Pharmacovigilance - drug safety

Medicines may affect the body in unintended, harmful ways. These effects, called side effects, adverse events or adverse reactions, represent risks of medicines.

It is important to identify, as quickly as possible, new risks or changes to the known risks associated with the use of medicines. Actions must be taken to minimise the risks, maximise the benefits and promote safe and effective use of medicines by patients.

These activities are known as pharmacovigilance:

  • The science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse effects or any other medicine-related problem.
  • An activity contributing to the protection of patients’ and public health.

Patient safety and pharmacovigilance

The ABPI Pharmacovigilance Expert Network (PEN) created this document to provide information regarding the safety of medicines and pharmacovigilance.

Patient Safety Pharmacovigilance 871X581

Discovering new medicines

Historically, new medicines have been made from compounds found in plants, fungi and marine organisms. The molecule responsible for the medicinal properties is then extracted, identified and synthesised. Often many similar molecules are made chemically, these are called analogues. These analogues attempt to improve on the original compound to maximise desired effects and minimise unwanted effects. Now, new medicines can be made using computer aided design based on knowledge from genomics (the study of genes) and proteomics (the study of proteins).

Developing a new medicine often requires research into the mechanisms of disease. This is aided by collaboration between industry and universities or other research institutes.

Preclinical safety

Drugs carry a number of risks and understanding the science behind adverse drug reactions can help increase the safety of new medicines. ABPI member companies work together to share knowledge and experiences in a ‘pre-competitive space’ in order to help maximise drug safety from the earliest point of developing a new medicine.

A vital part of medicines development, particularly preclinical safety research, involves the use of animals. Indeed, UK and European regulations currently require that all new medicines are tested on animals before being used in humans, to ensure patient safety.

PV Market Research 871X571

Guidance notes on collecting adverse events, product complaints and special reporting situations during market research

Guidance for market research agencies and marketing authorisation holders when collecting and forwarding information about an adverse event (AE), product complaint (PC) or special reporting situation (SRS) that comes up during a market research project when the company commissioning the research is a marketing authorisation holder or holder of a certificate of conformity of a medical device.

Guidance notes for patient safety and pharmacovigilance in patient support programmes

Many pharmaceutical companies run Patient Support Programmes (PSPs) to help patients or healthcare professionals or both better manage disease and optimise treatment.

When conducting PSPs safety data may be generated relating to the use of a medicinal product. 

Pharmacovigilance Patient Support Programme 871X581
Digital Activities 871X581

Guidance notes on the management of safety information and product complaints from digital activities

Digital activities are used by individuals and organisations as a component of overall communication with patients and customers to create or raise awareness about diseases and treatments.

Pharmaceutical companies also use digital activities for corporate awareness, clinical trial enrolment, additional risk minimisation activities, patient support programmes, and treatment and prevention of diseases.

Guidance notes on UK data
protection in post-marketing

This guidance has been developed by the ABPI Pharmacovigilance Expert Network (PEN), together with the Pharmaceutical Information and Pharmacovigilance Association (PIPA) and pvlegal to help companies performing post marketing pharmacovigilance in the UK to meet their data protection obligations under the UK Data Protection
Act 1998 (DPA).

Guidance Data Protection 871X581
Drug Safety Employees Agents 871X581

Guidance notes on collection of drug safety information by employees and agents of pharmaceutical companies

Any person employed directly by a pharmaceutical company or contracted to work for the company has a responsibility to record and report information about the safety of the company’s medicinal products to the company’s PV department.

Last modified: 16 October 2023

Last reviewed: 16 October 2023