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Research Letter |

Transparency Interrupted:  The Curtailment of the European Medicines Agency’s Policy on Access to Documents FREE

Peter Doshi, PhD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(21):2009-2011. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.9989.
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Published online

A colleague and I recently reported on the first 2 years of the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA’s) November 2010 freedom of information policy on access to documents.1 The policy made a wide range of regulatory documents potentially accessible to anyone who asked for them, including clinical study reports. As of November 19, 2012, the EMA had released approximately 1.66 million pages of clinical trial data and other documents in response to 457 requests.1

On April 25, 2013, the General Court of the European Union, in 2 interim decisions, ordered the EMA not to provide documents in response to 3 specific requests. The injunction followed legal action by AbbVie (Wilmington, Delaware) about 2 separate requests for clinical study reports for adalimumab (Humira), a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, and legal action by InterMune (Brisbane, California) about a request for similar documents on pirfenidone (Esbriet), a drug for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Both companies contended that the requested EMA documents contain commercially confidential information.2,3 The EMA had planned to provide the documents, consistent with the view that “clinical trial data should not be considered commercial confidential information.”4 A hearing on the case may not be held until 2014.5

On April 30, the EMA responded to the court order by declaring an intention to “continue with its policy to grant access to documents” but that “requests for access to documents similar to those contested by AbbVie and InterMune will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”6 In addition, the EMA confirmed that it would continue to develop a forthcoming policy on proactive publication of clinical trial data, pending the final decision of the court, and has since released a draft policy for public comment.7

I recently obtained a logfile (eAppendix in Supplement) from the EMA of all 728 requests for documents handled under its policy through June 4, 2013. The logfile showed that on May 28, 2013, the EMA rejected requests for documents related to 54 products. Academia/research institutes (27 requests), health care professionals (11), legal professionals (11), the pharmaceutical industry (8), and media (3) made the requests. (I received 1 such rejection letter, which cited the ongoing lawsuits as the reason for rejection.) The rejected requests were primarily for clinical study reports (46) and other regulatory documents related to the marketing authorization applications for medications, including Common Technical Document summaries (13) and nonclinical study reports (8). Previously, the EMA had released all these types of documents, with redactions as deemed necessary by the agency. The summary rejection of so many requests indicates that the EMA has substantially curtailed its release of documents, most likely as a result of the ongoing lawsuits.

The logfile showed an increase in the rate of requests between November 19, 2012, and June 4, 2013. Compared with the period before November 19, 2012, the number of pages released per month has decreased (Table). The logfile also indicated that regulators outside the European Union have requested and received documents and that the majority of requests originated from the pharmaceutical industry, legal professionals, media, and academia/research institutes. Industry has consistently made more requests for documents than other groups (Figure).

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable.  Requests for Documents Handled Under the European Medicines Agency’s Policy Announced on November 30, 2010 (as of June 4, 2013)a

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure.
Requests for Documents Handled Under the European Medicines Agency’s Policy Between November 30, 2010, and June 4, 2013

Requests from 1 individual for more than 1 product are counted as separate requests. I am responsible for 17 of the 33 requests in the academic/research institute category in the first quarter (Q) of 2013. The first quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2013 are not full (3 month) quarters.

Graphic Jump Location

Before releasing documents about a product, the EMA informs the company and, depending on the specifics of a request, may seek the company’s view regarding the release and possible redactions. As of July 27, 2013, AbbVie and InterMune are the only companies to challenge the release of documents in court. Other companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, have recently announced new data transparency policies emphasizing a commitment to transparency.8,9 However, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, the leading trade organizations that represent most major companies, including Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, have filed briefs supporting AbbVie. The views of most companies are unclear. Nonetheless, the curtailment of EMA’s policy on access to documents is a major step backward for the transparency of clinical trials and for public health.

ARTICLE INFORMATION

Corresponding Author: Peter Doshi, PhD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1620 McElderry St, Reed Hall W, Room 201-C, Baltimore, MD 21205 (pnd@jhu.edu).

Published Online: August 19, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.9989.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Doshi is a corecipient of a UK National Institute for Health Research grant to carry out a Cochrane review of neuraminidase inhibitors (http://www.hta.ac.uk/2352), which used as its basis more than 25,000 pages of clinical study reports for oseltamivir obtained from a 2011 request to the EMA. In addition, Dr Doshi received €1500 from the European Respiratory Society in support of his travel to the society’s September 2012 annual congress, where he gave an invited talk on oseltamivir.

