework for clinical trials is linked to the updating of the ICH E6(R2) guideline on “Good Clinical Practice” (GCP). A targeted multi-stakeholder workshop on this theme is planned for Q1 2023, while the resulting changes should be implemented in EU guidance documents by Q3 2023. New GCPs should take into better consideration the emerging designs for clinical trials and the availability of new sources for data and are expected to “provide flexibility when appropriate to facilitate the use of technological innovations in clinical trials”. This action also includes the development of a communication and change management strategy to support the transition to the revised GCP guideline, and the updating of other relevant EU guidelines impacted by the change.

The opportunity to introduce innovative clinical trial designs and methodologies shall be addressed starting from decentralised clinical trials (DCT), with the publication of a DCT recommendation paper by the end of 2022. A workshop on complex clinical trials should be also organized to discuss issues linked to study design, such us umbrella trials and basket trials or master protocols. New technologies may support innovative approaches to the recruitment of eligible study participants and new ways to capture data during clinical trials. The publication of key methodologies guidance is an expected deliverable, together with a improved link between innovation and scientific advice.

A new EU clinical trials data analytics strategy is expected to be published by the end of 2022, while the first half of next year should see the development of a publicly accessible EU clinical trials dashboard and a workshop to identify topics of common interest for researchers, policy makers, and funders. These activities are targeted to fully exploit the opportunities offered by data analytics, so to identify complex trends from the large base of data about clinical trials collected by the EMRN. The existence of multiple data sources is a main barrier currently affecting the possibility to access, process and interpret these data.

Another priority is to plan and launch a targeted communication campaign to engage all enablers of clinical trials, including data protection experts, academia, SMEs, funders, Health Technology Assessment (HTA) bodies and healthcare professionals. Up to 2024, this action will also support sponsors in remembering the importance of training linked to the application of the CTR and the mandatory use of the Clinical Trials Information System (CTIS). All other communication needs across all priority actions will also be handled under this action.

Scientific advice, safety monitoring and harmonised training

The current framework sees the involvement of different actors who interact with sponsors at different stages of product development to provide them with scientific advice. A simplification of the overall process should be pursued by grouping of key actors in clinical trials scientific advice in the EU, “with the aim of critically analysing the existing landscape in line with stakeholder needs”. The Workplan indicates several pilot phases should be run to identify the better way to address this topic, which should benefit especially academic or SMEs sponsors that may have less experience of regulatory processes. Planned activities include a enhanced intra-network information exchange, the running of a survey among stakeholders and the operation of a first pilot phase by Q4 2024, to then optimise and expand the advice process upon results.

The establishment of clinical trial safety monitoring is another central theme of action, that should see member states involved in a coordinated work-sharing assessment. Key activities should include the identification of safe CT KPIs by the end of 2022 and a review of IT functionalities for safety, and it will be run in strict connection with the EU4Health Joint Action Safety Assessment Cooperation and Facilitated Conduct of Clinical Trials (SAFE CT). Training of safety assessors and the development of a harmonised curriculum thereof shall be also considered, as well as the alignment of safety procedures for emerging safety issues potentially impacting clinical trials.

The development of a training curriculum informed by regulatory experience should support the creation of a renewed educational ‘ecosystem’ characterised by bidirectional exchanges to enable training on clinical trials. This action is target mainly to better engage universities and SMEs, and it should include also training provided by actors other than the regulatory network.


Steps forward towards the new framework for HTA

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The long-waited European regulation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) was adopted by the Council of Europe on November 9, and it has now to pass through the final endorsement of the European Parliament as the last step before publication in the EU Official Journal. The regulation will entry into force three years and twenty days after publication.

The first proposal of a new HTA regulation was made in January 2018 by the EU Commission; the final political agreement between the Council and the EU Parliament was reached in June 2021. The position of the Council of Europe on the draft regulation at first reading was also published.

The provisions of the new HTA regulation will apply to medicinal products, medical devices (for example pacemakers, dialysis equipment or infusion pumps) or medical and surgical procedures, as well as measures for disease prevention, diagnosis or treatment used in healthcare.

The adoption of this law is another demonstration of how EU countries, when acting together, can achieve very practical results for their citizens. This new law will benefit patients, producers of health technologies and our health systems.”, said Janez Poklukar, the Slovenian minister for health.

Cooperation and joint activities

Joint clinical assessments and joint scientific consultations are central concepts of the HTA regulation: a target that would require the active cooperation of all member states in order to efficiently identify emerging health technologies. Administrative procedures shall be greatly simplified and become more cost-efficient, as manufacturers of health technologies (especially small companies) should be required to submit once-only all data and documentation for a certain technology at the EU level. These will form the basis for national competent authorities to run all joint activities, including scientific advice and clinical assessment.

