Monday, August 13, 2018

What Suprises GCP Auditors?

Last month, I scheduled one-on-one discussions with our most experienced GCP auditors to ask each of them the same question: What surprises you most about the audits you conduct?

I guess you could say that I was the one who was surprised. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting to hear, but I thought my teammates were going to talk about things that were new. Instead, I heard a lot more about things that have been around for a long time. To a person, my colleagues said they were surprised to be observing some of the same audit findings they were observing 30 years ago...which *is* surprising when you consider most of them were mere children at the time. ;-)  It seems we have some stubbornly persistent quality and compliance issues in the biopharma industry that decades of neither experience nor technology have seemed to remedy. And the problems are not just persistent; they’re interrelated.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
It’s quite common for auditors to encounter sponsors, CROs, and sites that lack an adequate set of SOPs to describe local procedures. There are several reasons for this. Sometimes it’s a lack of resources. Sometimes smaller, established organizations believe writing it all down is unnecessary, as “people know their jobs.” Sometimes newer companies are simply unaware that written procedures are required for particular operations. But when procedures are not documented, organizations are unable to demonstrate GCP compliance, cannot ensure that activities are performed correctly or consistently, and have difficulty training new staff members. (We’ll come back to training in a bit.)

Frequently missing from a good working set of SOPs are procedures for Disaster Recovery, Handling of Suspected Fraud, and Management of Regulatory Inspections. These SOPs are not used for day-to-day operations, so perhaps that’s why they don’t garner as much attention. Nevertheless, the inability to recover from a disaster, protect the organization from fraud allegations, or pass a regulatory inspection can sink a company.

A fourth SOP that is commonly absent from the set is the document that describes how to write, approve, distribute, revise, and retire SOPs. Also frequently missing from a working set of SOPs is our next topic: Training.

Training can be expensive and time-consuming, and companies increasingly have to do more with less. In-person training has largely been replaced by computer-based systems, on-site training has given way to distance learning, and mentoring has gone the way of the dodo.

The good news is that study sites typically adhere to formal GCP training requirements. What’s often missing, though, is the training that connects GCP concepts to everyday activities. A trainee might correctly answer a multiple-choice question about audit trails, but without that “last mile” of coaching, use Wite-Out to correct a source document error. This is where SOPs come in. When training is conducted using well-written SOPs, it can help bridge the gap between standard GCP training and specific site operations.

It is not uncommon for study-specific training to be lacking in CROs – protocol training, device training, computer systems user training. As part of their vendor oversight procedures (also an SOP!), sponsors should be making sure that CRO staff is adequately trained. 

Trial Master Files (TMFs)
Whether paper or electronic, it’s common for TMF documents to be missing or expired. Replacements for these documents can usually be produced and filed at the time of the audit. Misfiled documents are another matter; they are already there but cannot easily be found. Locating and refiling them essentially doubles the time and cost of the original effort. For example, documents from multiple labs, such as certificates, credentials, vendor audit results, etc., are often mistakenly commingled. Documents must be sorted and refiled so that each facility listed on the 1572 has its own file or electronic folder.

Another very common mistake is treating every document on letterhead as if it’s general correspondence. Search for the word “letter” in the DIA Reference Model and you can see how many opportunities exist for misclassifying correspondence. For example, an IND safety report sent by the sponsor on letterhead should be filed under “Notification of Safety Information,” Section 8.3.18 in ICH E6(R2), not “Relevant Communications,” Section 8.3.11. In an eTMF, an IRB approval letter belongs in 04.01.02, its designated DIA Reference Model position, not 04.04.01, which is reserved for general communication.

The root cause of these misfilings? The filer does not know enough about the filing structure of the TMF and often is not familiar enough with clinical research to know the purpose of each document and where it belongs. The corrective action? Training. Training on the TMF plan, the TMF Management SOP, ICH GCP, and study operations in general.

Technology to the Rescue?
No doubt, CTMSs, eTMFs, eCRFs, ePRO, and other systems have improved clinical operations and reduced error. However, three decades of technological advances have done little to address the most common quality and compliance issues encountered by GCP auditors – and by extension regulators. Some might find that discouraging, but isn’t it also a little satisfying that the solution to our most persistent problems comes down to human communication?

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Hackin' the GDPR

Trying to comply with the GDPR got you down?
Maybe our parody will cheer you up.

(Sung to the tune of Lennon-McCartney's "Back in the U.S.S.R.")

Monday, May 14, 2018

eSource Terminology Untangled

True or False:

(1) eSource in clinical trials means eliminating the possibility for transcription errors.

(2) Data collected in Electronic Data Capture (EDC) systems is eSource.

Strictly speaking, both statements are false. If that surprises you, it’s probably because many casual uses of the term “eSource” actually differ from the formal definition laid out by FDA. If the participants in any discussion share the same interpretation of “eSource”, or if it’s clear from context how “eSource” is being used, then no harm, no foul. (Contemporary translation: “Meh.”) BUT…and you know where we’re going with this…when a term can be interpreted in multiple ways, there’s always a possibility for miscommunication and cross talk.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Delegation of Authority Log: Tips for Monitors

We may call them “site inspections”, but it’s not the site that’s being inspected when a regulator visits; it’s the Principal Investigator. Though a PI typically delegates study tasks to other staff members, he or she remains solely responsible for the conduct of the study. In fact, the ICH E6(R2) addendum adds two new sections to the international guidance that emphasize PI supervision.

That’s what makes the Delegation of Authority (DoA) log so important and why regulatory inspectors care about it so much. A DoA log serves as evidence that a PI has assigned study tasks only to those staff members with the education, training, and experience to carry them out. If delegates are unqualified to perform their tasks, subject safety could be at risk and it’s highly likely that the study data would be unusable.

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.

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?

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.