Annex 1 Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

A new member within EIPG


The European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG) is pleased to announce the Romanian Association (AFFI) as its newest member following the annual General Assembly of EIPG in Rome (20th-21st April 2024). Commenting on the continued growth of EIPG’s membership, EIPG President Read more

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC


by Giuliana Miglierini The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection


by Giuliana Miglierini As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have Read more

EIPG Training Course: Annex 1

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Dear colleagues,

I am very pleased to announce the GMP/Annex 1 Professional Training Course which will be held as 8 webinars of about 2 hours each from the 3rd of April to the 29th of May (one module per week except 1st of May).

EIPG took care of defining the training plan, which is divided into 8 modules covering the entire contents of GMP/Annex 1, and the identification of the trainers who are all highly qualified professionals with specific experience in sterile medicinal products manufacture and control.

EIPG agreed with all trainers that for each module, the text of a few chapters/paragraphs of Annex 1 be presented, explained and commented focusing on the critical requirements and describing the implementation solutions with examples.

A Q&A section will be open as a chat during the training module and all trainers will ensure the presence of time slots for replying to the questions.

EIPG has found MakingLife Srl, an Italian innovative communication company, as a qualified partner to entrust all organizational, technical and commercial features for making this EIPG training course possible.

Training Course: Annex 1

Though this training was mainly developed for industrial pharmacists who are members of the associations joining EIPG, it is open to all professionals working in the pharmaceutical area who are interested in manufacturing sterile medicinal products.

As EIPG members, you are entitled to a discount of 25% of the price.

When you apply to buy the full course or single modules, you will have to put in a coupon number.

To get your coupon number you can use the following link to the MakingLife platform where you are requested to specify your name, association and e-mail address, which will be also used for the connection to the webinars:

To register yourself to this training courses, follow the below link.

You are invited to disseminate this announcement within your association promoting participation in this training course to your colleagues and also within your contact network with other professionals and non-EIPG members.

Piero Iamartino

President, European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)


Swissmedic’s technical interpretation of Annex 1

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by Giuliana Miglierini

New insights on the interpretation of the new Annex 1 to Good manufacturing practices (GMPs) comes from the Swiss regulatory authority Swissmedic, that at the end of October 2023 published the first revision of its Q&As document (you can find it on the Swissmedicines Inspectorate webpage)

The technical interpretation refers to the revised Annex 1 to the PIC/S GMP Guide (PE 009), adopted on 9 September 2022 and entered into force on 25 August 2023 (with the exception of point 8.123 on lyophilisation, which will enter into force on 25 August 2024). The Q&As follow the same scheme and chapters of Annex 1.

Scope and Premises

According to Swissmedic, for certain types of advanced medicinal products (e.g. ATMPs or allogenic and autologous cell therapy products) specific considerations are required with respect to the fact they cannot be terminally sterilised or filtered. The unsterile patient material should also be considered. Requirements of Annex 2A, paragraph 5.29(b) should be followed for aseptic processing, that should be maintained from the time of procurement of cells through manufacturing and administration back into the patient.

Exceptions to the application of Annex 1 need to be always justified: the Contamination Control Strategy (CCS) is the appropriate tool to detail all risk analysis performed on the basis of the specific manufacturing processes under consideration.

As for the Premises, segregated unidirectional flow airlocks for material and personnel for grade A and B cleanrooms are expected in the case of new facilities. Temporary separation of the flows in the airlocks is the minimum requirement for existing facilities, together with a detailed risk analysis to assess the need for additional technical or organisational measures.

The transfer of materials in and out of a critical grade A cleanroom should be based on the careful definition of the technical and procedural measures associated with it. For example, prior introduction of materials in an isolator followed by decontamination is considered possible only for small batches and for materials resistant to VHP treatment. In all other cases, materials have to be sterilised before entering the already sterile isolator. The transfer process is also subject to a risk analysis to be included in the CCS, as well as to measures to control the maintenance of the integrity and functionality of the systems (also with respect to aseptic process simulation, APS).

