Friday, February 25, 2011

Lesson learned: Outsource but remain in control!

By Dr. Ray Nims

In a previous posting, we described the responsibilities of the contract giver (contractee) and the contract acceptor (contractor) in outsourced pharmaceutical quality control testing. Our blog title: "Outsource it, and fuggedaboutit?" somewhat facetiously suggested that the outsourcing of quality control testing does not transfer quality control responsibility from the contract giver to the contract acceptor.

Elizabeth Meyers and I expanded upon this theme in a recent article in BioProcess International. Our conclusion in that article was more direct: “The use, by a pharma organization, of a contract testing lab to fulfill some or all of its Quality Control testing obligations does not absolve the contractee of its overall Quality responsibility of ensuring the safety, purity, identity, efficacy, and potency of its products.”

This point was illustrated nicely in a recent warning letter published on the FDA Website. The name of the firm involved is not important to this discussion. Among the other findings was the following:

“Your firm failed to properly evaluate a contract laboratory to ensure GMP compliance of operations occurring at the contract site.”

The FDA then provided the following detail: "...we are concerned about your firm’s fundamental understanding of what is required by your Quality Unit and the regulatory expectations for a firm that enters into agreements with contract testing laboratories. Although you have agreements with other firms that may delineate specific responsibilities to each party, you are ultimately responsible for the quality of your products and the reliability of test results. Regardless of who tests your products or the agreements in place, you are required to manufacture these products in accordance with section 501(a)(2)(B) of the Act to assure their identity, strength, quality, purity, and safety."

The take-home message from this is that in the outsourcing of quality control testing, responsibility for the outsourced testing is retained by the contract giver. Responsibilities of the contract giver include the following: selecting and qualifying the contract lab, ensuring the suitability of methods used (through qualification, transfer, verification, or validation); putting in place a Quality and business agreement; scheduling and submitting samples (including communicating expectations for sample results); providing in-life guidance; and monitoring of contract lab performance.

There is no denying that fulfilling these responsibilities requires a significant and ongoing effort on the part of the contract giver. In this respect, outsourcing of quality control testing is not so different from doing that testing in-house.

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