distant assessment Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

PIC/S Annual Report 2021


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 Read more

Joint implementation plan for the IVDR regulation


by Giuliana Miglierini Regulation (EU) 2017/746 (IVDR), establishing the new legislative framework for in vitro diagnostic medical devices (IVDs), will entry into force on 26 May 2022. The Medical Device Coordination Group (MDCG) has published an updated version of the Read more

Key issues in technical due diligences


by Giuliana Miglierini Financial due diligence is a central theme when discussing mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Not less important for the determination of the fair value of the deal and the actual possibility to integrate the businesses are technical due Read more

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.


EDQM, the RTEMIS scheme for remote inspections and new application forms for CEPs

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Starting in 2022, the Real-Time Remote Inspections (RTEMIS) programme, established by the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) as a pilot in November 2020 to provide a tool to face travel restrictions due to Covid-19, has turned permanent. Companies applying for Certificates of suitability to the monographs of the European Pharmacopoeia (CEPs) may thus receive a notification for a RTEMIS inspection, as a part of the activities of the EDQM. The Directorate is responsible in cooperation with the participating agencies, for assessing the GMP compliance and CEPs applications relative to manufacturing sites of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). The final GMP certificate issued from the NCA incorporates, following the positive closure of a remote inspection clearly states that the inspection was performed as a “distant assessment”.

Companies can adhere to the RTEMIS programme on a voluntary basis; the tool will complement the other modalities available to the EDQM to inspect manufacturers of pharmaceutical active ingredients, i.e. on-site inspections and documentation-based GMP assessment. As for on-site inspections, RTEMIS is also subject to the payment of fees. According to the Directorate, remote inspections cannot replace the on-site ones in terms of value and effectiveness, but many prove useful to assess GMP compliance for companies which have been already inspected. The RTEMIS scheme will thus form the third pillar for the supervision of GMP compliance of API manufacturers registered in the EDQM’s CEP scheme.

To qualify for an RTEMIS inspection, the concerned company should make available a suitable IT infrastructure and hardware to support the remote interaction with the EDQM’s team. To this regard, the notification letter will also include details about the expected infrastructural requirements; interested companies can contact the EDQM HelpDesk for further information.

The pilot phase to validate the RTEMIS scheme for remote inspections ran by the EDQM with reference to several manufacturing sites in India, selected on the basis of their GMP compliance history and a risk assessment, and which participated to the project on a voluntary basis. According to EDQM, suitable Corrective and Preventative Action Plans were developed by the inspected companies to address minor and major deficiencies identified during the inspections, leading to a degree in GMP conformity that the Directorate indicates as “satisfactory”.

Key factors for remote inspections

The pilot phase of the RTEMIS programme closed at the end of 2021 and led to the identification of several key factors to be respected in order to guarantee the success of remote inspections. During this period, RTEMIS inspections ran by the EDQM with the support of European Economic Area (EEA) inspectorates.

At a minimum, an appropriate IT infrastructure and hardware at the inspected site should be available to support a stable connection with the EDQM’s inspectors. During the preparatory phase of the inspection great attention should be paid to choose a suitable web conference application, running connectivity tests before the established date for the inspection, as well as a secure platform for the sharing of all relevant documentation (often in advance of the inspection). The selection of the IT tool to be used can benefit of the initial support from the EDQM’s IT department. Another important feature that should be always kept in mind refers to the possibility to run parallel sessions of discussion between the inspectors’ team and the staff and experts of the inspected company.

In remote inspections, participants are often located far apart, for example EDQM’s inspectors based in Strasbourg (F) may interact with an inspected company in China or India. The great difference in time zone requires a great flexibility on both sides to set the schedule for connections. Flexibility is also needed to face the many challenges posed by remote inspections, often requiring approaches significantly different from the traditional ones used for on-site inspections. Digital connected tools such as smart glasses may be used, for example, by the staff at the inspected site to allow inspectors to perform a real-time virtual tour of the plants.

New forms for CEPs applications

The EDQM also updated all forms to be used to apply for the release of Certificates of Suitability to the European Pharmacopoeia monographs. The forms to be used in case of a new application, revisions and sister files are available at the dedicated page of the EDQM’s website

The revision is intended to facilitate the transfer of data the EDQM’s new IT tools, which have been implemented starting 1 April 2022. The new forms also better reflect data available within the EMA’s SPOR – Organisation Management Services (OMS) system, including company details, names and addresses. The EDQM recommend communicating other additional data linked to the ones present in EMA’s website, i.e. the ORG_ID and LOC_ID.

 Applicants should also insert localisation data for their manufacturing sites, in the form of GPS coordinates. To this instance, the internationally recognised WGS 84 system should be used, using latitude and longitude (with the + and – symbols) expressed in degrees to at least five decimal places, as described in policy document PA/PH/CEP (10) 118.

Tables detailing the marketed medicinal products containing a certain active substance and the respective list of accepted Active Substance Master Files/Drug Master Files (ASMFs/DMFs) have been also updated, in order to better reflect the commercialisation history of the products and the quality assessments already performed.

EDQM also advises companies to use the form “change of contact details” as the preferred tool to inform the Directorate about the change of the contact person for one or more CEP dossiers (ref. policy document PA/PH/CEP (10) 86).

EDQM’s website is also undergoing a complete revision, aimed to improve the user experience and to ensure a quick and easy access to all relevant information. The new version of the site will be accessible from the same web address www.edqm.eu and is expected to be online in April 2022.  


ICMRA published a Reflection paper on remote inspections

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Remote inspections have become a widely used approach since the last two years to ensure the oversight of the compliance of pharmaceutical productions to regulatory requirements, as the prolonged lockdown periods determined by the pandemic made very difficult the maintenance of the regular schedule for on-site inspections.