Swissmedic specifies that the cleanroom sequence for the transfer of materials via airlocks or passthrough hatches is expected to be fulfilled for zones A and B. In the case of the passage from grade A to C, qualification is needed to prove adequacy of the established systems and procedures. The corresponding risk analysis has to be included in the CCS.

Updating equipment to reach full compliance with the new Annex 1 may require high investments. According to the Q&As, older barrier technologies should be subject to an in-depth internal evaluation to assess the need for new technical measures. The document underlines that starting from 25 August 2023 all barrier technologies not compliant with the new Annex 1 are considered deficient, thus companies should start projects to evaluate the upgrading of background cleanrooms and to define CAPA plans and interim measures to reduce risks.

The risk assessment should also include the evaluation of all automated functionalities and processes associated with the use of the isolator and the activities taking place in it. To this instance, Swissmedic highlights that robotic systems may help improving the reproducibility of operations and minimising both errors and manual interventions. Automatic processes are also expected for the decontamination of isolators, while for RABS manual processes might be used, provided they are designed to ensure reproducibility and are subject to validation and regular monitoring. The absence of negative effects on the medicinal product associated to the cleaning or biodecontamination substances used should also be validated.

As for barrier technology systems with unidirectional air flow, air velocity must be defined so that uniform airflow conditions prevail at the working positions where high-risk operations take place. Alternative air speed ranges or measurements at different heights in the system have to be scientifically justified in the CCS.

Utilities and Personnel

The section on Utilities offers additional guidance on systems used for water generation, that should be designed to allow for routine sanitisation and/or disinfection. Procedures are needed to define regular preventive maintenance of the reverse osmosis system, including the regular change of membranes. A suitable sampling schedule should be in place to regularly check water quality. More stringent controls are needed for the sampling of water-for-injection distribution systems, including daily microbial and bacterial endotoxin testing. The monitoring of the process gas should be performed as close as possible before the sterilisation filter.

Adequate training and qualification of all people working in grade A and B areas, including aseptic gowning and aseptic behaviors, is essential. According to Annex 1, this should include an annual successful APS. Swissmedic adds that, even if not explicitly required, practical process simulations, including manual interventions, should be carried out under the supervision of qualified trainers/QA; the company can choose if to integrate these process simulations into the APS.

Production and specific technologies

As for lyophilisation, initial loading patterns must be always validated, and revalidated annually. The Q&As specify cases where revalidation can be skipped, adding that a theoretical reference load is not acceptable. Revalidation has also to include temperature mapping for moist heat sterilisation systems.

Should a closed system be opened, this should be followed by cleaning (if required) and a validated sterilisation process. Alternatively, the system can be opened in a decontaminated isolator; a class A cleanroom with a class B background might be considered only for exceptional cases.

Non-aseptic connections can be carried out for coupling closed systems, provided a validated sterilisation cycle (SIP) occurs prior to use. Sterile aseptic connectors can be used if the supplier was checked and validated; data from the supplier can be used to file the relevant documentation, but handling of these parts has to be included in the APS.

Swissmedic also underlines that piercing a septum with a needle is to be regarded as a breach of the sterile barrier, and thus avoided for ascetic steps. Should this not be possible, temporary measures should be undertaken to prevent contamination.

Tube welding has also to be qualified and validated, and included in the APS if it is part of the aseptic filling process. The advice is to use more reliable systems, to avoid risks of undetected integrity deficiencies.

Critical single use systems (SUS) should always be tested for integrity by the end user on site before they are used in production. In case of difficult to test, small single use systems, the decision not to test their integrity must be justified in the CCS, as well as the decision to make use of test results provided by suppliers. To this instance, Swissmedic underlines that the comprehensive assessment (including quality system, etc.) should cover the SUS manufacturer/ s, as well as any subcontractors involved in critical services or processes.