Additional Contributions: David Mackay, BVetMed, MSc, PhD, MRCVS, of the European Medicines Agency, reviewed the manuscript for accuracy and clarified the EMA's policy. Dr Mackay received no compensation for his assistance.

Additional Information: Dr Doshi is personally acquainted with some European regulators who share an interest in this topic.

Doshi  P, Jefferson  T.  The first 2 years of the European Medicines Agency’s policy on access to documents: secret no longer. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(5):380-382.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Jaeger M. Interim decision of the president of the general court in case T-44/13, AbbVie v European Medicines Agency (EMA). (General Court of the European Union 2013.) http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=137241&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=3667720. Accessed June 8, 2013.
Jaeger M. Interim decision of the president of the general court in case T-73/13, InterMune v European Medicines Agency (EMA). (General Court of the European Union 2013.) http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=137242&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=937960. Accessed June 8, 2013.
Eichler  H-G, Abadie  E, Breckenridge  A, Leufkens  H, Rasi  G.  Open clinical trial data for all? a view from regulators. PLoS Med. 2012;9(4):e1001202.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Dyer  C.  European drug agency’s attempts to improve transparency stalled by legal action from two US drug companies. BMJ. 2013;346:f3588.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
European Medicines Agency. European Medicines Agency receives interim decisions of the General Court of the EU on access to clinical and non-clinical information. 2013. http://www.ema.europa.eu/ema/index.jsp?curl=pages/news_and_events/news/2013/04/news_detail_001779.jsp&mid=WC0b01ac058004d5c1. Accessed April 30, 2013.
European Medicines Agency. Publication and access to clinical-trial data. 2013. http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Other/2013/06/WC500144730.pdf. Accessed June 24, 2013.
GlaxoSmithKline. Data transparency. 2013. http://www.gsk.com/explore-gsk/how-we-do-r-and-d/data-transparency.html. Accessed June 19, 2013.
F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. Roche Global Policy on Sharing of Clinical Trials Data. 2013. http://roche-trials.com/dataSharingPolicy.action. Accessed June 19, 2013.

Figures

Place holder to copy figure label and caption
Figure.
Requests for Documents Handled Under the European Medicines Agency’s Policy Between November 30, 2010, and June 4, 2013

Requests from 1 individual for more than 1 product are counted as separate requests. I am responsible for 17 of the 33 requests in the academic/research institute category in the first quarter (Q) of 2013. The first quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2013 are not full (3 month) quarters.

Graphic Jump Location

Tables

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable.  Requests for Documents Handled Under the European Medicines Agency’s Policy Announced on November 30, 2010 (as of June 4, 2013)a

References

Doshi  P, Jefferson  T.  The first 2 years of the European Medicines Agency’s policy on access to documents: secret no longer. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(5):380-382.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Jaeger M. Interim decision of the president of the general court in case T-44/13, AbbVie v European Medicines Agency (EMA). (General Court of the European Union 2013.) http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=137241&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=3667720. Accessed June 8, 2013.
Jaeger M. Interim decision of the president of the general court in case T-73/13, InterMune v European Medicines Agency (EMA). (General Court of the European Union 2013.) http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=137242&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=937960. Accessed June 8, 2013.
Eichler  H-G, Abadie  E, Breckenridge  A, Leufkens  H, Rasi  G.  Open clinical trial data for all? a view from regulators. PLoS Med. 2012;9(4):e1001202.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Dyer  C.  European drug agency’s attempts to improve transparency stalled by legal action from two US drug companies. BMJ. 2013;346:f3588.
PubMed   |  Link to Article
European Medicines Agency. European Medicines Agency receives interim decisions of the General Court of the EU on access to clinical and non-clinical information. 2013. http://www.ema.europa.eu/ema/index.jsp?curl=pages/news_and_events/news/2013/04/news_detail_001779.jsp&mid=WC0b01ac058004d5c1. Accessed April 30, 2013.
European Medicines Agency. Publication and access to clinical-trial data. 2013. http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Other/2013/06/WC500144730.pdf. Accessed June 24, 2013.
GlaxoSmithKline. Data transparency. 2013. http://www.gsk.com/explore-gsk/how-we-do-r-and-d/data-transparency.html. Accessed June 19, 2013.
F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. Roche Global Policy on Sharing of Clinical Trials Data. 2013. http://roche-trials.com/dataSharingPolicy.action. Accessed June 19, 2013.

Correspondence

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eAppendix. Table of European Medicines Agency Freedom of Information Requests Snapshot Dated June 4, 2013

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