hybrid inspections Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

Patient involvement in the development, regulation and safe use of medicines


by Giuliana Miglierini The Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) has published the CIOMS report on “Patient involvement in the development, regulation and safe use of medicines”. The report marks an important step forward towards a harmonised approach to Read more

Webinar: Implementation of Contamination Control Strategy Using the ECA template


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 Read more

Real-world evidence for regulatory decision-making


by Giuliana Miglierini Digitalisation is rapidly advancing also in the regulatory field, as a tool to improve the efficiency and accuracy of processes used for the generation and use of data to inform the regulatory decision-making. To this instance, real-world Read more

ICMRA, two pilot programmes to optimise regulatory assessment and inspections

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by Giuliana Miglierini

New flexible modalities for the management of regulatory procedures are becoming progressively accepted even for routine activities, upon the experience built during the pandemic. Efforts are ongoing at the global level in order to better harmonise the new approaches. To this instance, the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) has launched two pilot programmes focused, respectively, on the collaborative assessments of chemistry, manufacturing and control (CMC) and Post-Approval Change (PAC) submissions and related regulatory actions and on hybrid inspections.

Each programme is expected to last 1-1.5 years and should see the involvement of at least two regulatory regions, each one conducting three assessments or collaborative hybrid inspections. Recommendations resulting from the pilots shall be published in 2023, representing the basis of an initial common framework for collaborative assessment and hybrid inspections. The initiative follows the results of a workshop organised by ICMRA in July 2021, during which emerged the need for more convergence and reliance across regulatory authorities in order to support the timely supply of critical medicines.

ICRMA has invited industrial sponsors to participate to the initiative, with particular reference to those planning to file an application for a new product or for post approval changes of already approved products to more than one regulatory agency. All details and the procedure for application are available at this link.

Therapeutics which may be object of the submission include both small molecules and biological products. The submission may refer to products for the treatment of Covid-19, other medically necessary/critical medicines or products granted for access to fast-track procedures such as the Breakthrough (US), PRIME (EU) or Sakigake (JP) schemes.

Interested sponsors are required to check with the involved facility’s management to ensure readiness for inspection and possibility to host a collaborative hybrid inspection, with a particular attention to the availability of suitable IT infrastructures and interpretation services, and the possibility to coordinate at least two inspectorates across different time-zones.

Applications are open since 15 June 2022 and have to be forwarded using the EudraLink secure file transfer application provided by EMA. After a rolling review of the applications, starting of the first pilot is scheduled for September 2022.

The general objectives

The main goals of the initiative include the definition of best practices and standards in the quality assessment of CMC-related post-approval changes and collaborative hybrid inspections. A single list of questions to the sponsor or manufacturer should also be delivered, and answers be shared with the participating quality assessors and inspectors.

The exercise should lead to the identification of misalignments and potential areas of harmonization across participating regulatory regions. An improved convergence and collaboration among regulators in specific data expectations and assessment approaches for the assessment of manufacturing facilities for Pre-Approval and Pre-License Applications (PAIs & PLIs) and reviewing PACs and PAC Management Protocols may also be supported by the analysis of the data acquired during the two programmes.

Hybrid inspections

Hybrid inspections are based on the collaboration of at least two different National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs), one of which in charge of the on-site inspection activities, the second acting as a remote inspectorate. The respective tasks shall be coordinated and run using virtual technologies, so to enable real-time collaboration in the inspection activities, which should target facilities and products of interest for multiple regulatory agencies (see more details here and here).

The pilot is expected to reduce the need of multiple inspections or facility assessments and to support the identification of the best virtual platforms and information technology (i.e., video) to facilitate concurrent on-site inspection and distant assessment. Focus on the development of a common framework to accommodate time zone differences between the facility location and the distant inspectorates is also expected.

Best practices to prepare and conduct the hybrid inspection are another important outcome, as both the on-site and distant inspectorates needs to obtain from the activities all the information needed to run their respective assessments.

In the critical field of GMP expectations, a possible target of the pilot may be represented by how the inspection is reported and how deficiencies are classified by different regulators. Aligned reports and protocols may also support the sharing of information with other interested ICRMA inspectorates. In any case, each participating authority remains the sole responsible for the evaluation of the outcomes of the inspection and the enforcement of any consequent action, according to its own reference legal framework.

A final protocol describing how to execute a hybrid inspection is a main expected outcome of the fist pilot, to be then applied by the Working Group to evaluate at least 3-5 facilities with at least two regulatory agencies involved in the hybrid assessment.

Collaborative assessment

The second pilot aims to run collaborative quality assessment for a minimum of three different applications and a minimum of three regulatory agencies involved each time. The initial phase of the pilot should see a limited number of regulatory agencies (3-5) participating to the project, on the basis of specific confidentiality agreements.

Sponsors participating to the pilot shall submit a single application for the proposed CMC changes for assessment by multiple regulatory authorities; the initial focus is expected to be on post-approval change management protocols (PACMPs; chapter 4 of ICH Q12) for Covid-19 therapeutics. More in detail, participating regulatory agencies will agree on the procedure to be used for the collaborative assessment. They are expected to share and discuss in advance any information request or comment, prior to the interaction with the applicant. Any participating authority can maintain its independence to issue information requests, but in any case, the so obtained answers shall be shared with other NRAs and assessed on the basis of a common approach, so to avoid the need of multiple independent lists of clarification seeking comments.

The project also aims to achieve a single regulatory decision regarding the joint assessment (see more details here and here).

More specifically, priorities to be addressed should include for example the evaluation of information or data on specifications, stability, and/or PACMP that support site changes or additions.

As for the hybrid inspections, expected outcomes are represented by the identification of the best practices and standards in the quality assessment of post approval changes, including PACMPs, and of potential areas for alignment or harmonisation across regions.

A forum of discussion should be also created in order to facilitate convergence on the basis of such best practices. Each evaluation should lead to the preparation of lessons-learned summaries to share the acquired knowledge; new quality assessment guidance and standards might also be proposed, where appropriate.


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.