Furthermore, the intended use of a SUS in the specific manufacturing process represents the basis for setting the respective acceptance criteria. The Q&As also detail the modalities for the visual inspection of SUSs and the possible acceptance of validation data provided by their suppliers.

As for extractables, the end user is expected to assess the data provided by the suppliers in order to define the need for additional evaluation or leachable studies. A redundant filtration step through a sterile sterilising grade filter, to be included as close to the point of fill as possible, is also encouraged, and its absence has to be justified. A risk analysis is required to justify the choice not to include pre-use/post-sterilisation integrity testing (PUPSIT) of sterilising grade filters used in aseptically processes.

Environmental and process monitoring

According to ICH Q9 (R1), the frequency of the risk review should be based on the level of risk determined for the specific process under consideration, as well as on the level of uncertainty of previous assessments. The recommendation of Swissmedic for new plants is to review the risk assessment after the first year of operations, so to take into due consideration the acquired experience. The document also suggests cases where more stringent action limits may be needed, and the type of statistics to be used to establish alert levels.

The use of rapid microbiological methods (RMM) requires validation and demonstration of equivalence with more traditional approaches. Details on the frequency of the interventions and their inclusion in the APS are also discussed, as well as the container/closure configuration and the distinction between liquid filling and lyophilisation.

The APS of campaign manufacturing represents a complex case for Swissmedic, for which the start-of-campaign (including aseptic assemblies if the case) and end-of-campaign studies should be both conducted. The Q&As also confirm that any contaminated unit with a contamination > 0 CFU results in a failed APS and requires the activation of the consequent actions. Production should resume only after completion of a successful revalidation.

Quality control

A university degree or an equivalent diploma in the field of microbiology (or other natural sciences, or medicine) together with a good understanding of the manufacturing processes under consideration are required for the person in charge of supporting the design of manufacturing activities and environmental monitoring.

As for raw materials, the need for microbiological testing should be evaluated taking into consideration their nature and respective use in the process. All specifications should be discussed and justified in the CCS.

Swissmedic also confirms that the bioburden has to be tested on each batch of raw material as incoming control as well as on the compounding solution in which it is formulated before sterile filtration. In the case of products with short shelf life, should an out-of-specification (OOS) event appear after release of the batch, a procedure is needed to inform doctors, patients, and health authorities, and to assess the connected risks and define remediation actions.


Trends for the future of the pharmaceutical manufacturing

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The technological evolution of pharmaceutical manufacturing towards the full implementation of the Industry 4.0 paradigm is rapidly advancing. Digitalisation of productions is supported by the wide spread of automation, devices connected to the Internet of Things, and machine learning algorithms able to keep entire processes under control. Looking at pharmaceutical development, new types of treatments are emerging, also requiring a retuning of current approaches. Results from a survey among experts and industry insiders (56 respondents from 13 different countries) run by Connect in Pharma show new challenges are to be faced in the incoming years by the pharmaceutical industry in order to maintain its market position.

The combined value of the global pharmaceutical market in 2022 is estimated to be approx $650 billion. The main component reflects pharmaceutical manufacturing (US$ 526 billion in 2022, data Insight Slice), while the global pharmaceutical packaging market value is roughly US$131 billion (data Fact.MR).

Many different factors supporting the transformation of pharmaceutical manufacturing have been identified by Connect in Pharma, ranging from ageing of population to Covid19 and Ukraine crisis, to climate change and pressures on energy costs, up to the shortage of healthcare professionals. The final conclusions and opportunities identified by the report indicate new partnerships and collaborations (mainly with startups, and small and medium-sized companies) will remain fundamental to support competitiveness, together with growing investments in tech-driven innovations. Involvement of patients and healthcare professionals in identifying unmet needs and optimal solutions is another item to be considered in order to increase adherence to therapy, suggests the report.

