Authorisation Procedures for medicinal products

Procedures for evaluating medicinal products and granting marketing authorisation

The European system for the authorisation of medicinal products for human and animal use was introduced in January 1995 with the objective of ensuring that safe, effective and high quality medicines could quickly be made available to citizens across the European Union.

The European system offers several routes for the authorisation of medicinal products:

  • The centralised procedure, which is compulsory for products derived from biotechnology, for orphan medicinal products and for medicinal products for human use which contain an active substance authorised in the Community after 20 May 2004 (date of entry into force of Regulation (EC) No 726/2004) and which are intended for the treatment of AIDS, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders or diabetes. The centralised procedure is also mandatory for veterinary medicinal products intended primarily for use as performance enhancers in order to promote growth or to increase yields from treated animals.
    Applications for the centralised procedure are made directly to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and lead to the granting of a European marketing authorisation by the Commission which is binding in all Member States.
  • The mutual recognition procedure, which is applicable to the majority of conventional medicinal products, is based on the principle of recognition of an already existing national marketing authorisation by one or more Member States.
  • The decentralised procedure, which was introduced with the legislative review of 2004, is also applicable to the majority of conventional medicinal products. Through this procedure an application for the marketing authorisation of a medicinal product is submitted simultaneously in several Member States, one of them being chosen as the "Reference Member State". At the end of the procedure national marketing authorisations are granted in the reference and in the concerned Member States.

Purely national authorisations are still available for medicinal products to be marketed in one Member State only.

Special rules exist for the authorisation of medicinal products for paediatric use, orphan drugs, traditional herbal medicinal products, vaccines and clinical trials.

The EMA and the authorisation procedure

In 1993 the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was founded with the primary task of providing scientific advice of the highest possible quality to the Community Institutions on all matters relating to medicinal products for human and veterinary use. EMA's main task is to co-ordinate the scientific evaluation of the safety, efficacy and quality of medicinal products which undergo either procedure. All scientific questions arising in these procedures are dealt with by the EMA.

The agency has today established itself as a world-leading agency for the evaluation of medicinal products. It constitutes a major asset in making Europe an attractive location for new pharmaceuticals and allows for speedy and robust authorisation of new innovative medicines.

EMA's key tasks are to:

  • provide Member States and Community institutions with the best possible scientific advice on questions about the quality, safety and efficacy of medicinal products for human and veterinary use;
  • establish a pool of multinational scientific expertise (by mobilising existing national resources) in order to achieve a single evaluation via the centralised or mutual recognition marketing authorisation procedures;
  • organise speedy, transparent and efficient procedures for the authorisation, surveillance and where appropriate, withdrawal of medicinal products in the EU;
  • advise companies on the conduct of pharmaceutical research;
  • reinforce the supervision of existing medicinal products (by co-ordinating national pharmacovigilance and inspection activities);
  • create databases and electronic communication facilities as necessary to promote the rational use of medicines.