The Directorate General for Enterprise (DG-Enterprise) of the European Commission works to “ensure all businesses compete and trade on fair and equal terms, that Europe is an attractive place to invest and work, and that growth is in knowledge-based and innovative industries.” In the context of regulatory toxicology, DG-Enterprise is responsible for developing frameworks for the safety assessment and regulation of:
Responsibility for ensuring the safety and efficacy of medicinal products for human and veterinary use in the European Union (EU) is shared between DG-Enterprise, which establishes pharmaceuticals policy and creates and maintains legislation, and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), which provides scientific guidance and oversight to ensure consistency and compliance with legal requirements established by DG-Enterprise. A cornerstone of the EU legislative framework for pharmaceuticals is Regulation (EC) No 726/2004, which requires authorization of all medicinal products marketed EU-wide and establishes the EMEA Committees for Medicinal Products for Human and Veterinary Use (CHMP and CVMP, respectively), to review all applications for EU-level authorization and provide independent scientific advice on a variety of matters.
EU requirements for the safety assessment of medicinal products have been harmonized with those of other major pharmaceuticals markets (i.e., the US and Japan) under the auspices of the International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) and the International Cooperation on Harmonization of Technical Requirements for Registration of Veterinary Medicinal Products (VICH), respectively. ICH guidelines for the safety assessment of human medicines call for a wide array of pre-clinical (animal) studies, followed by several phases of human clinical studies, before a new drug is deemed safe for marketing. Commonly required animal tests include the following:
Such testing consumes many thousands of animals and is required for both the active medicinal ingredient(s) as well as each formulated drug product. Yet despite these costs, “a new [human] medicinal compound entering Phase 1 testing, often representing the culmination of upwards of a decade of preclinical screening and evaluation, is estimated to have only an 8 percent chance of reaching the market” (source). Such high failure rates have called into question the accuracy of animal studies in predicting human clinical outcomes and have prompted calls for greater acceptance and use of alternative methods such as in vitro and “omic” techniques in preclinical safety testing, as well as alternative clinical approaches such as human microdosing.
A complex framework of regulations and directives has been developed to control the marketing of biologics and other medicinal products intended for human or veterinary use. These include:
Responsibility for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medicinal products in the EU is shared among DG-Enterprise, which sets policy and creates and maintains legislation; the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), an independent agency that is responsible for pre- and post-market evaluations of medicinal products to ensure that they meet the safety, efficacy, and quality requirements of EU legislation; and the European Directorate for Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM), a division of the Council of Europe, which develops binding monographs (published in the European Pharmacopoeia) to ensure appropriate quality control and quality assurance for medicinal products in the EU. EDQM also co-ordinates a network of quality-control laboratories throughout the EU.
Two procedures exist for the authorization of medicinal products:
In addition, vaccines are generally subject to years of human clinical or animal field trials to further evaluate their safety and efficacy. Furthermore, Directives 89/342/EEC and 89/381/EEC provide that “Member States shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that the manufacturing processes used in the manufacture of immunological products are properly validated and attain batch-to-batch consistency,” including requiring companies “to submit samples from each batch of the bulk and/or finished product for examination by a State laboratory or a laboratory designated for that purpose before release on to the market….” Such batch testing is conducted by Official Medicines Control Laboratories (OMCLs) in EU member states, which interact closely with the EDQM.
It is estimated that approximately one-fifth of all EU animal use in toxicology occurs in the biologics sector. Relevant alternative methods validated to date include ELISA batch potency tests for erysipelas and human tetanus vaccines, the toxin binding inhibition (ToBI) test for human tetanus vaccine, and several others. Since 2005, EU regulators have also accepted that target-animal safety testing of veterinary vaccines can be waived if at least 10 consecutive batches comply with the test requirement.
In Dec. 2006, the EU completely revised its regulatory framework for chemicals with the passage of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 concerning the registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals (REACH). Development of the REACH regulation was a joint effort by DG-Enterprise and DG-Environment to harmonize the regulatory frameworks for “new” and “existing” chemicals and to establish minimal information requirements for substances produced or marketed in the EU in volumes of one metric ton or more per year.
Under REACH, the regulatory functions currently performed by the European Chemicals Bureau will be subsumed under the new European Chemicals Agency (EChA). Animal testing requirements vary according to a chemical’s annual production volume and the anticipated level of human and environmental exposure. Standard in vivo data requirements are as follows:
Annual production volume ≥ 1 ton:
Annual production volume ≥ 10 tons:
Annual production volume ≥ 100 tons:
Annual production volume ≥ 1,000 tons:
Estimates of potential vertebrate animal use to evaluate the approximately 30,000 chemicals that fall within the scope of REACH range from 8-9 million to as many as 45 million. Measures that have been built into the REACH regulation to minimize new animal testing include:
In addition, the Commission, in cooperation with member states, the chemicals industry, and other stakeholders, has organized a number of REACH Implementation Projects (RIPs) to develop practical tools and guidance for industry and authorities, and it has also helped to coordinate the Strategic Partnership on REACH Testing (SPORT) as a pilot study to “test the workability of the REACH proposal, identify solutions where problems are found, feed solutions into the decision-making process and the [RIPs] and improve understanding of REACH.”
Recently, however, the European Parliament chastised the Commission and EU member state regulators for moving too slowly to accept animal replacement, reduction and refinement methods that have been endorsed as scientifically valid, and called for significant changes to bureaucratic procedures to accelerate the acceptance of non-animal tests in the future, with increased transparency and stakeholder involvement.
REACH implementation will occur in several distinct phases, including a start-up period for EChA and three sets of statutory deadlines for chemical registration based on annual production volume. In addition, EChA will be responsible for revising REACH data requirements and EU test methods regulations as new alternative methods are validated and achieve regulatory acceptance.
The sale of cosmetics in the EU is regulated under Directive 76/768/EEC, as amended, which stipulates that “[a] cosmetic product put on the market within the Community must not cause damage to human health when applied under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use….” Toxicological testing requirements are not specified either for finished cosmetic products or their raw ingredients, although some chemical ingredients may fall within the scope of other regulations, such as REACH. However, the Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) has published a set of guidance notes that recommend extensive toxicological testing of “new to the world” cosmetic ingredients, including the following types of studies:
In contrast to SCCP guidance, the European Parliament and Council have adopted a strong stance against animal testing of cosmetic products and their ingredients. Through the 7th Amendment to the Cosmetics Directive, the EU has moved toward banning:
Alternatives Policies & Actions
Directive 86/609/EEC regarding the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes stipulates that “[a]n experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available,” and further, “[i]n a choice between experiments, those which use the minimum number of animals, involve animals with the lowest degree of neurophysiological sensitivity, cause the least pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm and which are most likely to provide satisfactory results shall be selected.” The 3Rs mandate imposed by Directive 86/609 applies to all Commission services, EU member state authorities, and animal users throughout Europe. Accordingly, new and revised Community and member state legislation must conform to the letter and spirit of this directive.
The Research Framework Programmes of DG-Research provide extramural funding for the development and validation of 3Rs methods. As 3Rs methods are standardized and optimized, they may be eligible for pre-validation and validation in collaboration with the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), a division of DG-JRC. The results of validation studies may be subject to independent peer review by the ECVAM Scientific Advisory Committee (ESAC) and, if endorsed, may be considered for regulatory acceptance at the EU level and/or internationally.