Import of IMPs into Japan for clinical trials

Getting the study drug at the right time is challenging for any clinical trial, and this is more prominent with multi-regional clinical trials. To import and have the IMPs and ancillaries at the clinical trial sites in time, the sponsors need to have the right people, processes, facilities, and technology in place.

Import of IMPs into Japan for clinical trials

Generally, the sites require three types of supplies while conducting clinical trials

  1. IMPs and their supportive products (i.e. Investigational and Non-Investigational medical products).
  2. Laboratory supplies such as sample collection tubes, laboratory kits.
  3. Ancillary supplies such as medical devices, equipment, documents, etc.

Read the article import of clinical trial supplies into Japan for more details about the import of ancillary and laboratory supplies into Japan.

In this article, we will be focusing on IMPs and their supportive products.

Challenges to import IMPs into Japan

Here are some global challenges for IMPs import

  • Require experts with knowledge in import regularly and distribution,
  • Diversified import regulations for each country,
  • Frequent change in the local regulations for import,
  • Import and Distribution of shipment within time,
  • Maintain the IMP temperature need and shipment tracking,
  • Requires seamless integration between manufacturing, logistics, and technology, 
  • Return and destruction handling after completion.

Regulatory to import IMPs into Japan

  • The regulatory authority which regulates the clinical trial approval and the import of IMP’s is the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA).
  • An In-country caretaker (ICC) is required to import IMPs into Japan.
  • The ICC represents the importer to the Japanese government and is responsible for 
    • Recovering the package upon arrival, 
    • Bringing it to the customs warehouse, 
    • Presenting the appropriate documents and paperwork to customs, and 
    • Answering any questions that the Japanese government may have.
  • The documents required for the import of IMPs depend on the type of study and the IMP.
  • The IMP’s and the supportive products need to be listed in the “Clinical Trial Notification (CTN)

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Clinical Trial Notification

To import the IMP’s and their supportive products, the products need to be listed in the clinical trial application, this facilitates the importation process and customs clearance. 

The document required for the CTA include 

  • Statement regarding the reason why the sponsoring of the proposed clinical trial is scientifically justified,
  • A protocol of the proposed clinical trial,
  • An explanation document used for informed consent and consent form,
  • A Sample of Case Report Form, and
  • Current investigator’s brochure all the documents in Japanese.

The sponsor, before initiating any clinical trial shall submit a notification and protocol to the PMDA.

PMDA assesses whether a proposed study complies with the requirements for regulatory submission, taking into consideration the science proposed data collection, and analysis techniques, patient safety, and ethics, and implements the “Clinical trial consultation system” where the PMDA gives guidance and advice concerning study protocols.

The CTN can be in English however on request a copy in the Japanese language can be submitted. The PMDA evaluates the clinical trial application along with the list of IMP’s products mentioned in the application.

The import of IMP products is approved along with the CTN. Once the CTN and import are approved the sponsor can initiate the clinical trials along with the import of IMPs in coordination with the ICC or the CRO.

Refer to the article “Japan – Clinical Trial Regulatory Process” for more details

Import License

In order to import the IMP’s and supporting products, the sponsor requires various documents which may include CTA, data on comparators, commercial invoices, etc. Usually, the import license is not required, however, this may vary with the individual scenario.

Who handles your import?

The expert partner who manages the clinical trial right from making a clinical trial application for conducting clinical trials to conducting clinical trials and providing the study report to the sponsor along with the procurement or the import of IMPs and ancillary supplies for the clinical trials. These are usually referred to as In-country caretakers. The CRO who handles all these clinical trials operations also handles the importation and is referred to as the ICC.

The ICC should be an expert in import regulations to avoid glitches and delays during importation for this they may partner with the experts for logistics and the local regulatory service providers that help in better handling of imports. Choosing better logistic partners helps in making efficient, safe, and economical importation.

Importer Of Record (IOR)

The IOR – Importer Of Record, in this scenario, is not usually required as the duties of the IOR are limited only to the import of ancillaries where import of these doesn’t require an import license and need to be listed in the CTN which is usually handled by the CRO. 

The role of IOR is required while importing the clinical ancillary supplies and non-medical products which usually do not require listing in the CTN and can be imported by fulfilling certain requirements.

Labeling and packing

To import medicines from overseas is subject to control by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law and the Customs Law to prevent health hazards caused by defective products.

The details such as “For trial use only”, the name and address of the sponsor of the Clinical Trial, Chemical name or identification code, etc have to be mentioned on the label during the importation of products.

The packing is also an important consideration for importation. Some of the points that need to be considered.

  • How the barcode and labeling will be used for easy tracking
  • Check whether the packaging fits into the controlled temperature system
  • Check whether the packing is as per the Japanese norms

Customs Clearance

Listing the IMP’s’ in the clinical trial application helps in facilitating the custom clearance. Presenting the CTN is usually sufficient for custom clearance. For custom clearance other than import license (if applicable) or/and the CTN, the importer may require to provide documents such as commercial invoice, freight costs, etc.

Depot & Distribution

Having a depot for moving the shipment from the customs to the depot is very important. Temperature management of IMP’s is critical and challenging for logistic providers.

Choosing an experienced logistic partner having the necessary vehicles that maintain the necessary temperature to handle these IMP’s is very important. These experienced logistics also have a well-structured tracking system that helps in proper monitoring of supplies till they reach the destination.

Once the goods are transferred to the depot, they are distributed to the sites where the clinical trial are being conducted.

Tips for a successful importation

  • Advanced planning for importation with the review of the complete list of IMP’s and its support required for import.
  • Sorting all the required IMPs and supportive products to list in the CTN before making a clinical trial application.
  • Partner with an efficient ICC who handles all the process of importation with a previous successful track record
  • Understand the requirements, segregate, and compile before making the importation.

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