Digitalisation still waiting to full exploit its potential

Innovation in automation and digitalisation of processes has been introduced in the pharmaceutical sector at a slower pace compared to other industrial sectors, due to its higher regulatory barriers. About one third (28%) of respondents to the survey indicated their companies are developing artificial intelligence (AI) or other digital tools for application in the manufacturing and packaging process. The main drivers towards the implementation of such systems are more efficient data collection, reduction of manufacturing down times and human errors, and the use of machine learning to support continuous manufacturing. Better workflow integration and anticounterfeiting, and the ability to share supply chain data with regulators are also relevant. These are all objectives that would need to provide new specific training to the workforce, e.g. on AI or tools for augmented reality.

One of the main barriers that, according to the report, is still slowing down the full potential of AI and digitalisation in the pharmaceutical industry is represented by the need to comply to regulations, including data integrity and security. The human factor may also prove relevant, as many people (including top management) may be reluctant to accept this change in technology. The availability of data scientists with a deep knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector is another critical point to be addressed.

Advances in drug delivery technologies

Connect in Pharma’s report also shed light on some drug delivery technologies that, despite not being an absolute novelty, are gaining relevance for the development of new products and treatments.

The moving of pharmaceutical pipelines towards a continuously increasing number of new biologic / biosimilar products, including mRNA-based and gene therapies, requires the availability of manufacturing and packaging capacities able to accommodate the specific needs of such often very unstable macromolecules. New drug delivery systems have been developed in recent years to provide answers to this need, among which is inhalation technology.

Dry powder inhalers and nasal delivery devices are the preferred formulations for the 50% of respondents to the survey that indicated actions are ongoing to develop new products using inhalation technologies. According to the report, these devices might prove particularly useful to deliver drugs that need to rapidly pass the blood-brain barrier in order to become effective, as well as for the delivery of vaccines. Fast absorption and higher bioavailability compared to other routes of administration are other elements of interest for inhalation technologies, which is also believed to be able to contribute to the reduction of carbon footprint.

Once again, the regulatory environment resulting from the entry into force of the EU Medical Devices Regulation (especially for drug-device combination products), together with the need to demonstrate patient safety and satisfactory bioavailability of these devices, are among the main barriers to their development, says the report. Inhalation technologies may also give rise to a new generation of delivery devices connected to the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).

Another major trend identified by Connect in Pharma refers to the development of new drug delivery systems for injectable medicines (50% of respondents). This area is greatly impacted by the entry into force of the revised Annex 1 to GMPs, on 25 August 2023, that will increase the requirements for aseptic manufacturing. According to the report, main areas of innovation in this field may include new devices for injectable drug delivery, namely targeted to diabetes (the leading area of innovation), intravitreal ocular injection, autoimmune diseases, oncology, respiratory therapy, and pain management.

Connected devices

Diabetes is a highly relevant field of innovation also with respect to the implementation of connected devices, those embedded sensors and electronics allow for the real-time collection of data on self-administration of the therapy by patients, and their forwarding to health professionals. AI algorithms further enhance the potential of connected devices delivering diabetes treatments, as they support the real-time monitoring of insulin concentration in blood, and the consequent level of insulin delivered by the device. According to Connect in Pharma, other positive characteristics arising from the use of connected devices refer to the possible increase of patient adherence and compliance to treatment, resulting in improved patient outcomes and more personalised treatment.

Regulatory barriers are once again a main burden to the wider spread of connected devices, says the report, due for instance to the ultimate control over the sharing of data, and the choice if to implement single-use or reusable devices. Manufacturing costs, cybersecurity, and patient hesitancy are other hurdles identified by respondents to the survey.

