Europe consists of 44 countries, and 21 supranational organizations and within the EU alone there are 24 official languages. So, how do you navigate the differences across Europe in the EU? And more specifically: how do you navigate the different regulatory landscapes if you want to export your drug product to Europe, for clinical study and clinical trials or commercial purposes. Or maybe you already have your product in one country, and you may want to extend to another. To achieve this, you’ll need to go through the batch release process.
To help, we’ve compiled six crucial tips for your upcoming batch release in Europe.
What is the batch release process?
The batch release process and QP-Certification is a crucial component of quality control and quality assurance to ensure compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and its Marketing Authorization (or IMPD) before the product goes to market.
Each batch of finished product must be certified by a QP, before being released for sale or supply in the EU. This requirement is also applicable for batches to be exported from the EU. The batch release testing and review processes help to confirm that all products have the same characteristics (within specified limits) to ensure homogeneity and consistency of effectiveness.
Batch records contain detailed information on the materials, equipment, and people involved in the manufacturing process. The team in charge of the batch release must carefully review this information to ensure standard operating procedures were used during the manufacturing of the product and that the batch meets the designated specifications. Any failure to meet specifications requires the batch to be investigated, and it’s possible other batches of the same product may also need to be investigated for the same failure.
Tips to help with the European batch release process
Whether you’re trying to export your drug product to Europe, or already have it in one country and want to extend it to another — keep this tips in mind to help with your upcoming batch release.
1. The European Union unites 27 of those 44 countries, but within the EU there is always a backdoor of local legislation
The good news for those preparing for an upcoming batch release is that pharmaceutical legislation is arranged at EU level and the best example is the European Medicines Agency, now based in Amsterdam. One of the consequences is that governmental inspections are executed by the individual EU countries in such a way to avoid duplication of inspections by other EU countries. For example, if you set-up business in The Netherlands, you may trigger an inspection at your production facility outside of the EU. However, all other 26 EU countries accept this inspection, thus avoiding duplication of this inspection. These inspections are all based upon the same set of GMP legislation (Eudralex Vol 4).
The local hurdle however remains that countries may have specific requirements or specific interpretations of this legislation. For example, Germany has specific requirements on gamma irradiation and a specific application process. And if your product is an opiate analogue, each country may have specific requirements and local application and approval processes. Nevertheless, while 90% is the same, you have to know the remaining 10% local details.
2. EU legislation may apply to countries outside of the EU
We are now applying the new regulations related to marketing products in the UK as consequences of Brexit, as the UK is now outside of the EU. On the positive side, many other countries accept EU legislation as equivalent to their own. For example, the European Free Trade Association is a de facto acceptance of EU legislation in countries such as Norway. But again, be aware of the specifics. There are also Mutual Recognition Agreements in place with countries such as the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Important elements are the recognition of mutual GMP standards, mutual GMP inspections, and no longer the need for retesting in the EU. This implies that retesting is a requirement for other countries!
3. The regulations for batch release apply to any drug product and active substance
There may be specifics, but any drug product is within scope of this legislation. Of course, medical cannabis, cell- and gene therapies, radiopharmaceuticals or small molecules are completely different products and you must understand the specifics of each during the batch release process. It also applies to any active substance you import into the EU.
The nice thing is that all those specifics come together in the role of Qualified Person. This person has a legal duty to release batches, independent from management. It implies that management may not overrule a decision to reject batches. The Qualified Person (QP) is authorized to do so by local health authorities, based upon specific education (sciences, pharmacy) and experience with specific products and processes. For example, if you are very experienced with radiopharmaceuticals, it does not necessarily mean that you may be qualified to release medical cannabis.
4. You need a Manufacturing & Importation Authorization (MIA) and/or a Wholesale Distribution Authorization (WDA)
This is a typical example that we encounter often: Suppose you manufacture your active substance in the United States, you perform fill/finish in Canada, you ship the bulk product to The Netherlands, where it is packed, sent to a warehouse, and distributed all over the EU. The packer in The Netherlands releases the product. However, this may not be enough. Why? That is because the contract packer only releases the packaging step and not the entire batch production chain.
This touches upon the principle of batch certification. To do so, you need a QP overseeing the entire chain. What does this oversight entail? Batch release of course, considering every step of the chain, but there is more. The QP must ascertain the GMP status of each manufacturer in the USA and Canada and the packer in The Netherlands. This is normally done with on-site audits.
In addition, the QP-release needs to be connected to a legal entity. You can now choose between the following options:
- Option 1: Get listed to the MIA license of ProPharma Group, so we can release your batches to the EU market on your behalf. This saves a lot of time and work, and this won’t require setting up your own legal entity in Europe, with the purpose to obtain a MIA.
- Option 2: You may need to set-up your own private limited company in The Netherlands, called a “BV”. This requires, as a minimum, a (part-time) General Manager and a QP. To perform release, the QP also needs a Quality Management System in place. With the audits executed and the QMS operational, you need to apply for the MIA with the Dutch Health Authorities (IGJ). This is followed by an inspection and granting the MIA. The whole process typically takes 6 – 9 months, and a well-established relationship with the local Health Authority is key.
We are well able to guide you through this process, including the QP support.
5. GMP Certificate required in EU regulatory dossier
Upon submission of the Marketing Authorization dossier in some or all EU countries information on the GMP status and the MIA is required. The appropriate name and address information of the QP and valid Certificates of the manufacturing sites need to be included with initial submission. Any changes after approval of the marketing authorization may be included through variations to the dossier. The role of the Qualified Person is to ascertain that batches are manufactured in line with the dossier.
6. You may also need a Wholesale & Distribution Authorization (WDA)
Congratulations, you have just received your MIA license. But why bother about a WDA? Well, a MIA also includes distribution and because of this broad scope an additional WDA is not necessary. This statement is true, if the distributor in our example is based in The Netherlands. But if you chose to have your distributor in Germany instead, you also moved to a different jurisdiction. In this case you need to apply for a WDA, locally. And this is another example of a local hurdle. Well, just one hurdle? No, 16! Each of the 16 states in Germany is responsible for WDA/MIA applications and GMP-inspections.
Get expert guidance to help with your upcoming European batch release
Understanding the complex and various regulations across multiple European regulatory agencies can be quite a challenge, but implementing these tips will get you well on your way to preparing for a successful EU batch release. For more information on our qualifications and capabilities, or for support in defining your Market Access Strategy in Europe, contact us today.
This blog was updated on June 4, 2021
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