I am honored to have been asked to contribute an essay on the occasion of Pharmaceutical Technology's 30th anniversary. I became a regular reader of this fine publication in 1981, only four years after PharmTech's beginning.
So, I can honestly say that I've grown up in this industry alongside Pharmaceutical Technology. It has been a distinct pleasure to read the magazine and to make the occasional contribution to its contents over the years.
An evolution in testing
My primary field of interest has been well-covered in this periodical during its 30 years of service to the industry and has
developed in ways that neither I nor, I suspect, those responsible for the technical content of Pharmaceutical Technology could have envisioned fully back in 1977. Incredible as it may seem, media-fill tests were not a universal requirement. In
fact, these process-simulation tests were not extended to all types of aseptically produced dosage forms until several years
later. The first international standard that mentioned an acceptance criterion for media-fill tests, to the best of my knowledge,
is the WHO Technical Bulletin No. 28 that suggested a 0.3% contamination rate (1). When I started in this business, many firms considered 9 positives out of 3000
units filled to be a successful media-fill test. Just writing the previous sentence today leaves me shaking my head in amazement
at how far capability and expectations have evolved in the past 30 years.
Milestone. 30 years of Pharmaceutical Technology
Process validation emerges
Not only was the media-fill test only starting on the pathway to becoming a mandatory requirement, in 1977 the word validation was only starting to enter our lexicon. At that point, firms were validating autoclaves, and that was by and large the full
extent of process validation. The appropriate approach for validation of moist-heat sterilization processes would have been
a topic of considerable debate in 1977, although Irving Pflug, PhD, Carl Bruch, PhD, and other sterilization scientists were
hard at work attempting to educate what was already an audience eager for knowledge. The seminal industry document about moist-heat
sterilization, PDA Technical Monograph No. 1 (2) had not yet been issued at the time Pharmaceutical Technology began publication. It is with some disappointment that I must report that in some ways the art and science of sterilization
validation has actually regressed over these three long decades. The clear thinking and analytical approach of Dr. Pflug has
been replaced by a mishmash of requirements, some of which seem to have been borne out of worst-case thinking run amok or
by efforts to force parochial approaches on industry, ironically enough in the alleged interest of harmonization. What has
not changed is that sterilization, in 2007 as in 1977, is still a process best measured by microbiological analysis. The statement
that will forever be associated with Dr. Pflug still rings true today: "The bugs don't lie." It is important to remind ourselves
that those spores are just as honest and reliable evaluators of sterilization now as they were in 1977. None of the foregoing
is intended to diminish the importance of thermometric and pressure data; it is to remind the reader that the purpose of sterilization
is to destroy microbial contamination. Thankfully, there are ample data on the destruction of microorganisms by moist heat,
heat, radiation of various types, and chemicals, so let us not reinvent the wheel.