The medical device industry is vast and diverse, with each country or regional authority having its own regulatory body and requirements. For instance, medical devices are classified in ascending order in the United States, with Class I devices being the lowest risk class. Devices that pose the highest risk to users or patients and require the most regulatory oversight (pacemakers, defibrillators, etc.) are Class III devices, and devices that pose a moderate risk, such as syringes and catheters, are Class II devices. While this is a logical way to categorize medical devices, not every country uses this model.
Medical device regulations will likely never be universally uniform. Still, there is a concerted effort on behalf of regulatory experts from some of the largest medical device markets in the world to harmonize regulations and regulatory best practices. The International Medical Device Regulatory Forum (IMDRF) is a body of medical device regulatory specialists from around the world working together to standardize regulations and “accelerate international medical device regulatory harmonization and convergence.” While the IMDRF isn’t a regulatory body, its guidelines are often adopted by its member countries and adapted to fit their regulations and initiatives. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the IMDRF, including its history and how its work impacts the global medical device industry.
The IMDRF was conceived in 2011 when Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, Japan, the US, and the World Health Organization (WHO) met to discuss the formation of this forum. One of their main goals was to build on and expedite the work of the Global Harmonization Task Force (GHTF), the organization that laid the foundation for the IMDRF.
The idea for the GHTF came from a meeting between representatives from the US, EU, Canada, and Japan in 1992. They met to discuss the possibility of forming a “consultative body” of regulatory specialists with the goal of “harmonizing medical device regulatory practices” worldwide. The GHTF held its first meeting in January 1993, forming study groups to evaluate different aspects of regulatory processes, including each member nation's quality management and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). Today, the IMDRF continues to build on the strong foundation laid by the GHTF.
As mentioned, the IMDRF works to harmonize medical device regulatory best practices worldwide. This mission requires the cooperation of regulators from many countries, performing in-depth studies and publishing guidelines that shape the global regulatory landscape. There are 11 members and their regulatory authorities that comprise the IMDRF:
The IMDRF is an international medical device regulatory body that offers guidance rather than implementing binding regulations, i.e., they don’t have the authority to mandate directives. According to the FDA, they “develop internationally agreed upon documents related to a wide variety of topics affecting medical devices.” Its members develop these documents by conducting studies via working groups, which we discuss in the next section.
The IMDRF working groups are like subcommittees that focus on specific regulatory issues pertaining to medical devices. They address new technology, trends, and areas where harmonization of standards and regulations would be most beneficial. Their working groups conduct studies and research with the aim of providing regulatory best practices and universally applicable guidelines. There are currently seven active working groups:
There are various participants in every active working group, and these groups can also include regulatory bodies that aren’t IMDRF members. Through their sharing and collection of data, working groups gain valuable insights that enable them to create guidelines that IMDRF members can relatively and easily implement around their existing medical device regulations. This helps to ensure the safety and efficacy of medical devices while promoting the harmonization of regulatory best practices and standards. These documents serve to accelerate the convergence of medical device regulations around the globe and have produced 69 guidances to date.
The IMDRF might not be a regulatory body or have any binding authority, but they are well respected within the medical device community. Their guidance documents help to shape regulatory standards in the world’s largest medical device markets. Staying abreast of IMDRF developments is a regulatory intelligence best practice (much like having a holistic regulatory information management system that provides structure for the medical device industry). Shameless plug aside, understanding the current undertakings of IMDRF working groups is a great way to better understand what’s going on in the medical device regulatory world and what changes might be coming down the road.
To learn more about the IMDRF, visit their website at imdrf.org.