MRA Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

ACT EU’s Workplan 2022-2026


by Giuliana Miglierini The implementation phase of the Accelerating Clinical Trials in the EU (ACT EU) initiative, launched in January 2022 by the European Commission, started with the publication of the2022-2026 Workplan jointly drafted by the Commission, the European Medicines Read more

EFPIA’s Annual Report on the Pharmaceutical industry 2022


by Giuliana Miglierini “In the 21 years from 2000 to 2021 – in which time we’ve come through the Global Financial Crisis and a pandemic – EFPIA companies have more than doubled production, increased exports by a factor of six, Read more

Webinar: Contamination Control Strategy, an Implementation Roadmap


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, Read more

Current inspection trends and new approaches to the monitoring of post-inspection activities

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) has published its Annual Regulatory GMP/GDP Inspection Survey 2021, highlighting the more recent trends in inspections and how the pandemic affected this critical verification process of pharmaceutical productions. Meanwhile, UK’s regulatory authority MHRA launched the Compliance Monitor Process pilot, aimed to use eligible consultants as Compliance Monitors to supervise companies in the delivery of actions identified in the Compliance Protocol agreed with the regulatory authority.

Main trends in inspections

The main effect of the lockdowns has been the implementation of new ways to run inspections. The recommendation resulting from EFPIA’s report is now for virtual tools combined with onsite presence; to this instance, data gathered in 2021 show that the two modalities of inspection have a similar duration (2.9 days for on-site inspections vs 2.8 days for virtual ones). The report also indicates there is still a backlog of inspections due in 2020, the critical period of the pandemic; suggestions to manage expiring GMP/GDP/ISO-certificates include a one-year prolongation of current certificates, a dedicated communication process between the industry and regulators in the case of issues with the registration in third countries, and a planning of inspections based on the quality history of the site.

Domestic inspections confirming the trend observed since 2016, are almost double of the number of foreign inspections. These last ones focused in 2021 on only 23 countries, compared to the 44 countries visited by inspectors in 2017. EU’s countries were the most visited ones, with some 350 inspections reported vs the 150 of US, confirming the importance of European pharmaceutical manufacturing. According to the report, 2021 saw an increased attention to GDP inspections, while the percentage of sites with no inspections remains stable for six years.

A new mix of inspection tools

The use of new tools, additional to physical on-site presence, has now become a routine possibility accepted by many regulatory authorities. Many different approaches have been tested during the pandemic, including different inspections tools. Different combinations of tools cannot be considered to be equivalent, according to EFPIA. In general, a mixture of physical presence, document review and virtual presence flanked by the sharing of experience, collaboration and reliance is deemed suitable to confirm compliance and capability while supporting a risk-based efficiency.

Data show that the number of virtual inspections was higher in 2020 compared to 2021; the last year saw an increase of on-site presence vs 2020 and a mixture of virtual and on-site inspections. According to the report, only seven European countries have experience with the implementation of virtual inspection tools (Germany, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Sweden). As a consequence, the impact of mixed virtual and on-site domestic inspections in 2021 was lower in EU member states that, for example, in the US, Brazil, Russia and Singapore.

There is still space for improvement

EFPIA’s survey presents the respective advantages and disadvantages of on-site inspections vs virtual tools. The implementation of the new modalities is far from being accomplished, the process is still on the learning curve, says the document.

While the remote, virtual interaction allows for a greater flexibility of the inspection process, it may result stressful for some people; furthermore, it impacts on the way work is organised, as it needs a flexible schedule and time to prepare for the next day meetings. Also, the style of communication changes to become less natural and more focused. Overall, virtual inspections appear to be more efficient when performed in real-time, as it would be for on-site inspections. While being less costly, due to avoiding extensive travelling, virtual inspections require a careful preparation, including the availability of a suitable IT infrastructure and connectivity. Documents are also often required in advance of the meetings to be shared with regulators.

How to further improve inspections

According to EFPIA, the future of inspections calls for improved collaboration and reliance in order to increase the knowledge shared by the different inspectorates and overcome the limits intrinsic to self-dependency. The expected final outcome of the new approach to inspections is an improvement in the decision-making process. Inspection frequency may be set every 1 to 5 years on the basis of a risk-based evaluation.

Collaboration, reliance and delegation appear to be the new mantras to guide the actions of regulators: the focus suggested by EFPIA is on inspections run by domestic authorities, coupled to the implementation of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA) to avoid duplication of efforts. According to the report, it would be needed to harmonise the scope of existing MRAs and to establish new ones between the EU and PIC/S participating authorities (e.g. Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey and UK). The European legislation should be also updated to include the concept of listed third countries, as already in place for the importation of active substances under the provisions of the Falsified Medicines directive.

