by Giuliana Miglierini
A key issue to be faced during pharmaceutical development refers to the supply of the active pharmaceutical ingredients and other raw materials to be used for the manufacturing of the first batches of investigational medicinal products, and then up to commercial production once approved.
Changes of specifications can frequently occur during experimentation, thus leading to the need to modify supply requirements for clinical programs. This is more true when dealing with biopharmaceutical investigational products, for which the traditional models for forecasting and demand processes may prove unfitted. The result is a lower robustness and predictability at early stages of the new product introduction (NPI) manufacturing processes. The complexity of the NPI supply chain is also impacting on manufacturing operations, with possible delays in the clinical program and launch schedule.
These issues have been addressed in the document “Guidelines for materials introduction supporting drug substance delivery”, published by the B2B organisation BioPhorum. A summary of its contents has been published in Bioprocess Online.
A good internal communication is fundamental
The ability to produce robust supply forecasts for new product introduction bases on a detailed knowledge of the planning of different activities to be run for a timely launch. Role and responsibilities have to be clear, as well as the information to be collected and timely shared between the manufacturing and commercial departments of biopharmaceutical companies.
The availability of such information is crucial to reduce the variability intrinsic in the NPI process for a biopharmaceutical product, which costs much more compared to a traditional smallmolecule based one. Reducing variability also impacts on the ability to better compete in the often highly dynamic market for biosimilars, or to address the launch of a new biotherapeutic under the correct perspective. Issues may be encountered also with respect to the regulatory approval processes, which may require different time lengths in different geographic areas or countries. This adds another uncertainty factor to estimates of the quantities of product to be manufactured.
Upon this considerations, the BioPhorum document identifies four key issues to be addressed to provide for a timely NPI process, including capacity and lead-time restrictions or oversupply, late change evaluation and implementation, governance issues and network complexity and in-licensed (or non-platform) products.
The availability of a good NPI process may avoid to incur many problems once operations are in place; all the needed master data information to support the use of raw materials should also be present and correct. BioPhorum’s suggestion is to include NPI processes in the creation of master service and supply agreements for the supply of raw materials, as they help to reach clarity on what a supplier can deliver and what it cannot.
A four steps methodology and roadmap
The document by the BioPhorum describes the results of a project aimed to develop a materialsbased methodology and roadmap to support improved NPI processes, on the basis of a collaborative industry approach to identify and implement best practices.
The result is a four steps process referring to the different activities needed to set up materials introduction and supply. The proposed different steps include the establishment of product lifecycle materials requirements, materials evaluation, supplier selection and qualification, and a manufacture and business review. Each of them should be supported by specific tools and checklists to be developed internally by the company. The governance of the process should involve senior supplier/manufacturer nominees to formally approve the package of deliverables at each stage gate.
Establishing product lifecycle material requirements
For each of the four steps of the NPI process, the BioPhorum document offers detailed lists of information to be collected and of expected outcomes.
Stage gate 1 addresses the establishment of product lifecycle material requirements, usually corresponding to the activation of first time in human studies (FTIH). Data to be collected include specifications of raw materials (e.g. order of magnitude, grade, supply options, environmental-health-safety (EHS) or geographic issues, etc.) as well as master data such as recipe information, plant diagram, list of equipment and process information. At the clinical level, information on the demand sensitivities on indication and clinical milestones and decision points should support the first estimates of the supply and demand plan, to be then expanded to agree on lifecycle forecasts.
The output may take the form of a ‘Product Lifecycle Demand and Supply Strategy’, a document discussing the long-term supply, demand and manufacturing of the product. Starting from the initial planning, the strategy should evolve through the creation of a data store specific for biopharmaceuticals, and the execution of gap analysis for in-licensed products. The strategy should also include a rough capacity modelling and description of ownership and the definition of a RACI matrix (responsible, accountable, consult, inform) to clarify roles and responsibilities with respect to each task, deliverable, or action. Information should be also available on high level technology requirements (both at the internal and external level). Strategic suppliers should be involved in early activities and materials risk analysis should be initiated.
Stage gate 2 refers to the information to be gathered from suppliers on the basis of requests for information (RFI) on materials. This should include all the different aspects relevant to the selection of the supplier, including capacity and costs, contacts, technical specifications and audit history, availability of samples, EHS aspects and business systems (e.g. availability of an appropriate ERP system).
This information should facilitate the identification of supplier that might be able to support the predicted or proposed growth of the product over its lifecycle. Stage gate 2 is also part of the risk management process to be run to validate the activation of full production.
Outputs include the sharing of forecasts and sensitivities with suppliers as needed, the establishment of a standard industrial master data set for biopharmaceuticals, as well as of business acceptance criteria.
Supplier selection and qualification
Stage gate 3 addresses the qualification process to finally select the most suitable suppliers and close the corresponding material supply agreements. The RFI and other information gathered in the previous step represent the basis of this exercise, aimed to develop a supply chain resilience strategic approach. The signature of the initial contracts is the final mark of formal selection, and should be supported by an agreement with the supplier on forecast and schedule for the supply, as well as of the business acceptance criteria.
Manufacture and business review
Stage gate 4 refers to the assessment of the operational performance of the supply chain for raw materials, a key activity in order to ensure continuity of supply and to promptly intercept any emerging issue on the basis of trends analysis.
Tools needed to this instance include the definition of appropriate metrics to monitor supplies (e.g. adherence to schedule, “On time in full”-OTIF, “Cost of poor quality”-COPQ). Information on the innovation potential of the supplier and the provision of a feedback on its performance is also deemed important. Any issue should be timely discussed between the supplier and the biopharmaceutical company, and confirmation of the production schedule agreed upon.