A Reflection paper on the so gathered experience has been recently published by the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA); the document addresses from the point of view of regulatory authorities the many issues encountered to establish appropriate modalities to interact at distance with the industrial counterparts by mean of digital technologies and suggests the best practices for the future. The analysis focused especially on remote GCP and GMP inspections.

The Reflection paper was drafted by a working group chaired by the UK MHRA and inclusive of representatives from the US FDA, EMA, Health Canada, Swiss-medic, HPRA Ireland, AEMPS Spain, ANSM France, PEI Germany, MHLW/PMDA Japan, TGA Australia, ANVISA Brazil, HSA Singapore, WHO and Saudi FDA.

The lack of a uniform definitions and approaches

Each national competent authority adopted during the pandemic its own approach to remote inspections, evaluating this type of opportunity on a case-by-case basis, making use of established quality risk management principles and tools to reach their decision (par. 3 of the Reflection paper enlists the more widely used parameters for risk assessment and management).Among the factors entering this preliminary evaluation are the regulatory compliance history of the inspectee, the scope of the inspection (pre-approval, routine or for cause), and the inherent risk associated with the activities conducted by the site, the types of products and the need for the product.

The term used to identify the at distance interaction with the company to be inspected also assumed a quite wide variability; “distant assessment”, “remote evaluation”, “desktop assessment” or “remote assessment” are other frequent declinations used to define oversight procedures run by using digital technologies, both at the national and international level.

The choice of the specific term to identify this sort of practice depends upon many different factors, including the type of inspection and of the involved facilities, and the local national legal frameworks governing inspections as well as protection of personal data. The specific areas or sites to be included in the official review of activities, documents, facilities, records, etc. have proved also highly variable, as they may include not only the manufacturing site, but also investigator sites of a clinical trial, the sponsor’s and/or contract research organisation’s (CRO’s) facilities, or any other establishments deemed appropriate by the regulatory authority running the inspection.

Should the preliminary risk assessment had discouraged the possibility to conduct a remote inspection, the on-site inspections were usually postponed until the termination of lockdown measures in the interested countries. Hybrid or collaborative inspections represent another opportunity used to handle critical cases: the first ones involve the assessment or inspection to be conducted using a mix of remote and on-site activities, the second see two or more regulatory authorities collaborating to perform a conjunct inspection of a specific site.

According to the Reflection paper, it thus appears highly unlikely that a unique and fully harmonized approach to remote inspections in all scenarios might be developed for the future. “While the ICMRA group have found remote inspections an enabling tool to maintain at least a minimal regulatory oversight during the pandemic, it is not the view of the group that remote inspections would fully replace an on-site inspection programme”, states the document.

The main issues encountered

The possibility to conduct inspections, evaluations or assessments at a distance/virtually is based on the implicit availability of a robust IT and communication infrastructure; this has proved a fundamental requirement to smoothly share and review all the relevant documentation and ensure access from remote to systems and plants. Virtual tours of the manufacturing facilities are a typical example, for which the availability of solid “hardware and software that can provide an appropriate field of vision, clarity and stabilisation of the picture, while simultaneously facilitating conversation between the inspector and tour host” is essential to enable the real-time transmission of images and sounds captured by the in charge on-site staff by mean of smart devices or more advanced systems as smart-glasses.

In international inspections, the difference in time-zone and the availability of real-time, online translation services have also proved critical in many instances, especially if parallel sessions of discussion were needed. The possibility for inspectors to access on-line the relevant documentation requires the availability of the inspected company to provide credentials to enter in a read-only mode its proprietary document management systems and repositories. To this instance, confidentiality issues often led many companies to provide access to IT systems by mean of a specifically appointed member of the staff, in charge of accessing in real-time the systems and made available all the documentation as indicated by the inspectors.

The main areas of attention

The Reflection paper identifies four different areas for which remote assessment/inspection proved to be particularly useful during the pandemic period.

In the case of virtual tours, the indication coming from ICRMA experts is to limit the use of prerecorded video tours only in exceptional circumstances, and never for inspection of high-risk activities, as the inspector may not be in the right conditions to effectively verify all details needed to evaluate the suitability of the facility.

Direct access to documentation by inspectors is an expectation, electronically or otherwise, whether the inspection is on-site or remote”, states the Reflection paper. The alternative intervention of site staff may be acceptable, but it should not negatively impact the results of the assessment. Furthermore, this modality may also prove quite time consuming for both the inspector and the inspected company. ICRMA also supports the possibility for regulators to access documentation after the closure meeting, and upon the formal closure of the inspection, in order to facilitate the drafting of the report or to clarify a deficiency already raised.

GCP and GMP inspections

Specific issues for both GCP and GMP inspections are addressed in two dedicated chapters of ICRMA’s Reflection paper.

It should be noted that within the EU remote inspections at investigator sites are not considered to be feasible”, writes ICRMA. The motivation has to be found mainly in the need to avoid any further impact on the clinical sites during an health emergency like the pandemic, andin the issues posed by local frameworks for data protection. The Reflections paper provides a list of clinical areas not suitable for remote inspection.

As for GMP inspections, not all regulatory authorities adopted the same approach during the pandemic; in general terms, this sort of practice has been judged acceptable by ICRMA to handle emergency situations with restrictions to travels in place, but it cannot fully substitute onsite inspections of manufacturing sites. More specifically, the experience of the past two years shows that remote inspection proved unfeasible for sites requiring detailed observation, as those performing aseptic manufacturing or handling potent active ingredients with low Permitted Daily Exposure.