Monday, January 15, 2018

Study Sites: Show 'Em Your QC!

Sites frequently want to know how they can stand out to Sponsors and CROs to win more studies.
Our advice: Implement internal QC procedures.

Sponsors and CROs we work with consider a tight quality control program to be evidence that a site can be counted on to produce reliable data. It shows that managing quality at your site is a continual process, and doesn’t wait for monitors to arrive. In a risk-based monitoring environment, this is an increasingly compelling attribute.

Where to Start: The Usual Suspects
It makes sense for you to focus your QC efforts on those areas where you’ve historically had the most problems. If the phrase “trend analysis” makes you want to jump through a window -- it's okay -- you can climb back inside. You don't have to do a trend analysis. We've identified 3 areas in which audit findings are common and how you can avoid them.

Adverse Events (AEs) and Concomitant Medications (ConMeds). Often two sides of the same coin, AE and ConMed documentation needs to tell a consistent story. If source documents indicate a study participant had a sinus infection, it must be documented on an AE page, and any associated medications documented on the ConMeds page. A medication noted on the AE page must have a corresponding notation on the ConMed page. And all start and end dates must match across the source, AE, and ConMeds pages.

Drug Accountability Records. Calculating compliance percentages and counting pills are positively uninteresting tasks, easy to mess up, and involve math (which for some people triggers terrifying flashbacks of word problems about trains leaving stations). Is it any wonder that drug accountability records are frequent sources of error? Do some spot-checking: verify that the number of returned tablets matches the tallies recorded for them and recheck compliance calculations.

Essential Documents. Maintaining a complete, organized, uniform set of essential documents is an important, yet decidedly unsexy task. That’s why it’s a good indicator of your commitment to quality; a site that is disciplined enough to keep tight control over its essential documents is likely to carry that control into all aspects of trial execution. Make sure to file all documents associated with protocol amendments, such as IRB approvals and revised informed consent forms -- our auditors find these are the items most frequently missing from the essential document set. 

Write It All Down
Document your QC procedures in an SOP. It will serve as training material for site staff and a repository for worksheets and checklists.

There’s no magic organization for this QC SOP. A general set of instructions could outline how reviewers can verify that all documents follow ALCOA principles. For example, on (paper) source documents, are all pages and required signatures present? Are entries legible? Are corrections initialed, dated, and explained? Does the data make sense and lie within expected ranges? Have all data elements been populated? (Tip: turn the paper upside down to catch missing data.)

Checklists that are focused on particular types of documents should be as specific as possible. For example, QC reviews of source documents for screening visits would verify that the correct informed consent form was used, administration of consent was documented, medical release forms were sent if required, demographics were correct, all labs were received, reviewed and signed, all protocol assessments were completed, and all inclusion/exclusion criteria were met and documented.

A Virtuous Cycle
While designed to control quality, performing QC over time may actually improve quality. Results of QC reviews often suggest revisions you should make to your tools and operations to reduce error in the future.

Okay, you can climb back through the window again -- no one said CAPA. (But wouldn't that be impressive?)


Showcasing Site QC Processes
Does implementing a QC program require resources and time? Yes, and that’s the point. It’s evidence to Sponsors and CROs of your commitment to running a quality study. Not only that, but it demonstrates a proper respect for your study participants by ensuring their data can be used.

Oh, and make sure you highlight your QC program on feasibility questionnaires. It’s something to brag about.

A version of this article originally appeared in InSite, the Journal of the Society for Clinical Research Sites

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Love at First "Site": Early Signs of Strong PI Oversight

My Grandpa
When I was a teenager, my grandfather would invite my new boyfriends to run short, pointless errands with him, just so he could watch them drive. He said he could tell a lot about a boy’s character simply by observing his actions behind the wheel. Did he stay under the speed limit? Did he use his signal when he was switching lanes? Did he slow down when children were playing near the road? If so, it was a good sign that the boy was generally a careful and attentive fellow. If not, it was an early indication of reckless tendencies, and I would do well to be on my guard.

What does this have to do with PI oversight?

As Sponsors and CROs, you’re sometimes forced to make site selection decisions based on a limited set of criteria that you deem to be – hope to be – reflective of the site as a whole. In a short space of time, you need to assess a PI’s commitment to study oversight. On what should your pre-study “test drive” focus to help you gauge the level of care and attention a prospective PI will devote to your study?

We have some suggestions.

Assessing Attention to Detail
Any GCP-compliant site can produce a set of current CVs, job descriptions, and training records; they’re essential documents. But the most attentive sites are able to show you more than a collection of records during your pre-study visit with them. These sites keep a complete, organized set of uniform records and can describe their tight system for maintaining it. All documents for each staff member are found in dedicated tabs inside a records binder, or are equally well-organized in an electronic records system. All CVs are in a standard format so Sponsors can easily compare qualifications across individuals. Every document is current; CVs are up to date, and there’s a system in place to track which medical licenses are expiring when. Training records are comprehensive and include training on GCP regulations, site SOPs, and EMRs.

