A version of this article was first published in Life Sciences IP Review

There is currently no specific legislation in the UK that governs AI, or its use in healthcare. Instead, a number of general-purpose laws apply that have to be adapted to specific AI technologies. As a step towards a more coherent approach, the government recently published its response to its consultation on regulating AI in the UK.  This maintains the government’s “pro-innovation” framework of principles, to be set out in guidance rather than legislation, which will then be implemented by regulatory authorities in their respective sectors, such as by the MHRA for medicines.  The MHRA has already started this process and signalled itself as an early-adopter of the UK government’s approach. The hope is that this will lead to investment in the UK by life science companies as the UK is seen as a first-launch country for innovative technologies.Continue Reading The UK’s pro-innovation approach to AI: What does this mean for life science companies?

In a previous blog post, we discussed the UK government’s proposed changes to the regulatory framework governing clinical trials. Marking the start of this legislative change is a new notification scheme for the lowest-risk clinical trials (the scheme), published on 12 October 2023. The scheme is based on the proposal set out in the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) consultation earlier this year, which was supported by 74% of respondents.

The scheme allows for the processing of eligible clinical trials by the MHRA in less than 14 days, instead of the statutory 30 days. The scheme currently only applies to clinical trial authorisation (CTA) applications for Phase 4 and certain Phase 3 clinical trials deemed as low risk, and provided they meet the MHRA’s eligibility criteria, set out below. Initial “first in human” Phase 1 or Phase 2 trials and clinical trial amendment applications will not be eligible.

The scheme aims to reduce the time taken to get lowest-risk clinical trials up and running, to give UK patients quicker access to potentially life-saving medicines, without undermining patient safety. The MHRA encourages clinical trial sponsors to use the scheme for all eligible trials and estimates that this will include 20% of UK initial clinical trial applications.Continue Reading UK clinical trials – new notification scheme for lowest-risk clinical trials

We set out in a previous post that the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) intends to introduce a new international recognition procedure (IRP) for medicinal products, whereby decisions taken in certain countries could be recognised by the MHRA to fast-track approval in the UK.

On 30 August 2023, the MHRA published detailed guidance on how it will use the IRP for medicinal products. The IRP will be open to applicants who have already received an authorisation for the same product from one of the MHRA’s specified Reference Regulators (RRs) in Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore and the United States. However, the MHRA retains the right to reject the IRP and conduct a full assessment if considered necessary.

This procedure will operate in parallel to the MHRA’s current national procedures, including the shortened 150-day timetable, offering applicants a range of authorisation routes depending on the status in other countries and type of application. The hope is that this will allow the MHRA to be able to use the decisions in other countries, while still being able to conduct its own assessment where necessary for the UK market.

The IRP will be available from 1 January 2024. However, until the Windsor framework is in place on 1 January 2025, discussed here, products falling within the scope of the EU Centralised Procedure can only be authorised in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).Continue Reading New UK International Recognition Framework for Medicines

On 19 September 2023, the UK Government launched the pilot phase of the Innovative Devices Access Pathway (IDAP), an initiative to help bring innovative technologies to the NHS where there is an unmet medical need. As discussed in a previous post, IDAP has been designed to accelerate the development of innovative medical devices, with the aim of taking delays and uncertainty out of the route to market. IDAP will provide an integrated support service for medical device developers that will include enhanced opportunities for engagement with the regulatory authorities and a streamlined adoption process.

Companies of all sizes are being invited to apply, both internationally and in the UK, where they intend to launch a device for the UK market. 8 products will be selected during the pilot phase, which is designed to test the main elements of the pathway to inform how best to build the future IDAP.

Applications for the pilot phase are open and will close after 29 October 2023; they can be made via an online application form and associated guidance.Continue Reading UK Government launches Innovative Devices Access Pathway (IDAP)

At the beginning of July, the MHRA published its 2023 – 2026 Corporate Plan, which highlights, amongst many other topics, the importance of introducing new legislation and guidance on clinical trials in the UK to help provide the “stable and predictable regulatory environment that companies require”. The intention is that by 31 March 2026, the MHRA will implement a revised regulatory framework for clinical trials.

Work on a new clinical trial framework is already underway. On 21 March 2023, the MHRA published its response to the UK consultation (which ran from 17 January to 14 March 2022) on legislative proposals for changes to the law governing clinical trials, namely the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004.

Responses demonstrated strong support to update and improve the legislation governing clinical trials, with most respondents agreeing that patient safety should remain the focus of the legislation, but with a more flexible and risk proportionate approach to decision-making. In line with responses to other recent consultations, the MHRA is looking to align with international standards rather than be limited by alignment with the EU. It is hoped that the implementation of the proposals will make it easier and more efficient to run trials in the UK, enabling greater patient access to new, safe and life-changing treatments, while retaining the UK as an attractive place for trials.