The challenges for sustainability

The green policies put in place especially in the EU are calling industry to revise its processes and products to decrease their environmental impact, improve sustainability of manufacturing and packaging processes, so to eventually meet the climate targets fixed for 2050. According to the report, the global healthcare sector would be responsible for 4.4% of global net emissions. Connect in Pharma’s survey indicates 66% of involved companies are working to implement more sustainable practices. These may include for example the use of recycled materials in secondary packaging, the implementation of energy efficient technologies, and the development of more ecofriendly drug delivery systems. Costs have been identified as the main barrier to transition, together with the lack of common definitions. According to some of the experts, a wider use of data to monitor manufacturing systems and processes may help in improving the overall efficiency and in lowering the carbon footprint. Transport, for example, has a great impact on the sustainability of packaging.


Webinar: Implementation of Contamination Control Strategy Using the ECA template

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The next EIPG webinar will be held in conjunction with PIER and University College Cork on Friday 21st of October 2022 (16.00 CEST), on the implementation of Contamination Control Strategy (CCS) using the ECA* template. This is the second presentation on the CCS, given by Walid El Azab, Senior Manager Technical Services for the Life Sciences Division of STERIS Corporation, an Industrial Pharmacist and a Qualified Person (QP), member of the ECA task force on the revision of Annex 1 and leading expert on the subject.

Manufacturers are required to develop a set of control strategies to confirm their process performance and product quality. Annex 1 introduces a “Contamination Control Strategy” (CCS) approach to ensure process performance and product quality by preventing microorganisms, pyrogens, and particulate contamination.

The presentation explains the implementation of a CCS across a facility and deep dive into the ECA guideline on CCS. An example of CCS implemented by various manufacturers and the ECA CCS template will be presented. This will be followed by a discussion around the future challenges manufacturers may face with the principle of a holistic approach and how novel technology and data science combined with statistics may help in overcoming the future challenges.

This is an event for members of EIPG member organisations. Contact your national association EIPG representative for further information.

  • European Compliance Academy

 


Webinar: Contamination Control Strategy, an Implementation Roadmap

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The next EIPG webinar will be held in conjunction with PIER and University College Cork on Friday 23rd September 2022 (16.00 CEST), on the implementation roadmap of Contamination Control Strategy (CCS). This presentation is given by Walid El Azab, Senior Manager Technical Services for the Life Sciences Division of STERIS Corporation, an Industrial Pharmacist and a Qualified Person (QP), member of the ECA task force on the revision of Annex 1 and leading expert on the subject.

Manufacturers are required to develop a set of control strategies to confirm their process performance and product quality (EU Annex 2, EU Annex 14, USP1115, USP1116, FDA aseptic guideline, ICH Q10, Q11). The draft Annex 1 introduces a “Contamination Control Strategy” (CCS) approach to ensure process performance and product quality by preventing microorganisms, pyrogens, and particulates contamination.

The presentation explains the implementation of a CCS across a facility. It proposes an implementation roadmap to formulate and deploy a successful CCS. Also, it discusses the processes and environments that must be scanned to formulate a CCS. Then, the presentation proposes a method to make the strategy work as intended by implementing the correct control strategies. Finally, it discusses how a company can assess its CCS level over time and improve it.  During the presentation, an online survey will be launched to assess CCS implementation practices amongst the attendees.

This is an event for members of EIPG member organisations. Contact your national association EIPG representative for further information.

 


PIC/S Annual Report 2021

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The Annual Report of the Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme (PIC/S) resumes the many activities and results achieved in 2021, despite the ongoing pandemic that required remote coordination and on-line virtual meetings. To this regard, a written procedure has been used to manage important decisions. PIC/S also supported the harmonisation of the distant assessment procedures used by the various regulatory authorities to run GMP inspections during the pandemic period.

The non-binding co-operative arrangement between international regulatory authorities aims to implement harmonised GMP standards and quality systems in support to harmonised inspection procedures. PIC/S’ new strategic plan for 2023-2027 will be presented at the PIC/S 50th anniversary in 2022. The PIC/S Committee has elected Paul Gustafson (Canada/ROEB) as the new Chairperson for the period 2022-2023; he takes the place of Anne Hayes (Ireland/HPRA).

