Handling a Warning Letter: If At First You Don’t Succeed…

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Last year, we blogged about the most common drug and device GMP 483 items and how to respond to them in writing.  But what if your response is judged inadequate or the FDA otherwise issues a Warning Letter? First off, understand that the agency even at this point is strongly hoping you will voluntarily take the corrective action required so they can settle this case and move on to something else. They are intended to elicit voluntary correction.

However, if you fail to address the issues raised in a Warning Letter, your company can face some serious repercussions, including: recall, seizure, injunction, monetary fine, debarment, disqualification, license suspension or revocation, and prosecution.

The issuance of a Warning Letter certainly raises the stakes after a 483. The violations it contains represent concerns not only of an investigator, but of the District and/or Center Compliance Officers.

Responding to a Warning Letter

Your first action after you receive a Warning Letter should be to immediately notify top management of the letter and give them an idea of the scope of the problem. You should also contact the FDA’s District Director or Compliance Officer. In your written response to them, you should acknowledge your obligation to comply with the law, discuss the impact the issues raised will have on product quality, address any broader or systemic corrections the Warning Letter may have raised, and offer your corrective actions and timetable for completing them.

Ask to meet with the FDA. That meeting is important for a number of reasons, including:

  • Ensuring there is common understanding of GMP concerns
  • Verifying the adequacy of proposed corrections
  • Revealing if further action is planned by the FDA
  • Achieving agreement on how to proceed
  • Providing a written summary, including any clarifications and additional commitments from either side
  • Setting a timetable for periodic updates on progress

Your company can avoid “unnecessary problems” with the FDA as long as your response avoids the following: unrealistic goals, blaming everything on a lack of training, trivializing the product complaints, failing to proofread your correspondence, citing other firms’ practices as an excuse for your own, and failing to implement promised corrections.

Attorney Peter Reichard with Sheppard Mullin works closely with drug and device companies and former FDA officials. He stressed that your Warning Letter response should focus on how you are addressing the problem. “Companies have a tendency to try and explain something, but the FDA is not interested in that,” he says. “They just want to know your plan and that you followed up,” he says.

Part of that plan, Reichard says, is to put together a Warning Letter response team that goes beyond regulatory personnel. Include those involved in business and legal issues and those who keep a handle on resources and expenditures, he advised.

Avoiding Warning Letters

The only proven technique for avoiding enforcement actions [is] establishing an effective Quality System.  And the FDA defines “establish” in this instance as a Quality System that is defined, documented and implemented.

Companies that have SOPs and teams in place to handle process problems tend to do a better job of avoiding Warning Letters, agreed Adam Bloom, an attorney in Reed Smith’s Life Sciences practice.

But the absolute “worst-case” scenario is to become a repeat offender in the eyes of the FDA, he said. “If you said you would fix something, and they come back a year or two later and find the same problems,” they will view you harshly, he added.

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  • […] showed medical device inspections in 2009 trending lower in the issuance of 483 observations and warning letters, while medical device manufacturing inspections remained constant. This sounds like great news but […]

  • […] According to the Executive Order, pharmaceutical manufacturers are requested to report timely drug manufacturing discontinuances. But the order clearly misses some important points. The problem is that FDA already knows about drug discontinuance when they order a hold on product or issues a 483 for GMPs with a warning letter follow up. […]

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