The report also suggests a qualitative tool that would fulfil the legal requirements for “inspections” and may prove useful to support inspection planning on the basis of the knowledge of the GMP compliance history of the site, the footprint history of critical and major deficiencies and the type of inspection to be run. These elements lead to the identification of the hazards to be considered, including the intrinsic risk and the compliance-related one. The final output of the tool takes the form of a risk-ranking quality metric, to be used to establish the frequency of inspection for a certain site and the number and level of expertise of the required inspectors, as well as the scope, depth and duration of routine inspections.

All these items may form the basis for the drafting of a GMP inspection “Reliance Assessment Report”, which would also include the statement about the name of the hosting national competent authority and the basis on which country reliance has been established. Such a document may be then used to support regulatory decisions. According to EFPIA, the suggested approach would benefit of a better knowledge of the site inspected by the local NCA, a better insight in the local culture and less barriers to the interaction, with optimisation of resources. A better transparency of the inspection process is also expected, as a non-compliant site may negatively impact on the reputation of local inspectorates. Identified pre-requisites to allow the implementation of such an approach are the availability of high-quality standards at the local level and the evaluation of national regulatory systems by and independent body (e.g. PIC/S or the WHO Global Benchmarking Tool).

UK’s pilot of a Compliance Monitor Process

A new approach that may represent a first example towards the new paradigm of collaboration and reliance has been undertaken in the UK, where the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) launched in April 2022 a pilot project focused on the Compliance Monitor (CM) Process (see more here and here). The pilot is part of MHRA’s delivery plan 2021-2023 and will focus on the CM supervision process for appropriate GMP and GDP Inspection Action Group (IAG) cases.

According to the MHRA, the new process would allow companies to concentrate on the delivery of the required improvements without the need to use resources to manage MHRA supervision inspections to assess compliance remediation activities. On the regulatory side, the MHRA should be able to concentrate on the delivery of the routine risk-based inspection programme. The risk-based approach to supervision and monitoring is also expected to limit the number of potential shortages of supply.

The CM process is based on the figure of eligible consultants acting as Compliance Monitors (CM) in charge of working with the company to deliver the remediation actions identified in a Compliance Protocol (CP) agreed with the MHRA. The supervision by the CMs is expected to contribute to lower the need of on-site inspections with respect to the current process managed by the IAG. The CP also includes the transmission to MHRA of high-level updates at fixed intervals of time, which should include only exceptions to the agreed timelines or significant related compliance issues which were identified. Once completed the CP protocol, the CM informs the regulatory authority that the company is ready for inspection, so that the MHRA can verify onsite the possibility of its removal from IAG oversight.

CMs will be selected by the involved company from a dedicated register and accepted as suitable for that case by the MHRA. At least five years’ experience in independent audits of GMP/ GDP companies is needed to be eligible as CM. Furthermore, not having been personally the subject of MHRA regulatory action and/or significant adverse findings in the previous three years,  a suitable CV and the completion of a MHRA training as CM. All details on requirements for the CM role and application are available at the dedicated page of the MHRA website.

Suitability criteria to act as a CM for the specific case include as a minimum a sufficient experience of the dosage form manufactured, testing activities being performed, or distribution activity being carried out and a written confirmation of absence of Conflict of Interest. These criteria will be assessed by the company selecting the CM.

BIA’s view of the reliance in the UK medicines regulatory framework

The UK’s BioIndustry Association (BIA) contributed to the debate on the reliance in the UK medicines regulatory framework with a Reflection Paper. According to BIA, the MHRA has a well recognised status and history as a valued contributor to the global regulatory ecosystem and a point of reference for the regulatory decision-making which should be preserved also in the future.

BIA recalls the role played by the MHRA in the development of the concept of regulatory reliance at the EU level, as a way to support the agile management of resources and simultaneously focusing on core and innovative national activities across all stages in the product lifecycle. The central concept sees regulators from one country to rely on the decision and assessments of trusted authorities from another country in order to speed up the timeline of regulatory procedures. At the end of the process, each regulator remains fully responsible and accountable for all its decisions.

BIA also highlights the contribution of reliance to the advancement of good regulatory practices and international networks of regulators, so to better allocate resources potentially taking into account also the respective fields of specialisation. The proposal is for a list of accepted reference regulatory authorities as a way to recognise the evolution of partnerships over time. Examples of recognition pathways already active in the UK are the EC Decision Reliance Procedure (ECDRP) and international work-sharing through the Access Consortium and Project Orbis, through which the MHRA may act as the reference regulatory agency in many procedures.

BIA also warns about the risks of a sudden interruption at the end of 2022 of the reliance pathway, that would have a highly disruptive impact on companies and patients.


The new Annex 21 to GMPs

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The new Annex 21 to GMPs (C(2022) 843 final) that EIPG gave a significant contribution in reviewing the original draft and thoroughly presented it within a webinar to its members on August 2020, was published by the European Commission on 16 February 2022; the document provides a guideline on the import of medicinal products from extra-EU countries. The new annex will entry into force six months after its publication, on 21 August 2022. Its contents should be read in parallel with the EU Guide to Good Manufacturing Practice for Medicinal Products and its other annexes, those requirements continue to apply as appropriate.