New memberships and re-assessments

Last year saw the entry into the PIC/S scheme of the Brasilian Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (ANVISA), one of the main regulators of South America, representing the largest market for medicinal products for this geographic area. ANVISA is the 54th member of PIC/S.

Five other membership applications continued the process of assessment. These include the application of Armenia’s Scientific Center of Drug and Medical Technologies Expertise (SCDMTE), that was requested to update its documentation; the preliminary report should be issued soon.

The Bulgarian Drug Agency (BDA) will benefit of a partial assessment of its application, due to the fact the agency already went through an audit under the EMA Joint Audit Programme (JAP) whose report was shared with PIC/S. Health Canada will also collaborate to this assessment under a MRA procedure.

The Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA) also filed a membership application, as well as another regulator from Africa, the Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA), whose preliminary report is soon expected.

Particularly complex is the case of the application by several Competent Authorities of the Russian Federation that jointly submitted a complete membership application in December2020. A larger team, consisting of a Rapporteur and several Co-Rapporteurs, shall be nominated to better manage the procedure. The involved Russian authorities are the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation (Minpromtorg Russia), the Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare (Roszdravnadzor), including the “Information and Methodological Center for Expertise, Accounting and Analysis of Circulation of Medical Products” (FGBU “IMCEUAOSMP” of Roszdravnadzor),the Federal “State Institute of Drugs and Good Practices” (FSI “SID & GP”), and the Federal “Scientific Center for Examination of Medical Devices” of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation (FSBI ”SCEMD”).

Among authorities undergoing the pre-accession procedure is the Chinese regulatory agency National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), whose application will be assessed by Jacques Morenas (France/ANSM) as Rapporteur and Raphael Yeung (Hong Kong SAR, China/PPBHK) as Co-Rapporteur.

Reviewing of the pre-accession application is also ongoing for the Analytical Expertise Center (AEC) of the Ministry of Health of Azerbaijan, the Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA, this 2-year timeframe for the pre-accession expired in February 2021, and a new application was required) and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), that was invited to apply for membership subject to the implementation of the PIC/S GMP Guide.

PIC/S also run a Joint Reassessment Programme (JRP) in parallel with the EU’s JAP to re-evaluate its members for equivalence on a regular basis. In 2021 the JRP included the reassessment of regulatory authorities from Indonesia (NADFC), New Zealand (Medsafe), and South Africa (SAHPRA).

PIC/S also established new contacts in 2021 with other non-member authorities, including Cameroon’s Laboratoire National de Contrôle de Qualité des Médicaments et d’ Expertise, China’s Institute of Veterinary Drug Control, Cuba’s Centro para el Control Estatal de Medicamentos, Equipos y Dispositivos Médicos (CECMED), and Montenegro’s Institute for Medicines and Medical Devices.

New guidances and revisions of existing ones

Among the new guidances adopted in 2021 are the Annex 2A for the Manufacture of ATMP for Human Use and Annex 2B for the Manufacture of Biological Medicinal Substances and Products for Human Use, that entered into force on 1 May 2021 (PE 009-15). The documents were finalised by the PIC/S Working Group on the revision of Annex 2 of the PIC/S GMP Guide.

The Working Group on Data Integrity issued two other guidance documents that entered into force on 1 July 2021, the Guidance on Good Practices for Data Management and Integrity in Regulated GMP/GDP Environments (PI 041-1) and a restricted Aide Memoire on inspection of data management and integrity (PI 049).

PIC/S also issued the Good Practice Guidelines for Blood Establishments and Hospital Blood Banks (PE 005) and the related Aide Memoire to Inspections of Blood Establishments and Plasma Warehouses (PI 008), that entered into force on 1 June 2021. The dedicated Working Group will now address the revision of PI 019 (PIC/S Site Master File for Source Plasma Establishments) and PI 020 (PIC/S Site Master File for Plasma Warehouses).