This is not sexy stuff. That’s why it’s a good indicator of PI oversight.  A site that is disciplined enough to keep such tight control over its personnel records is likely to carry that control into all aspects of trial execution.

Assessing Commitment to Protocol Compliance
During site initiation visits, Sponsor/CRO staff is on site to conduct protocol training; all study sites start off the same in this respect. But protocol amendments are inevitable, and sometimes – though nobody’s happy about it – frequent. You need assurances that a site’s response to each amendment will be swift, well-coordinated, and deliberate. Ask the prospective PI, “What procedures does your site follow for managing protocol amendments?”

The A answer:
“When a protocol amendment arrives, we convene a special team meeting to review the changes and discuss their effects. For example, if additional safety tests are required, the team discusses who shall be delegated to perform them? Do we have adequate time scheduled into the visit for any additional procedures the amendment requires? How will I be demonstrating oversight of any new test results? Once we’ve asked and answered these kinds of questions, we document attendance at the meeting, record assignments of delegated duties, and publish meeting minutes.”

The F answer:
“I email the amendment out to my team. I assume they’re all adults and know how to read.” (#TrueStory)

Just Ask
After reviewing essential documents and protocol amendment procedures, you should ask about other PI oversight mechanisms the site has in place. A good prospective site might tell you the PI holds biweekly meetings to review the items raised during monitoring visits. A PI may block out time at regular intervals to review adverse events and other study documents, and sign off on labs. A PI who values staff excellence may actively encourage and support Study Coordinator certification; some may even require it after an initial period of employment. In the past, we’ve worked with sites that have established internal Quality Control procedures, some maintain CAPA programs, and others conduct mock inspections.

There’s a wide variety of responses that can give you confidence a prospective PI is committed to running your study in a constant state of control. Whatever oversight measures are discussed, remember to ask how they will be documented, so during the study you’ll be able to verify that each activity is being consistently carried out.

After running an errand with a boy I met at college, my grandfather happily reported back to me, “He didn’t roll through a single stop sign coming down Green Hill Road. He’s all right, that one.”

My grandfather, a retired police detective for the city of Pittsburgh, knew how to read a person. That boy and I celebrated our 30th anniversary last month.

I was a child bride.

If you found this article helpful, you might also like:
Anticipating Tensions Between Clinical Care and Study Protocol
Avoiding Protocol Deviations

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Anticipating Tensions Between Clinical Care and Study Protocol

Protocol Deviations
Protocol trumps practice. This principle seems clear enough, but complying with it is not always as straight-forward as it sounds. Years of practicing medicine has reinforced the way a physician responds to medical situations. But do these responses run counter to the investigational plan? Can a site’s commitment to standard of care affect its ability to meet enrollment targets?

There’s a lot to consider.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Coping with Scoping Your CSV/Part 11 Audit

You know you need a computer systems audit, but that’s literally the extent of what you know.
Has this ever been you?

Yes, you use computers on a daily basis, and you may even use the system that needs to be audited. But you don’t spend your day thinking about where all the system components are located, how services and software are combined, and what Part 11 requirements apply. Terms like “cloud computing” make you feel slightly queasy. You’d rather get a root canal than discuss “distributed processing.” Your expertise is in manufacturing. Or clinical research. Or non-clinical lab operations. And somehow it’s your job to make sure an effective and properly-sized system audit is conducted. Great.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Notes 2 Fix Your Notes 2 File

Q: If Notes to File can be regulatory red flags, should we quit using them?
A: No, and here's why...

Regulatory inspections are often conducted long after the conclusion of the study. When an FDA investigator asks you a question about an anomaly five years after it’s happened, will anyone recall the circumstances well enough to satisfy the regulator’s concerns? You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor if you write NTFs that answer the questions regulators might one day be asking you.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When GCP & GMP Meet

Developing safe and effective drugs requires a coordinated effort across a diverse set of disciplines. This is easier to observe at some points in the process than at others. Once a product is well into human trials, it can be easy to forget that developments on the manufacturing side of the house can affect the clinicians who are conducting the studies.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Site Selection: Don't Forget About the Study Drug

Study Drug IV
As a sponsor or CRO, you understand the importance of a thorough site selection process. A site needs to be able to meet enrollment targets and time frames, protect the rights and safety of study participants, execute the protocol, deliver quality data, and maintain GCP compliance. That’s what your site feasibility surveys and pre-study visits are designed to evaluate. And as you’re assessing a site’s abilities, the site is conducting its own feasibility process. They’re mining their patient database and assessing inclusion/exclusion criteria. They’re reviewing staff credentials and ensuring they have adequate resources to manage the number of subject visits and collect the data the protocol requires.

But when we conduct GCP audits, we find there’s one perspective that is sometimes overlooked by both sides: the needs of the study drug itself.