Good clinical practice

Good clinical practice (GCP) is an international ethical and scientific quality standard for designing, recording and reporting trials that involve the participation of human subjects. Compliance with this standard provides public assurance that the rights, safety and wellbeing of trial subjects are protected and that clinical-trial data are credible.

The protection of clinical trial subjects is consistent with the principles set out in the Declaration of Helsinki. This is a statement of ethical principles developed by the World Medical Association.

Requirements for the conduct of clinical trials in the European Union (EU), including GCP and good manufacturing practice (GMP) and GCP or GMP inspections, are implemented in:

Information concerning the activities in EU Member States can be found via the Heads of Medicines Agencies.

Guidance on 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:

It covers how to deal with the extraordinary situations that the pandemic presents. These include, for example, the self-isolation or quarantine of trial participants, limited access to public places (including hospitals) due to the risk of spreading infections and reallocation of healthcare professionals. It also advises on how to communicate these changes to the national competent authorities.

An update to this guidance on 28 April 2020 provided additional flexibility and clarification on:

  • the distribution of medicines to trial participants. This takes into account social-distancing measures and possible limitations in trial site and hospital resources;
  • the remote verification of source data (SDV) in the context of social distancing measures. This aims to facilitate activities that support the approval of COVID-19 and other life-saving medicines;
  • notifying authorities of urgent actions taken to protect trial participants against an immediate hazard, or of other changes taken to support patient safety or data robustness.

For more information on the changes introduced by this update, see the press release published by the European Commission:

The guidance also provides specific advice on clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments, including the need for large, multi-national trial protocols. This in line with the CHMP's call urging the EU research community to prioritise large randomised controlled clinical studies as these are most likely to generate the conclusive evidence needed to enable rapid development and approval of potential COVID-19 treatments. It also emphasises the need to include all EU countries in these trials:

As clinical trials are authorised and supervised at national level in the EU, sponsors should also check relevant national legislation and guidance in place to complement or, in some cases, to take priority over this guidance.

The guidance was agreed by the Clinical Trials Expert Group (CTEG) of the European Commission, supported by EMA, the Clinical Trials Facilitation and Coordination Group (CTFG) of HMA and the GCP Inspectors’ Working Group, with the aim of ensuring the utmost safety of trial participants across the EU while preserving data quality.  It was first published on 20 March 2020.

For guidance on the actions that sponsors of affected 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, see

    For more information on how EMA deals with the pandemic, see Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    EMA role

    The European Medicines Agency (EMA) plays an important role in the harmonisation and co-ordination of GCP-related activity at an EU level. It is involved in:

    For more information on clinical trial authorisation, safety monitoring, GCP inspections, and GCP and GMP requirements for clinical trials in the European Economic Area (EEA), see volume 10: clinical-trial guidelines of the rules governing medicinal products in the EU.

    Update: Marketing authorisation holders and applicants need to use EMA's IRIS system to communicate with EMA on GCP inspections requested by the Agency’s scientific committees.

    Using IRIS for GCP inspections improves efficiency by harmonising and automating processes and re-using master data held by EMA. It also simplifies retrieving and reporting data.

    More information on the use of EMA's IRIS system:

    International clinical trials

    Regardless of where they are conducted, all clinical trials included in applications for marketing authorisation in the EEA must be in accordance with:

    In July 1996, the EU adopted the guideline for good clinical practice, which lays out unified GCP standards for Europe, the United States of America and Japan.

    For more information, see:

    Clinical trials conducted in countries outside the EU

    The number of clinical trials and clinical-trial subjects outside Western Europe and North America has been increasing for a number of years. The Agency has been tracking the geographic origins of patients included in pivotal trials submitted in marketing authorisations to the centralised procedure.

    In April 2012, the Agency published the final version of the PDF icon reflection paper on ethical and GCP aspects of clinical trials of medicinal products for human use conducted outside of the EU / EEA and submitted in marketing authorisation applications to the EU regulatory authorities . The aim of the paper is to strengthen existing processes to provide assurance to regulators and stakeholders that clinical trials meet the required ethical and GCP standards, no matter where in the world they have been conducted.

