What are the current Rules for Supplier Qualification?

Supplier Qualification is more than auditing. Supplier qualification can be seen as a risk assessment tool. It should provide an appropriate level of confidence that suppliers, vendors and contractors are able to supply consistent quality of materials, components and services in compliance with regulatory requirements. An integrated supplier qualification process should also identify and mitigate the associated risks of materials, components and services. But what are the exact requirements?

They are wide-ranging and complex. There are different directives and regulations for medicinal drug products for human or veterinary use and for investigational medicinal drug products. Certain requirements in different directives and the EU-GMP Guidelines define expectations. Here are some examples:

Article 8 of EU-Directive 2001/83/EC
"The application [of a marketing authorization] shall be accompanied […] by […] a written confirmation that the manufacturer of the medicinal product has verified compliance of the manufacturer of active substance with principles and guidelines of good manufacturing practice by conducting audits."

Article 46 of EU-Directive 2001/83/EC
"The holder of a manufacturing and/or import authorisation shall at least be obliged […] to use only active substances, which have been manufactured in accordance with GMP for active substances and distributed in accordance with GDP for active substances and … to ensure that the excipients are suitable for use in medicinal products by ascertaining what the appropriate GMP is."

Article 46b of EU-Directive 2001/83/EC
"Active substances shall only be imported if they have been manufactured in accordance with standards of good manufacturing practice at least equivalent to those laid down by the European Union". This can be shown by a written confirmation or the exporting country is included in the so called white list or a waiver has been granted.

EU-GMP Guidelines Chapter 5 (Production):
5.27 "The selection, qualification, approval and maintenance of suppliers of starting materials, together with their purchase and acceptance, should be documented as part of the pharmaceutical quality system..."

5.29 "Audits should be carried out at the manufacturers and distributors of active substances to confirm that they comply with the relevant good manufacturing practice and good distribution practice requirements. (…) Audits should be of an appropriate duration and scope to ensure that a full and clear assessment of GMP is made; (…). The [audit] report should fully reflect what was done and seen on the audit with any deficiencies clearly identified. Any required corrective and preventive actions should be implemented. Further audits should be undertaken at intervals defined by the quality risk management process to ensure the maintenance of standards and continued use of the approved supply chain."

5.45 "The selection, qualification, approval and maintenance of suppliers of primary and printed packaging materials shall be accorded attention similar to that given to starting materials."

Chapter 7 of the EU-GMP Guidelines (Outsourced Activities) describes the responsibilities of the Contract Giver when it comes to contract manufacturing and testing. He needs to assure the control of the outsourced activities, incorporating quality risk management principles and including continuous reviews of the quality of the Contract Acceptor's performance. Audits are helpful tool to asses the "legality, suitability and the competence of the Contract Acceptor". The new Chapter 7 was obviously designed to intensify the control of Contract Acceptors by the Contract Giver and extend those controls to subcontractors.

The holder of the manufacturing authorisation is responsible for the supplier qualification by law but in fact the supplier qualification is one of the tasks of the Qualified Person (which can be delegated) as defined in Annex 16 of the EU-GMP Guidelines ( Certification by a Qualified Person and Batch Release). The QP of the marketing authorisation holder is responsible for certifying the drug product for the market place and is now being held accountable to ensure that all aspects of the supply chain have been made under the appropriate GMPs. However, according to Chapter 2 of the EU-GMP Guidelines (Personnel), the heads of Production, Quality Control and Quality Assurance share the responsibility of approving and monitoring suppliers of materials (2.9).

So how to proceed? At the beginning of a supplier qualification process, the regulatory requirements regarding the type of material, component or service and the type of product (human/veterinary drug product or IMP) should be identified and specified. Audits, if required, should be planned and executed. The compliance of the selected supplier(s) with the requirements and user requirement specification should be demonstrated. The scope of an audit should cover this. But a successful audit is not the end of the qualification process. After finalising the contract, the compliance of the selected supplier(s) with the applicable requirements should be evaluated periodically. Changes at the supplier´s site (for example manufacturing process etc.) that pose a particular risk to the compliance with the requirements should be assessed. There needs to be a mechanism in place so that any change made by the supplier which could have an impact on the GMP status or the production or testing parameters have to be agreed to before any such changes are implemented. A supplier must also notify the contract giver immediately upon discovery of any deviation/non-conformance/complaint that may have impact on the services provided. Those need to be assessed and respective actions need to be defined.

The use of Brokers:
Some raw materials are only available at reasonable costs if purchased through an intermediary, i.e. a Broker. If the material is critical to the process, e.g. an API or a key excipient this can give an added complexity to the process and this must be fully investigated with the Quality and Regulatory units being involved, before any orders are placed.

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