Annex 21 details the GMP requirements referred to human, investigational and/or veterinary medicinal products imported in the European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) by holders of a Manufacturing Import Authorisation (MIA). The new Annex does not apply to medicinal products entering the EU/EEA for export only, as they do not undergo any process or release aimed to place them on the internal market. Fiscal transactions are also not considered as a part of the new annex.

The main principles

According to Annex 21, once a batch of a medicinal product has been physically imported in a EU/EEA country, including clearance by the custom authority of the entrance territory, it is subject to the Qualified Person (QP) certification or confirmation. Manufacturing operations in accordance with the marketing authorisation or clinical trial authorisation can be run on imported bulk and intermediate products prior to the QP certification/confirmation. To this regard, all importation responsibilities for both medicinal products and bulks/intermediates must be carried out at specific sites authorised under a MIA. These include the site of physical importation and the site of QP certification (for imported medicinal products) or QP confirmation (for bulk or intermediate products undergoing further processing).

Marketing authorisation holders (MAHs) for imported products authorised in the EU remain in any case the sole responsible for placing the products in the European/EEA market. Annex 21 requires sites responsible for QP certification to verify an ongoing stability program is in place at the third country site where manufacturing is performed. This last one has to transmit to the QP all the information needed to verify the ongoing product quality, and relevant documentation (i.e. protocols, results and reports) should be available for inspection at the site responsible for QP certification. QP’s responsibilities also extend to the verification that reference and retention samples are available in accordance to Annex 19 of the GMPs, and that safety features are placed on the packaging, if required.

Importation sites should be adequately organised and equipped to ensure the proper performance of activities on imported products. More specifically, a segregated quarantine area should be available to store the incoming products until the occurrence of release for further processing or QP certification/confirmation.

European GMP rules or equivalent standards shall be followed for the manufacturing of medicinal products in third countries due to be imported in the EU. The manufacturing process has to comply to the one described in the Marketing Authorisation (MA), the clinical trial authorization (CTA) and the relevant quality agreement in place between the MAH and the manufacturer. The respect of EU GMP rules or equivalent standards should be documented through regular monitoring and periodic on-site audits of the third country manufacturing sites, to be implemented by the site responsible for QP certification or by a third party on its behalf.

The QP of the importation site is also responsible for the verification of testing requirements, in order to confirm the compliance of the imported products to the authorised specifications detailed in the MA. The verification of testing requirements can be avoided only in the case a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) or an Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (ACAA) is in place between the European Union and the third country where the production of the medicinal product is located.

All agreements between the different entities involved in the manufacturing and importation process, including the MAH and/or sponsor, should be in the written form, as indicated by Chapter 7 of the EU GMP Guide.

The Pharmaceutical Quality System of the importing site

According to the European legislation (Chapter 1 of the EU GMP Guide), all activities performed in the EU with reference to the manufacturing and distribution of pharmaceutical products should fall under to umbrella of the company’s Pharmaceutical Quality System (PQS). This is also true for sites involved with importation activities, those PQS should reflect the scope of the activities carried out. A specific procedure should be established to manage complaints, quality defects and product recalls.

More in detail, the new Annex 21 establishes that sites responsible for QP certification of imported products (including the case of further processing before export with the exception of investigational medicinal products) have to run periodic Product Quality Reviews (PQR). In this case too, the respective responsibilities of the parties involved in compiling the Reviews should be specified by written agreements. Should the sampling of the imported product be conducted in a third country (in accordance with Annex 16 of the GMPs), the the PQR should also include an assessment of the basis for continued reliance on the sampling practice. A review of deviations encountered during transportation up to the point of batch certification should be also available, and a comparison should be run to assess the correspondence of analytical results from importation testing with those listed by the Certificate of Analysis generated by the third country manufacturer.

Full documentation available at MIA sites

The QP’s certification/confirmation step for an imported batch has to be paralleled by the availability of the full batch documentation at the corresponding MIA holder’s site; in case of need, this site may also have access to documents supporting batch certification, according to Annex 16. Other MIA holders involved in the process may access batch documentation for their respective needs and responsibilities, as detailed in the written agreements. A risk assessment is needed to justify the frequency for the review of the full batch documentation at the site responsible for QP certification/confirmation; the so established periodicity should be included in the PQS.

Annex 21 also lists the type of documents that should be available at the importation sites, including the details of transportation and receipt of the product, and relevant ordering and delivery documentation. This last one should specify the site of origin of the product, the one of physical importation and shipping details (including transportation route, temperature monitoring records, and customs documentation). Appropriate documentation should be also available to confirm reconciliation of the quantities of batches which underwent subdivision and were imported separately.

Requirements set forth in Chapter 4 of the GMPs apply to the retention of the documentation; the availability at the third country manufacturing site of an adequate record retention policy equivalent to EU requirements shall be assessed by the site responsible for QP certification. Should it be appropriate, translations of original documents and certificates should be provided to improve understanding.