PIC/S and EMA’s joint Working Group on Annex 1 reviewed the comments received to the second public consultation and drafted the final version of the Annex.

The Working Group on Harmonisation of the Classification of Deficiencies is finalising the revision of the PIC/S SOP on Inspection Report Format (PI 013-3) in order to align it with the abovementioned PI 040-1. The Working Group on Controlling Cross-Contamination in Shared Facilities is as well finalising the revision of its Guidance on Cross-Contamination in Shared Facilities (PI 043-1).

PIC/S is also working to harmonise its GMP Guide and Annexes to the rules established by the European Union, in collaboration with EMA through the PIC/S-EMA Joint Consultation Procedure. Many chapters and annexes of the PIC/S-EU GMP Guide were considered during 2021, including Chapter 1 (Pharmaceutical Quality System), Chapter 4 (Documentation) and Annex 11 (Computerised Systems), Annexes 4 and 5 (Veterinary Medicinal Products), Annex 13 (Investigational Medicinal Products), Annex 16 (Certification by an Authorised Person & Batch Release), and Annex21 (GMP Obligations for Importation to the EU).

Virtual training in the pandemic period

Four virtual training events were organised in 2021, among which a PIC/S webinar for inspectors on ICH Q12 (Pharmaceutical Product Lifecycle Management) that was attended by around350 participants from 50 agencies and 44 different jurisdictions.

The webinar on Distant assessment/Remote Virtual Inspection co-organised with the EU Commission Expert Sub-Group on Inspections in the Blood, Tissues and Cells Sectors (IES) was attended by around 325 participants.

The 2021 PIC/S annual seminar was hosted by the Ministry Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) of the Republic of Korea, and saw the participation of 315 inspectors from 54 authorities.

The 2nd meeting of the PIC/S Expert Circle on Controlling Cross-Contamination in Shared Facilities (CCCISF) was virtually hosted and was attended by 375 participants.

Last year saw also the provision of new harmonised and standardised GMP training activities for inspectors under the PIC/S Inspectorates’ Academy (PIA) initiative, a web-based educational centre also involved in setting up a standardised qualification process of inspectors.


Automation of aseptic manufacturing

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by Giliana Miglierini

The pharmaceutical industry is often the last industrial sector to implement many new manufacturing and methodological procedures. One typical example is Lean production, those concepts were developed in the automotive industry well before their adoption in the pharmaceutical field. The same may also apply to automation: it appears time is now mature to see an increasing role of automated operations in the critical field of aseptic manufacturing, suggests an article by Jennifer Markarian on PharmTech.com.

The main added value of automation is represented by the possibility to greatly reduce the risk of contamination associated to the presence of human operators in cleanrooms. A goal of high significance for the production of biotech, advanced therapies, which are typically parenterally administered. Automation is already taking place in many downstream processes, for example for fill/finish operations, packaging or warehouse management.

The advantages of the automation of aseptic processes

The biggest challenges engineers face when designing isolated fill lines are fitting the design into a small, enclosed space; achieving good operator ergonomics; and ensuring all systems and penetrations are leak-tight and properly designed for cleanability and [hydrogen peroxide] sterilization,” said Joe Hoff, CEO of robotics manufacturer AST, interviewed by Jennifer Markarian.

The great attention to the development of the Contamination Control Strategy (CCS) – which represents the core of sterile manufacturing, as indicated by the new Annex 1 to GMPs – may benefit from the insertion of robots and other automation technologies within gloveless isolators and other types of closed systems. This passage aims to completely exclude the human presence from the cleanroom and is key to achieve a completely segregated manufacturing environment, thus maximising the reduction of potential risks of contamination.

