Ethics and the marketing authorization of pharmaceuticals: what happens to ethical issues discovered post-trial and pre-marketing authorization?
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionBernabe, R. D., van Thiel, G. J., Breekveldt, N. S., Gispen, C. C., & van Delden, J. J. (2020). Ethics and the marketing authorization of pharmaceuticals: what happens to ethical issues discovered post-trial and pre-marketing authorization?. BMC Medical Ethics, 21. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12910-020-00543-w
Background: In the EU, clinical assessors, rapporteurs and the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use are obliged to assess the ethical aspects of a clinical development program and include major ethical flaws in the marketing authorization deliberation processes. To this date, we know very little about the manner that these regulators put this obligation into action. In this paper, we intend to look into the manner and the extent that ethical issues discovered during inspection have reached the deliberation processes. Methods: To gather data, we used the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board database and first searched for the inspections, and their accompanying site inspection reports and integrated inspection reports, related to central marketing authorization applications (henceforth, application/s) of drugs submitted to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from 2011 to 2015. We then extracted inspection findings that were purely of ethical nature, i.e., those that did not affect the benefit/risk balance of the study (issues related to informed consent, research ethics committees, and respect for persons). Only findings graded at least major by the inspectorate were included. Lastly, to identify how many of the ethically relevant findings (ERFs) reach the application deliberation processes, we extracted the relevant joint response assessment reports and reviewed the sections that discussed inspection findings. Results: From 2011 to 2015, there were 390 processed applications, of which 65 had inspection reports and integrated inspection reports accessible via the database of the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board. Of the 65, we found ERFs in 37 (56.9%). The majority of the ERFs were graded as major and half of the time it was informed-consent related. A third of these findings were related to research ethics committee processes and requirements. Of the 37 inspections with ERFs, 30 were endorsed in the integrated inspection reports as generally GCP compliant. Day 150 joint response assessment reports and Day 180 list of outstanding issues were reviewed for all 37 inspections, and none of the ERFs were carried over in any of the assessment reports or list of outstanding issues. Conclusion: None of the ethically relevant findings, all of which were graded as major or critical in integrated inspection reports, were explicitly carried over to the joint assessment reports. This calls for more transparency in EMA application deliberations on how ERFs are considered, if at all, in the decision-making processes.