Root Cause Analysis Deficiencies

An appropriate level of root cause analysis should be applied during the investigation of deviations, suspected product defects and other problems. This can be determined using Quality Risk Management principles. In cases where the true root cause(s) of the issue cannot be determined, consideration should be given to identifying the most likely root cause(s) and to addressing those. Where human error is suspected or identified as the cause, this should be justified having taken care to ensure that process, procedural or system based errors or problems have not been overlooked, if present.

Appropriate corrective actions and/or preventative actions (CAPAs) should be identified and taken in response to investigations. The effectiveness of such actions should be monitored and assessed, in line with Quality Risk Management principles.

EU Guidelines for Good Manufacturing Practice for Medicinal Products for Human and Veterinary Use, Chapter 1 Pharmaceutical System C1.4(xiv)

The MHRA cited 210 companies in 2019 on failure to conduct good root cause analysis and develop appropriate CAPAs. 6 of those were critical and a 100 were major.

My guess is if I asked those 210 companies in 2018 how their root cause analysis and CAPAs were doing, 85% would say “great!” We tend to overestimate our capabilities on the fundamentals (which root cause analysis and CAPA are) and not to continuously invest in improvement.

Of course, without good benchmarking, its really easy to say good enough and not be. There can be a tendency to say “Well we’ve never had a problem here, so we’re good.” Where in reality its just the problem has never been seen in an inspection or has never gone critical.

The FDA has fairly similar observations around root cause analysis. As does anyone who shares their metrics in any way. Bad root cause and bad CAPAs are pretty widespread.

This comes up a lot because the quality of CAPAs (and quantity) are considered key indicators of an organization’s health. CAPAs demonstrate that issues are acknowledged, tracked and remediated in an effective manner to eliminate or reduce the risk of a recurrence. The timeliness and robustness of these processes and records indicate whether an organization demonstrates effective planning and has sufficient resources to manage, resolve and correct past issues and prevent future issues.

A good CAPA system covers problem identification (which can be, and usually is a few different processes), root cause analysis, corrective and preventive actions, CAPA effectiveness, metrics, and governance. It is a house of cards, short one and the whole structure will fall down around you, often when you least need it to.

We can’t freeze our systems with superglue. If we are not continually improving then we are going backwards. No steady state when it comes to quality.

MHRA 2019 GMP Inspection Data and Documentation observations

Transparency is something that regulatory agencies need to get better at, both in sharing more and doing it in a timely manner. The fact that the 2019 data from the MHRA was released in October of 2020 is pretty poor. As a reference, the FDA releases their data pretty reliably at the end of the calendar year for the given year.

Been evaluating the MHRA’s 2020 data on Chapter 4 Documentation, which is the 2nd largest category of observations in 2019 (and in 2018 before it).

80 different inspections cited comments against the Principles section

Good documentation constitutes an essential part of the quality assurance system and is key to operating in compliance with GMP requirements. The various types of documents and media used should be fully defined in the manufacturer’s Quality Management System.


Documentation may exist in a variety of forms, including paper-based, electronic or photographic media. The main objective of the system of documentation utilized must be to establish, control, monitor and record all activities which directly or indirectly impact on all aspects of the quality of medicinal products. The Quality Management System should include sufficient instructional detail to facilitate a common understanding of the requirements, in addition to providing for sufficient recording of the various processes and evaluation of any observations, so that ongoing application of the requirements may be demonstrated.


There are two primary types of documentation used to manage and record GMP compliance: instructions (directions, requirements) and records/reports. Appropriate good documentation practice should be applied with respect to the type of document.


Suitable controls should be implemented to ensure the accuracy, integrity, availability and legibility of documents. Instruction documents should be free from errors and available in writing. The term ‘written’ means recorded, or documented on media from which data may be rendered in a human readable form.

Principles, Chapter 4 Documentation

The Principles section then goes on to lay out the required document types.

I would love to see more. Is this 80 companies who don’t known what a SMF is? Good documentation practices? Don’t have SOPs and batch records? Have errors in their documents? Don’t approve them? More transparency would be valuable here.

We can learn more by drilling down in the document.

  • There are 87 inspections with 4.1 in section “Generation and Control of Documents”. 1 is critical and 25 are major. Here we see failures in understanding types of documents and controlling them, or maybe just having them in the first place.
  • The 82 against 4.2 (1 critical and 20 major) are more about having the manufacturing and testing process defined (and matching the filing).
  • 103 inspections with observations against 4.3 (23 major) show companies that do not have appropriate approval and release controls
  • 14 for 4.4 (6 major) means there are 14 companies out there who can’t write a good process and procedure. 4.4 has one of my favorite requirements “written in an imperative mandatory style”
  • 60 against 4.5 (13 major) demonstrates a lack of review and keeping documents up-to-date.
  • 12 companies (6 major) have terrible handwriting and cannot stick to ballpoints, yes in fact 4.7 states “Handwritten entries should be made in clear, legible, indelible way.”
  • 103 against 4.8 (1 critical and 28 major) is ALCOA focused on contemporaneous, attributable and accurate.
  • 18 for 4.9 (6 major) is for not correcting data correctly. That’s right 18 companies do not know how to comment correctly.
  • 22 for 4.10 (1 critical and 9 major) is for not clearly laying out the manufacturing records and keeping them for the retention period.
  • 19 for 4.29 (5 major) is a lack of process and procedure for a grab-bag of quality processes from change control to equipment management to cleaning

There are more, but we are in single digit observation territory.

Useful things to be evaluating in your own organization. As a good place to start, here are some questions to ask when contemplating data integrity.

Good practices for research and development facilities (WHO draft guideline)

Last month the World Health Organization published a draft guideline on Good practices for research and development facilities.

This arrow pretty much sums it up:

Application of the guide

Seriously, not much surprising here. What this guide definitely does is place early research in the framework of Q10 and point out that there is one quality system to rule them all and that level of rigor is based on risk.

Give it a read.

Warning Letter for Aurolife demonstrates failures in process validation

The FDA commented in a Warning Letter to Aurolife Pharma that the manufacturer lacked data showing that the process was in “state of control” before batch release. The 483 pointed to the FDA’s guidance document Process Validation: General Principles and Practices, and found the company lacks a state of control of the process, which comes back to change control.

They also found major deficiencies in their OOS and cleaning programs.

2020 483s on data integrity

Data integrity continued to be a focus of the FDA, though the reduced inspections definitely led to fewer 483s.

Reference NumberShort DescriptionLong Description2020 Frequency2019 Frequency2018 Frequency
21 CFR 211.194(a)Complete test data included in recordsLaboratory records do not include complete data derived from all tests, examinations and assay necessary to assure compliance with established specifications and standards.  Specifically, , ***153833
21 CFR 211.194(a)(4)Complete Test DataLaboratory records are deficient in that they do not include a complete record of all data obtained during testing.  Specifically, ***102428
21 CFR 211.68(b)Backup data not assured as exact and completeBackup data is not assured as [exact] [complete] [secure from alteration, erasure or loss] through keeping hard copy or alternate systems.  Specifically, ***6671
21 CFR 211.194(a)(4)Data secured in course of each testLaboratory records do not include a complete record of all data secured in the course of each test, including all [graphs] [charts] [spectra] from laboratory instrumentation, properly identified to show the [specific component] [drug product container] [closure] [in-process material] [lot tested] [drug product tested].  Specifically, ***4128
21 CFR 211.68(b)Written record not kept of program and validation dataA written record of the program along with appropriate validation data has not been maintained in situations where backup data is eliminated by computerization or other automated processes.  Specifically, ***1671
483s related to data integrity