The added value of new health technologies compared to the existing ones will be a main driver to guide the assessment activities, so to take informed decisions on pricing or reimbursement.

Joint scientific consultations may also include the exchange of relevant information between national authorities and manufacturers on development plans for the technology under assessment, so to favour the availability of all the evidence required to meet regulatory expectations.

The new Heads of Agencies Group

While waiting for the formal adoption of the new HTA regulation by the EU Parliament, other activities are ongoing to set up the operative framework needed to guarantee the smooth activation of all planned collaborative efforts.

The newly formed Heads of Agencies Group (HAG) is an initiative aimed to support the implementation of common joint work approach on all HTA activities at the EU level, according to the new model of cooperation among national authorities established by the regulation.

The new HTA-focused collaborative network for high-level strategic exchange and discussion was launched on 29 September 2021 by the heads of 19 European HTA agencies, which elected Prof. Rui Santos Ivo (INFARMED, Portugal) as its Chair, and Prof. Dominique Le Guludec (HAS, France) and Dr. Trygve Ottersen (NIPH, Norway) as Vice-Chairs. The secretariat of the Group has been established at the Dutch Health Care Institute (ZIN).

All HAG’s activities will be based on a joint Memorandum of Understanding. The Group will work during the next three years to support national systems to be prepared for the entry into force of the HTA regulation, including the availability of the needed capacity. HAG will also support the joint technical and scientific work performed by HTA bodies across Europe, and it will advise policymakers and other relevant institutions – both at the EU and national level – on issues related to cooperation in HTA.

Current members of the group include the following national authorities involved in HTA activities: AEMPS (Spain), AIFA (Italy), AGENAS (Italy), AIHTA (Austria), INFARMED (Portugal), KCE (Belgium), NIPH (Norway), G-BA (Germany), HAS (France), HIQA (Ireland), IQWiG (Germany), FIMEA (Finland), NCPE (Ireland), REDETS (Spain), RER (Italy), RIZIV-INAMI (Belgium), NOMA (Norway), TLV (Sweden) and ZIN (The Netherlands).

The EUnetHTA 21 consortium

After the closing of its third Joint Action (2016-2020), which paved the way to the permanent HTA working structure for Europe (encompassing more than 80 HTA bodies), the European Network for Health Technology Assessment (EUnetHTA) has published a HTA White Paper as the final document resuming lessons learned up to now that may prove relevant for the implementation of the next phase of the HTA joint cooperation.

This new phase in the life of the Network, that now goes under the name of EUnetHTA 21, is no more a Joint Action; a joint consortium has been created instead, led by the Dutch HTA body ZIN and including the following HTA agencies: AEMPS (Spain), AIFA (Italy), AIHTA (Austria), GBA (Germany), HAS (France), INFARMED (Portugal), IQWIG (Germany), KCE (Belgium), NCPE (Ireland), NIPN (Hungary), NOMA (Norway) and TLV (Sweden). The consortium will provide support to the future European HTA system to be established according to the upcoming regulation.

EUnetHTA 21 is funded by a two-years’ Service Contract for the Provision of Joint Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Work Supporting the Continuation of EU Cooperation on HTA, signed on 17 September 2021 by the European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA).

The first Stakeholder Kick-Off online meeting of the consortium is scheduled on 3 December

2021; the discussion will focus on the illustration of the governance principles, the planned interactions with stakeholders in the form of public consultations and the presentation of deliverables planned for the next two years.

The first Open Call for consultation

EUnetHTA 21 has already launched its first Open Call , targeted to the pharmaceutical industry with reference to four different Joint Scientific Consultations (JSC, previously referred to as Early Dialogues). The Call is open until 7 December 2021; some other four slots for JSC are expected to be activated during the period of activities of EUnetHTA 21.

The medicinal products to access these four first slots will be selected on the basis of the results of the Open Call, within two weeks from its closure; the following Joint Scientific Consultations are expected to start in January 2022. According to EUnetHTA, the procedure to be used for JSC shall remain essentially unchanged, with just minor adjustments; an updated guidance document should be soon available.

JSCs are a pillar of the new HTA regulation, aimed to provide non-binding scientific advice to developers of new products, after completion of the feasibility or proof of concept studies and prior to the activation of pivotal clinical trials, in order to improve the quality and appropriateness of the data to be used for future HTA assessment. This type of evaluation will run in parallel to EMA’s scientific advice procedures.

Early exchange of relevant information between applicants and both regulatory (EMA) and HTA agencies represents the core of the process, so to optimise the integration of the different requirements to be included in the study design across multiple European member states. These might refer, for example, to the choice of comparators or relevant outcomes, to the quality of life and/or patient groups (both for pivotal trials and post-launch studies), as well as to the economic evidence generation plan.