Published: 28 May 2014

Important Changes to the Definition of Medicines and Medical Devices Effective 1 July 2014

In New Zealand medicines and medical devices are regulated under the Medicines Act 1981 and its associated regulations.

Currently, some products that are considered to be medical devices by other regulators may be categorised as medicines in New Zealand as a consequence of the legal definitions currently contained within the Medicines Act 1981.

The Medicines Amendment Act was passed in 2013 and addresses some problematic provisions of the Medicines Act, including outdated definitions of medicine, medical device and therapeutic purpose.

What are the changes relating to definitions?

The Act modernises the definitions of medicine, medical device and therapeutic purpose in order to better align the boundary between medicines and medical devices with international norms. These changes come into effect on 1 July 2014.

Internationally, medical devices are typically distinguished from medicines by considering their mode of action rather than their physical form. A medical device:

The revised definitions enable products such as pregnancy tests and contact lens solutions to be categorised as medical devices.

The new definitions are:

What does this mean?

As a result of the changes, from 1 July 2014:

What do sponsors need to do?

Sponsors are requested to:

  1. Review their product portfolio to identify which products will be categorised as medical devices from 1 July 2014 and notify these on Medsafe's WAND database. This notification is required by the Medicines (Database of Medical Devices) Regulations 2003 and must be completed by Monday 11 August 2014 (i.e within 30 working days after becoming a medical device sponsor on 1 July). There is no fee to enter a device onto the WAND database.
  2. Provide Medsafe with a list of the medicinal products which the sponsor believes have been re-categorised as medical devices. Medsafe will check that list and where Medsafe agrees that a product meets the new definition of medical device, it will update its SMARTI database record for the product and issue a "closure" database report to confirm the change of categorisation.

    In cases where Medsafe considers a product continues to meet the definition of medicine, it will advise the sponsor why it does not agree with its re-categorisation assessment.

What is Medsafe going to do?

Inform sponsors

In addition to the interactions with Sponsors noted above, Medsafe will update its website and the New Zealand Regulatory Guidelines on the website effective from 1 July 2014. The website will include an updated categorisation process to assist sponsors to classify their products.

Pending applications

For pending applications (both NMAs and CMNs), in respect of products that are medicines now but will become devices on 1 July, there will be a refund of most of the application fee if Medsafe has not yet started to evaluate the application. If that is the case, Medsafe will retain $1000 as an administration fee and refund the remainder. If Medsafe has commenced evaluation there will be no refund.

Categorisation Guidance

The following table provides categorisation information for various types of product.

The examples that have been selected for inclusion in the table are illustrative of product types that will change categorisation from 1 July 2014 or product types that lie close to the medicine / medical device interface.

Product Type Category
(from 1 July 2014)
Absorbable intra-ocular and synovial visco-elastic fluids used in surgery Medical device
Artificial tears or saliva
Blood bags with / without anticoagulant / preservative
Bone cement with antibiotic
Catheter with heparin / antibiotic coating
Contact lens lubricants and solutions
Condoms with spermicide / viricide / local anaesthetic
Cryogenic gases
Dental cement with antibiotic / adrenaline
Dermal Fillers (e.g. collagen injections) with / without local anaesthetic included in the formulation
Douches for body "cleaning"
Haemodialysis solutions
Haemostatic agents - collagen and non-medicated Medical device
Haemostatic agents - fibrin Medicine
Hormone eluting intra-uterine contraceptive devices Medicine
Injectable contrast agents for use in diagnostic imaging (e.g PET, CAT, NMR, X-Ray, Ultra-sound) Medicine
Intra-uterine contraceptive devices other than hormone eluting IUCDs (includes copper containing IUCDs) Medical device
In-vitro pregnancy tests
Irradiating apparatus
Lubricating gels with / without local anaesthetic included in the formulation
Manuka honey dressings provided the action of the honey is not described as being an antibiotic / antibacterial
Medicated dressings where the primary purpose of the dressing is to cover and protect the wound and provide an environment that supports healing (in contrast to being a delivery mechanism for the medication).
Peritoneal dialysis solutions and substances Medicine
Procedure kits (no medicines included) Medical device
Procedure kits which include an approved medicine in its original pack Medical device
Saline nasal sprays Medical device
Saline for injection Medicine
Solutions for irrigation Medical device
Tamponade solutions for eye surgery Medical device
Tissue adhesives (including fibrin based) Medical device
Toothpastes for sensitive teeth where the mode of action is physical (e.g by blocking open pores). Fluoride content (if any) must be no greater than that allowed in a general sales medicine Medical device
Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) solutions Medicine
Transdermal patches Medicine
Vascular balloons with / without medicinal coating Medical device
Urea ointment for nail debridement Medical device
Ultrasonic therapy apparatus Medical device
Water for injection Medicine


If you are still unsure how to categorise your product, please send information on the product to