MHRA on Good Pharacovigilance Inspections

The MHRA GPvP inspectorate recently published their latest inspection metrics for the period from April 2019 to March 2020. 

Someday these reports won’t take a year to write. If I took a year writing my annual reports I would receive an inspection finding from the MHRA.

There is no surprise that the five critical observations are all from risk management. Risk management is also the largest source of major findings, with quality management a close second with a lot of growth.

There are a lot of observations around the smooth and effective running of the CAPA program; a fair amount on PSMF management; and a handful on procedure, training and oversight.

Looking at the nine major observations due to deficiencies in the management of CAPA, the MHRA reports these problems:

  • Delays to CAPA development
  • CAPA that did not address the root cause and impact analysis for the identified noncompliance
  • Open CAPA which were significantly past their due date
  • CAPA raised from a previous critical finding raised at an earlier MHRA inspection had not been addressed

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say some of these stem from companies thinking non-GMP CAPAs do not require the same level of control and scrutiny. Root Cause Analysis and a good CAPA program are fundamental, no matter where you fall on (or out of) the pharmaceutical regulatory spectrum.

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.

Layering metrics

We have these quality systems with lots of levers, with interrelated components. And yet we select one or two metrics and realize that even if we meet them, we aren’t really measuring the right stuff nor are we driving continious improvement.

One solution is to create layered metrics, which basically means drill down your process and identify the metrics at each step.

Lots of ways to do this. An easy way to start is to use the 5-why process, a tool most folks are comfortable with.

So for example, CAPA. It is pretty much agreed upon that CAPAs should be completed in a timely manner. That makes this a top level goal. Unfortunately, in this hypothetical example, we are suffering a less than 100% closure goal (or whatever level is appropriate in your organization based on maturity)

Why 1Why was CAPA closure not 100%
Because CAPA tasks were not closed on time.

Success factor needed for this step: CAPA tasks to be closed by due date.

Metric for this step: CAPA closure task success rate
Why 2Why were CAPA tasks not closed on time?
Because individuals did not have appropriate time to complete CAPA tasks.

Metric for this step: Planned versus Actual time commitment
Why 3Why did individuals not have appropriate time to complete CAPA tasks?
Because CAPA task due dates are guessed at.

Metric for this step: CAPA task adherence to target dates based on activity (e.g. it takes 14 days to revise a document and another 14 days to train, the average document revision task should be 28 days)
Why 4Why are CAPA task due dates guessed at?
Because appropriate project planning is not completed.

Metric for this step: Adherence to Process Confirmation
Why 5Why is appropriate project planning not completed?
Because CAPAs are always determined on the last day the deviation is due.

Metric: Adherence to Root Cause Analysis process

I might on report on the top CAPA closure rate and 1 or 2 of these, and keep the others in my process owner toolkit. Maybe we jump right to the last one as what we report on. Depends on what needs to be influenced in my organization and it will change over time.

It helps to compare this output against the 12 system leverage points.

Donella Meadows 12 System Leverage Points

These metrics go from 3 “goals of the system” with completing CAPA tasks effectively and on time, to 4 “self organize” and 5 “rules of the system.” It also has nice feedback loops based on the process confirmations. I’d view them as potentially pretty successful. Of course, we would test these and tinker and basically experiment until we find the right set of metrics that improves our top-level goal.