regulatory compliance 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

FAT and SAT, a critical step for the introduction of new equipment

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Giuliana Miglierini

There are two key moments to be faced to introduce a new piece of equipment in a pharmaceutical plant: a factory acceptance testing (FAT), usually performed by its manufacturer to verify the new equipment meets its intended purpose, prior to approve it for delivery and once arrived at its final destination and installed, a site acceptance testing (SAT) run by the purchasing company and is part of the commissioning activity.

According to an article published in Outsourced Pharma, the commissioning of a new piece of equipment poses many challenges, and criticalities needs to be considered both from the business and regulatory point of view. Pharmaceutical plants are very complex and often customised upon the specific business needs, and the delivery of a new equipment requires the interaction of many different parties, both internal and external to the purchasing company. FAT, SAT and commissioning activities require a careful planning and detailed responsibilities for all participating parties to be included within the Commissioning and Qualification Plan (CQV plan). A possible responsibility matrix is suggested by the authors to provide clarity and ensures ownership of activities.

FAT, assessing the equipment at the manufacturer site

FAT and SAT testing involve the visual inspection of the equipment and the verification of its static and/or dynamic functioning, in order to assess the actual correspondence to the user requirement specifications (URS). While FATs are usually based on simulations of the equipment’s operating environment, SAT testing occurs at the final site after installation, thus it reflects the real operating conditions and environment in order to support qualification.

There are many different elements to be considered during FAT testing, including for example verification of the existing site drainage, piping, or room dimensions, or the position of the handle for accessibility, as well as software design specification, interface, and device integration.

The FAT exercise is always highly recommended, as it is essential to solve in advance (before shipment to the final destination) any error or malfunctioning of the equipment, that otherwise might occur at the purchasing company’s site. This results in the optimisation of the delivery and commissioning process, with important savings in terms of both time and costs for the purchasing company. To ensure for the transparency of FAT testing, the entire procedure (that requires usually 1-3 days, depending on the complexity of the equipment to be verified) is usually performed in the presence of a third party inspector and customer representative.

A comprehensive set of documentation should be always available to support FAT, including URS, drawings, checklists and procedures, calibrations and certifications, data sheets, references, etc. Raw data acquired during FAT are transmitted to the customer for analysis and validation. FAT should take into consideration all aspects relevant to the evaluation of the safety and functionality of the equipment and its compliance to URS, GMPs and data integrity. To this regard, it is also important for the engineering team called to run the new equipment at its final location to learn and share knowledge with the manufacturer along the entire commissioning process, so to increase the first-hand direct experience. According to the article, this is also critical to authorise the shipment of the equipment to the final destination, a step that should always be performed by an authorised, trained, and approved subject matter expert.

 SAT acceptance testing

All criticalities emerged during the FAT exercise are then checked again at the final site, after installation and verification; additional test cases may also be added to the SAT protocol to check for potential failure modes. SAT testing is performed once all connections between the new equipment and other machines/softwares are in place, under the real operating parameters, and may be witnessed by a representative of the equipment’s manufacturer.

Results from SATs may thus differ from those obtained from the FAT previously run by the manufacturer. From the regulatory point of view, SAT testing is a key element to demonstrate the compliance of the equipment to GMP requirements and to support the overall quality and safety of pharmaceutical productions. In this case too, many are the possible elements to be inspected and verified, including interlocks, ventilation, internal box pressure, electrical/hydraulic connections and safety systems, visual checks of components, training of the operators, etc.

A plan for each testing phase

FAT planning begins at the very moment of the purchasing company placing the order for the new equipment, and it has to reflect all URS to be checked for acceptability of the manufactured apparatus. This step in the design is critical and calls for a strict and positive communication between the manufacturer and its customers, a key point to take into consideration all elements that should enter the project.

All identified items and procedures to be challenged during FAT and SAT testing are usually addressed within the CQV plan, that connects the design phase to user requirements specifications and the other elements impacting the commissioning and qualification processes (i.e. system impact assessment, design specification, functional risk assessment, hardware / software specifications, Installation / Operational / Performance Qualification), including deviations and change management. The plan specific to SAT testing should include the scope, test specifications and logs, a test summary, the Commissioning report and the final Certificate of Acceptance.

Transparency and a robust statistical approach should represent main targets along the entire commissioning and validation procedure, that may be run with the assistance of external consultants. All activities that shall enter the regulatory dossiers should always be justified and documented, also under the perspective of data integrity. The Outsourced Pharma’s article also suggests paying a particular attention to controls on data provided by the manufacturer in the case a risk-based leveraging is applied.


ICMRA published a Reflection paper on remote inspections

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.