FDA Lifts Curtain on Inspection Process, Rationale

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Michael Causey, Editor & Publisher, eDataIntegrityReport.com

Michael Causey, Editor & Publisher, eDataIntegrityReport.com

Gotta give the FDA some credit here. In addition to its transparency initiative we’ve talk about before, the agency is also trying to remove some of the mystery about how it handles inspections and other inner workings at the FDA. From where I sit, it appears to be a sincere effort and I believe it is helping outsiders better understand what the FDA is trying to do – and how it is trying to do it.

For example, at the second in a new series of monthly online webinars, FDA’s Michael C. Rogers, deputy director, Office of Regional Operations, said today (March 25, 2010)  tried to outline how an FDA inspection tends to work, and what drives inspectors before, during and after an inspection.

As an aside, Rogers also said that the agency currently has about 1,800 total inspectors across its full portfolio, though food gets the bulk of the bodies. He also said there will be more foreign inspections this year, and that the number should continue to grow.

Inspections are based on risk, Rogers said. In other words, the riskier the potential drug, device or food item, the more likely they will be inspected.

Most inspections are unannounced, Rogers said. Before they go on-site, the inspector on inspection team will look at previous inspection reports and identify what corrective actions were promised during prior inspections. They also prepare inspection tool kits with sampling equipment, info to drive inspection based on guidance documents and the Investigation Operations Manual. They also carry a camera to document evidence.

They also conduct “for cause” inspections driven by consumer complaints or other outside activity.

Typically, the inspection begins with a discussion with management to explain the purpose of the inspection, and they try to learn about the corporate structure and any changes made since last inspection. They also ask about complaints, positive tests or returns. Answers to those questions help FDA inspectors focus their on-site efforts.

Next, they go to the physical manufacturing area. They try to observe and understand the on-site process. They ask about acceptance criteria and want specifics on failures, especially the reasons.

Inspectors also draw a diagram of the facility showing the manufacturing process from start to finish. They’re looking for problems in the system and looking to identify critical control points in the manufacturing process.

FDA inspectors then identify procedures in place and assess if company is actually following them. They also look for controls in place to mitigate any contaminated products.

They also look at training and cleaning programs. They also watch employees while they are actually making the product.

If they find evidence of an adulterated product, they collect evidence based on inspector observations and collect samples to prepare their case for possible legal action in court.

At conclusion of inspection, the FDA team meets again with management. They then inform the top company official what is in the official Form 483. That form documents observations during the inspection but does not include final recommendations. They also ask for the firms corrective actions planned or in place to get into compliance.

These corrective actions are taken into account as agency formulates official recommendations.

After the inspection at the firm, the inspector develops a report back at the home office. It includes evidence collected and what the firm has already agreed to do about any shortcomings.

In some cases firms can offer voluntary corrections. But sometimes the agency decides it needs enforcement action such as a warning letter, and can also impose civil and/or monetary penalties.

The webinar was extremely popular. In fact, it “sold out” so many who tried to join it could not get in to the live event. There will be a recording available on Monday March 29.

UPDATE: Slides are now available from this event here in PDF format.

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