    The reflection paper is part of the Agency's strategy developed to address the challenges arising from the increasing globalisation of clinical research. These challenges are addressed in a two-fold manner, by:

    • putting forward concrete steps for international cooperation between regulatory authorities in the regulation of clinical trials, with a specific emphasis on capacity-building initiatives for a common approach to oversight of trials and to ensure a robust framework for the oversight and conduct of clinical trials;
    • clarifying and determining the practical steps by which EU regulators will gain assurance that ethical and GCP standards are applied to clinical trials for human medicines, both during the development and during the marketing-authorisation-application phase.

    The development of this paper followed on from the publication of the PDF icon strategy paper on acceptance of clinical trials conducted in third countries and an international workshop in September 2010.

    Working Group on Clinical Trials conducted outside of the EU / EEA

    The Agency's Working Group on Clinical Trials Conducted Outside of the EU / EEA was established in 2009 to develop practical proposals for tasks and procedures or guidance in the four areas identified in the strategy paper on the acceptance of clinical trials conducted outside of the EU/EEA:

    • clarify the practical application of ethical standards for clinical trials, in the context of the Agency's activities;
    • determine the practical steps to be undertaken during the provision of guidance and advice in the drug-development phase;
    • determine the practical steps to be undertaken during the marketing-authorisation phase;
    • international cooperation in the regulation of clinical trials, their review and inspection and capacity building in this area and to develop a reflection paper on ethical and GCP aspects of clinical trials conducted outside the EU / EEA.

    The Working Group includes representatives of the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP), Paediatric Committee (PDCO), Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products (COMP), Coordination Group for Mutual Recognition and Decentralised Procedures (CMD), Clinical Trials Coordination Group (CTCG), GCP inspectors, Patients' and Consumers' Working Party, Healthcare Professionals' Working Group, Agency secretariat and European Commission.

    The Working Group meets on a regular basis at the Agency.

    Collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration

    1. EMA-FDA GCP initiative

    The Agency and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to launch a joint initiative to collaborate on international GCP inspection activities in July 2009.

    The initiative forms an important contribution to ensuring the protection of clinical-trial subjects in the context of the increasing globalisation of clinical research. The initiative comes under the scope of the confidentiality arrangements between the European Commission, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the FDA.

    The initiative's main objectives are to:

    • conduct periodic information exchanges on GCP-related information, to streamline sharing of GCP inspection planning information, and to communicate on inspection outcomes effectively and in a timely manner;
    • conduct collaborative GCP inspections by sharing information, experience and inspection procedures, co-operating in the conduct of inspections and sharing knowledge of best practice;
    • share information on the interpretation of GCP, by keeping each other informed of GCP-related legislation, regulatory guidance and related documents, and to identify and act together to benefit the clinical research process.

    The initiative began with a pilot phase that ran between September 2009 and March 2011. During the pilot, the EMA and the FDA exchanged more than 250 documents relating to 54 different medicines. They also organised 13 joint inspections of clinical trials in conjunction with the GCP inspectors of the EU Member States.

    A report and question-and-answer document on the outcomes of the pilot are available, which detail the success of the information-sharing and collaboration on inspections relating to clinical trials:

    The pilot has laid the foundation for a more efficient use of limited resources, improved inspection coverage and better understanding of each agency's inspection procedures. It demonstrates how the agencies can work together to improve human subject protection and better ensure the integrity of data submitted as the basis for drug approvals.

    Based on the positive experience, EMA and the FDA intend to continue with the initiative, incorporating lessons learned during the pilot. The Japanese Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) is an observer of the collaboration as of June 2017.

    For more information, see:

    PDF icon Terms of engagement and procedures for participating authorities

    Applicants interested in volunteering to take part in a collaborative inspection during the pilot phase should contact the EMA or the FDA.

    2. EMA-EU MSs-FDA initiative on inspections for generic applications

    In light of the successful implementation of the joint GCP inspections pilot initiative, the EMA, the FDA and the regulatory authorities in some EU Member States agreed to launch a joint initiative to collaborate on the sharing of information and conduct of inspections of bioequivalence studies submitted in support of marketing-authorisation applications for generic medicines. The objectives and the PDF icon list of EU Member States involved are described in the PDF icon Terms of engagement for this initiative.

    The initiative began with an 18-month pilot phase running between January 2014 and June 2015. A report on its outcome will be made available.

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