The new approach supports the pharmaceutical industry also in overcoming the often observed reluctance to innovate manufacturing processes: automation is now widely and positively perceived by regulators, thus contributing to lowering the regulatory risks linked to the submission of variations to the CMC part of the authorisation dossiers. High costs for the transitions to automated manufacturing – that might include the re-design of the facilities and the need to revalidate the processes – still represent significant barriers to the diffusion of these innovative methodologies for pharmaceutical production.

The elimination of human intervention in aseptic process was also a requirement of FDA’s 2004 Guideline on Sterile Drug Products Produced by Aseptic Processing and of the related report on Pharmaceutical CGMPs for the 21st Century: A Risk-Based Approach. According to Morningstar, for example, the FDA has recently granted approval for ADMA Biologics’ in-house aseptic fill-finish machine, an investment aimed to improve gross margins, consistency of supply, cycle times from inventory to production, and control of batch release.

Another advantage recalled by the PharmTech’s article is the availability of highly standardized robotics systems, thus enabling a great reduction of the time needed for setting up the new processes. The qualification of gloves’ use and cleaning procedures, for example, is no longer needed, impacting on another often highly critical step of manufacturing.

Easier training and higher reproducibility of operative tasks are other advantages offered by robots: machines do not need repeated training and testing for verification of the adherence to procedures, for example, thus greatly simplifying the qualification and validation steps required by GMPs. Nevertheless, training of human operators remains critical with respect to the availability of adequate knowledge to operate and control the automated systems, both from the mechanical and electronic point of view.

Possible examples of automation in sterile manufacturing

Robots are today able to perform a great number of complex, repetitive procedures with great precision, for example in the handling of different formats of vials and syringes. Automatic weighing stations are usually present within the isolator, so to weight empty and full vials in order to automatically adjust the filling process.

This may turn useful, for example, with respect to the production of small batches of advanced therapy medicinal products to be used in the field of precision medicine. Robots can also be automatically cleaned and decontaminated along with other contents of the isolator, simplifying the procedures that have to be run between different batches of production and according to the “Cleaning In Place” (CIP) and “Sterilisation In Place” (SIP) methodologies.

The design and mechanical characteristics of the robots (e.g. the use of brushless servomotors) make the process more smooth and reproducible, as mechanical movements are giving rise to a reduced number of particles.

Examples of gloveless fully sealed isolators inclusive of a robotic, GMP compliant arm were already presented in 2015 for the modular small-scale manufacturing of personalised, cytotoxic materials used for clinical trials.

Maintenance of the closed system may be also, at least partly, automated, for example by mean of haptic devices operated by remote to run the procedure the robotic arm needs to perform. Implementation of PAT tools and artificial intelligence algorithms offers opportunities for the continuous monitoring of the machinery, thus preventing malfunctioning and potential failures. The so gathered data may also prove very useful to run simulations of the process and optimization of the operative parameters. Artificial intelligence may be in place to run the automated monitoring and to detect defective finished products.

Automated filling machines allow for a high flexibility of batch’s size, from few hundreds of vials per hour up to some thousands. The transfer of containers along the different stations of the process is also automated. The implementation of this type of processes is usually associated with the use of pre-sterilised, single-use materials automatically inserted within the isolator (e.g. primary containers and closures, beta bags and disposal waste bags).

Automation may also refer to microbial monitoring and particle sampling operations to be run into cleanrooms, in line with the final goal to eliminate the need of human intervention.

Comparison of risks vs manual processes

A comparison of risks relative to various types of aseptic preparation processes typically run within a hospital pharmacy and performed, respectively, using a robot plus peristaltic pump or a manual process was published in 2019 in Pharm. Technol. in Hospital Pharmacy.

Production “on demand” of tailor-made preparations has been identified by authors as the more critical process, for which no significant difference in productivity is present between the manual and automated process. The robotic process proved to be superior for standardised preparations either from ready to use solutions or mixed cycles. A risk analysis run using the Failure Modes Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) showed a lower level of associated risk.