In 2020, the European Commission began a review of the EU’s rules on blood, tissues and cells (BTC) used for medical treatments and therapies. Now the Commission has published a draft legislative proposal to amend the rules.
The proposal does not recommend a complete overhaul: the EU will not change its definitions of blood, tissue and cell products. Yet it does promise a significant update to the two Directives published in the early 2000s that continue to govern the use of BTC components in the EU. Most importantly, the proposed legislation would be packaged as a Regulation rather than a Directive, meaning it would have a direct effect in the Member States.
The legislation sets out quality and safety requirements for all activities from donation to human application (unless the donations are used to manufacture medicinal products or medical devices, in which case the legislation only applies to donation, collection and testing).
In its press release, the European Commission states that every year, EU patients are treated with 25 million blood transfusions (during surgery, emergency, cancer or other care), a million cycles of medically assisted reproduction, over 35,000 transplants of stem cells (mainly for blood cancers) and hundred thousands of replacement tissues (e.g., for orthopedic, skin, cardiac or eye problems). These therapies are only available thanks to the willingness of fellow citizens to make altruistic donations.
In the EU, the collection, processing and supply of each individual unit is typically organized on a local small-scale by public services, (academic) hospitals and non-profit actors.
After almost 20 years in place, the legislation no longer addresses the scientific and technical state of the art and needs to be updated to take into account developments that have taken place in the sector.
How is the Commission planning to change BTC legislation in the EU? Here are three key takeaways from the draft proposal.
The tissue and cell directive currently in force explicitly permits the Member States to compensate donors of tissue and cell products for their trouble. The corresponding blood Directive, however, contains no such provision: in its absence, different countries have developed their own guidelines on blood donor compensation.
That disparity is addressed in the draft Regulation, which would allow the Member States to reimburse donors of all human-derived products ‘for losses related to their participation in a donation through fixed-rate allowances.’ Improving access to plasma donation, advocates of compensation schemes hope, could help the EU to bolster its patchy stockpiles of the essential fluid.
The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the fragility of healthcare networks that rely heavily on external sources for their products. Supply chain disruptions are a particular threat to the availability of plasma-derived medicines in the bloc since much of the EU’s plasma is imported from the USA.
With this in mind, the Commission wants the Member States to develop emergency plans to cope with supply shocks. Countries would be required to maintain lines of communication that could be used in emergencies, establish authorities responsible for distribution in critical situations, and detect risks to their continued access to substances of human origin.
As might be expected, the draft Regulation introduces measures to protect the health and privacy of donors and donees. Screening is mandated to prevent patients from receiving diseased blood or cancerous cells. Technical systems should be in place to preserve the anonymity of all parties to a BTC transfer.
The burden of safeguarding is particularly heavy where assisted reproduction is concerned. It would be up to the Member States, under the draft legislation, to detect and mitigate genetic risks posed by donated reproductive cells.
If approved, it is thought that the revisions will be endorsed by 2023, with implementation beginning in 2024.
For further information, please contact Julia Gillert of our London office.