As we head into the New Year (and with INTERPHEX just around the corner), it’s time to take stock of the shifts taking place in the pharmaceutical industry. After scrambling to catch up to FDA guidance and adopt a more scientifically rigorous approach to product development, our industry is slowly but surely turning to process understanding rather than product testing as the primary quality driver.
In 2007 the industry began to recognize the potential benefits of embracing a Quality by Design philosophy in drug development. One key indicator of this is the ever-increasing number of suppliers offering software systems designed to facilitate data management within a QbD structure. Another has been the proliferation of case studies presented at technical conferences around the world by large Pharma and Biotech organizations that describe the application of operational excellence, QbD and PAT programs.
What I’ve found to be most revealing about these case study presentations is the realization that among firms there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Successful multinational companies now fashion their own versions of these initiatives, piecing together key elements from proven operational excellence philosophies such as Six Sigma * and Lean Manufacturing to create something that fits their organizational culture and energy.
Several trends have emerged that emphasize the degree to which industry is beginning to embrace this new way of thinking:
- Large Pharma synchronizing strategic and tactical goal-making as part of their business strategy for success
Regardless of the market sector, it’s fundamental to any business to make sure that its resources target the right programs at the right time with a clear understanding of the metrics for success. To this end, more and more companies have borrowed the Balanced Scorecard concept as a basis for developing strategic and tactical goals. This approach ensures that the relationship between individual, department and corporate goals are clearly defined. Defining such metrics and rewarding organizations for achieving them is a basic tenet of all successful Operational Excellence programs. Whether the organization is a start-up under pressure to meet its business milestones or a large multinational struggling with cultural and organizational differences, the ability to focus a team upon the business’s most important goals is a major step toward improving corporate performance and efficiency.
- Large Pharma is driving Lean Six Sigma principles further upstream in the drug development process
For the past five years we have seen the industry struggle to embrace the basic principles of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. Eschewed initially as the latest “system” for improvement, large Pharma has demonstrated that it can implement these approaches successfully without reinventing the wheel. Today more firms seek to leverage the same benefits earlier and avoid many of the downstream problems associated with scale-up and commercialization. Once considered the haven for unbridled scientific inquiry, the success of this initiative may yet have the most profound impact upon the industry and its ability to compete in the world marketplace. The medical device industry has employed these principles within the structure of 21 CFR 820 for many years, integrating commercial criteria early in the design and development process. Those that do it well find they can lay the foundation for an effective product Lifecycle Management Program (PLM) which enables product longevity and earning power. On the other hand, Pharma and Biotech have left research and development largely alone as an incubator for creativity. Increasingly, organizations realize it is possible to channel this creative horsepower without stifling its creativity
- Large Pharma is leveraging risk-based opportunities as presented in the latest ICH and cGMP guidance
The FDA’s latest set of guidance advocates the use of scientific inquiry in developing quality initiatives that will ensure ongoing product quality. The application of risk within the product development lifecycle presents the industry with an opportunity to optimize the time, resources and cost for developing a drug product. The challenge in leveraging this approach has shifted from the traditional mindset where blanket inspection and testing are a surrogate for process understanding to one driven by control and monitoring. Today many companies would consider it unthinkable to proceed with process or method development without an FMEA in place. Most CAPA programs demand fishbone and FMEA or FTAs as routine when determining root cause. The shift in how these tools are applied has made a significant impact on both program management and process quality, and has demanded a definitive understanding of such processes. Subjective and ad hoc information is quickly dismissed when the assumptions cannot be corroborated with data. Ironically, this requirement is one of the basic tenets of ICH Q8 and Q9, which much of the industry has struggled with implementing.
I predict several other trends will have an even greater impact in embedding this shift in focus:
For years, pharmaceutical companies have relied upon Contract Research Organizations (CROs) to address capacity shortages in manufacturing or to help compress development timelines. Often considered an extra pair of hands, CROs today have emerged as much more. Routinely tapped to assist with pre-clinical work, CROs are now capable of providing more than just resources. . Intellectual property, novel delivery platforms and access to distribution networks have rapidly become key components in a firm’s decision to outsource to CROs.
Although manufacturing responsibility due to capacity or capital constraints has traditionally been the driver for seeking a contract organization, more upstream responsibility is being outsourced in an effort to leverage unique expertise and/or compress timelines. Complex formulation challenges or performance-driven reformulation responsibilities are now being outsourced to specialized CROs due, in part, to the emergence of skilled low-cost CROs in Asia. It is easy to imagine the increased complexity in prescribing a QbD approach to any CRO, particularly one that resides in a different culture and time zone. If the advantages then are to be efficiently extracted, a clearly defined roadmap, integrating risk-based assessments and objective metrics for control are required. Ideally, a CRO can quickly morph from a hired contractor to a strategic partner, given the impact of their work on program timelines and milestones.