Clinical trials in human medicines

The European Medicines Agency relies on the results of clinical trials carried out by pharmaceutical companies to reach its opinions on the authorisation of medicines. Although the authorisation of clinical trials occurs at Member State level, the Agency plays a key role in ensuring that the standards of good clinical practice (GCP) are applied across the European Economic Area (EEA) in cooperation with the Member States. It also manages a database of clinical trials carried out in the European Union.

Clinical trial management during the COVID-19 pandemic

Guidance is available for clinical-trial sponsors on how they should adjust the management of clinical trials and participants during the COVID-19 pandemic:

This covers how to deal with the extraordinary situations that the pandemic presents and specific advice on clinical trials for potential COVID-19 treatments.

Guidance is also available on the actions that sponsors of affacted clinical trials should take to help ensure the integrity of their studies and the interpretation of the study results while safeguarding the safety of trial participants as a first priority:

In line with this guidance, EMA will be flexible and pragmatic during the assessment of affected clinical trial data submitted to the Agency as part of marketing authorisation applications.

Clinical trials are studies that are intended to discover or verify the effects of one or more investigational medicines. The regulation of clinical trials aims to ensure that the rights, safety and well-being of trial subjects are protected and the results of clinical trials are credible.

Regardless of where they are conducted, all clinical trials included in applications for marketing authorisation for human medicines in the European Economic Area must have been carried out in accordance with the requirements set out in Annex 1 of Directive 2001/83/EC. This means that:

In the EEA, approximately 4,000 clinical trials are authorised each year. This equals approximately 8,000 clinical-trial applications, with each trial involving two Member States on average. Approximately 61% of clinical trials are sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry and 39% by non-commercial sponsors, mainly academia.

EMA role

The Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) is responsible for conducting the assessment of a human medicine for which an EU-wide marketing authorisation is sought. As part of its scientific evaluation work, the CHMP reviews the clinical-trial data included in the application.

Clinical-trial data is included in clinical-study reports that form a large part of the application dossiers submitted by pharmaceutical companies applying for a marketing authorisation via the Agency.

Assessments are based on purely scientific criteria and determine whether or not the medicines concerned meet the necessary quality, safety and efficacy requirements in accordance with EU legislation, particularly Directive 2001/83/EC.

EudraCT database and the EU Clinical Trials Register

The Agency is responsible for the development, maintenance and coordination of the EudraCT database. This is a database used by national competent authorities to enter clinical-trial data from clinical trial sponsors and paediatric-investigation-plan (PIP) addressees.

A subset of this data is made available through the European Union Clinical Trials Register, which the Agency manages on behalf of EU Member States.

Users are able to view:

  • the description of phase-II to phase-IV adult clinical trials where the investigator sites are in the EEA;
  • the description of any clinical trials in children with investigator sites in the EU and any trials that form part of a PIP including those where the investigator sites are outside the EU.

The content and level of detail of these summary results is set out in a European Commission guideline and in its technical guidance. A typical set of summary results provides information on the objectives of a given study, explains how it was designed and gives its main results and conclusions. As of 21 July 2014, it is mandatory for sponsors to post clinical trial results in the EudraCT database.

On 3 July 2019, EMA published a letter co-signed by the  European Commission and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA) reminding all sponsors of clinical trials conducted in the European Union of their obligation to make summaries of results of concluded trials publicly available in the EudraCT database:

As of October 2016, the Agency publishes clinical reports submitted by pharmaceutical companies to support their regulatory applications for human medicines under the centralised procedure. For more information, see clinical data publication.

Clinical trials conducted in countries outside the EU

Clinical trials conducted outside the EU but submitted in an application for marketing authorisation in the EU have to follow the principles which are equivalent to the provisions of the Directive 2001/20/EC.

In April 2012, the Agency published the final version of this paper:

This paper aims to strengthen existing processes to provide assurance that clinical trials meet the required ethical and GCP standards, no matter where in the world they have been conducted.

The number of clinical trials and clinical-trial subjects outside Western Europe and North America has been increasing for a number of years. More information is available in this document:

New Clinical Trials Regulation

On 16 April 2014 the European Commission adopted the new Clinical Trial Regulation (EU No 536/2014), repealing Directive 2001/20/EC.

Although the Clinical Trials Regulation was adopted and entered into force in 2014, the timing of its application depends on confirmation of full functionality of Clinical Trials Information System (CTIS) through an independent audit. The Regulation becomes applicable six months after the European Commission publishes notice of this confirmation.

For more information, see Clinical Trials Regulation.

Clinical Trials Facilitation Group

The Clinical Trials Facilitation Group (CTFG) is a working group of the Heads of Medicines Agencies that:

  • acts as forum for discussion to agree on common principles and processes to be applied throughout the European medicines regulatory network;
  • promotes harmonisation of clinical-trial-assessment decisions and administrative processes by national competent authorities;
  • operates the voluntary harmonisation procedure for assessment of clinical-trial applications involving several Member States.

The Group is composed of representatives from the clinical-trial departments of the national competent authorities.

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