In terms of next steps, the drafting of the statutory instrument to update the clinical trials legislation is expected to be laid before parliament in the Autumn of 2023. Comprehensive guidance will also accompany the legislation.Continue Reading Legislative change is afoot for clinical trials conducted in the UK

On 26 May 2023, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced plans to introduce new international recognition routes for medicines, whereby the MHRA can recognise decisions to authorise medicinal products taken in other countries so the MHRA can fast track approval in the UK. Further, on 4 July 2023, the MHRA published its Corporate Plan, 2023 to 2026 (Corporate Plan) outlining its four strategic priorities over the next three years, including to “deliver scientific and regulatory excellence through strategic partnerships” through, for example, collaboration with international regulatory partners.

The new international recognition routes will enable recognition of medicinal product approvals in Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

The aim is for these routes to be in place by the first quarter of 2024.Continue Reading New UK International Recognition Routes for Medicines   

Post-Brexit, the MHRA has been consulting on the future medical devices regulations, and how to retain the UK’s position as an attractive place to launch devices. As part of this, there have been a number of recent announcements about the medical devices regime in the UK.

  • On 27 April 2023, the MHRA updated its guidance on the implementation of the future medical devices regulations (the UK Regulations) to confirm the intention for the “core aspects” of the UK Regulations to apply from 1 July 2025.
  • The UK government has also introduced legislation that will be finalised before 30 June 2023 to allow valid EU CE marked medical devices to continue to be placed on the market in Great Britain. The extended periods will align with the transitional periods under the new UK Regulations.
  • On 26 May 2023, a proposed new regulatory pathway, the Innovative Devices Access Pathway (IDAP), set for pilot launch later in 2023, was announced, published as part of a suite of announcements that we will cover in a separate post.

Stakeholders will no doubt be pleased to hear of the development to extend the validity of EU CE marking in Great Britain, which allows for more realistic timeframes for manufacturers to obtain a UKCA mark, given the current state of flux of the UK medical device market following Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed IDAP pilot will also be a welcome development, and is another step taken by the MHRA to enhance innovation and stimulate interest in the UK medical devices industry, ahead of the implementation of the new UK medical devices regime in 2025.Continue Reading UK Medical Devices Update: Implementation of the UK Medical Devices Regulations and new Innovative Devices Access Pathway

On 27 February 2023, an agreement in principle was reached by the UK and EU, known as the Windsor Agreement, relating to post-Brexit trade issues in Northern Ireland (NI). The principles are expected to be approved shortly by the EU-UK Joint Committee. The UK Government and the EU institutions will then enact legislative measures to make the necessary amendments to their laws. 

Following Brexit, from 31 January 2020, the UK is no longer subject to EU single-market rules or the EU legislative framework. However, under the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, NI continues to follow EU rules. This is to avoid customs checks between NI and the Republic of Ireland. In practice, this means that medicinal products on the market in NI must be authorised in line with the EU regime, which no longer applies in Great Britain. This causes difficulties for companies marketing their products in the UK, as different authorisations, following different rules, apply in different parts of the UK. It also means that patients have access to different products in GB or NI.

The current agreement covers a number of sectors, and in relation to medicines, the aim is to simplify supply between GB and NI, and ensure that only one authorisation is needed and one set of rules needs to be followed within the UK. However, much detail still needs to be published so that companies can fully understand the impact of the changes on their medicines supply chains.Continue Reading The Windsor Agreement and supply of medicinal products in Northern Ireland

On 25 January 2023, the UK government published its response to the consultation on Point of Care (POC) manufacturing, described as personalised medicines made for the patient either within or very close to the healthcare setting. The joint consultation between the MHRA and the Northern Ireland Department of Health sought views on legislative proposals to introduce a new regulatory framework for the manufacture and supply of POC products. Those proposals were warmly received by stakeholders and steps will now be taken to introduce amendments to the legislative framework for POC manufacture and supply.Continue Reading MHRA consultation on medicines manufactured at the point of care

The MHRA is continuing to publish details on how software and AI medical devices will be regulated in the UK post Brexit, with the aim of making the UK an attractive place to launch such products. The MHRA’s recent updates to its ‘Software and AI as a Medical Device Change Programme’ (the Change Programme) intend to “deliver bold steps to provide a regulatory framework that provides a high degree of protection for patients and public, but also makes sure that the UK is recognised globally as a home of responsible innovation for medical device software looking towards a global market.

The MHRA has also recently announced it will extend the period during which EU CE marks on medical devices (including for software) will be accepted on the UK market, until July 2024.

We set out an overview of these updates below.Continue Reading Latest on software and AI devices from the MHRA