by Giuliana Miglierini
The review process of medicinal products started in 2018 to assess the presence of nitrosamine impurities is still ongoing. The Coordination Group for Mutual Recognition and Decentralised Procedure (CMDh) last updated in December2021 its Questions & Answers document (Q&A) proving guidance on how to approach the revision procedure.
The US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also updated its guidance on how to minimise the risks related to nitrosamine through formulation design changes. We summarise the latest news of the topic of nitrosamine impurities.
The CMDh’s update of the Q&A document
The CMDh Questions & Answers document (CMDh/400/2019, Rev.5) specifically refers to the implementation of the outcome of Art. 31 referral on angiotensin-II-receptor antagonists (sartans) containing a tetrazole group. According to the indications released in November 2020 by EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP), these outcomes should now be aligned with those issued for other classes of medicines. This provision impacted on the allowed limits for nitrosamines, which are now applied to the finished products instead than to the active ingredient. The limits are determined on the basis of internationally agreed standards (ICH M7(R1)).
Companies are called to implement an appropriate control strategy to prevent or limit the presence of nitrosamine impurities as much as possible and to improve their manufacturing processes where necessary. A risk assessment should be run to evaluate the possible presence of N-nitrosamines in medicinal products, and tests carried out if appropriate.
Four different conditions (A-D) are set for the marketing authorisation (MA) of tetrazole sartans, with specific dates to be met for their fulfilment by marketing authorisation holders (MAHs). Revision 5 of the Q&As document specifically addresses conditions B and D.
Condition B asks the MAH to submit a step 2 response in the general “call for review”. To lift the condition on the risk assessment for the finished product, and provided no nitrosamine was detected in step 2 or levels are below 10% of acceptable intake (AI), submission of the step 2 response must now be followed by the submission of the outcome of the risk assessment. To this instance, the relevant template “Step 2 – No nitrosamine detected response template” should be used to fill a type IA C.I.11.a variation.
A further amendment to Condition B refers to nitrosamines being detected in step 2 above 10% AI. In this case, a variation application should be submitted as appropriate to support changes to the manufacturing process and the possible introduction of a limit in the specification of the finished product.
Condition D now specifies that it applies only to N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and N nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA) impurities. Thus, to lift the condition on the change of the finished product specification, and if the MAH wants to apply for omission from the specification, supporting data and risk assessments should be submitted via a type IB C.I.11.z variation referring only to these two impurities. Should any other nitrosamine impurity be potentially present, data should be submitted under separate variation (also grouping them together). Conditions A and C remain unchanged. The former refers to the three different possibilities for lifting the condition on the risk assessment for the active substance and with specific reference to the manufacturing process used to prepare it, the second to lifting the condition on the control strategy.
The guidance from the FDA
The US regulatory agency Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released in February 2021 the first revision of the “Guidance for Industry Control of Nitrosamine Impurities in Human Drugs”, establishing a three-step process to demonstrate the fulfilment of requirements.
The guideline widely discusses the structure of nitrosamine impurities and the possible root causes for their presence in medicinal products. While not binding for manufacturers, recommendations contained in the document should be applied in order to evaluate the risk level for the contamination of both active ingredients and finished products. This exercise should be run on the basis of a prioritisation taking into consideration the maximum daily dose, the duration of treatment, the therapeutic indication, and the number of patients treated.
The FDA provides also the acceptable intake limits for a set of different nitrosamine impurities (NDMA, NDEA, NMBA, NMPA, NIPEA, and NDIPA); the approach outlined in ICH M7(R1) should be used to determine the risk associated with other types of nitrosamines.
Manufacturers do not need to submit the results of the risk assessment to the FDA, the relevant documentation has to be made available just upon specific request.
The second step refers to products showing a risk for the presence of nitrosamine impurities. In this case, highly sensitive confirmatory testing is needed to confirm the presence of the impurities.
The implementation of all changes to the manufacturing process for the API or final product have then to be submitted to the FDA in the form of drug master file amendments and changes to approved applications.
The Agency also provides specific guidance for API manufacturers to optimise the route of manufacturing in order to prevent the possible formation of nitrosamine impurities. API manufacturers should participate to the risk assessment run by the MAH; this last exercise should include the evaluation of any pathway (including degradation) that may introduce nitrosamines during drug product manufacture or storage.
Additional points to be considered
A Communication issued in November 2021 by the FDA specifies the terms for the recommended completion dates of the above mentioned three steps and adds some additional points to be considered in the evaluations. MAHs should have already completed by 31st March 2021 all risk assessments, while there is time up to 1st October 2023 for confirmatory testing and reporting changes. According to the FDA, the time left is enough to include in the development of the mitigation strategies also new considerations on how formulation design may prove useful to control nitrosamine levels in drug products.
More in particular, manufacturers are asked to evaluate the presence of nitrosamine drug substance-related impurities (NDSRIs), that may be produced if nitrite impurities are present in excipients (at parts-per-million amounts) or may be generated during manufacturing or shelf-life storage. Should NDSRIs be present, FDA recommends the mitigation strategy should include a supplier qualification program that takes into account potential nitrite impurities across excipient suppliers and excipient lots.
Formulation design is another possible approach to solve the issue. This may use, for example, common antioxidants – such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) – that according to the scientific literature inhibit the formation of nitrosamines in vivo. The kinetic of the reaction leading to the formation of nitrosamine impurities may be also addressed by using a neutral or basic pH for formulation, to avoid acidic conditions which favours the side reaction.
Formulation changes may be submitted to the FDA through supplements or amendments to the applications, also following a preliminary meeting with the Agency to better discuss the approach to be used. Should this be the case, applicants or manufacturers are asked to prepare a comprehensive meeting package with the appropriate regulatory and scientific data on the selected approach to be submitted to the FDA in advance of the meeting.