The pharmaceutical landscape in the European Union (EU) is on the brink of a significant transformation with the introduction of major legislative changes. This proposed overhaul has been met with a mix of anticipation and apprehension as it aims to reshape how pharmaceuticals are regulated, developed, and accessed within the EU. In this article, we delve into the key highlights and potential implications of this new legislation for the European pharma sector.
Reshaping Pharma Regulation in the EU
This year, the European Commission has submitted a draft legislation that aims to bring significant alterations to the regulation of the pharmaceutical sector. This move came after a series of intense debates that have surrounded the future of the European pharma industry.
Let’s take a closer look at the key points of the draft document.
Reduced Minimum Period of Regulatory Protection
Central to the proposed legislation is a reduction in the minimum period of regulatory protection for innovative medicines. The draft suggests a reduction from the existing 10 years to 8 years, but with provisions for extensions based on specific criteria. This shift aims to find a balance between incentivizing innovation and ensuring broader patient access. Pharmaceutical manufacturers have the opportunity to prolong safeguarding measures for up to 12 years through several strategies: introducing medications across all member states, tackling medical gaps, conducting relative clinical trials, and exploring novel therapeutic applications.
It’s widely recognized that bigger member countries tend to have an advantage in getting certain medicines faster. The objective of legislators is to transition towards an intelligent incentive framework that replaces the existing across-the-board protection for medicines within the single market. This new system ensures that the degree of protection your products receive in the single market aligns with your commitment to advancing market accessibility and affordability.
Accelerating the drug authorization process
The proposed changes will simplify the regulatory framework. Accelerating the authorization process for new medicines aims to reduce the time between submission and market approval.
The European Commission wants to ease the impact on biopharma firms by modernizing regulations and expediting drug authorization. The proposal shortens the European Medicines Agency’s assessment period to 180 days (from 210), and the Commission’s drug approval time to 46 days (from 67). These changes will cut the current average of 400 days for market approval after submission. EMA will be given a 150-day period to review medicines that are considered very important for public health. Additionally, they will use special testing methods called “regulatory sandboxes” to test new ways of regulating new treatments in everyday or practical situations.
Introduction of Transferable Antimicrobial Vouchers
Addressing antimicrobial resistance is another critical aspect of the proposed legislation. The introduction of transferable antimicrobial vouchers seeks to provide an additional year of data protection against competition, incentivizing the development of vital antimicrobial treatments.
Catalog of Vital and Essential Medications
The Commission is going to create a vital medicines catalog within the EU. Authorities will give advice to companies and others involved to make the supply chains of those medicines stronger. The Commission will have the power to take actions that make these supplies more secure.
According to European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, when instances of critical shortages arise, they will have the capacity to collaborate with the EMA to efficiently address this challenge. Most likely, the list of critical medicines will be ready by the end of this year. After that, the EU will be able to impose legally binding responsibilities on companies. This might involve stipulating the availability of certain medicines, potentially through the creation of mandates for the maintenance of contingency stockpiles.
EU Pharma Industry Risks and Concerns: Balancing Innovation and Access
While the suggested alterations have received industry approval, there are also worries and doubts. We think it is necessary to consider them as well.
There are critique voices that the current proposals risk hampering research and development efforts in Europe, while overlooking patient access to medicines. This can affect the development of breakthrough treatments. According to critics, the new rules can hurt innovation if a medicine isn’t available in all countries within two years. This is a big problem and makes things too hard for companies.
The European Commission’s intention to encourage the influx of generics and lower prices may raise concerns among developers of innovative medicines, potentially leading to their exit from the EU.
At the same time, questions arise whether the special vouchers for antimicrobial medicines really make companies want to create important treatments. People are also worried this might affect fair competition among companies. And there’s also worry about keeping medicines safe and working well. Finding the right balance between speed, evaluation and ensuring patient access remains a challenge.
The release of the draft signifies the completion of the initial phase to shape the legislation. Before the text becomes final, both the European Parliament and the Council will have their input. The document could still undergo further modifications, and it remains uncertain whether the text will be fully approved by the end of the current Commission’s term, which concludes on October 31, 2024.